Making the most of local search marketing: A guide for local businesses

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Local search marketing is an affordable and effective advertising tool for local businesses to attract new customers. About 70% of households use the Internet to find local products and services either using their computer or their mobile device. 

According to Google Inside Adwords, Google's official blog for news, information and tips on AdWords, one in three mobile search inquires are made by people who are looking for something in their local area.   

The first step in building your business's online presence is to claim it on the local business listings sections of the major search engines. These sections allow you to list your local business for free. Local business listings (LBLs) are available through Google Places, Yahoo Local and Local Listing Center on Bing. Be sure to follow the business listing quality guidelines on each site.

To optimize your LBLs, make sure to do the following: Spend time on your business description; keep your business branding consistent; collect customer testimonials, ratings and reviews; and include photos, logos and videos where applicable.

Also, make sure you don't just focus your business listings on ranking. Instead, think of them as a form of social media advertising. LBLs encourage customer reviews, so be sure to respond to customer feedback about your business when you get it. Use this information to improve your business image and customer relationships.

While LBLs are a good place to start, there's no guarantee that your business listing will be displayed. Similarly, your range of control over your business's local rankings is limited to standard LBL best practices. Therefore, paid search marketing is another tool for local businesses to use to establish their online presence.

A key feature beneficial to all businesses and specific to paid listings is a click-to-call phone number where potential customers can see your phone number in your listing and can click to call your business directly using a mobile device with full Internet browsing. Another feature is location extensions on Google, which allows you to include information such as business name, address and phone number in text ads. When a potential customer performs a search, their location or search terms are matched to your business locations and your most relevant location appears within your ad on Google.com and Google Maps.

Even if your business is ranked No. 1 in organic search results, it still makes sense to engage in paid search marketing. Here are specific reasons why: You can direct visitors to different landing pages other than your primary website. For example, let's say you have a special promotion running, you can direct customers to a special landing page with the offer. You can use your own words to describe your site which may create higher conversions than what the search engine decided to display in the organic search results. Marketers can also double their search result visibility, thereby doubling their chances of a click thru per search term.

Marketers can also: bid on misspellings of search words to obtain additional targeted traffic and quickly test the effectiveness of their marketing message.

Effective messaging can then be used in other media types, like display ads or print.

Paid search guarantees that your business is listed at or near the top of the search results at the very moment potential customers are looking for your product or service. Because costs are tied directly to your ad's performance, paid search is an affordable and effective way to manage your local business's online presence with greater control and accountability.

To establish an effective online presence, local businesses should take advantage of both LBLs and paid search. While local search marketing requires time and investment, it's an important medium to focus on as consumers continue to use online channels to search for local businesses.

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