I get hopping mad every time I hear about some poor local business getting suckered into a contract paying up to $150/ month for “Local Marketing”. It gives all of us a bad name when these scam artists dupe unsuspecting small businesses out of their hard-earned money — especially when these small businesses can little afford the charges.
Hausman & Associates doesn’t do local marketing, so don’t think this is just sour grapes. It just pisses me off to see these businesses prey on folks who don’t really understand inbound marketing and think they’re investing to grow their businesses.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Lots of these local marketing businesses are legit. Many just take your money to get you listed on a bunch of directories, which doesn’t really help your business. It just costs you money. Focus on just a few of these listings and spend the savings on other marketing efforts likely to help your business.
Local Marketing Directories
I’m not an expert on local marketing — remember Hausman & Associates deals only with firms selling nationally or globally. But, I can extrapolate from what I do know and what I read from the experts. So, here’s my advice.
Google+ Local and Google Places
Nearly 70% of searches still happen on Google. When you add in Yahoo and Bing, you’ve covered probably 90+% of searches. So, just focus your efforts on these and forget those fringe sites.
My suggestion is to spend most of your time on Google because they have a strong commitment to local.
It’s free to sign up for Google+ Local and Google Places — both are the current leaders in local search. And, it’s not that hard. Here’s the Google Places page I put up just to see how the whole local thing worked. It’s pretty painless. You fill out the information, request verification via a postcard, enter the verification code when you receive the postcard and you’re in business. Your Google Places account is a central location for managing online reviews, Adwords Express advertising, and your Google+ company page.
Meanwhile, Google+ Local helps folks find local businesses and helps businesses get found online. Folks can search local businesses and enter reviews of local vendors.
Both sites have the advantage of bringing you local traffic. When someone searches a restaurant, for instance, Google uses their location to serve up local businesses first. Thus, your local restaurant can be on the first page of search, which carries a huge potential for business.
Pick a few review sites — my recommendations are Yelp and Foursquare. And, don’t just get listed there — which is all you get when you pay for most local marketing companies. You need to MONITOR what folks are saying about you on these sites. If you see a few negative comments, invite these folks to share WHY they gave you a negative review and ask if they’ll give you a second chance to make a good impression.
I would resist the temptation to buy good reviews or get help putting up fake reviews. First, it’s so common now that many power review site users only trust reviews from people they know, and second, remember that bad reviews help you get better. Data suggests only a small percentage of dissatisfied customers complain. Dissatisfied customers who DO complain are giving you vital information to make your products and services better for everyone, which really helps your business grow.
The future of local marketing
According to an article on Forbes, local marketing is evolving and small businesses need to work smarter to make their businesses grow. Here are some trends in local marketing:
Don’t ignore online local marketing
If you ignore online local marketing, you’re fighting a losing battle for survival. Not only has online marketing replaced the phone book and yellow pages, but consumers increasingly ask their social networking connections for recommendations before buying. Thus, online local marketing not only helps you gain visibility, but your performance with existing customers also impacts your ability to garner future sales.
And, the big boys realize how valuable local marketing is. Big companies like Walmart are using local marketing to market the locations for their brands because nearly half of the consumers use local search EVERY DAY! Now is NOT the time to put your online local marketing on the back burner. Instead, you should be increasing spending on online local marketing.
SEO is more complex
Getting listed on directories just isn’t all that valuable. Google’s algorithm changes mandate more sophisticated strategies and backlinks just aren’t enough anymore. The new SEO requires social networking across Facebook, Twitter, Google+, at a minimum. For brands with a visual element, Pinterest is likely the most valuable social network.
And, content marketing is important for small business SEO the same as for larger, national businesses. Your local business needs to invest in developing unique content to drive traffic into your store.
Ditch the mobile website
Mobile websites are going the way of the dodo bird. Instead, invest in a responsive design for your website — one that responds to the screen capabilities of whatever device your customer is using. That way, the user gets a seamless experience as they move between devices, which is increasingly common.
Watch for vertical online marketing intermediaries
ZocDoc and Uber are becoming the go-to places for healthcare and cabs, respectively. New vertical marketing companies help local marketing for companies by providing not just links back to the local business but generating more visits to local businesses by mastering SEO within their vertical to bring more traffic into a search for local providers. Both sites offer a central location where searchers can find local businesses (physicians and dentists, or cabs) fitting their search criterion.
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Hausman and Associates, the publisher of MKT Maven, is a full-service marketing agency operating at the intersection of marketing and digital media. Check out our full range of services.