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Think about the last time you were looking for information about a business or service in your area? What did you do? If I asked the same question ten years ago, your answer would have probably been “I looked it up in the phone book.” But times have changed.
Research shows that 97% of consumers search for local businesses online. And nearly 80% of consumers make “offline” purchases of local products or services from businesses they first researched “online.” 70% of people say they will call the phone number they see on a website for more information.
Take a look at this video — Listen to “Real Stories from Real People” and decide where you fit in the spectrum of business owners in the Internet world.
Today’s consumer searches online before they do anything else. Their first step towards making a purchase decision is often to “hit the keys” on their computers (at work or at home) to get information. And with the addition of Smart Phones and Mobile Devices — people don’t even have to wait until they can get to a computer. Using Search Engines to find information is so common that a company name has literally become a verb, as in “Google It!”
According to research done by Neilson Worldwide, Search Engines, by a large margin, are the most popular source for finding local information.
How are you finding your customers? How are they finding you?
Try this Quick Experiment
Actually it’s a piece of Critical Research that could help you more effectively market your business. Even if you are familiar with local search engine results, play along…
Pretend you are “Jane (or Joe) Consumer.” You have an extremely busy day ahead of you. On your way to a meeting you get a call from your best friends. They had their baby a week early. You have just enough time for a quick visit at the hospital after work before you to go to your son’s baseball game. You want to bring flowers but you are REALLY pressed for time. You need to find a florist that is close to the hospital who will have everything ready so you can run in, pay and run out. How would you find one?
If you were one of “today’s consumers,” this is probably what you would do…
STEP 1: You would go to your favorite search engine. Many people approach searches by typing in their actual question so the query might look something like “what florist is closest to mcdowell hospital in marion nc?” Try it. Go to Google and see what comes up for your local area. Was the answer easily found?
It is important to keep in mind that real people don’t think in terms of Keywords. When you create website content for local consumers, consider what information your target audience is looking for and how your business can provide what they need. Build an FAQ section with the most common questions and provide the answers so that consumers can easily see how you can help.
STEP 2: Depending upon the results you found in Step 1, you might not have found the exact information you wanted. You would probably conduct another search with just the important words this time. Try again — enter the word FLORIST and the name of a TOWN and STATE where you really don’t know any florists. What do you see?
Since you searched with a specific location, the results will include: paid ads (easily distinguished because they always come first and are listed with a highlit background), websites that are optimized for local SEO/with high page ranking and a heading that says “Places for Industry near town, state.”
Take a look at the listings under the Places heading. The results have reddish colored, lettered “map pins” next to them and are called Place Listings on Google. Every one of them is a business in the area you searched. You will also see a map on the right with “map pins” showing the locations (the other major search engines have something similar).
STEP 3: Unless there was a clear leader in “regular” search results, most people looking for a local business will click on “Places for…” because it narrows down the search.
You will probably see a lot more results with “map pins.” Again, these are listings for businesses that fit the category “florist” in the town and state you searched. These are more focused results in which you can easily see address and phone numbers for local businesses.
Okay, now that you have a list of florists in the area, what would be your next step?
STEP 4: If you are like most people doing online searches, before calling one of the phone numbers you see, you will click on one of the business for more information. But which business do you pick first? Now it’s time to decide who’s getting your business (and your money). Which florist would you call? Besides location, what factors influence your decision?
Most people start by looking at the business listings that include a company website. As obvious as this sounds it is important to have a website, yet amazingly, 46% of small business owners don’t have website (some studies report even higher numbers!). It doesn’t have to be a big website. When researching local businesses, at the core, people want to know a little bit about the business and want to find basic things like hours, address & phone number.
And now for the REAL moment of TRUTH…
Repeat this experiment pretending you are a consumer looking for a service in YOUR industry, town & state. Were you even there? Did you have a website in your listing? Do you provide the information that your consumers need to make a decision on whether or not to spend their money with you? What about your competition?
Each month, online consumers perform over 3 billion local searches for nearby products and services. Needless to say, making sure that your website has been optimized for local SEO is important but there are things that you can do RIGHT NOW to help your local customers find you. And it won’t cost you a penny!
The top search engines — Google, Yahoo!, Bing and Ask — all offer a business listing service that is free. There are also many other local search engines, websites and databases that feed results to search engines and help to improve page ranking. Yet a large percentage of business owners are completely unaware that this services and websites exist.
Bonus: Angie’s List
Angie’s List has a unique business model. In order to read or write reviews, consumers must PAY for a membership. Reviews come from real people, not anonymous users. Over 1.5 million households check Angie’s List before they hire local contractors and visit local retailers. Companies can’t pay to be on Angie’s List but you can create a free listing where you can manage your reputation, read and respond to your business reviews and get alerts on new reviews.