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Back to Basics: Local Internet Marketing:
Drive Traffic Online and Offline

by Jessica Lee, August 22, 2011

Surprising as it may be, it's still not uncommon for local brick-and-mortar businesses to be without a website. In fact, a 2009 figure from Ad-ology showed approximately 46 percent of small businesses still did not have a site. And for those local companies with a website, many still do not take advantage of all the search optimization tactics available to help drive traffic to their place of business. 

Kalinka Gifts storefront.
We're currently in an era where local businesses comprise a large share of searches online; 20 percent, in fact, of all searches have a local intent, according to a Google report from 2009. That means, approximately 2 billion searches per month in Google are for local business; this, from an estimate by Search Engine Land and a May Search Share report by comScore.

Those that have come to rely on traditional advertising and other forms of local offline marketing face a looming problem:

  • As younger generations become the consumer, they will only be looking in one place to find the products and services they need in any city: online.
  • People are looking for more information about the products and services they choose via recommendations and reviews from those in their network online. This is why Yelp and Google +1 are popular.
  • Customers are looking for new reasons to be loyal and engaged with the businesses they frequent. And businesses are finding ways to do this with online marketing, for example, with location check-in services like foursquare that offer special deals.
  • Last but not least, print and other forms of advertising simply do not offer the level of cost control and data on measuring performance that online marketing campaigns do.

In this article, we'll look at the rise of local search and Google's investment in it, what a holistic local search strategy is comprised of and how local brick-and-mortars can make the most of their marketing dollars by driving traffic to their place of business through the Internet.

Why Local Search?

Bruce Clay predicted that Google will be predominantly a local-focused search engine in the next few years. If any local business is not being found online among the estimated 2 billion queries monthly with a local intent, it's at a serious disadvantage.

Local Search

Google will continue to support this shift because it makes good business sense to do so; local search presents an opportunity to make more money on paid advertising. Regionally focused pay per click search advertising offers a steeper return on investment because it's more targeted and less subject to spam at the moment.

If, as a local business, the return on investment for PPC is higher, the willingness to pay more per click increases, which also grows the money Google receives for the same amount of clicks.

The other piece to this revenue model for Google is the "finite" number of keywords Google had prior to local search. This created a situation where some wouldn't bid on the keywords due to high bid volume and cost. Now, with the regional focus, there's a massive increase in the amount of available keywords, because now those existing keywords have a region attached to them.

What this all boils down to is the user. If the user wants local results, Google is happy to oblige, and in return, will increase the revenue stream through online advertising services.

Putting Your Business Online for the First Time

The current economy still isn't putting marketing at the forefront of many local business owners. And the easy-to-manage traditional marketing that's been an integral part of a business for years is hard to transition from. For the local business, common aversions to building and marketing a website include:

  • The costs associated with building a site and maintaining an Internet marketing campaign. Multiple vendors can quickly add to costs.
  • Lack of perceived value of having a website if the business has run just fine up until that point. Many businesses have been a staple in the community, but guaranteed their competition is taking advantage of missed opportunities online.
  • Lack of knowledge and resources on where and how to begin, and how to drive the online marketing strategy moving forward. Business owners aren't expected to know everything that goes into a Web marketing campaign.
However, given the current trends in Internet usage and search, those businesses that do not take advantage of the online channel and all the marketing disciplines that go along with it, will fall further and further behind their competition each day.

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In last month's feature article, we talked about Internet marketing optimization -- the coming together of all the online marketing disciplines to create the most return on investment for business.

In the past, search engine optimization and online advertising were the only Internet marketing disciplines a business had access to. Now, disciplines such as social media marketing and conversion rate optimization are part of the holistic strategy, not to mention the developments in the longer-standing disciplines that have made them more powerful than ever before. And, they all work together to reinforce one another. A healthy local strategy includes:

  • SEO-ready site design and architecture.
  • Local search engine optimization.
  • Local paid search.
  • Social media marketing.
  • Conversion rate optimization.
  • Analytics.
Let's take a look at a few of these areas and how they play into local search.

SEO-Ready Web Design
Ideally, a site should be built from the ground up with Internet marketing goals in mind. This includes keeping key things at the forefront such as building a site within an SEO-friendly CMS that allows for full HTML and URL control, and gives the search engine spiders an easy path to crawl and index the site so it can be found for queries.

Site design and architecture as it relates to Internet marketing also takes into account how the navigation will be built and the content organized to support optimization, good user experience, conversion and position the site as a subject-matter expert.

