Learning the Value of Local Search Marketing From Spammers

When you work for a local business search engine, you grow accustomed to a certain amount of spam. Offenders will choose a city and create 5 to 10 business profiles that center around a specific industry. The business names will all be different, but the profiles often have the same phone number, link the same website and display the same stock photo. Once in a while you will run across a craftier spammer who uses a different phone number for each profile, but if you take the time to call each number you will be greeted by the same person.

I don't relish deleting these profiles. On the other side of those phone numbers there is a guy who runs a real business and performs a real service in that geographic area. He may even perform it very well. Does he deserve to be found in local searches? Yes. Does he deserve to be the only one found in local searches? Absolutely not, which is why his profiles are always 86ed.

Far and away, the biggest offenders belong to the service industry. It is not unusual for me to start my day by deleting a host of locksmiths, garage door installers, water damage restoration experts, movers and carpet cleaners. Subtlety and fair play may not be their strong suit, but these spammers understand one thing better than all other small business owners: the value of local search marketing.

Imagine a plumber who runs a 30 second commercial in his local market. The commercial cost him $500 dollars to produce and $50 dollars each time it airs. Let's say he runs the commercial 10 times over the course of a month and each time it airs it reaches an audience of 10,000 viewers. What is the value of the plumber's TV commercial; is his $1,000 well spent?

Some might be quick to say yes. After all, the commercial was seen by 100,000 people in his local market. If the plumber gains only 2 new customers who hire him to do $500 dollar jobs, he has already made his ad money back. And, if he retains both or even one of those customers as regular clients, the commercial was worth it. Surely 2 out of 100,000 is doable; that is a conversion rate of only 0.002%.

Now, before you go running off to produce your own commercial and buy a block of ad time, consider the following points. Did the plumber's commercial really reach 100,000 people? It may have ran 10 times to an audience of 10,000, but that doesn't mean it was seen by 100,000 unique viewers. Some people probably saw it twice. Some may have even seen it three or four times. For arguments sake, let's say the commercial aired to 50,000 unique viewers. But wait, 30% of U.S. households use DVRs; 15,000 viewers just fast forwarded through your commercial.

Out of the remaining 35,000, how many are decision makers? How many own their homes and are responsible for the upkeep of their own plumbing? Remove the kids. Remove the spouses who don't make plumbing decisions. Remove renters. Our 35,000 just became 10,000. Finally, out of those 10,000 viewers, how many actually need a plumber right now?

Plumbing isn't really an impulse buy. It's a need, not a want. It doesn't matter how good of a plumber he is; if you don't need plumbing work done you aren't going to contract his services. In fact, if you don't have an immediate need for a plumber, you will probably be hard-pressed to even remember his name. This is the fundamental problem with traditional advertising. You are just throwing your message against the wall and hoping it sticks in a few places. Instead of dumping your ad budget into TV spots, newspaper ad space and radio time, you should be advertising your business where you KNOW there is demand.

So, when your pipes break, where would you go for a plumber? You might crack open the yellow pages and call a few guys, trying to gather some impression of their capability and pricing. Perhaps, instead of buying TV spots and newspaper ads, you should advertise in your local yellow pages. It could get pricey, though:

But the cost of display ads varies from city to city. In Manhattan, New York, a small, one-inch space listing would cost you about $2,500, and you could pay as much as $92,000 for a full-page display ad. But that same one-inch space listing in Manhattan, Kansas, would cost just $252, and a full-page display ad would be about $11,200.

How about calling a few friends and family members to ask them if they know anyone good, a plumber they have used in the past and would recommend? I'm sure referrals from families and friends convert at an incredible rate. The problem is I don't know how to buy ad space in the friends and family medium, do you?

The final option is local search. You punch "plumber in [my town]" into a search engine, open a few business profiles and start comparison shopping. You compare various services offered, rates, availability and read a few reviews. You might even run across a coupon or special promotion for first time customers. Using local search to find plumbers and locksmiths and water damage restoration experts is an attractive option. Local business profiles offer much more depth and detail than one can extract from the yellow pages.

It is this depth and detail that drive more and more people to the internet when they need to find a business locally. 97% of people in fact. This is what spammers understand better than any other small business. When 97% of people use the internet for local search and the cost of advertising is free, you need to be creating and optimizing business profiles left and right.

Claim your profiles at Google Places, Yahoo! Local and Bing. Create free business profiles at Yelp, InsiderPages, YellowPages.com, YellowBook.com, SuperPages.com, Kudzu and EZlocal. The cost is nothing! These are FREE profiles! Sure it takes some time and upkeep, but it is worth it. If you don't have time, make time. If you can't make time, pay someone else to do it for you. Local search marketing has the highest impact and lowest cost of any advertising medium. If your business isn't taking advantage of local search, you are losing a lot of potential customers.