If there's one thing that could tamp down the excitement around localized mobile advertising, it is the usability issue: it's not easy to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. And Google has just proved that point with its new sponsored search results on the iPhone.

Starting this week, Google's iPhone maps program features sponsored links that point users to nearby locations. The trouble is, it doesn't work.

In addition to the larger mobile ads that I wrote about this week, Google has started inserting sponsored links into its local search results on the Google maps program on the iPhone.

Silicon Alley Insider's Dam Frommer found this to be genius:

The pin itself is a JCPenney logo, and unlike the normal search results, the name pops up automatically, with "Sponsored Link" below the name. Like other pins, if you click on it, it takes you to a page (but with a Sponsored Link header and a slogan) with the store's phone, address, URL, and directions.

The problem is, the JCPenney sponsored link didn't point to an actual JCPenney location. It pointed to a private apartment building at 241 E. 10th Street in New York.

JCPenney has a right to be upset if if it's paying Google for location based advertising only to have users sent to a completely unrelated location. But that's not the only usability issue with this new feature.

CNET had similar problems:

"We did an additional search for 'Auto repair' and initially found two sponsored links in our area, but when we repeated the same search we did not always receive a sponsored link or we would only receive just one. It is not clear why the search results were different each time and at press time Google wasn't available for comment."

Many advertisers are eager to tap into the potential of location based advertising. But localized mobile advertising is only as good as its utility and ease of use for the user, and unreliable ads that give out the wrong information are neither of those things.

It's one thing getting excited about bringing useful information to consumers wherever they are, but local advertising also increases the variables — and the room for error — exponentially in delivering the right message to customers. Of course Google will continue to improve its methods and tailor these ads. But if users go off in the wrong direction after following a directive from Google maps, they are less likely to return to find that out.

Meghan Keane

Published 7 October, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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