With all the avenues available for reaching customers online, it's important to be able to determine what is working and what isn't. "This is all about discovery, trial and error, and refinement," says Sterling. "Be willing to try some stuff and change course if it doesn't work." To find out if your strategies are effective, Sterling suggests entrepreneurs simply ask how their customers learned about them. Online coupons can also be an effective way to track how many customers are visiting your website and then visiting your location.
Search engine advertising services come with analytics and reports that show you how many click-throughs and unique visitors you're getting. These numbers can help you determine which search terms are working, which to spend more money on and which to abandon. It has been a simple equation for First Crush. "When we put up the website, we were getting about 150 to 200 unique visitors a day," says Bijan. "After we started using Google, we're seeing 600 to 800 unique visitors a day."
The Future of Search
There are some subtle shifts happening with the local web. Site-building tools like those offered by Yahoo! and Microsoft Office Live make it easier and cheaper for businesses to build a web presence. As more businesses arrive online, more services will appear to help them launch and manage their local web strategies. "Over time, advertising will continue to get more complicated, but there will be a layer of middlemen there to provide services," says Sterling. These services won't be free, but the most effective ones will be worth the investment.
Looking ahead, you'll be hearing a lot about local going mobile. As cell phones become location-aware, a whole new set of advertising and services will come to life. Look for the leaders in local web search to branch out into mobile search. Both Yahoo! and Google already offer search methods tailored to mobile devices. Yahoo! features an SMS search service that works with most mobile phones and can direct users to local businesses.
The local web is both significant and scattered. It all comes down to making it as easy as possible for internet users to find your business so you can convert them into offline customers. It's a trial-and-error process that combines marketing smarts and experimentation. Get listed, find out what has worked for your peers, try out search engine advertising and get on locally oriented listing and directory sites. The next time someone searches for products or services in your town, be sure you pop right up.
Websites That Do The Work For You
Most entrepreneurs don't have time to become experts in marketing their businesses locally through the web. These sites can take that chore off your hands.
- Dotster Local Site Promotion: An example of a web domain registration and hosting company offering a local web advertising package; includes an intelligent keyword optimization tool, pay-per-click search engine ads and the ability to create online coupons and special offers.
- Froogle Local: Google's shopping search engine accepts listings for free from local merchants. Users can search for specific products by location. It's another way for brick-and-mortar stores to be found whether they use e-commerce or not.
- Local.com: Online Yellow Pages and search engine that offers a free listing for businesses. The Paid Local Promote option gives businesses more control over their listings and distributes your information to other online networks.
- ReachLocal: A central location to set up, maintain and track local search advertising campaigns. Pricing is variable.
- RegisterLocal: A service that lets you create a Master Business Profile that RegisterLocal submits to search engines and directories on your behalf for $199.95 per year. When you make changes or updates, they're automatically distributed.
- TrueLocal: A local search engine that also offers advertising opportunities for businesses. Features full-text searching.
- YellowPages.com: Large online local directory site that also includes city guides and advertising solutions. Basic listings are free.