Are you a local business that depends on local customers to drive revenue?
If so, what I’m about to tell you can mean the difference between growing faster than you’d ever planned – and becoming stagnant while falling behind your competition.
Simply put, local businesses have to create an online presence that allows them to reach out to local customers who are looking for them. Those that do will prosper. Those that don’t will miss out on growth.
Here, we’ll talk about what it means to create a local marketing strategy and how you can get in front of customers in your area who are looking for what you provide. We’ll also discuss how customers find goods and services in today’s age, and what that means for your business.
And above all, we’ll explain how local marketing is essential for a successful, competitive business. It’s a must, not just a maybe.
Out With the Old, In With the New
In the olden days, customers used a variety of methods – many of which are no longer viable – to find businesses in their local areas.
The OLD way people found you:
#1: Asked friends, family, and co-workers
#2: Drove by and saw a sign, billboard, or storefront
#3: Used a directory like the Yellow Pages
#4: Saw an ad in a newspaper
#5: Saw or listened to a commercial on TV and/or radio
The first two still apply. Word-of-mouth marketing is still powerful. It’s slow, sure, but it still works. And if you see a sign or a store when looking, and it interests you at that time, you’re more likely to buy. (Of course, you then only reach people who happen to drive by that sign, and they have to be interested, which is why billboards are a waste of money for most businesses.)
The third barely exists.
The fourth has become far less effective because readership of newspapers has dropped steadily over the past decade, and newspapers reported 5% less ad revenue from 2009 to 2014. Plus, the readership of print newspapers has steadily aged, to the point where the only age group in which over 50% of people read newspapers on a daily basis is 65 and up.
The fifth option is still used, but is very expensive – and does absolutely nothing to get in front of a customer when they need you right now. Plus, you’re paying for impressions that come from people who will never be your customer. If a 12-year-old sees your ad for a new car, they’re not in your market – but you still paid for those eyeballs. Throw in the fact that these methods are good only for mass market brand awareness and not transactional marketing (i.e. getting your customer to take action right now), and you can see how it’s hard to depend on traditional advertising like TV and radio to reach local customers.
What’s the common element in all five of those methods? They’re all reactive. They push out information instead of pull it in. And they do nothing to actually get in front of the customer when they’re ready to make a decision. You’re spending good money to get in front of customers who may not ever have any intention of buying from you.
Case in point: According to BrightLocal.com, a whopping 91% of all consumers said they have used the Internet to find a local business. That number jumped up 13% from 2010 to 2015. And 43% of consumers use the Internet to search for a local business just once a month – up from 38% in 2014.
Here’s something even more profound: 80% of consumers trust online reviews they find from local search more than personal recommendations.
If you think, “So what, that doesn’t mean they’re buying locally,” you’d be wrong. One survey found that 78% of local searches on mobile resulted in offline purchases – and that number was from 2014.
The bottom line is simple: the Internet is the main way customers find local businesses today. If you’re visible online, you stand a good chance of capturing new business. If you’re invisible, or have a weak presence, you’ll lose ground to your competition.
So how do you create a strong local marketing presence?
Laying a Foundation with Local Optimization
One day, I was hungry. I was craving a delicious meal, and wanted to try something new. I did a Google search for restaurants in my area and wanted to see what was available – somewhere I hadn’t visited before.
I saw one restaurant that looked promising. “Local?” Check. “Delicious?” Check. I jumped in my car to head over to it – only to find that the address shown to me by Google was actually a gas station, not a restaurant.
My taste buds have never forgiven Google for that – even though it wasn’t Google’s fault. It was the restaurant’s.
To understand why this happened, you have to understand how Google knows about your business. Google isn’t all-knowing. It collects information about local businesses basically from anywhere it can – any scrap of info it can find online. But that isn’t limited to just the profile you created for your business (if you created one, that is). Any amount of information is fair game – and if you’re anything like most businesses out there, much of that information is incorrect.
Maybe you’ve changed locations since you’ve been in business. Maybe you have a new phone number. Or maybe customers entered erroneous information on your behalf. Google sees all of it because it buys data from data providers, who in turn buy data from other, smaller data providers. If those providers have incorrect information, they’ll report it to Google – and you’ll never know the difference.
So, if these methods aren’t as effective, and can’t be relied on to consistently grow revenue, how do you market your local business? To answer that, we have to look at how customers find people today.
The simple answer is this: they take action themselves to find businesses when they are ready to buy, and that largely means taking to the Internet.
Long story short, there’s a lot of incorrect info floating around about the average business. This results in customers not having accurate information and not being able to find you. It also results in Google no longer trusting the business – which means that business suffers in search rankings.
To underscore just how important that last statement is, know that 92% of all traffic for a search result goes to listings on the first page of results. The top organic position alone gets 33% of all traffic. If you’re not on the first page, you’re practically invisible – and if Google doesn’t trust you, you won’t be on that first page.
Enter local search optimization (also referred to as location optimization or local SEO).
Local search optimization fixes your information online by making sure your essential info – name, address, and phone number (or NAP) – is correct on a wide variety of online directories. This way, when these providers scrape your data and sell it to Google, they’re giving Google consistent information. This information is then correctly displayed, and positively impacts your search ranking.
For a local business, this is crucial. You need to not only be visible, but have high enough rankings so that people choose you over your competition. That’s why local search optimization is so important.
Local search optimization isn’t everything, though. It lays a foundation for success, but there are other steps to take to make sure your local presence is strong enough to compete.
