Did you know 99% of people use PCs or Laptops to search for local businesses? About 75% of mobile phone users and 90% of tablet users also look online for local businesses. On top of that, the portion of the population that refers to phonebooks and mailers for business information declines every year. Look your business up online – what do you find? If you only see competitors, wrong information, or no information than you are missing out. Any modern business’s marketing strategy must account for the internet, whether in a small town or large metro. Read on to learn 10 of the most important methods you should include in your local business marketing plan.
1. Build a Simple Website
It’s an unavoidable truth – most consumers now expect businesses to have websites. After phone number, address, and hours, a website is the 4th most expected feature consumers want when searching for a business. In fact, a website may make the difference between getting new traffic in the door and losing it to competition. Luckily for business owners, building a website can be fairly simple. Most hosting providers that sell/host domains offer user friendly frameworks in the form of pre-built templates or simple platforms like WordPress. If you aren’t tech savvy and can’t afford professional design firms, try working out deals with design students or local freelancers.
At a minimum, a local business website should reflect your brand and include an introduction about the business, services or goods offered, contact information, contact form, and clear location information. This is also a good place to mention past community services, promotions, accomplishments, and other information relevant to converting your potential customers. Ultimately, a website can help you generate leads, provide 24/7 representation, and give you control over your web presence.
2. Be Active on Social Media
Social media continues to impact the way people communicate with each other, and also with businesses. A recent comScore study revealed 15% of people used social networks to search for local businesses in 2011, with the majority of traffic on Facebook and Twitter. About 2/3 say they are more likely to use a local business that has their info on a social networking site. Furthermore, users of social networks are nearly twice as likely to use and submit local business reviews.
The use of social networks, especially Facebook and Twitter, can help you get seen by potential clients, get endorsed by existing clients, and connect with your community. Most social sites are free for businesses to use. Make the most of your social profiles by maintaining current information, posting promotions and interesting content often, starting conversations, and replying to customers.
3. Get on Local Review Sites
SearchEngineLand’s Local Consumer Review Survey (2012) found that of those surveyed, 72% trust online reviews like personal recommendations and 52% say positive reviews make them more likely to use a business. In total, ¾ of people said they use online reviews to make local business decisions. Thus, if shoppers cannot find reviews for your business, you could be missing out. Some of the most popular places people look for reviews includes Google Places, Yahoo Local, Yelp, AngiesList, MerchantCircle, Insider Pages, Urbanspoon (restaurants), and TripAdvisor (travel). Make sure your business is listed with correct information and invite customers to review their experiences. It is also a good idea to monitor reviews and proactively respond to any unsavory ones to build trust.
4. Use Local Business Listings
With so many ways to find businesses digitally, it is hard to tell exactly where potential customers might be looking. Using a comprehensive local business listings service can be an effective and convenient way to get placed on major directories and information channels. To maximize exposure, make sure the listings will cover major search engines, online yellow pages, business directories, local specific directories, GPS databases, mobile providers, and 411 databases. Listings are a low-maintenance and easy way of marketing your business online and getting found.
5. Post on Craigslist
Craigslist remains a ubiquitous tool for buying and selling within communities. Local businesses can post about items for sale, services offered, events, and even job openings. There are service categories for small business ads, skilled trades, writers, legal, and much more. Almost all postings on Craigslist are free (job ads excluded), and the website is very easy to use. When making postings for Craigslist, keep the layout simple, stay on message, and include links to your site and reviews. A short overview of what your business does, current specials, and contact info is enough to pique interest. With virtually no overhead, you have nothing to lose by posting.
6. Distribute Coupons
Coupons are great way to get new and existing customers in the door. Local businesses can advertise coupons through their existing channels. On your home website, make a page for sales and specials where you can feature promotions and coupons. On social networks, you can tweet coupons or set up a Facebook like campaign and reward customers with coupons. Claimed Google Places profiles and other business listings also let retailers list coupons, and many local community forums will also allow coupons to be posted.
7. Use Local Community Websites
Nearly every community big and small features various local websites for community news, forum discussions, or local networking. Seek out these websites by doing search engine research or talking to other business owners and customers. Some may require small fees for to list your business though many allow free classifieds and discussions. The focus shouldn’t be spam but active participation and connections. When community members feel you are involved and invested in the local area, you begin to build trust and lasting customer relationships.
8. B2B Networking
Networking with other local businesses can be an important way to get referrals and vendor contacts. Websites like LinkedIn and MerchantCircle focus specifically on linking businesses and professionals with one another, though even consumer social networks are helpful for Business-to-Business connections. If you are in the plumbing trade for instance, networking could help you create symbiotic relationships with electricians or carpenters where you refer customers to them, and they to you.
9. Try Local Deal Sites
Local deal sites continue to grow in popularity, and typically feature steep discounts in exchange for exposure. Group deals can be a great way to boost business during off times or just meet new clients, but be cautious of over-reliance on this marketing method so as not to undercut your value. Groupon and LivingSocial are most well known, but others like Tippr, and DealsGoRound receive higher customer satisfaction ratings. Shop around and see what is popular in your area/target demographic and determine exactly what type of discount your bottom-line can handle.
10. Blog and Create Useful Content for Customers
The last, and frequently overlooked, tip for marketing local businesses online is to provide useful content to customers. This may require some creativity and time, but can be very beneficial in building valuable customer relationships. Plus, search engines like unique content which helps boost your website. A blog is a great place to begin, and very simple to operate. Businesses can post about specials, events, employees, new products, and more. Product tutorials, FAQs, and DIY are always appreciated by customers. As an example, a dentist could offer oral care tips, videos on at-home care, and product/service promotions. A restaurant could detail featured menu items, ingredient introductions, chef bios and more. Even skilled trade businesses could offer content like past projects, quick DIY tips, and what-to-do-if articles to keep customers returning. Overall, content should be recent and reflect relevancy, customer interest, and the brand.