The local search space has never been more teeming with new applications and features emerging on some of the most popular sites and newest mobile devices - all concentrating on more localized and more relevant content -- and we're pretty excited about that.
Even better, it's the small businesses in suburban locations and rural areas which are positioned to be the benefactor as they'll find it increasingly easier to gain exposure, reach out to local consumers and build loyalty, without having to compete with the more traditionally dominant online presence from bigger businesses in the city or online mega-marts. Those business owners who recognize this trend and successfully promote and manage this local content have the opportunity to gain a significant edge on the competition.
But increased online exposure also carries additional risks. Media continues to experience decentralization, and online marketing is becoming more complex and advanced. With this comes many opportunities as well as challenges for the small business owner.
For instance, many complaints from consumers or negative reviews left on message boards like Twitter may have gone under the radar before, but now new local-centric features have the potential to make comments like these more visible to consumers across multiple sites who aggregate this content.
As a result, more businesses will require consultation and assistance on how to properly promote their services, without opening themselves up to unwanted scrutiny. Additionally, businesses will need to make sure their addresses, contact information and list of services are always current so users searching within a small search radius will easily be able to find and reach them.
With all of these changes occurring, I think it’s important to take some time to reflect on some of the do's and don'ts of online promotion.
Nine do's and don'ts of local search marketing:
Do: Encourage past, current and future customers to rate your products and services and share their experience across multiple business review sites.
Don't: Rate or leave feedback on your own business - at least from the same IP address you used to create your business listing ;) Multiple entries stemming from the same IP can get your listing flagged faster than NFL stunts in the endzone.
Do: Respond to comments. This presents a unique opportunity for you to connect with your customers, build relationships and learn more about them. Be prepared to participate.
Don't: Obsess over negative feedback. Often times, ongoing responses to negative posts actually boost search engine rankings on that page making it more visible. The best strategy is to politely respond once and leave it be. Eventually, enough positive feedback will bury it seven feet deep.
Do: Take advantage of social networking - it's never too late to get started. Build a little buzz about your business and it can go a long way on sites like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, StumbleUpon and Digg - all of which have a deep user base. Appeal to your target audience.
Don't: Get discouraged if you don’t see millions of hits overnight. Prepare a long-term strategy with realistic goals and stick with it!
Do: Make it as easy as possible for consumers to find you - potential customers are often closer than you think. There are multiple factors affecting local search like organic SEO and pay-per-click, but there are also new techniques emerging as Web applications and search features unfold. For instance, we've found optimizing map results within local business listings to be a relatively new optimization technique. If you're an EZlocal Premium member, working with one of our local search guru's to create the right content in the right places will help dramatically. Among other things, we make sure you have keyword-rich content on all your profiles -- Google Local, Yahoo Local, Bing listings, Yelp, Local.com, EZlocal, etc.
Don't: Think you can do all the work upfront and leave it be. Maintain your business profile and keep information as current as possible. Avoid having conflicting or out of date information - especially phone number or address. Your listings will actually rank higher the more often search engines find your business name with consistent business details. Tip: Keep a spreadsheet of user names and passwords for all your social media and business listing adventures.
Do: Make it easy to share. To help consumers spread your message and create an environment for customer evangelism, you need to make sharing positive feedback as easy as possible - and encourage it. And this shouldn't be limited to Web-only applications like social media sharing buttons on your site. You should also be creative with in-store promotions to coordinate with your online profiles.
For instance, just recently after a visit to my dry cleaner the owner told me he would clean one free shirt per online review I posted. I'm not sure if he was joking or not, but the point is these reviews have real value and business owners are starting to recognize that.
Here's an example of how you can professionally fish for compliments ;) ...
Keep a stack of these next to your register and hand them out to your best customers.