Nearly four in 10 U.S. Internet users (37 percent) who conducted an online local business search in 2009 ended up visiting the store in person, according to TMP Directional Marketing and comScore.
Chew on that statistic for a minute and it becomes pretty clear that the acts of being found online and gaining new customers are dramatically intertwined. It doesn’t matter what you sell, product or service, or if you have a store or small home based office – if local prospects can’t find you when they search online – you don’t exist.
Sure, there are other ways to get your message out, but even if you succeed creating awareness through offline efforts, chances are your new prospect will go online to interact with your business a bit before picking up the phone or jumping in the car – it’s just how the world works these days.
The importance of marketing online spawned an entire search marketing industry, but the nearly 100 percent adoption of search behavior by most market segments (think how many people you know that have a web browser in their pocket these days) means that even the most hyper local businesses must make search marketing a core local business strategy.
Below is a road map for bringing local search marketing to life in your business – online and off.
There are two things that you need to do in order to get started – one is strategic, the other purely practical:
1. Strategy - Figure out what your prospects actually type into search engines. Before you can fully understand the best way to build your search marketing strategy you’ve got to fully understand how people look for businesses like yours. They often use local terms and phrases that are not the same as the industry jargon you might have all over your website. Start by asking customers what they would type into a search engine to find a business like yours. (Hint: it’s hardly ever the name of your business.)
Use tools such as these to gain some insight into the local terms people actually do search:
2. Tactic - Fix your HTML. Search engines don’t like sites that are hard to crawl, load slowly, or just aren’t organized. Good HTML code (the stuff under the web page hood) makes the page render in a web browser, but it also helps the search engines know what’s important on your site. The good news is that blogging software such as
Optimize Brand Assets
Photo, video, slide and audio sharing sites help small business owners in two very important ways. First they allow you to use free hosting for things like your videos that may take up lots of paid hosting room. Second they make it very easy for you to create slideshows, image galleries, and streaming video players on your web pages.
But, from a search marketing vantage they also give you a great place to spread your content and gain important links back to your site, particularly if you use the tools available to optimize these assets for local search. Each sharing site gives you ways to identify, tag and describe your photos so that people searching on the sites can locate them. Use this to your fullest advantage by creating very rich local keyword descriptions for your shared content on sites such as:
The second area of focus when it comes to optimizing real estate is the area of social and local profiles. Social networking sites offer great opportunities for businesses to build very local keyword rich profiles that link back to your primary web site. These profiles, including the local directory page:
Content Wins Every Time
No matter how much effort you put into optimizing pages, spreading content to outposts, and building awareness in social networks, your search marketing efforts will live and die with your ability to consistently produce high quality, frequently updated, educational content.
People don’t go searching for your website or blog, they go searching for the answers to their challenges and needs. If what they find when they search is content you’ve produced on your blog, then you can begin to build the kind of trust that turns searchers into customers.
The best way to win the local search marketing game is to commit to the systematic production of interesting and valuable content and here’s why:
- Good content draws links
- Good content rises in search engines
- Good content is easy to share on other sites
- Good content is what will attract visitors from social networks
- Good content is the best thing to advertise online
Don’t forget to use what you learned in your keyword research to help you write content that is based on what people search. Try to work in local terms, such as events, neighborhoods and suburbs into your content to give it additional local relevance.
Most SEO pros will tell you that one of the most important factors in ranking highly with search engines is the number, relevance and quality of links to your site from other sites.
While some might suggest you go on link building campaigns or buy links to your site you should be very careful about this. The search engines want to see natural linking behavior and get very nervous about lots of new links showing up.
The best way by far to get links is to write something worth linking to and network with other people doing the same. Use a tool like Placeblogger to locate other people writing blog content in your community and start networking with them. Reach out to your customers, suppliers and association members in your community and discuss ways to link to each other. Get your business listed in directories related to your industry, including many of the social networking directories mentioned above.
Search engine marketing is a long-term momentum building game – one that is so vital it must be looked at as part of your daily marketing routine. Keep chipping away and you’ll soon create a rock solid local online competitive advantage.
Image credit: gloom