While the internet seems the least likely place to market locally, it is actually quickly becoming the best, most powerful place to leverage your local customers.
Why? Because your customers are looking online to find information on what to buy and because the search engines including Google, Bing and Yahoo are creating powerful tools to help consumers find what they are looking for in their communities. As a local or regional business, the single most important thing you can do to optimize your marketing efforts is to optimize your website and internet presence so your local market can find you. Being optimized for local internet search will optimize any offline marketing efforts that you engage in.
How, as a small business do you leverage these tools and make sure your customers are finding you? Here are some quick tips to get you started.
1. Discover your local keywords.
Keywords are those words or phrases that your customers will type into search engines to help them find what they are looking for. If they are looking for a House Painter they will probably type in a geographical term to localize the search to a certain area. An example would be “Council Bluffs House Painter” or “House Painters in Council Bluffs”. As a local business you should figure out the industry term customers are using to find your type of business as well as the geographical terms they are using when looking in your particular market area. A good tool to use for this is the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. If you use Google Anayltics on your website, you will also be able to monitor how people search to find you.
3. Localize Your Website Content
Search engines work by taking the search(Keywords or Keyword phrases) from the consumer and “spidering” through indexed websites looking for matches to those words. There is a lot more to it than that, but it is the first step in optimizing your website for local search. Your small business website should have your main keyword phrases AND local Geographical keywords in the content in appropriate places. Be careful NOT to over stuff your pages with your keywords. Search engines will see this as “cheating” and your clients will find it awkward. Listed below are a few main things to take action on concerning content and keywords:
Place keywords and local keywords in Headlines, Links and in your content when it is natural or makes sense.
Place your address and key contact Information on EVERY page. Place the address in the template of your design in the same place on every page so that it looks natural.
On your Contact Us page include a Google map. You can customize your own map with photos, directions and descriptions at Google My Maps
Include community resources and information on your website. Think about having a blog that talks about local events, have local links to community businesses and resources and/or include local contributors on your blog.
Include your local keywords in your metatags. Specifically in your Title Meta Tags. You may need to talk to your website host or designer to help you with this.
3. Claim and Build out Local Directory Pages
Google, Yahoo and Bing have all developed local directories. For the most part these are free, but some do have some fees built in to use certain features. The most important thing for you as a small business, is to go to these search engines and claim your listing. While claiming your listing, make sure that you fill out EVERYTHING completely and thoroughly and use your industry keywords in the description. Because this is a local listing, you do not need to add your local keywords. Take advantage of the amenities that each directory offers and post photos, videos, etc where you can.
Here are the links to get you started
Google Places www.google.com/places/
Yahoo Local Directory local.yahoo.com
Bing Local Listing Center https://ssl.bing.com/listings/ListingCenter.aspx
Another resource that will help you get listed on all of the above is Getlisted.org.
4. Encourage Reviews and local Links
Reviews from outside websites are even better than website testimonials and are extremely visible and helpful in local searches. As a small business make sure that your business has listings on review sites like Yelp, Insider Pages, Citysearch, and Merchant Circle as well as review sites that may be specific to your business or industry (Restaurant reviews on Urbanspoon)
Once you are appropriately listed on these review sites, ask for reviews from customers. Customers can review you on your Google place page or any of the other number of review sites. Google gathers all of the reviews and they all show up on your place page. You may want to use the reviews (good ones) on your website as well instead of testimonials.
Finally, work locally through successful business, media and local celebrities to get local links back to your page. Links are always great for search engine optimization and getting local recognition will help to boost your local listings. Start this process by trying the following tactics
Find and network with local bloggers
Network locally offline and encourage an online relationship through facebook, etc.
Start a local group on line (try Meetup.com)
Find media/bloggers who are interested in your industry and participate in their blogging and social media efforts. Be careful not to use a sales pitch. They will respond better to your shared expertise, sans advertisement.
The Southwest Iowa SBDC has gathered these tips through research and many online resources and most recently through a webinar held by Duct Tape Marketing Founder John Jantsch. Mr. Jantsch blogs frequently about Local Marketing among other very useful topics for small business.
If you have questions or more to add, please comment below.