New breed of local search ads for the SMB

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With rapid adoption of Internet search, consumers have an array of online sources to find local products and services, and small and medium businesses (SMBs) have many options for connecting with this growing online audience. But capturing the ready-to-buy, local consumer's attention, generating interest and converting them into qualified leads remains a challenge.

While local search advertising services provide self-service provisioning tools to attract SMBs, they often fail to provide the resources, targeting tools, ease of implementation or customer care support needed to get SMBs online, let alone help them manage effective campaigns across multiple search properties.

More than 25 million SMBs in the United States come in all descriptions. Local search advertising is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but a highly measurable process of identifying, packaging and delivering qualified leads from vertical segmentation, distribution and targeting, based on specific consumer needs. Successful SMB search engine marketing understands the product/service mix offered within an SMB's business category or vertical industry, and knows how these are purchased by consumers.

SMBs depend on the buying cycle of consumers, which then becomes the business driver for online lead generation.

For service verticals, local SEM is suited to two specific buying cycles, namely, immediate need, low consideration, when the consumer need is so urgent it precludes extensive price or feature and service research; or longer-term need, higher consideration, when consumers are time-constrained, but the purchase cycle is longer, and the "ticket price" is often higher.

Many SMBs offer products/services that meet both - and that's where targeted keywords, visual content and packaged distribution across multiple online search channels are key.

Limousine companies fall into the transportation services vertical and offer services catering to immediate needs ("My boss has to get to the airport within the hour"), as well as longer-term needs ("My daughter is getting married in two months"). Consumers use varying search terms ("Airport Limo Atlanta"; "Wedding Limo Atlanta") and search tools (Google; superpages.com; Limos.com) to get the job done.

The SMB advertiser can tailor its keyword content, visual message and calls to action based on a specific consumer need, as indicated by the search terms entered by the consumer, and distribute targeted messages across the most effective search tools available.

But for an SMB with limited resources, marketing expertise and time, this exercise can prove to be a challenge. This is one reason why SMB local search advertising adoption lags behind consumer local search use. SMBs can often get a greater return from online local search programs by partnering with a knowledgeable lead-generation firm that makes the process easy, accountable and effective.

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