Many local businesses worry that as great as the Internet has been for society, it is also allowing large companies to consolidate their control of local markets around the world. And while it’s true that without the Internet we would not have companies like Amazon, the Internet doesn’t have to be a death sentence for your local business.
More than 4 out of 5 consumers have searched online for local goods and services. And according to Shama Hyder on Forbes.com, 61.2% of survey respondents said they would be willing to pay higher prices to support small business.
What is killing local businesses isn’t the existence of the Internet; it's their lack of willingness or know-how to implement effective local digital marketing. Today we’re going to try to resolve this
Many traditional online strategies still apply to local marketing. The key is applying each with a local twist to maximize your ROI.
Local Marketing vs Global Marketing
A lot of digital marketing advice is geared toward global marketing. Even if your customers are only in the U.S. or Europe, you’ll still be applying “global” marketing.
But if you are a local business that specializes in offering goods and services to your community, there is no reason you need to be recognized globally, or even nationally. Trying to achieve that will dilute your efforts, wasting time and money. What’s worse, if you focus on too broad of a market, you may end up hurting your local success.
Local marketing is all about building a presence in your community. You need to be found where your actual customers are living and looking. For example, you don’t need to rank for “antique bookstore” to reach your local customers. Instead you should target “antique bookstore in Philadelphia.”
Not only will this be more relevant to your customer base, but it’s much easier to tackle this challenge without an army of content marketers.
Just like with global marketing, there are tons of channels and options you can use. Today we’re going to focus on the big three: Social media, SEO, and paid advertising.
A lot of local businesses give up on social media because it feels like a massive waste of time. Usually, however, the problem is just that they’re attacking it haphazardly. But if you are deliberate in your efforts, it can be one of the quickest and most effective local marketing channels out there.
Identifying the Right Channels
Every business needs a Facebook page, right? Wrong. It certainly won’t hurt most businesses to set one up, but just because Facebook is the largest network on the web, doesn’t automatically make it the best.
Start by developing strong buyer personas and then identify where those ideal customers spend their time online. For example, if you are targeting a younger demographic, you may find Snapchat and Instagram much more effective than Facebook. If your customers are into handicrafts and DIY projects, Pinterest is probably the network for you.
To help you figure this out, Sprout Social put together a handy report breaking down the demographics of the major social platforms. Here is the data for Facebook:
Show Your Personality
With social media, your goal is always to build a personal relationship with your customer base. With local business, it’s even more important since your customers will likely be dealing with you or your team personally at some point.
Don’t be afraid to make jokes and be informal. Post team selfies and show customers behind the scenes of all the work you do. Whatever you do, make sure to keep your brand consistent. If you’re going to be vulgar, own it. If you’re going to be family friendly, keep that in mind whenever you post new content.
This is where a lot of businesses screw up their social strategy. Nobody wants to follow your brand on Facebook only to get their newsfeed full of more advertisements. Instead, make sure you post interesting or useful content.
My barber in Colombia used to constantly post nothing but stuff like this…
Nice to know, but you posted the same thing last Sábado (Saturday), amigo. It’s also under your business information and easy to find when I need it. I wanted to like the page to be supportive, but it got annoying quick.
I’m not sure if my broken Spanish was enough to convince him he could market his Facebook page better, but when I looked today I noticed some much better content. This shows customers what kind of service they can expect, as well as a more personal look at who they will meet, when they get there.
If you’re ever in Medellin, these guys will get you fixed up proper for less than $5!
Share resources that will make your customers’ lives better. If you don’t have the time or budget to create your own, share helpful articles, videos or images you find online. You can also post entertaining content about you and your customers – anything that will make people smile and be glad they’re following you.
The goal is not likes. You just want to make people’s lives nicer. And if they share your content, even better!
They aren’t called social networks for nothing. Your social media pages should be a place for your customers to connect with you and fellow customers.
You can do this by asking questions or posting polls to get their input. Customers love to feel included and a part of the story – few things can do more to foster loyalty. Similarly, post pictures with your customers and reshare their posts to show them that you’re paying attention (and get free content!).
Companies like Pixlee make it easy to incorporate your fans’ social content on your website automatically by tracking tags and mentions.
You should also use your social media to maximize your community-building efforts offline. A great local marketing strategy is to sponsor community events, volunteer or donate products to local causes.
Whenever you do this, make sure to share it on your pages and encourage your followers to get involved, too. Part of the reason people are willing to pay more to support small businesses is that they believe the money is more likely to come back into the community.
Contests and Special Promotions
Contests, giveaways and special promotions can be a great way to grow and strengthen your social following or to turn social followers into e-mail subscribers.
