If you own a local business, you may be inclined to think that most of your business comes from word-of-mouth or foot traffic. In the past, this was certainly the case. After all, before the Internet came along, local businesses put out ads in local papers and relied on their names getting passed along by happy customers.
Of course, Internet marketing has changed the rules somewhat. Consider this: according to eMarketer, 54% of Americans use the Internet instead of the phone book to find local services, and over 40% of all searches are for local businesses and services. What does this mean for you? It means that your marketing focus should be on online search, and a content marketing strategy that helps you attract and retain customers.
The first page in search results has become valuable real estate for local business owners, so they need to use every tool at their disposal in order to claim their piece of this shrinking turf. Here are some ways to improve your ranking in local search results:
1. Localize your search terms
Add your city or geographical area to your keywords. It’s basic SEO, but it bears repeating. This is the difference between “Heating & cooling” and “Cleveland Ohio heating & cooling”. To keep your content from sounding unnatural or forced, only insert the term once every 100 words or so. Also, put your localized keyword in your titles as often as possible, and bold them. Titles carry more weight with search engines.
Tip: Consider adding content to sites like Flickr, YouTube, and Slideshare and adding localized tags, descriptions, links and file names.
2. Localize your pages
Google’s Matt Cutts recently suggested that local businesses create individual pages for each community they serve. These pages should feature unique content and be optimized for local search. You could also add a sidebar on these pages that includes local events and happenings with neighborhood, school and not-for-profit organizations.
3. Create a profile page on social media
Take advantage of any opportunity to get exposure through local and nationwide social media sites. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are great places to start, but don’t dismiss local sites such as business portals and community niche sites. Your local Chamber of Commerce may be able to help you find ways to advertise locally. Check out Google Places to purchase tags that will highlight your business and allow you to post coupons and live updates.
4. Directory citations
Local businesses should get listed in business directories. These could be local, or nationwide. For just $30 a year, you can get a Universal Business Listing that sends your information to several high profile sites, including the major search engines, online Yellow Pages and CitySearch.
5. Network for backlinks
Networking is a time-honored way to gain exposure. In online marketing, blogging and social media are two powerful networking tools for local business owners. Use them to connect with other bloggers, guest post for them, and share information. Develop relationships and let them spread the word for you. Join groups and associations through your social media account in order to find others who are interested in your business. This is how you develop valuable backlinks to your site.
Above all, keep creating fresh content for your site, your blogs and your social media accounts. Content gives local business owners a way to tap into their target markets, and demonstrate to their customers what they know. This builds trust, relationships, and the kind of word-of-mouth recommendations that are hard to get with foot traffic.