Internet Marketing at the Local Level
I was an Internet Marketing consultant for several years — including 2.5 years full-time while my first website was still getting off the ground — and I still do pro bono consulting from time to time just to meet new people and be exposed to new industries.
Virtually all the sites I’ve worked with have been U.S. sites that marketed nationwide, but I’ve worked with a handful who were only interested in marketing locally.† Here’s what I’ve learned with those clients.† Your mileage may vary, but I think at least some of it will be useful.† I’d love to hear any other suggestions (and corrections) you guys might have as, again, I’m not an expert here.
Not a Magic Potion
I talk to a lot of people who think the Internet is the answer to all their problems.† It’s not.† In fact, it may cost you way more than it could ever pay you back.† When you’re marketing locally, there are often way more effective ways to spend your time and money — especially if you’ve never done any Internet marketing before.† Don’t believe the hype.
Take Care of the Basics
That said, there’s no reason not to do some basic work to give yourself a decent presence online.
Have a Great Design
This is absolutely essential.† People will judge the excellence of your business by what your website looks like.† That’s probably not an accurate indicator even 50% of the time, but it’s what people do.† A great design can be had at 99designs for less than $1,000, so you have no excuse.
Submit to Local Business Directories
Go to Google and search for Atlanta dog sitters or any other local search you can think of.† Chances are, the first thing in the search results is Google’s “local business results.”† You want to be in that list and any other lists like it.† Three places you need to be sure to submit your business to:
Or you could just use GetListed.org.
Be sure your site follows basic SEO principles.† It’s not rocket science.† You might not see much traffic from search engines, but you’re sure to see none if you don’t at least take care of the easy stuff.
Network… Network… Network…
I’m not talking about offline, though that’s a great strategy too.† I’m talking about online networking.
Be a regular, quality commenter on blogs that a) are written by people in your geographic area or b) are about topics related to your business.† Use your real name and don’t comment just for the link.† Genuinely add something to the conversation.
Same thing here: find and participate in forums that are local and forums that are about your topic.† The advantage of forums over blogs is that you can automatically include a signature on each or your posts that tells who you are and advertises your business a little bit.
Here again, though, you have to genuinely add to the conversation.† Being a valuable member of the community is why you’re there. The publicity for your business is just a side effect of how well you do that.
Join Twitter and start posting quality stuff.† Don’t post commercial stuff, and don’t reply to others with a sales pitch.† That will do far more harm than good.
Once you’ve been on for a week or two and have some quality stuff, start following people in your area.† You can find them using Twitter’s advanced search.
And one more time for good measure: add value to the conversation.† You’re not there to market your business.
Everything up until now has allowed you to interact with people who were already looking for your business (or one like it) or who already had something in common with you.† If you limit yourself to only those people, though, you’re missing a huge segment of the population.
What can you do that is newsworthy?† Newsworthy things get into the news (thus the name).† People read the news and find out about your business.† Pick up your local paper and see who’s in there and why they’re in there.
Be An Expert
Sites like Examiner.com give you a forum to be a local expert on a very wide range of topics.† Take advantage of that.
Or, better yet, write Examiner-worthy content on your own site.† That way you own the content and you get all the publicity (and links).† Select a topic from their application form and take a look at the questions they ask in order to get a feel for what kind of content really draws readers — then get writing!
Finally, take a look at PPC advertising — particularly with AdWords (because of the much greater reach and much better tools).† For the people who are searching for what you’re offering, you can be front and center and control your costs down to the penny.† Start slow, though.† You can spend a lot of money in a very short amount of time if you’re not careful.† Once you get your legs under you, though, PPC is an incredible tool.