Host giveaways to encourage customers to share your page. Hold photo contests to get them to promote your brand on their own pages. Offer special follower-only promotions to add value to your fan club.
These can be easily run on your own if your following is small enough, but there are a few tools out there that can help you manage them. Rafflecopter, Votigo, Strutta and KingSumo are some of the most popular. Each is a little different, so you’ll want to check them out and decide which is best for you.
You should also make sure that you have an online presence independent of social networks where customers can find and learn more about you. These days, setting up a website is easy and cheap with services like WordPress.
88% of consumers used their phone to look for local goods and services and 50% of consumers that conducted such a search visited a store within 24 hours. That’s why it’s critical to be easily found online.
While it’s not essential to have a blog on your website, it will help you rank in search engines and be found by interested shoppers. It will also show off your expertise and interest to visitors, making them more likely to become paying customers.
The most effective blogs post consistently and follow the same guidelines laid out in the social section above. A good blog post will have:
- Compelling headline that intrigues people enough to want to read the post
- Data-driven content that merges “personal experience with scientific research and data to offer an authoritative solution”
- Easy-to-read format, which means adding relevant images, bullet points and headers, using black font on a white background, and avoiding huge blocks of text
- Clear call to action (CTA) at the end of the post that tells readers what to do next
For more direct access to your customer base, you can get them to subscribe to a regular newsletter where you can send them new articles, as well as special promotions and offers. Just remember to make sure it's got more value-add than sales.
56% of on-the-go smartphone searches and 51% of in-store searches have local intent.
That is why it is so important to make sure that your website is targeting local keywords. What are the primary keywords you want to rank for? To figure this out, ask yourself what customers are typing into Google search when they're looking for a product or service like yours. Type those queries in yourself and see which businesses are currently ranking for those words or phrases.
Often targeting local keywords can be as simple as taking a regular keyword and making it long-tail and more targeted by adding “in Los Angeles” or “in Cleveland.” It could also include targeting local events or slang.
Let’s say you offer limo and party bus services in Miami. You may want to target terms like “party bus for ultra music festival” in addition to “party bus in Miami.”
Learn More: The Complete Guide to Local SEO
Search engine results aren’t the only way to be found online. You should also make sure to register with any relevant local directories, such as:
- Aabaco Small Business (formerly Yahoo! Small Business)
- Bing Places
- Yellow Pages
- Angie’s List
- Chamber of Commerce
Customers are familiar with these sites and trust them. Having a complete profile with your address and contact information will make it easy for your customers to find you. In addition, if your information is consistent across these pages, they may actually help your website rank higher in local search results.
Most of these directories also have review systems. While you shouldn’t annoy or pester anyone to leave you a review, try encouraging happy customers to leave a comment. These reviews have been shown to positively boost SEO efforts.
They also make customers way more likely to give you business after they find you: 88% of consumers said they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
If you do end up with a negative review, make sure to respond to it as quickly as possible. Some directories allow owners to respond directly. Always apologize, even if it wasn’t your fault. If you feel like the customer is truly misrepresenting their experience, include an explanation below your apology.
Ensuring that you address all problems that customers have with your business will usually turn an unhappy customer into a happy one – who then leaves a positive review about their issue that you took care of quickly.
Another great thing about the Internet is that it lets businesses run targeted advertising. For example, you can run a Facebook Ad for as little $1 a day and have 4,000 people see it.
But you need to spend your money wisely.
The biggest mistake you can make is forgetting to restrict your ads to your local markets. About two-thirds of consumers want their advertisements customized to their location:
So running ads for your Cleveland store nation-wide is nothing but a waste of money. No one in Portland who sees your ad will be swinging by your store anytime soon.
In addition to targeting local keywords, both Facebook and Google let you target customers by geographic region down to the ZIP code.
Groupon and Similar Services
While you might need to pay to advertise your business on sites like Groupon, I included it here because they will charge you a fee for every customer they refer.
One Marketing Land report stated that 45% of individuals surveyed have purchased from a business as a result of a seeing mobile coupon, so it’s worth trying out.
Make sure not to cannibalize your business though. If the Groupon offers aren’t increasing your number of new customers or total profit, they may not be worth it. Sometimes customers who would have come in at full price will start hunting for deals if you become well-known for offering them.
Now, Get Kickin'!
Local marketing isn’t all that different from any other digital marketing campaign. But with the right emphasis on your target market, you can maximize your results and cut down on costs dramatically. That’s how you compete with the big guys who aren’t taking the time to cater to your specific community.
Considering that 77% of Americans now own smartphones (and 92% of them are between 18 and 29 years of age), your online presence and local discoverability is only going to become more important in the years to come. So get kickin’!