Other things should be taken into consideration in this phase, such as how the site will support social media through endorsement buttons such as the Facebook "like" button and Google +1, integration of a blog and social share buttons to spread content across the Web, plus adding links to social networks so they are easily accessible. Also keep in mind how the design can support the conversion funnel through the use of colors, content, call-outs and more.

Local Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization has always been crucial to having a business be found online. Now with local search growing, it's a vital step to driving foot traffic to a place of business. With a local-focused SEO strategy, websites are optimized so businesses can be found for the products and services they provide in the city they reside in.

Local search optimization includes things like geotargeted keyword research and building relevant content surrounding the products or services a business sells to position that business as a local authority on the matter.

These things not only help rankings, but give website visitors what they need on a topic without having to go to another site to find it. Remember, what's good for the user is good for Google. If you're always keeping the user experience in mind with local optimization of a site, Google will reward that site with rankings.

Local SEO also takes into account putting that business into online directories and listings that the search engines use to verify the businesses' location and information. Once the accurate information of that business is consistent across directories and listings such as Google Places, Yelp and many more, it helps put that business on the map -- literally -- so that customers can find and even review a local business online.

Social Media Marketing for Local Business
Social media is adding an interesting layer to the way local businesses operate. It's evoking that mom-and-pop feel to national brands; it's growing brand loyalty and also giving businesses an additional, more targeted channel to market deals and drive foot traffic.

More and more, local businesses are hearing the buzz surrounding social networks. While some may have made an effort to create that Facebook or Twitter profile, many still aren't quite sure how to get the most out of social media and make it work for them.

A good social media strategy takes into account where the local business' target customers are hanging out online, and then uses that network to offer deals, engage, support online marketing initiatives and grow branding.

One example of social media supporting many online marketing initiatives is Yelp. The review platform Yelp is just one of the online directories previously mentioned in this article that Google uses to verify a business. Ensuring a business is not only listed in Yelp but is also being reviewed by its community and then even incorporating things like rich snippets in the website so that it pulls reviews into the search engine results pages is very powerful combination. It supports SEO strategies, increases engagement and build community.

Outside of just creating a social media profile, it's how a business uses the resources those provide that is essential. Simply having a Facebook profile is not enough. To keep customers loyal and engaged, taking advantage of things like Facebook Places, so customers can check into a place of business when they arrive, then using Facebook Deals to offer specials to those people who check in helps reinforce that action and grows engagement.

Other social avenues for local search that don't even involve a website include location check-in services like foursquare. Foursquare also adds that layer of engagement and allows businesses to offer deals, and businesses listed in foursquare do have the ability to show up in a search because some of these location check-in services are indexed by Google and Bing.

Pay Per Click for Local Search
Local search ads ensure a business is no longer just guessing about how its advertisements perform. Prior to pay-per-click, advertising channels such as print ads, billboards and others have only offered a static way to deliver the message and ROI was based on complicated equations estimating reach, frequency and other intangible indicators.

In an April Bruce Clay, Inc. blog post, the return on investment of online ads versus offline ads showed that for the same amount of money, a business can deliver a much more targeted message to a more targeted audience.

Plus, local search campaigns help reinforce a business' local organic SEO campaign, by quality matching keywords to landing pages within a site. This helps to improve a site's Quality Score by Google.

And, with social network advertisement, such as Facebook ads, businesses have a large database of demographic and psychographic information about the user base, so ads can be even more targeted. And, if done right, it's very inexpensive to deliver.

Going Online + Internet Marketing: How to Start

Local business owners are not expected to know the many facets of Internet marketing and how to drive strategy. Online marketing is comprised of many disciplines that have taken years and years to develop. Not to mention, the industry is fast-paced; it requires a full-time role to stay abreast of the changes and what they mean to a business' site and marketing plan.

Turning to Internet marketers who understand the climate of local search is a great way to kick-start a healthy, holistic Internet marketing campaign that sets you up for long-term success. Instead of using multiple vendors for Web design, development and various facets of Internet marketing, look for a company that can offer all in one, and be sure they understand how the facets work together.

Another item to look for is if the vendor offers collaboration and training. This is important so business owners can take control of and understand the Web marketing strategy moving forward, once they are ready. No matter what route a local business decides to take, the need for an optimized online presence is key to sustainability. It's no longer a "nice to have"; it's now becoming the "must have," and the next few years are crucial in preparing for the shift that's gaining momentum, right now.

For more information on Bruce Clay, Inc.'s solution to Web development and Internet marketing optimization for the local business, read about Localware.