When you run a local business, it’s not enough to rely on word of mouth.
It ended exactly where it had begun: the last copies of the final Yellow Pages were delivered to residents of Brighton in January 2019, the city where the original print run had been handed out more than five decades before.
For all those years, the Yellow Pages was the first port of call for anyone seeking the services of a local business. But in 1996, parent company BT launched yell.com as a local search engine, which was the beginning of the end for the printed telephone directory.
Since then, the internet has completely transformed the way customers seek out businesses, as well as the promotional content those businesses use to seek out customers. Traditional outbound marketing forms, such as paid advertisements, are more targeted that ever before, and many businesses leverage the power of inbound marketing – written content, video and social media – to build engagement with their brand.
It would be easy to assume this revolution has mostly affected online commerce, but most customers now discover local businesses using their computer or through search functionality on their smartphones. If you’re a business owner who trades with people in a specific location, staying ahead of the curve is crucial, but it can be hard to know where to start. Here are five steps you can take to make sure you generate the leads you deserve.
1. Make sure your website is awesome
Research by marketing experts at BrightLocal tells us that when choosing a local business, only 8% of customers don’t check out the website. Consumers are more savvy than ever before, and a poor website can undermine your business’s reputation.
When it comes to making sure local people can find you through search, it’s important to spell things out: Google and other search engines rank websites based on their relevancy to a search. Getting on the first page can be tough, but it’s much easier if your website’s written content utilises keywords based on medium to long-tail search terms. For example, it’s going to be difficult to rank well for ‘charcuterie’, but ‘vegan charcuterie in Harrogate’ is much more achievable.
Employ a simple structure when you’re writing your on-page web content by using h1, h2 and h3 tags, as Google is able to index well-structured sites more easily. It’s also important to make sure your website is optimised. Navigation should be clear and un-cluttered and there should be no broken links returning 404 errors. Take care that media-rich content runs smoothly, as Google’s algorithm penalises websites with slow loading times.
According to SEO specialists SagaPixel, 58% of people search for a local business on their smartphone daily, so it’s crucial to make sure your site is optimised for mobile devices as well as desktops. If you’re building your site on a web platform rather than paying a developer to do it for you, choose a theme that’s responsive. This means the theme adjusts the display so everything’s presented clearly, no matter what the size or aspect ratio of the screen is. According to Google, improving your load time by 0.1s can boost conversion rates by 8%. Their mobile-friendly test tool is a free and effective way to audit your mobile optimisation.
2. Blog about your business
Blogging regularly is the most effective way of driving traffic to your website (it’s something I’ve written about in more detail if you’re wondering where to start). Although many people assume that long-form web content principally helps organisations without a locality factor to generate leads, it’s also a great way for local businesses to rank in searches, to demonstrate authority in their field and to engage with their community.
When Emma Gates of First Aid Box Training in Driffield invested in a new website, she was keen to explore the marketing opportunities that blogging can offer. ‘Clients want posts that give them value for reading,’ says Emma. ‘They want content that is meaningful and relevant.’
Blog posts allow you to help people find solutions to their problems and generate traffic through search with all of those juicy long-tail key words that blog posts typically rank for — and that potential customers are searching for.
Blogging is also a way to showcase what you do, provide case studies and share those invaluable testimonials, both of which build trust and offer proof of your credibility to prospective customers. ‘92% of searchers will pick businesses on the first page of local search results,’ says SEO Expert Bradley Shaw. Blogging is the best way to make the cut.
3. Build a social media presence
Social media is the perfect way to share your own content, as well as content produced by people in your network. It demonstrates you value others — both colleagues in your own sector, who you get to shoot the breeze with, and potential customers too. However, it’s important to choose the right social media platforms to get active on.
Word of mouth has always been really useful for local businesses, and Facebook communities are essentially an online version of what people have done for years: make recommendations, share solutions and big people up. You can post from your personal profile, or in many cases, as your company’s page.
Either way, it’s important to engage honestly and authentically, listening to what people have to say, ‘liking’ others’ contributions and making helpful suggestions in your comments. Some groups prohibit outright promotion and advertising, so it’s essential to read the rules get a feel for the kind of content that people engage with.
‘We had various social media profiles for a number of years prior to using them ‘properly’ for marketing,’ says Emma Gates. ‘But after finding we were getting more and more enquiries on those platforms and seeing how others were utilising them for sales, it seemed the logical thing to do.’
If you want to make the most of Facebook’s seriously big reach, you can use Facebook ads to create and run advertising campaigns using some simple tools, and track their performance with helpful metrics. The easy-to-use ad manager lets you choose a goal for your ad, whether it’s more traffic, lead generation or engagement. You can tailor your ad to a specific location, demographic or interest profile. From there, it’s a case of choosing where you want your ad to run (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram or Audience Network) then choosing a budget and ad format.
‘Social media promotion can be time consuming, but it’s definitely is one of those strategies where the more you put in the more you get out,’ says Emma. ‘On the occasions when we plan campaigns properly and invest time in them, then they’re successful, but the times when a post is just shoved out for visibility purposes, not so much so.’
4. Collect email addresses
Collecting email addresses is a proven way to engage prospective customers. Again, the statistics are on point: ‘Email marketing has one of the highest returns on investment of any marketing tactic,’ says John Rampton of Forbes. ‘It’s also top-rated for retaining customers, and nurturing people from leads into customers.’
But people only part with their email addresses when there’s something in it for them and when there’s nothing to lose — in other words, no risk of being bombarded with spam.
One effective way to encourage visitors to your site to subscribe to your email list is by providing a lead magnet, a powerful incentive that has value. This might take the form of a special offer or a discount on a first purchase. It could also take the form of useful content, such as an e-book, digital toolkit or training resource.
You can then nurture your leads by sending marketing emails which contain additional resources, links to new blog posts or news about your sector. By offering solutions to the challenges they’re facing when they’re problem-aware, your business becomes the natural choice when those prospective customers have reached the product-aware stage of the buying journey.
5. Sign up for Google My Business
According to HootSuite, the social media management platform, customers are 70% more likely to visit businesses with a Google My Business listing. Google My Business is a free tool that ensures your business will appear on Google Search results and Google Maps.
A direct search for a listed company — for example Tom the Gardener — displays the company’s Google My Business profile on the right-hand side of the screen. This means a potential customer can easily find the location, opening hours and contact details.
A search for a type of business in your area — for example, graphic designers in Edinburgh — will display the ‘top three’ best or most relevant listings. The local element is great for businesses with a fixed location, as you’ll appear in Google Maps too.