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Living la Vida Local: Affiliate Marketing for Local Businesses

Posted on 2.14.2012

“Local” is one of the most popular buzzwords on the Web these days and it's easy to get swept up in all of the excitement, especially when you hear some of the numbers.

For instance, Google Places reports that nearly 97 percent of all consumers search for local businesses online, and BIA/Kelsey concludes that the same percentage uses online media to shop locally. And according to TMP Directional Marketing and comScore, about 83 percent of those using local search sites will take some type of offline action.

What these figures mean is that despite the global reach of the Web, many consumers are still using the Internet to efficiently shop locally, a desire that can hamper the productivity of online affiliate marketers.

The natural course of action, then, would be for affiliate marketers to pair up with local businesses to drive relevant local consumers to these offline businesses. But in a world where you make money getting users to do something as simple as clicking a link (or just viewing an ad), driving customers to actual brick-and-mortar locations could prove difficult. Because of this, one upside to trying your hand at local affiliate marketing is that commissions are generally higher.

As an affiliate, you have three tasks to concern yourself with to successfully market local businesses:

Find Good Partners
Because local affiliate marketing isn’t as cut-and-dried as traditional online marketing, it’s important to find a partnership that will be mutually beneficial to both parties. Initially, this means seeking partners in industries that have track records of success in local online marketing, which usually means products or services not available online for which users will likely be searching. These can include automotive repair, legal services, real estate, on-site event specialists (DJs, florists, caterers, etc.), health care professionals, hair and nail salons or spas, educational institutions, home services (heating/air conditioning repair, landscaping, etc.), tattoo artists and more.

Many affiliates also advise that you work with businesses that you trust and are comfortable working with, which could mean businesses that you personally patronize.

Money Matters
As a local affiliate marketer you have a few different options for how you can get paid, and part of selecting a good partner is determining which method is right for both of you.

One way to drive traffic to these local businesses is by having customers call a phone number that they see on your ads. If you go with this option, you can set up either a direct line or special code for receptionists to get from callers that lets the business know that these potential patrons were referred to the business by your site. You can simply determine the per-call-rate that the business will pay you based on how much they feel each caller is worth to them.

Or, you can try collecting user data yourself, via a sign-up form or something else, and then forwarding this information to the business and charging on a per-lead basis. Of course, this means that you also have to create a special landing page to go along with your website that advertises the business and directs users to their information.

Another less-popular option is to just charge a flat fee to cover your expenses, or just establishing an agreement that says all new business ensures you some kind of referral fee.

Tracking Referrals
The beauty of online affiliate marketing is that everything can be tracked, which makes the act of getting paid pretty simple. When you’re relying on person-to-person interactions, though, it’s not always as easy. Human error or even the simplest misunderstanding could keep you from getting paid for your lead, and it’s (partially) your responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen.

One way to do this is by establishing a special offer with your partner so that every referral you send can get some sort of discount, which lets the business know in their records that the customer came from you. This helps establish a traceable trail of data (not to mention, being an incentive that helps drive customers in the first place), and that provides you with some sort of security.

Setting up a separate telephone line or collecting lead information yourself are two other ways to ensure that almost every customer you drive is counted. Both of these are clear-cut methods to prove that you referred the customers, and the latter lets you have your own records of exactly how many visitors you signed up.

Once you work out the initial terms and conditions and determine how you want to conduct your campaign, advertising online for local businesses can be a lucrative and rewarding endeavor. And as most affiliates don’t dare dabble in local businesses, you’ll have little competition as you get started. 

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