(the following is a guest post from Charles Stankovitch)
Aloha everyone… First off I want to thank Dave for allowing me the opportunity to post on the coveted HuoMah Blog. When I met Dave back in the Threadwatch days, one of my first late night encounters with him was a patent reading lesson and a story about how water flows around rocks. But, we can save that conversation for another day.
This post was written because, I felt you could use a break from all of the clawing and hair pulling that search geeks normally subject each other to on a daily basis. While I am an apparel designer at heart, I'm also a mom and pop small business owner with a physical store and a website – in the trenches if you will.
Local marketing from a business owner’s perspective
One area that I really enjoy playing in, (with web marketing) is the Local stuff. As such, I have a bit of Local Marketing wisdom, that I would like to share. So, why don’t you hop into the trenches with me and I will give you a tour of Local SEO from a small business owner’s perspective, as well as comments on some things that could maybe even make you some money in the future.
People selling Local services need to be sensitive to that fact that Local marketing can be one of the most affordable and lucrative things they can engage in. Much of the on-line local listings are free, or for a very nominal cost, and many are permanent.
Then consider the Local customer, the place where we come to the fork in the road. While a lot of time and money is justifiably put into term and phrase research, it’s my personal opinion that just because a word gets searches doesn't mean that it converts that entirely well. Local searchers need to be treated differently because they already have a pre-conceived notion of what they want and where they want to get it from, with “where” being the key point of discussion.
Using our Escondido location as an example, when a user searches for “Hawaiian apparel Escondido” they already know what they want and they are willing to travel in or around the city limits of Escondido to get it. If you don’t have a Local listing in Google (or with those other guys), you have pretty much lost an opportunity to convert a very qualified customer.
But, let’s say you do have a listing and the user clicks it, what does that mean to you? Well it should mean a lot; at this very point you already have a customer that is thinking “I am considering buying something from you”. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have an informational, as well as professional looking Local listing. This customer has just poked his head in your door.
Treat your prospective customers viewing your listings just like you treat customers visiting your store. Greet them, bond with them, meet or exceed their expectations. Your Local listing is all about the user experience.
If you're not good at writing you own copy consider a copywriter or recruit a friend who enjoys writing. And, most importantly, use pictures of your storefront and items for sale in your showroom. Pictures make a huge difference and greatly increase your odds of getting a click through to your website or a physical visit. (I also envision geocoded images as a future factor.)
So what local listings do are worth doing? Well, in simple terms, you could start with the Local search engines, directories & data sources (maybe more on data sources later). But lets do a quick review of the 3 best known, and an up and comer, based on my own experiences of course.
Pros -- Offers the most traffic from local searches by far. Listings are relatively easy to create. A nice size map accompanies local search result and important business info is well laid out. Google also offers the business owners some basic analytics, which are found in their Local Business Centers Dashboard.
Cons – if you ever move your business location it is nearly impossible to remove the listing, especially if other data sources are feeding it. InfoUSA etc.
Reach: while none of the Local listings allow you to do this, I think that it would behoove all of us if we could define the reach of our local listing. In our case we’re not only serving Escondido but Southern California, the cities of Los Angeles, San Diego and as well as San Bernardino and Riverside. Meaning the customer that currently lives in area code 91941 (which is just 15 minutes from 92025) won't get the result they were hoping for.
Pros – Search result is nice, clean, and a bit more inviting than Google’s. The actual business listing is very well laid out and intuitive.
Cons – The search results page is dominated by Sponsored ads, usually none of which is remotely local to your local query. The approval process for listings can be painful; we went back and forth with Yahoo because they kept claiming we don’t have a physical store. I went as far as offering the reviewer a copy of my lease and suggesting that they could use Google Street view and see for themselves. In the end, they approved it.
Pros – I am just going to say that the jury is still out on Bing
Cons – we once had a Live Local listing, but not long after they morphed into Bing; we decided to update it with the new phone number for the showroom with some fresh pictures. So, I made the update and they gave the expected message saying they would mail me the auth code. Ok, that’s cool, but what wasn’t cool is that they sent me the old form-letter that was used in Live, which was basically worthless. So, I sent it back to them at Redmond, and a few weeks later I got another auth letter that had the Bing info and the correct Bing URL.
Well, needless to say that, after I entered the auth code, it took me back to the original non-updated listing, and I had to start the process all over. So, as of writing this, our listing has been “pending review” for over 1 week now. (Wouldn’t it have been easier to just activate it on your end after you saw documentation of your screw up Mr. Bing?)
Pros - I view this as an up and coming site for local listings. They offer Local listings and reviews for USA businesses. Plus, Yelp has international sites for Canada, Yelp Ireland and the UK.
It also does some slick things with images from your business profile such as rotating them into sections like “Related Talk Topics”. I like that feature because you can get your brand in front of people who were not necessarily looking for you. My tip to you is: make sure you give a lot of thought to the image names and tags that you assign to each image. Think exact match and verticals.
Cons – Not necessarily a con but a word to the wise. Yelp relies heavily on user reviews. Reviews can be powerful selling tools, but like many other sites that contain reviews, you cannot remove them. Even if you delete your Yelp listing, they will remain in public view.
Where to next?
Ok, so we barely scratched the surface and you know all that stuff already (right?). Let me ask you this: if I go out to my car, and tell my Garmen GPS (or Streets & Trips on my laptop) that I want to find a product you or one of your (marketing) clients sell, will I find you?
The answer is probably not. Part of the reason is that for many the focus may be too narrow and that you’re not looking at the actual data suppliers. These include
Now, I know that the link obsessed are thinking links, but you are way off base when it comes to Local listings. There is something to be said for other sites that list your business name and address, (run with it…).
Start thinking geo-taggin
I don’t want to wear out my welcome, so I will close with saying that there are a lot of very talented young people in the world plotting and coding more location-based services while making big advancements in augmented technology. Oh yes, speaking of advancements, keep an eye on image geocoding. I see a lot of groundbreaking apps that allow you to geocode images yet the camera manufactures are just starting to offer the feature in some of their higher end lines.
Image geocoding has a lot of implications that can, and will, have a place in Local. Team that up with labeling systems and image content analysis, (OCR) and you have the potential for images to be more powerful than you can fathom.
Thanks for reading along and remember that I am just water flowing around a rock (but the rock erodes a little more each day).