The latest trend in online marketing focuses on local search. While there are plenty of business site directories that act like online telephone directories, local search is more than a telephone directory or classified ad site. It's a community-oriented, user-friendly approach to finding businesses close to home.
Recent studies have shown that an increasing number of consumers are researching local businesses online before heading out to make purchases. As large search providers like Google and Yahoo! build their local search resources, expect consumers to refine their search habits.
My research indicates that in most local areas, more than 70 per cent of all businesses included in local search listings do not have their own Web sites. To compensate, the search services combine information from telephone directories, classified ads, and news articles. As many as 20 or 30 Web results may be offered for a company, but a consumer may not find an informative, official Web site for an interesting business.
So, here is a three-point plan any business should use to capitalize on local search:
One: Control your visibility with your own Web site
Maximize your visibility through local search services with your own Web site. Choose a service that lets you create an attractive but simple, multi-page site quickly and with little hassle.
Your company Web site should consist of at least three pages:
1) An introduction page tells people the name of your company, what your company does (a brief mention of products and/or services), and who your market is (e.g., "Serving vendors around the world since 1971").
2) An "About Us" page tells people who you are, what you do, how long you have been in business, and what qualifies you and your business to be their choice.
3) A "Contact Us" page tells people how to reach you. Include a link to a mapping service so they can find your address easily. Contact information should include telephone numbers, email addresses, and physical addresses. Include names for department heads if appropriate.
Although many business operators believe a Web site should be loaded with graphics, music, and animation, usability studies show that users tend to leave Web sites that don't get to the point or provide information clearly and without hype. Just start with a simple Web site.
Two: Take charge of your local search listings
Did you know that you can create your own listings in the local search services? Yahoo! will give you a free 5-page Web site just for listing your company with their service.
Google's service is more like a classified directory, but you still have direct control over how your listing appears:
But don't stop with their Web listings. Take charge of the Yahoo! Mobile and Google Mobile services, too. People are increasingly using their cell phones to search the Internet.
Study how these companies advise their visitors to use the services. For example, if you operate a pizza parlor, make it possible for people to find you by searching for "pizza" and your zip code. It should be as simple as that.
Three: Offer Incentives To Other Businesses With Web Sites
Develop a plan that promotes your Web site to your community by offering incentives to other businesses to refer their visitors to your site. Create an attractive discount coupon image that other businesses can offer to their visitors. Build your own coupon page for companies you routinely refer your customers to.
Your goal is not to exchange coupon links with other local businesses. Your goal is to build referral relationships. If you offer shoe repair services, build referral relationships with local shoe stores. If they don't have Web sites, help them learn how to create those Web sites.
Be willing to link to other local businesses on your pages without requiring a link back. Show your visitors that you are a resource. When your customers come see you, talk to them about your Web site and ask them how you can make it a better resource for them.
Michael Martinez has been actively designing and promoting Web sites since 1997. Michael has assisted small and mid-sized businesses in developing their online marketing strategies since 1999. He is the author of innovative research articles and papers, most recently including "On the Googleness of Being" and "Google: Changes in Ranking Strategies", which have influenced the search engine optimization industry's strategies for years.