Whether it’s allocating a budget for a pay-per-click (PPC) ad campaign; training up your marketing team to create more engaging web content or investing in social media management, every pound you spend on digital marketing needs to have a positive impact.
This guide focuses on digital marketing for local businesses. We look at:
- Why local digital marketing is important
- How to access the Google ecosystem and make it work for you
- Controlling your NAP profile and directory citations
- Reviews and online reputation management
- Local search engine optimisation (SEO)
- PPC ad campaigns
- Web design and development
- Content creation
- Making use of social media
Why local digital marketing matters
For companies which are dependent on local business, whether local residents or people passing through, having a strong online presence is increasingly crucial. Whatever industry you operate in, it is now much easier to get found through digital channels by customers using home computers and mobile devices.
When a potential customer comes across your business online they will have a number of basic questions on their mind. They will want to know:
- Where your business is located
- Whether you can solve their problem
- How to contact you
- When you’re open
- What reviews you’ve had
Optimising your digital presence will ensure their questions are answered.
The smartphone revolution As smartphones became more powerful and popular, consumers started to demand a way to access local information. Google responded by using a phone’s GPS data and other geolocation data to serve smartphone users with search results based on their current location.
Local SEO services, such as those provided by Get Found, sprang up to help businesses increase their visibility to nearby smartphone users as well as customers living nearby and those further afield who were using specific local search terms.
The reason local digital marketing matters is simple to understand: more visibility online means more revenue. In addition, the more economically you can achieve that digital prominence, the better your ROI will be.
Each of the sections below cover a different aspect of digital marketing for local businesses. Bringing these together in one holistic package will deliver the best results for your business.
Google My Business and the Google ecosystem
One of the first steps business owners should take when improving their digital marketing is claiming their business listing on Google My Business (GMB).
Google provide this listing for free and you can get started by visiting the GMB home page and clicking ‘Manage Now.’ You will then be able to either locate your business and claim it or, if it doesn’t currently exist in Google’s records, add the details yourself. Google will check you are the real owner of the business by mailing out a physical postcard containing a unique verification code. While you will be able to add some basic details to your listing straight away, you will need to wait for your site to be verified before completing your profile.
The most essential information you should add to your GMB listing is your business name, address and phone number (NAP) together with your business hours. The presence of this information, according to Moz, is the number one factor affecting whether people visit a business premise so it is vital you provide it. Before you start though, read the section below on citations and your NAP profile.
As well as providing essential business information for potential customers, your GMB listing will automatically plug you in to the Google ecosystem. This means your premises will be placed on Google Maps and will have a good chance of appearing in the Google Local ‘Triple Pack,’ the three visible listings that appear above Google organic search results for local searches. Information from GMB, along with other sources, are also used to populate the Google Knowledge Graph, an information panel which appears on the right hand side of the page when people type your business name in Google Search.
With 86% of people checking for directions on Google Maps before visiting, having a completed listing is simply a matter of common sense. Make sure you keep your business hours up to date though to avoid disappointing customers.
The role of photography and video
Displaying good quality photography and video footage is increasingly vital for local businesses. Not only does it increase engagement with customers, it is also a strong ranking factor for search engine placement. Uploading images to GMB will spread your brand across the internet and you can even use them in GMB Posts, a feature designed to help business owners promote special offers and other promotions. Another feature worth considering, especially if your premises is visually interesting or appealing, is a 360 degree virtual tour. This is another powerful way to increase engagement with your site and integrates seamlessly with Google Street View.
Although placing and completing your GMB listing is 100% free, it is worth considering investing in a third-party Google My Business management service as this will help you to keep information and promotions up to date and your listing optimised for maximum impact.
Citations and your NAP profile
We have already mentioned how Google verifies your business by sending out a postcard to your company address but Google also wants to know that you are an established local business before sending potential customers your way.
Although their local search algorithms are a closely guarded secret, it is known that one powerful signal they use is the number and quality of local citations your business has. Citations are references to your business in general directories (e.g. Yell.com, Thomson local, etc.); industry directories (e.g. MyBuilder, checkatrade.com, etc.); review sites (e.g. TrustPilot, TripAdvisor, etc.) and other sources.
Of particular importance is your so-called NAP profile, your business name, address and phone number. To make sure this signal is as strong as possible, you should make sure your NAP profile is not just present but identical in every citation. An experienced local SEO company can help you to make sure you are consistently cited in top local sources. You should also make sure that your citations are monitored on an ongoing basis.
While checking your local citations, it is possible you may come across customer reviews that you had never seen before. This leads us on to another critical area of local digital marketing: reputation management.
Reviews and reputation management
93% of shoppers admit being influenced by customer reviews while 88% treat third-party reviews as seriously as feedback from friends and family members. In short: managing your reviews makes good business sense.
A skilled reputation management service can make a huge difference to your brand and your business by channelling positive and negative reviews appropriately. The general strategy is to encourage happy customers to leave a positive review on your preferred review site. It is a good idea to direct them to your Google Maps profile as a positive review placed here will benefit your local SEO (see the next section) and be instantly visible to other people searching Google for products and services related to your business.
