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Local Search Marketing - The Next Wave!*

Local Search Marketing provides the opportunity to geo-target customers like never before.

The Good News: Local customers are actively searching for a business like yours on the Internet. And studies show that these customers have a serious buying intent.

The Problem: As a local business you have to figure out how to cost-effectively connect with them.

You probably have heard of search engine marketing or pay-per-click advertising; but what does that mean to your local business? The Internet is changing the way your customers are searching for your type of business. The days of lugging out a 12 lb. phone book to find very limited and outdated business information are coming to an end. People are still letting their fingers do the walking, but they're doing it over a computer keyboard.

Below are some revealing facts from the Kelsey Group.

  • * 74% of U.S. households use the Internet as an information source when shopping locally.
  • * Approximately 45% of local searches had a buying intent.
  • * The percentage of respondents who used yellow page directories decreased from 75% to 62%.
(If you have a yellow page ad, it is time to consider buying a smaller ad and shifting your marketing dollars to the Internet.)

As a local business, you can no longer ignore these facts. If you want to compete and survive, you must have a presence where your customers are searching. Local search marketing is vital to the future of your business.

Where Are Your Customers Searching?

* The major search engines, including Google, Yahoo and MSN. All three of these search resources have a local search feature.

* Internet Yellow Pages. The offline Yellow Pages see the writing on the wall and are scrambling to transfer their business model to the Internet.

* Local Directories and Portals. There are national directories like CitySearch that offer localized business information. In addition, there are directories and portals that only service local regions.

* Industry Specific Directories. There are numerous directories that focus on specific types of businesses and services and will list them geographically. For example, wedding photographers, realtors, hotels, bed and breakfasts, and web designers.

As A Local Business Where Should You Be Listed?

Search Engines: This is the primary location for your business to have a listing, because the search engines are the primary places your customers are searching.

There are basically two methods to list your business in search results. They are through Search Engine Optimization and Pay-Per-Click advertising.

Search Engine Optimization - Search engine optimization has become a major industry because of the potential profit from a prominent search ranking. Through proven techniques, you can optimize your web pages and get prominent ranking for no charge. But you must first understand the dynamics of the search engines and learn how they reward pages with top listings. They are in the business of providing the best search results possible to their audience. That's how they make money. So, if you are a wedding photographer in Seattle and someone is searching for a wedding photographer in Seattle, the search engines want you both to connect. In order to connect, you must create a page that is optimized for the term "Wedding Photographer Seattle." But equally as important, you must solicit quality in-bound links from other web sites that relate to your business.

The search engines determine ranking by:

* How a page is optimized for a particular keyword/phrase.

* How many websites point to your site with external links. Why are quality in-bound links important to your search engine ranking? The search engines consider external links pointing to your site as a vote of confidence. Particularly if these sites are industry related, or are important portals in your community.

Basically, the formula for search engine ranking is as follows:

Optimized Pages + Quality In-Bound Links = Prominent Search Ranking

Pay Per Click Advertising - In conjunction with search engine optimization, a pay-per-click advertising campaign should be an integral part of your online marketing strategy. If you search for a term on Google, Yahoo, or MSN, you will notice a list of sites on the very top of the page and along the right hand column. These are PPC sponsored advertisements. Businesses pay the search engines to advertise on specific keywords/phrases. If a person clicks on your ad, you pay a per-click price. The position of your ad in the listing and the price you pay is based on a bidding/auction model. The popularity and the competitiveness of the keyword will determine how much businesses are willing to pay-per-click. A keyword like "home mortgage" can command more then $50 per click because of the potential profit involved. As a local business, you would bid on terms that reflect your products and services, and combine those terms with regional terms. An example would be "Wedding Photographer Seattle," or "Golf Property Pinehurst." Or, you can advertise through PPC in a define radius (5, 10, 50, 100 miles). The appeal of pay-per-click advertising is that you are in control. You determine which keywords you'll bid on, you set the maximum price per-click, you determine your daily budget, and you can turn on or off your campaign at any moment. In just a few years, pay-per-click advertising has grown to a multi-billion dollar industry. That's due to the efficiency and profitability of this advertising model.

Free Listings in Local Resources, Search Engines, Yellow Pages and Directories In addition to SEO and PPC, there are a number of opportunities to get listed for free in a number of local resources. Identifying these online resources and taking advantage of this valuable opportunity is a must for your business. Examples, are Google Local, Yahoo Local and Superpages.com. But there are also regional or industry specific resources that will allow you to list your business for free. Paid Listings in Local Resources, Search Engines, Yellow Pages, and Directories There are a number of profitable opportunities to advertise in local resources. But you must use caution, since the majority will waste your money. Determine if they reach your prospects and have ample traffic.

Most important, track and analyze your results. The Internet is changing how local businesses are marketing. The future of your business will be determined by your ability to effectively adapt to this media. Local search marketing is the next wave of the Internet, in fact, it will be a tsunami. Now is an excellent opportunity to position yourself and get the jump on your competition.

Will you be ready to ride the wave?

*Fred Waters (c) 2005

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