Marketing a local business, or small or medium sized business online isn’t as complicated or challenging as one might imagine. You might have been thinking about investing some money to promote your business online, have tried it and been stung or simply want to learn some techniques to apply yourself or build an agency offering these services to local businesses. Regardless of the size of the business, in today’s day and age almost every single business can benefit with some form of online marketing.
The following list of tips cover the main high level strategies that can drive relationships and business to practically any local business. Understanding that a local business is one that has borders, even United Airlines would be considered local. This list isn’t an all or nothing list either, simply applying a few of these strategies will help your search listings one way or another.
1. Claim Your Listing
Typically found within the organic listings, Google and other search engines display a map with listings typically to the right. These listings are driven from databases throughout the Internet, but Google will look at their database first. You must ‘claim’ your listing from the major search engines. A great tool to use to determine if you have claimed your listings from the major portals is called www.getlisted.org.
Establishing reviews online for your business is relatively easy to accomplish and provides a tremendous amount of trust to your business. Think of reviews as merely a digital form of word of mouth, which we know is our best form of marketing available, and it’s free.
Obtaining reviews helps do a few things. First, when potential buyers are reading, buyers like to eat at busy restaurants. Next, it establishes authority with the search engines, the more reviews means the more active your business is within the community. Finally, it establishes your service area, the geographical area that you do business with. Whether it be the distance clients come to visit you or how far you’ll travel to visit customers. This pattern is important in order to be shown in Google Places.
3. Consistent Name, Address & Phone Number (NAP)
Your business should be listed in several different areas on the Internet, such as having a YellowPages listing, listings claimed in other directories and search engines, other local websites and other niche based sites. In order to gain higher listings in the results, the organic listings, you require links to your website. Having your business name and address listed is called a citation, and is important in getting higher listings in Google Places, or the local business results. When a citation is listed, your business name, address, phone number and possibly email address should be included, all in the same format. For example
27 N. Wacker Dr. Suite 878
Chicago, IL 60606
In this case here this business provides local services to several communities and this is their Chicago listing. We have included a link, not for the purpose of search engine optimization, but in theory to make it easier for the user to reach the page if they want. We are not using any anchor text, but this is for another post. An anchor text link looks like this. [Courier Services]. The address info is the citation and for the purpose of being listed in Google Places, this is all that is required.
4. Proper On-The-Page Factors
There are several On-The-Page factors that are discussed in order to improve your rankings in the search engines for both Google Places and the organic results. Those factors won’t be covered here, but can be found in another post titled Important On-The-Page Triggers for Results with Local Businesses on Google.
On-The-Page factors are items in our control to improve visitor experience on our website, and the search engines take some of these factors into account. While these factors are argued that they only have a weight of about 10%-30% of your rankings, they are critical to have. With very poor on-the-page factors, a website is likely to drop in the rankings.
5. Effective Transparency and Exposure
Many call this off-the-page factors. When considering the organic listings, the greater amount of links you have pointing to your website, the higher you’ll rank, in theory. Every link is not ranked the same and some links will outweigh 1000 of another type. Google Places considers citations and reviews much more than links.
We call this transparency and exposure. You see, this is merely marketing your business, exposing your website in areas that has potential buyers. You do this offline all the time, whether it be your phone number in the phone book, a billboard, radio or cold calling. Exposing your business on the Internet, in the form of links or citations, in the right areas such as geographically related or industry related sites is extremely important. For example, having a local newspaper do a story about your company and service is killer, they’ll post the article online and link to you. Obtaining a relationship with the local college will give you high value links if you can arrange something with them, a donation goes a long way sometimes.
6. Paid Advertising
When users search on a search engine, almost always based on the keyword, the search engine will display some paid results. These results are typically found at the very top and along the right side. These are the only results that one can pay for, and in most cases it’s a pay per click (PPC) model. This is the largest paid distribution channel for small businesses to advertise, however Facebook is creating an extremely powerful marketing tool for local businesses.
Google’s PPC system is called adwords and it’s not too difficult to operate a campaign on your own. However, I will caution you, it is estimated over half of PPC campaigns are failures. This is not because the system doesn’t work, it does, this is because of ignorant marketers. This is not a system anyone can just jump into and run a profitable campaign. Not that this doesn’t happen, it’s that this is a mathematical and numbers game. The knowledge isn’t hard to obtain or execute, but some knowledge is very important. I suggest if you want a good book to read, my friend’s book is titled Adwords for Dummies.
7. Email Marketing
Email marketing is said to provided the greatest return on your investment of any online initiative. In fact, many reports indicate that the average small business receives more that a $45 return on every dollar invested into email marketing.
Again, similar to all other initiatives, it’s not entirely in the execution, it’s the quality of the execution. Far too often do email marketing campaigns solicit direct business. This does work, in many different business models, however for a lot of business models it’s a killer. Imagine a dentist. It’s possible, more so in the US, that a blatant promotion might garner some short term activity, such as a discount on a cleaning. However, providing consistent education to your target audience will provide much better long term results. This dentist might want to include simple, to the point education on the cleaning agents they use and how they are better. Then after the education piece, offer a discount to try it out. The email can lead one to a blog for greater detail. This builds trust, authority and provides value to the audience, who are your future and existing customers.
8. Social Media Marketing
There has been so much buzz over the last couple of years about Facebook, Twitter and somewhat with LinkedIn for business. The jury is still out for many strategies using these platforms, however one thing is clear. These sites foster relationships, and business is all about relationships.
Twitter, like Google and links, is not about your follower count. It’s about the quality of your followers. Your business followers don’t care much about your personal life, but offer value they would expect from a business such as yours.
Facebook is a great place to meet new prospects in local groups. Just remember these groups are really only productive when you give first, offer value to the community and you’ll be rewarded.
These are time consuming tasks and can lead to little success. At the very least, get yourself and your business accounts at these sites. Facebook you can create a page attached to your account and attract followers where you can offer promotions, tips and interaction. If you have more time, get yourself some education on this concept.
9. Video Marketing
We have now recently entered a time where anyone can broadcast to a large audience anywhere on the planet. Cellular phones now offer real time streaming, hosting sites offer HD on super high speed connections, video software is easy and inexpensive to use and we have a hungry audience looking for choice over the mainstream content. Search engines are frantically building technology to index and properly rank this content so only the best content, unbiased of publisher monetary status, will be ranked high. There is no reason why every local business shouldn’t create some video content. There are simply so many different ways and options that a business can use online video. From easy, high rankings in the search engines, to interactive content for future and existing customers to a perceived first mover advantage, employing some video strategy is critical in today’s online marketing initiative.
10. Long Term Vision
Like most marketing campaigns offline, deploying almost any strategy online takes time to yield a positive return on your investment. One thing is for sure, online marketing is critical for most business success in the future. Therefore, almost every business in one form or another must possess the education prior to execution. Every business is likely going to either have these services in house, outsource them to a local agency or have a hybrid of services.
Even with PPC, education and an execution plan with testing is critical. A commitment of time and money is required, but when done properly, every local business can benefit from online marketing.
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