U.K. Hyperlocal Ad Platform Rvolve Comes Out of Beta

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Hyperlocal publishers have long hoped that self-serve advertising platforms might cut ad acquisition costs to the point that publishing becomes more profitable, but one problem that many such self-serve experiments have had in the past is that local merchants simply don’t pull the trigger.  Either the the merchants aren’t Web-savvy enough, or they don’t have the ability to do the creative, or they need the hand-holding of an ad sales person to convince them of the value of the ad they’re placing (even if they’re not spending very much).

A new hyperlocal advertising service called Rvolve, based in Birmingham, U.K., hopes that its system can bridge the gap for hyperlocal publishers and local merchants, delivering micro-targeted ad placements through an easy-to-use self-serve platform. According to the release: “Rvolve allows publishers to specify the exact location that the adverts should be shown around, down to the house number, and there are no limits on how the adverts can be displayed. Equally, advertisers have flexibility in terms of the advert’s specific location, which prevents unnecessary spend on customers out of their local area.”

The service has just come out of beta, and Street Fight recently caught up with Peter Abrahamson, the system’s developer, to talk about how the system works and what merchants are looking for in hyperlocal online advertising.

How does Rvolve deal with some of the issues that have plagued past self-serve hyperlocal ad systems?
I think the crux of this issue is the end-user experience.  I can only speak from my own attempts with some popular self-serve systems on the market,  but the goal we’ve had is to simplify that experience as much as possible.  If you can remove the number of steps from 10 down to 2, and make the text as welcoming as possible, the number of subscribers capable of filling out the information will likely increase dramatically.

For example, we provide a simple ad preview, familiar login with existing accounts, and the ability to use any sized image as the creative, which is typically a photo already on their own website if they have one (technically, because of the HTML5 used, this is dynamically scaled to fit on the publisher’s window, so it happens magically behind the scenes).

Has Rvolve solved the problem?   I think there is still some level of introduction by a sales person needed, and I am not sure this is going away.  We will continue to refine our interface however.

How do you approach potential advertisers to let them know that the self-service system exists?
This is really up to the way the publishers choose to present their system.  We currently include a small icon in the top left of each advert, but usually a publisher would also include an ‘advertise here’ link, and potentially their own page explaining the concept. Then the publisher can approach advertisers through direct sales or whichever avenue they consider best for their relationships.

In serving a hyperlocal community, a publisher necessarily has to develop relationships with local businesses (both for news content as well as other ancillary information that might be served up).  By outsourcing these sales to a network do they give up some of that relationship-building?
We certainly aren’t supplanting this relationship building, only providing tools to improve the experience that the local business has when they decide to take the relationship further.

How much does Rvolve automate the process for publishers. Do publishers still need to manually place the ads on their sites and/or interact with the advertiser?
It is possible to leave it completely alone (it’s fully automated).  The publisher simply places a code block on their site and it will potentially start earning immediately.  However, in order to bring on board new advertisers, and earn substantially more from the system some verbal suggestion to advertise by the publisher is recommended.

What do you see as the biggest challenge in the hyperlocal profitability equation (for publishers as well as for merchants)?  In order for publishers to create a sustainable business they need to be sales orientated as well as being reporters.
For merchants the main challenge is finding a stable mechanism that brings consistent local interest, and returning customers.