Internet Search, Like Politics, Is Local

Local search is all the rage. At the 2007 Search Engine Strategies event in New York City there were presentations and exhibitors touting the importance of local search strategies and tactics.

It’s like the presenters and exhibitors just discovered that people are really mostly interested in finding products and services nearby.

I guess what’s really going on is that finally technology, or its application, has caught up with what people really want Internet search to do for them.

I use Internet search for everything – especially local! We haven’t had a copy of the Yellow Pages (or white pages) in our apartment since we got high-speed access.

We Google directions to the Gap across town. If a movie is playing in Brooklyn we Google directions to the theater and buy the tickets online – so we can get in after we make the trek.

As a user we know all we need to know about local search. We type in what we want and where we want to get it and bingo – here it is and a map’s included. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

So, what’s the big deal for business owners when it comes to local search in 2007?

It’s leveling the field – putting the Main Street Companies we love doing business with right up there with their big box rivals.

How’s that possible you ask? Well, here are three simple ways to maximize your over all search results using a local search focus.

What makes your company different? What are the local aspects of your business? That’s how you differentiate yourself from your competitors. Local search ads and placement provide the opportunity.

Would you rather eat spaghetti at a local franchise of a national chain or a locally owned Italian restaurant that’s supported the community since 1963 – who supplies pizza for the area football team parents night and whose grand daughter won the state’s citizenship award competition?

We do business with our friends. Local search provides us with the information we need to do so.

Reach Buyers When They’re Ready To Buy:
Let’s say I was looking for a health club membership to begin addressing my 2004 New Year’s resolution. OK, so I’ve put it off a bit – but now I may be ready, so what’s my number one criterion?

Location. It has to be as close to me as possible – so I’ll be more likely to show up.

I may have been introduced to a certain company via their TV commercials. In our many walks around the various communities in New York I may have passed dozens of their health clubs. I may even know people who have a membership at one of them and swear by it.

But if I’m going to join one – it has to be in my neighborhood.

So I go online, do a local search, and find that they have a brand new heath club only a few blocks away. They even have printable coupons for various membership types. I’m doomed – my last really good excuse is gone.

Leverage All Your Touch Points
If your online goal is to simply drive people physically into your place of business you can provide them with directions to your place, a map, when you’re open, etc. with your local search strategy.

Perhaps more importantly you can offer your customers additional options for doing business with you – which they did not know about.

Let’s say you sell cement to contractors and homeowners. Your customers get it delivered to the job site or in their driveway – most of the time. No one ever comes by, even though you have people working there twelve hours a day seven days a week.

Local search can be used to tell people that you’re open in case they need to pick up a few extra bags of Quickrete over the weekend. Or they can place an order online or on your 24 hour a day voicemail for next day delivery.

Effective local search tactics reaches local searchers when they are ready to buy – with every way that it is possible for them to buy from you.

At the Search Engine Strategies event the experts told us to adopt a search marketing strategy that has global reach (hey, you never know), regional implications, and connects with our local buying audience.

How is that possible? Let’s take a top down look.

National Campaign:
For most companies this is best left to their manufacturers. Let General Motors create the buzz, show the new models, pitch the extraordinary value, and the environmental friendliness of their vehicles.

Let them do national TV and spend a bazillion dollars on search engine optimization, just push them to link to your company while they’re at it. Hey, it’s their brand; so let them do the branding.

You spend your money and energy with actions that result in sales for you.

Expanded regional Area Keyword Search:
There is an Auto Mall on I71 North of Cincinnati. I bet the dealers there sell most of their vehicles to folks who live north of downtown all the way up maybe 25 to 40 miles north of where the Mall is located.

People living a little farther north of that line may turn right when they get on I71 and head toward Columbus. People south of downtown Cincinnati cross the bridge into Northern Kentucky. On the east side of Cincinnati there is at least one huge Auto Mall siphoning off potential business as well.

Out of area local search can target these buyers telling them to come by your dealership for a comparison before they buy. If they do you guarantee to make it worth their time.

Tell them how long it will take on I275 from different parts of the metro area. And if they buy a new vehicle you’ll give them an extra $500 off if they live more than so many miles away. You get the idea.

What’s it worth to your business to increase your traditional marketing area by another 25 miles in every direction?

Local Relevance Promotions:
Don’t forget the importance of dominating the market you’re already in. A local search marketing strategy will help you solidify your base with a reminder that you’re still there.

As a local business owner you are sought out by every community endeavor for your support. Local search provides an opportunity improve on your local relevance – why people should support your business. Local search gives you a chance to remind people of your commitment to them.

As with the Italian restaurant – I’ll pay more money for new tires if given the chance to buy them from the nice people who sent the local high school band to New Orleans to play in the Sugar Bowl parade – even if it was a decade ago.

Compare that to saving a few bucks from a giant store where I am just a number and actually had to be there before 10am to qualify for the special price anyway.

Here are three things to keep in mind when considering your local search marketing strategy.

What do you really want?
How far can you haul gravel and still make money? How far can your service technicians travel and still at least break even? Do you simply want to dominate your traditional selling area or do you see local search as a way to gradually and systematically expand you company into a wider and wider area? Knowing this will help you when it comes to budgeting the resources required.

Who’s willing to help you?
Will you highly respected manufacturer link to you in a way that helps raise your status with the search engines? Or will other companies join you in an effort to build your presence online collectively? Consider the Auto Mall – there must be a dozen of more dealerships all in one place. Working together with ad buys and pooling resources to hire SEO experts will benefit them all.

What’s your budget?
Where’s the money going to come from – your major distributors, your manufacturer, our your wallet? What’s your stomach for online advertising? Do you have the people and the interest to do pay for performance ads? Or do you feel more comfortable with the idea of doing whatever SEO you can do easily, buy ads on a fixed rate basis like in the Yellow pages – and move on?

What it all boils down to is what’s important to you.

For some maybe reading this article is enough. When they do whatever marketing and/or advertising they do in the future they’ll factor some of these thoughts into their decisions.

Others will want to know more, this will have opened their eyes to some real possibilities they are missing – stuff they want to be doing before their competitors start doing them.

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