When prospective buyers want to find products, services, people and experiences these days, quite often they begin their search online – even if they are looking for a business or store right in their backyard.
Working to position your business prominently when local prospects turn to a search engine has become an essential marketing skill.
Winning the local search game is a core step in the local businesses’ ability to compete by providing a superior offline experience. A local business isn’t necessarily going to win online competing with online retailers, but the game for the local business is to show up and rank well so they can drive the local shopper offline and into their business – that’s where the real competitive advantage resides.
Zappos, Dell and Amazon may be fabulous at delivering the goods, but they’ll never be able to deliver the kind of personal relationship that your local boutique can offline.
Winning the local search game is not as complicated as some in the SEO world might suggest, but it does take commitment and focus.
I’ll be presenting my systematic approach to this topic at the MAGIC Marketplace Show in Las Vegas on Thursday Aug. 19th on behalf of AMEX OPEN. If you plan on attending the show (which is running in full from the 17th through the 19th of this week) I hope you can stop by the OPEN booth.
Below is my outline for winning the local search game.
Discovery – Before you can determine how to win, you must understand what you are trying to win. It’s essential that your tactics line up with what your prospects are actually looking for, saying, doing and wanting. Keyword research, social media listening and in person interviews make up your discovery toolbox.
Intentional content – In order to create an online to offline approach you must produce valuable, education based information – the kind that search engines find and the kind that prospects desire. Blogs, email newsletters, online and offline seminars, and rich deposits of web site information, including testimonials and FAQs are a must.
Social backlinks – If content is king, then links to that content are what puts the crown on the king. Links from social networks, social profiles, bookmarking services, and other bloggers produce the kind of relevance and implied importance that the search engines pay close attention to. This is ongoing work and not something you buy from a service.
Asset deposits – Content sharing sites such as YouTube, Flickr, and Slideshare offer rich opportunities to expose your brand to outlying corners of the web. By spreading and optimizing this content in many of the free resource locals available you set your primary web hub up as a link worthy destination and create more inroads to your business.
Directory assistance – All of the major search players have set up local directories and given you the opportunity to build content rich pages on their sites. Ratings and review sites such as Yelp! and CitySearch also play an important role in the information collecting process now done online. Claiming and monitoring this expanding real estate is a must.
Engagement – To this point much of what I’ve described falls in the category of attracting visitors. Once you do that your job turns to capturing their interest by providing the information they are seeking in multiple formats as well as an opportunity to engage your brand by asking for more information, requesting a quote, leaving a comment or suggesting a feature.
Tracking – I’ve left tracking to last, not because it’s least important, but because nobody seems to want to talk about it. Finding ways to measure what works and what doesn’t is a powerful way to reduce the amount of time and money you invest into your search marketing. Further using tools, like Groupon and Foursquare, that target local shoppers and provide you with hard and fast success data is how you take your tracking to the next level.
John Jantsch is a marketing coach, award winning social media publisher, and author of Duct Tape Marketing and The Referral Engine.