What happens with negative reviews? Effective reputation management will give the unhappy customer an instant and private outlet for their frustrations. Perhaps they can fill out an online feedback form or send you an email. It is important that you respond as a matter of urgency and do your best to smooth over the experience. You can often derail a negative review in this way or, even better, turn a private negative review into a positive public one.
It should go without saying that business owners and marketers should never fake reviews or respond aggressively or defensively to negative reviews. If you suspect a negative review has been placed by a competitor, there is often a facility to report it.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) forms a central part of all effective digital marketing strategies. Local SEO is a distinct sub-discipline that takes account of the local signals Google and other search engines use to favour local businesses over national and international ones for geographically specific searches. Local SEO is also entwined with mobile marketing since many people searching for local businesses are using their GPS-enabled smartphones and mobile apps such as Google Maps to find what they are looking for.
With 75% of people never moving beyond page one of Google’s search engine results page (SERP), the goal of local SEO is to have a website featured as high up as possible on page one for relevant local searches.
As with standard SEO, there are both on-page and off-page factors to take care of but local SEO specialists will add location-specific strategies. For example, a standard SEO activity is adding business relevant keywords between the meta titles and meta description tags on a webpage. This helps both customers and search engine crawlers to recognise the relevance of a page to related search queries. A local SEO specialist would also include location-specific keywords in these important webpage areas.
In terms of off-page factors, local SEO professionals would spend time adding and editing citations as mentioned above and would target locally based blogs and directories for placing articles and guest posts.
Local SEO and mobile marketing
With 89% of people using their mobile devices to search for local businesses on a weekly basis (and 58% doing so daily), local SEO strategies have to ensure that businesses can get found on a mobile device at least as easily as they can on a laptop or desktop computer.
An obvious barrier to visibility is the smaller screen size. When carrying out a local search, the display of most smartphones will show the Google triple-pack and/or paid ads on the top, leaving organic results hidden. This is another reason why optimising your Google My Business listing is vital.
Web design and development for local SEO
The success of local SEO and mobile marketing depends heavily on the way a website is structured. An optimised website should be written in clean code and be fast-loading. Every business website should also, by now, feature a responsive design. Responsive sites adapt the way they display depending on the user’s web browser, device and settings. A non-responsive, desktop-only website will not only look awful on a mobile device but will rank poorly on Google.
How schema markup can help your website to stand out
Have you wondered why some search engine listings stand out and provide much more information than others? This is usually due to a special code known as schema markup.
Incorporating schema markup in your website’s code helps the search engines to categorise your site and display relevant ‘rich snippets’ of information below the title in search results. For example, a restaurant might use schema code to display a star rating from customer reviews and a menu price range.
Even the most effectively structured website won’t get found unless it contains high quality content. Content marketing specialists know how to incorporate relevant keywords into webpages, articles and blog posts. Search engines now use a sophisticated method known as latent semantic indexing (LSI) to infer a website’s content from both the words used and how they are related by context.
Content marketing also increasingly covers non-written material such as photographs and videos, all of which can be optimised for a local audience.
Paid Ads (PPC)
While local SEO and even Google My Business listings can take a while to become visible, paying for online advertising can immediately get you found.
While there are many different paid advertising models, pay-per-click ads (PPC) are among the most popular and cost-efficient. Google Ads (formerly AdWords) is a good example of a PPC platform. It uses a modified auction format whereby businesses compete to have their online ad displayed when certain keywords or phrases are typed in to Google Search. The advertiser sets a daily budget and a bid amount per keyword (this can be set manually or automated). Unlike a pure auction, factors such as the design of the ad and its relevance to the linked website also come into play when deciding the winning bid. The advertiser is only charged when an advert is clicked and their ads will stop showing once their daily budget has been used up.
High quality ads will not only show more frequently but will also require a smaller bid to win the auction. Many businesses hire third party PPC Ad services to optimise their campaigns and drive more conversions at a lower cost.
Choosing paid ads or organic SEO
Both paid ads and organic SEO have a part to play in effective digital marketing for local businesses. While PPC ad campaigns offer immediate visibility, they rely on a steady stream of funding. Once the advertiser’s budget is used up, the business drops out of sight. Paid ads are often used for time-limited campaigns or for a brand boost.
Organic SEO is a long-term strategy which provides lasting results. You won’t rise to page one of Google overnight but, once you do, you will have built a strong platform for lasting visibility.
The world of social media
No digital marketing guide for local businesses would be complete without acknowledging the huge role social media plays. Companies can use paid social platforms such as Facebook Ads alongside general social media marketing to increase their visibility. Paid social ads are low cost and can be highly targeted while building a strong social presence can see your brand picked up and promoted by social media influencers as well as potential and existing customers.
Having a Facebook Page and Twitter Profile is probably the minimum requirement for most businesses. Those with a younger demographic or a visually strong presence might want to explore Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and other platforms.
Businesses can strengthen their local impact by connecting with local influencers organisations and interest groups. For example, Twitter users can find get involved with ‘Twitter Hours.’ These are hour-long cross-promotional activities which are organised by town or city and use a relevant Twitter Hours hashtag (e.g. #StockportHour).
Hopefully, this guide will have given you some ideas on how to increase local footfall in the digital age. Get Found offer a full range of digital marketing services which cover all of the areas discussed in this guide. We offer both standalone services and flexible packages tailored to your specific needs.