If you’re like most small business owners, the thought of carving out time for marketing, especially when you don’t have much of a budget to work with, can be overwhelming. But there’s good news. Local marketing is marketing small businesses can do well, and without an enormous investment of either time or money. Good local marketing will build your brand—but it will also maintain your brand’s reputation, which is why every small business needs to keep local marketing on their radar.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your business doesn’t have an online presence because you don’t have a web site or use social media. Your customers are online whether you are or not. In 2014, a whopping 80% of consumers were researching products online before making in-store purchases. Chances are, those numbers have only gone up since. So, if you’re not managing your online reputation, who knows what’s happening to it! For example, your business can be listed on Yelp! even if there aren’t any reviews and you haven’t claimed the business. This kind of empty-shop web presence undermines your trustworthiness (that you are who you say you are) to search engines—not to mention any potential customers who stumble across it. Keep in mind that millennials rank word-of-mouth, like Yelp! and UrbanSpoon, as the single most important influence on their purchasing decisions.
Your customers aren’t just online—they’re likely on their smartphones. Eighty percent of those who use the Internet have smartphones, and mobile data consumption in the US went up 20% last year. Every business needs to be curating its online presence, and making sure the experience is optimized for mobile consumption. Here are the five most important ways to get started.
1. Steward your brand online
Being local may not feel like an advantage when you’re driving past the traffic jam in Target’s parking lot, but on Google, a local address and contact number make a big difference.
Start with Google My Business and make sure that all that basic information—business name, address, and phone number, aka NAP—is correct. This is critical for local search ranking. Consistent references establish trust with search engines. If you’ve got conflicting names, addresses, or phone numbers in different places on the web, search engines may even think these refer to different businesses.
To effectively manage your online rep, claim your business on as many platforms (Yelp!, CitySearch, and so on) and in as many directories as possible, making sure your NAP is consistent. Search engines will take all instances of your business name into account, not just the ones that happen to be correct.
If you’ve found inaccurate information out there, keep in mind that it can take from two weeks to three months for the primary aggregators of local business data (Infogroup, Localeze, Acxion, and Factual) to update their indexes.
2. Online/Digital local marketing
For a robust online presence that will attract search engines and the potential customers using them, you want to build up as many positive (and accurate!) citations, that is, mentions of your business name and address on other webpages, with or without a link, as possible. These can include listings on a chamber of commerce site, a mention in a local online media outlet or popular blog. Citations are thus a great way to demonstrate your business is part of a local community. Ultimately, citations make your business both more visible and more reliable to search engines. Citations can be crucial if your business doesn’t have a web page, as this information will be the only information search engines have about your business.
It’s also essential that all your online materials are optimized for mobile viewing. According to Pew Research Center, by mid-2015, 64% of adults in the US owned a smartphone, and mobile consumption is expected to keep growing. Almost all of those smartphone users (94% of them) search for local information on their mobiles, according to Google. Why do these numbers matter? Google claims a whopping 90% of those on mobile haven’t made up their minds about which brand to buy when they start looking, and 82% are consulting their mobiles in-store about an impending purchase. Showing up in a mobile search increases brand awareness by 46%, with over half of mobile users discovering a new company or product during their search. One out of three smartphone users ends up buying from a different company or brand than they planned to, meaning mobile gives you a good shot at picking up new customers.
It’s not enough just to be accessible on mobile, however, because along with the increase in mobile searches and influence, there’s been an 18% drop in how much time consumers are spending on a mobile site. So, if your site loads slowly or requires users to click through too many pages, those potential customers are gone—and probably not coming back. If all this sounds like more than you have time for, check out Moz’s easy mobile optimization how-to.
3. Want your potential customers to #LoveLocal? You should, too.
Participating in your community online is a great way to increase citations and build your reputation for search engines. It’s also a great way to spread the word about your business in all the right places. Let the community know that you’re a local, trustworthy expert in your field.
One great way to get involved locally is through a small business community like Townsquared. Small business owners can use the platform to interact with other busy small business owners, get the local information and recommendations for services and products, and even find ways to partner up with other local businesses.
This kind of networking can really pay off. “Seventy percent of entrepreneurs say they purchase and source goods and services from other small businesses,” according to research from American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor. “Almost all (96%) small businesses are committed to supporting their local communities through different activities, such as donating to local causes (70%) and participating in community projects (49%).” An overwhelming number of small business owners shop at other local, independently-owned businesses for non-business purchases.
4. Face your social media fears.
If you’re not a technophile or a millennial, the idea of taking on social media may seem like a waste of your time or like something you don’t have the time to manage. Neither is true. Unlike a big business, you don’t need to be everywhere at once. Choose your social media outlets wisely by finding out where your customers are and being clear on what you want your time on social media to achieve. If you’re a retail shop, for example, Instagram may be a better use of your time than Twitter. Moz has a short questionnaire that can help you figure out how to target your efforts and a comprehensive graphic outlining your options.
Once you’ve decided where you want to spend your time (and probably a little of your marketing money), you can automate a lot of your social media effort with tools like HootSuite or Buffer—meaning you don’t have to stop what you’re doing every time you want something on social media.
Social media can be great for kickstarting a new web presence. And some businesses find that Twitter works well as a customer service tool.
5. Target Better
If you know your niche, your targeted marketing will be more successful than trying to compete for broad and expensive keywords or blanketing one or more channels with generalized content. The better you know your customers, the more you can focus on what’s called “long tail keywords” in your paid advertising. Long tail keywords are more specific than keywords, and they tend to be phrases searchers use when they are closer to making a purchase. This can be difference between someone searching for “clothing” or “women’s clothing” and “1940s print dress mint condition.” Obviously, there are fewer people searching for that phrase, but the people who are, are much more likely to be ready to buy the dress you’ve got in your vintage shop specializing in women’s clothes, or come back to your site in the future. Because these long tail keywords are so specific, there’s not nearly as much competition for them. Believe it or not, right now, paid advertising is one of the few places on earth where more expensive can actually mean less effective.
If you haven’t been using social media, follow a few of your favorite brands and see what they do. What resonates with you? What doesn’t? Remember to think like a customer. Your own experience as a customer should be in the back of your mind as you plan any marketing strategy.
This article was written by John Rampton from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.