In the beginning the Internet was seen as the great equalizer, giving small businesses the opportunity to play on a level playing field with the “big boys”.
Much has changed over my last 12 years working in e-business and Internet marketing, but this advantage remains very true for locally-focused businesses. In fact, “customers” of B2B, B2C, educational and not for profit organizations actually prefer to find and do business with local establishments.
Why then, are so many businesses failing to leverage the power of the Internet? Studies show that the Internet is the #1 resource for consumers seeking products, services and purchase information. Most will use local geographically sensitive keywords to find businesses in their area after they do a basic search and find companies from across the country.
I find it absolutely astounding that most small business owners discount the Internet without fully understanding how cost-effective this effort can be. They have no problem spending thousands of dollars on yellow page ads, radio, TV and direct mail with dismal or unmeasured results. But, investing in the #1 source for qualified leads for their business seems to be a difficult thing to embrace. Those who “get it” are dominating their markets and often taking business intended for the competition. New prospects can only click on your website if they can be found via the search engines. (see my website for my article on the importance of keywords in search marketing). Also, my firm offers a KEYWORD KIT, which essentially takes the mystery out of selecting keywords…we do the research for you if you want to manage SEO in-house and just don’t know how to reach the most qualified audiences.
Consider the following:
Top organic or natural search engine rankings are FAR easier to achieve for local search than national rankings on Google, Yahoo, etc.
PPC campaign clicks generated from pay-per-click campaigns generated from Adwords and Yahoo Search are far more affordable for local/regional campaigns than national or international campaigns.
So, why are so many local businesses missing out?
Perhaps the challenge is in the execution?
Most locally-focused businesses are small, employing a handful of people, or perhaps just the owner themselves, So…
Hiring a dedicated Internet marketing professional is just too expensive for some businesses.
Learning “how to” do SEO and online marketing requires a significant investment of time and energy, one that small business owners are not likely to have an abundance of.
They may believe their website is already “optimized”. Many website design and development firms sell and charge for search engine optimization. Because I am the person that these businesses come to when it they can’t get ranked on Google, I can assure you that most of these web vendors do not understand SEO or Internet marketing as it relates to measurable results (see my 2-27-08 blog post about this topic!)
The business has been scammed by a telemarketer or incoming email guaranteeing #1 placement and now they don’t trust any SEO or Internet marketing professional. (BTW, if you see these…run the other direction!)
So, what is a local business to do?
This is what I tell my clients:
Have an SEO pro conduct an analysis of your website. (my firm does this so I have to plug it, go to: SEO 15pt Analysis to learn more).
Invest in organic SEO and maintain the effort over time…you MUST be in the top 3 rankings of ORGANIC search results to capture roughly 80% of all clicks from keyword search.
Compliment organic search with PPC campaigns. This is most likely not a long-term solution as the sole source of traffic because every click will cost you and inevitably go up. But a strategically crafted pay per click campaign can be a strong compliment to organic search performance.
Market on AND offline! Traditional best practices support your online presence. Word of mouth marketing, networking, press releases and social media marketing are also great ways to raise awareness of your company, services, products and offerings. (BTW, a terrific resource for small businesses serious about getting local publicity and media coverage on any budget is Be Heard Solutions, check them out!)
I encourage every business dependent upon, or desire for, local business to revisit their local search engine marketing efforts…it may be the most powerful and cost effective thing you do to expand your customer base this year!