Mobile Search Is the New King
Content was once declared king of the Internet. Now it’s mobile search – and its importance is growing each day.
Google has repeatedly said how important it is to have a mobile-friendly website. That’s because more people are using mobile devices to find anyone – especially local companies. According to a Google report from 2015, more people search on mobile devices than they do desktops or laptops. That’s huge.
If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, and if your strategy isn’t mobile-friendly, then you’ll drop in rankings and won’t show up as highly as you’d like for search results. You have to have a website that shows its content in a way that fits the screen of mobile devices. The text must be easily legible, and any buttons and links need to be easily ‘clicked’ via touch. In other words, if your website isn’t mobile-friendly or responsive, your pages and text and buttons and links will look really small – and Google will effectively penalize your site for it.
And more importantly, people will take one look at your site and flee in terror.
The rise of mobile has even impacted search results themselves. Formerly, when you searched for a local business, you saw a map with a list of businesses beneath it. This is called Google’s “Local Pack.” It used to have seven spots – but now, thanks to mobile, it only has three. This is called a “three-pack,” and it’s prime real estate for search.
How do you get into this three-pack? That’s actually the subject of the next section.
Reviews: Why You Need (Lots of) Them
If you have seen a three-pack in local search results lately, you’ve probably noticed that phone numbers and exact addresses aren’t there anymore. But one thing that is there – and is very prominent – is the review section.
This is where all of your online reviews come to roost. Google displays the reviews that it can find for your business. Companies that have lots of reviews perform better than those that have fewer reviews. And those who have lots of good reviews perform better than those whose reviews are bad.
That underscores just how important it is to get as many reviews as you possibly can for your business and put them online. Don’t neglect Google reviews, either; it’s probably more effective to have more Google reviews than reviews at places like Yelp. Those reviews are helpful, but Google reviews will not only influence people who search; they’ll also provide local SEO benefit for your business.
At Uptick, we offer a service called review tracking. This service will actually contact your customers for you and encourage them to leave great reviews on Google, Facebook, Yelp, and other websites. This service is valuable because reviews drive decisions on the Internet. It’s combining the benefits of search with the weight of word-of-mouth marketing – a perfect combination.
The more quality reviews, the more ranking signals you’ll generate for your website – and the higher your local results will be.
Location Pages and Why They Matter
Search engines have gotten incredibly good at figuring out where a searcher is searching from. They’re so good, in fact, that when someone searches locally, they’ll probably enter your site from a page other than your home page.
That’s because they’ll land on the page on your website that has the most local “juice.” In other words, they’ll find the page that’s most relevant for a local searcher – and send them to that page.
That means if you don’t have a location page that is optimized for local search, there’s no telling where your visitors will go when they click on your link. It could be almost any page, and most of them aren’t optimal landing pages. In other words, you’re missing out on visitors – and you’re jeopardizing conversions for the ones you’re getting.
The goal is to create a location page for your website for each relevant location that is:
- Easily indexable
- Optimized for appropriate location keywords
It should function as a landing page that has access to all the information your visitor will need to make a decision. It is this page that is most important for local searchers – more important than your home page, your services page, your products page, or even your contact page.
Here are a few guidelines for creating an ideal location page:
#1: Create a unique URL for each location page
#2: Include your NAP and mark it up in Schema
#3: Include your hours of operation
#4: Insert links to your profiles on various review sites (i.e. Yelp, Facebook, Google)
#5: Embed Google Maps for the location
#6: Cross-link all relevant location pages that are near the location page (i.e. link the city page to the location page for each suburb)
#7: Include the brand name in the page’s title tag
#8: Make sure appropriate keywords are in any image’s alt tag
#9: The anchor text should contain a relevant keyword or a phrase related to a keyword
Following the above can create solid location pages that will increase the results you’ll get from local search.
Using Directories and Aggregators
Remember how we mentioned data providers that work with Google? These data providers are a combination of two types of entities: directories and aggregators.
Directories are basically any collection of business listings online. Yelp is a directory. Angie’s List is a directory. Every Chamber of Commerce has a directory.
An aggregator is a company that collects data from a wide variety of online sources and sells it to other companies (like Google). You probably haven’t ever heard of these aggregators. The three biggest aggregators in the U.S. are Acxiom, Neustar Localeze, and Infogroup. For global data, there’s one: Factual.
Long story short, directories largely depend on information you or someone else has entered. And aggregators have people who work to verify the data – even though they scrape far more data than can ever be manually confirmed.
That poses a problem. If they’re pulling in incorrect information, there’s no one to ensure that it’s correct – no one, that is, except for you (or whoever you hire to do this for you).
Our goal here is to increase the number of correct citations for your business. A citation includes your NAP and is basically treated the same as a link. The more high-quality citations you have, the better your website will rank locally. (This is a gross simplification of the process, but the previous statement is fundamentally true.)
Note that it’s not about quantity; it’s about quality. The same goes for a link to your website. Just find directories that are relevant to your business and create accurate and complete profiles.
Putting It All Together
I could go on and on about how important location optimization is for a local business that depends on getting local customers. The bottom line is simple: you need to actively build a local presence. Merely having a website is not enough.
You can follow the steps above to start your local SEO journey, or you can work with a third-party provider to handle all of this work for you. Note that this process is a complicated one that takes approximately three months to do (not a “few days” like some shady agencies like to claim) and months to take effect. It’s a long-term strategy, not a short-term fix.
If you’re local, be local – and make sure Google knows who you are. That’s the only way your customers will find you.
Contact Uptick Marketing today to learn more about local optimization for your business.