Every time we turn around another local-oriented Web site says it’s targeting rural and exurban audiences. So far, we’ve got Center’d, Topix, MerchantCircle, WeddingMapper.com and others zeroing on the rurals (are we missing any?).
All these sites are drawn by the technical capability of geotargeting thousands of population centers by ZIP code. They’re also encouraged by the relative absence of significant local media.
How big is the rural marketplace? The Census Bureau classifies 61.7 million (25 percent) of the U.S. population as rural. But the most appealing rural markets are probably not the ghost towns we see in movies or on vacations. Instead, they are the “third order” markets that might have a knowledge worker basis, such as Blacksburg, VA, and Boone, NC, the respective homes of Virginia Tech and Appalachian State University.
Other appealing rural markets — perhaps the most appealing — would be the exurban markets on the outskirts of major population centers such as Washington, D.C., Charlotte, San Diego and Palo Alto. These are largely underserved by local media even as million-dollar housing developments have cropped up.
But these kinds of markets appear limited to us. Indeed, it remains to be seen whether the numbers really add up. While national advertisers might like to use these sites to reach the rurals, it isn’t clear whether there is much homegrown demand from local advertisers. In general, the demographics might be less appealing (especially in regard to key Web user parameters such as education), and there are fewer openings and closing of businesses, which tend to be stable and well known among the locals.