Internet marketing is critical for local businesses looking to connect with prospects. While many have been slow to adopt Web marketing initiatives on the whole, change is coming.
According to the U.S. SMB Spending Forecast by BIA/ Kelsey, by 2015 SMBs will allocate just 30 percent of their marketing budgets to traditional advertising (down from 52 percent in 2010), with the remaining 70 percent going to digital/online media. From review and online directory sites, the myriad daily deal platforms, pay-per-click and display advertising offerings - there is no shortage of opportunities. Local businesses need channels and platforms to connect with their future buyers. But which is the best for your audience and most appropriate for your budget?
If you have been hesitant to engage in local Web marketing, you are not alone. Know that there are solutions for those just starting out as well as edgier, more aggressive approaches for more seasoned marketers. Let's take a look at a few of the most popular options on the market today.
TIER ONE: Local Search-based Advertising
According to a recent study by strategy and communications agency Cone Inc., 85 percent of consumers research products or services online before they make purchasing decisions. Since "search" is users' primary tool of choice for finding information, local business owners should aim to position themselves within the online channels providing search functionality to end-users.
Offerings from Google (Places) and Local.com, for example, both prove to be valuable options in their ability to drive results - so consider starting there if the aim is to increase online visibility and website traffic, as well as foot traffic into a brick-and-mortar store.
Business owners can enhance their local profiles by upgrading their listings and advertising to audiences on these sites. While Google Places listings are free and payment won't influence position, Google now offers Adwords Express, a locally targeted advertising program designed specifically for local businesses wanting additional exposure.
Google is clearly the main source of traffic for websites but there are others which can supplement a Web marketing campaign's traffic acquisition objectives. When a business upgrades its listing on Local.com, for example - which reaches, according to the company's own count, more than 20 million consumers a month, driven in large part by its distribution network of more than 1,000 partner sites - a business can all but assure itself of greater exposure and do so on a variety of sites (premium listings at Local.com start at $49.95 a month). With the right combination of location, budget and creative, Web advertising through search leads to immediate conversions as well as long-time loyal customers.
Local business marketers can accelerate their exposure by further expanding their locally focused ad campaigns beyond vendors such as Google or Local.com. There are many options which deserve consideration including SuperMedia, CitySearch and YellowPages. com. These directory-based advertising platforms offer small businesses a cost-efficient and effective way to position themselves in front of their prospects.
TIER TWO: Daily Deal Promotions
For local business marketers that seek a more aggressive approach, consider advertising in the white-hot, hyper-trendy daily deal market. Daily deal sites have risen in popularity with the faltering economy and consumers are hopping on board in droves. A recent Hitwise survey shows that 87 percent of consumers are satisfied with their deal purchases and plan to return to the business from which they purchased the deal.
"Groupon has transformed the way local businesses market themselves around the world, harnessing the power of the Internet to successfully grow their businesses," says Julie Anne Mossler, a Groupon representative. "Never before has there been a form of marketing with such tangible exposure and trackable ROI. Unlike radio advertising or print ads that offer little proof they work, with Groupon you know these customers are going to come through your door and hopefully find a reason to come back."
Although creating a deal on a site like Groupon exposes a business to a large and new audience, it's not always a good fit. There have been numerous reports of local businesses collapsing under the overwhelming demands that can go along with a successful Groupon promotion. If you're willing to take the risk and have the ability to convert one-time visitors into long-term customers, daily deal vendors including Groupon should be in your local Web marketing mix.
TIER THREE: Local Meets Social Advertising
As for advertising on social media sites, by now everyone should know that social media provides businesses with an extremely large audience (Facebook now has more than 750 million active users worldwide) and for many that has been the primary draw towards participation. Aside from setting up multiple social media accounts - such as a Facebook page, Twitter account and a LinkedIn group, businesses should also advertise on these wildly popular Web destinations.
For instance, creating an advertisement on Facebook is straight-forward and relatively inexpensive. Businesses can choose their budget as well as define which audience the ad will reach, such as location, age and interests. Twitter too, while still evolving its advertising options, is gradually releasing more "promoted tweets" into the Twitterverse. Nonetheless, at a minimum budget of $5,000 a month, this option is not viable for small businesses - at least not yet.
Ready to Go Local?
For local businesses looking to capitalize on the Web, know that there are options. Dependent on your own marketing style and the size of your budget, search, daily deals and social provide the best choices, but advertising on the most highly trafficked sites is where business owners should really concentrate their efforts.
About the Author: Allison Howen is an associate editor at Website Magazine, focusing primarily on the coverage of social media and ecommerce.
As the Editor-in-Chief of Website Magazine and President of Website Services, Peter has established himself as a prominent figure in the digital marketing industry. With a wealth of experience and knowledge, Peter has been a driving force in shaping the landscape of digital marketing. His leadership in creating innovative and targeted marketing campaigns has helped numerous businesses achieve their revenue growth goals. Under his direction, Website Magazine has become a trusted source of information and insights for digital marketers worldwide. As President of Website Services, Peter oversees a team of talented professionals who specialize in SEO/SEM, email marketing, social media, and digital advertising. Through his hands-on approach, he ensures that his team delivers exceptional results to their clients. With a passion for digital marketing, Peter is committed to staying up-to-date with the latest industry trends and technologies, making him a sought-after thought leader in the field.