The way people search and what they search for online is changing. People want to find the products and services they need, but close to their geographic location. They rely on their inner circle to give endorsements and reviews on products and businesses before making a decision. And, they want to engage with those businesses in new, more personalized ways.
Each one of these emerging needs can be addressed through Internet marketing. And local businesses now have a myriad of resources available to them that allow them to connect to their customer base in new and exciting ways – if they choose to do so.
What’s surprising, however, is that a 2009 figure from Ad-ology® showed nearly half of all small businesses still did not have a website. Yet interestingly enough, a Google stat from the same year revealed 20 percent of all searches online have a local intent.
From that statistic, we can estimate there are currently about 2 billion searches monthly on Google with a local intent. Follow the comScore monthly “search share” reports and one can calculate the up-to-date share of local queries at any time.
Here at Bruce Clay, Inc., we’ve predicted that Google will be predominantly a local search engine within the next couple years. There’s already been dramatic changes to the search engine results pages (SERPs) in the past year, showing that Google is giving preferential rankings to the local result for those queries it believes has a local intent.
Add to this the mobile search trend, which is quickly rivaling PC activity for finding businesses, products and services online, making local search quite literal, as the user searches on the go. With all of these trends, it’s not hard to see that local merchants without Internet marketing plans will continue to fall further and further behind their competition each day.
The Fierce 5: Internet Marketing Optimization for Local Business
Small business owners wear a hundred hats. Trying to navigate the landscape of Internet marketing is not something that’s expected to be a core skill set. The time and resources it takes to stay on top of this fast-paced industry and make lightning-fast changes to strategy and tactics can be a huge undertaking.
In an ideal world, local merchants would use each discipline within Web marketing to optimize their online presence and drive traffic to their storefront. Here at Bruce Clay, Inc., we call the convergence of Web marketing disciplines, “Internet marketing optimization” (IMO). For the local business, this includes things like:
1. SEO-ready site design and architecture
2. Local search engine optimization
3. Geographically targeted paid search
4. Social media marketing
5. Conversion rate optimization
Local businesses just starting out with an online marketing plan need to follow the concept of quality over quantity, securing quick wins through selected facets of each of the disciplines. This will put the local merchant on its way to seeing a greater return on marketing dollars than ever before, and allow it to continue to be competitive in the marketplace.
Let’s take a look at just a few facets within each Web marketing discipline that helps local merchants be found online, and drive traffic to their place of business.
1. Website Architecture and Design
How a site is built can either help or hinder its online marketing performance. Proper site design ultimately makes search engine optimization and conversions less expensive and easier to facilitate. It also improves the site’s relationship with both the search engine and the user by making the most relevant information to both parties easier to access.
Elements like HTML code, navigation layout, color scheme and more can drive SEO and conversions. Even if a local business’ site has not been built properly the first time around, its performance can be improved through simple yet powerful changes to layout and information architecture.
One element in proper site design for local search ensures certain pages are created to present to the search engines all the contact, location and “about us” information that they need to rank the site, while at the same time artfully presenting the information to the user who needs it.
Good site design for local search also includes the integration of endorsement buttons such as the Facebook Like button, Google +1 button, Yelp badges, rich snippets that include review information about a business in the SERPs and more. All of these elements ensure the customer can easily interact with the brand, and ensures the website includes relevant information that can enhance conversions.
2. Local Search Engine Optimization
Local SEO is quite simply allowing a business to be found for its products and services in the city it resides in. Whether it’s someone finding that business for the first time, or a return customer looking for special offers or engagement, sites optimized for local search are all about local businesses catering to their geographic community and driving foot traffic and revenue.
Local SEO includes things like building content-rich sites with locally optimized content, including images, videos, text and more, and taking into account a merchant’s presence in key online directories and listings that search engines use to quite literally put businesses on the map. Claiming and optimizing a Google Places page is just one of those listings that helps improve local search rankings and conversions.
3. Geographically Targeted Paid Search
Paid search tactics like geographically focused pay per click offer local businesses a more controlled environment to spend advertising dollars. It allows the merchant to deliver the offer, product or service to an extremely targeted local audience.
Local search campaigns give ways to reinforce the local SEO strategy by quality matching keywords to landing pages within a local business’ site. This is an important step to improving a site’s Quality Score in Google because it brings the targeted audience to a relevant site that has the information they seek through ads.
And now with pay-per-click ads in social networks such as Facebook, local businesses have access to mounds of information about users, so ads about products or services are delivered to the people who are looking for them, thus reducing frivolous ad spend.
4. Social Media Marketing
A local merchant’s community resides both in the town it’s based in and online in various social media networks. With social media, local merchants can now interact with their community in new ways online that help build customer base and loyalty.
Social media and local search go hand-in-hand. Location check-in services such as foursquare are indexed by search engines like Google, offering an additional way for the small business to be found online.
And these types of networks also marry the growing intersection of social, local and mobile – key tactics that allow for maximum exposure online for the local business. For example, when customers “check in” to a place of business through a location check-in service, and share information and interact with others who frequent the establishment, while at the same time engaging with the local business through special check-in-only offers, this is social, local and mobile marketing at its finest.
5. Conversion Rate Optimization
Understanding what online visitors want when they come to a merchant’s site as well as what t
ypes of offers and ads are performing for that business is essential to offering the most relevant information, and receiving the most of marketing dollars for the local business.
CRO for the local merchant takes into account the entire marketing strategy, sets conversion goals based on business targets, tracks performance of the plan, facilitates testing and conducts research to see that the strategy is reaching goals and driving revenue for that local business.
Whether the conversion goal is click-to-calls, redemptions of online-only deals, requesting directions to a place of business, reviewing or endorsing the business online, customers engaging with social networks while at the place of business or anything else, CRO validates that the plan is on target.
The Future of Local Business Online
The online world is leaning towards the concept of Internet marketing optimization – site architecture, SEO, PPC , CRO, SMM and analytics combined – as businesses find the synergistic effects of these disciplines to be very powerful. IMO is here now, and will continue to become more sophisticated in the future.
As the Internet marketing industry broadens its approach, it’s clear that the local merchant needs to follow this lead to go where the money — and the traffic is. And traffic is what this is all about for the local business; online traffic drives offline traffic.
IMO for local businesses is a cyclical approach. Each discipline within online marketing can and should be applied to one another in order to make the foundation stronger. This is the only way a local business can have a long-term optimized presence, and can continue to succeed in the new world of business.
The takeaway? For local businesses to survive in this new era of how their customers search and to meet their customers’ expectations, participation in the online marketing is an absolute must. The marketing plans of days gone by are obsolete, and those businesses that choose to ignore this will experience the consequences of all those missed opportunities, while their competition grows business through Web marketing.