Historically, consumers have relied on local media channels such as, print Yellow Pages, newspapers, TV and radio stations to find products and services close to their home and work. Consumers are now increasingly using specialized internet search sites that allow users to submit geographically focused searches against a structured database of local business listings. This is commonly referred to as local search.
Typical local search queries include not only information about what the consumer is searching for, but also where information, such as a street address, city name or postal code. Local search is an excellent way for a merchant to capture a consumers’ expression of local intent. For example, “Dayton restaurants” could be considered a local search. The location modifier “Dayton, OH” helps the consumer quickly refine the area of interest.
Examples of Local Search sites
|Internet Yellow Pages||Local-Search Sites|
Impact of Local Search on Digital Marketing Strategy
All businesses, particularly small locally owned service-based organizations, want to be found by ready-to-buy consumers who live in their specific trade area. It’s also no surprise that when you consider the products and services offered by restaurants, physicians, dentists, auto repair shops, or plumber’s (just to name a few) that most consumers want to engage a local merchant. Most marketers are familiar with the four key stages of the consumer buying process. Within each stage marketers have the opportunity to improve the customer experience and influence the final purchase decision.
The stages in the consumer buying process include: Awareness, Information Search, Evaluation, and Purchase and After-Sale Service.
Local search is generally used by consumers during the information gathering and evaluation stages. In regard to the marketing framework presented, local search would not only impact the ability to promote, but also persuade since most local search platforms include ratings and reviews. The ability to persuade is also impacted by the quality and quantity of the information provided by the local search site.
For example, incomplete or inaccurate information can leave a negative impression with a consumer; while robust, complete details help portray the business as professional and reputable. The probability of converting shoppers into new customers increases when coupons or special offers are leveraged at the right time through the right channel.
Finally, mobile search on Smartphone’s makes it possible for consumers to find businesses while on-the-go. In addition, location-based services from platforms like Foursquare or Gowalla make it possible for a business to push a message or offer directly to a consumer who “checks-in” or is simply within proximity of the business. This demonstrates the growing importance of mobile search platforms as the adoption rate for mobile technology increases.
Getting the Return on Local Search
First and most important, an organization should understand what their consumers want from local search. Research shows that consumers want the basics; they want information on proximity, hours of operation, services offered, ratings and reviews, and contact information. In short, they are looking to validate that the business is nearby, open, and easy to do business with. In addition, most local search sites will have a link back to the advertiser’s main website.
Therefore, a quality, up-to-date website is a must before venturing into local search. Many local search platforms also offer the ability to upload photos and video. This means an organization should also have their social marketing strategy and content support plan in place before launching a local search program.
Local search is one of the most measurable forms of marketing. An organization can measure website traffic, coupon downloads, calls, clicks or number of ratings and reviews. As with all success metrics it depends on what action the organization is trying to encourage the consumer to take.
Keys to Success
In relation to a sales funnel, locally owned SMB’s focus a great deal of time, energy and marketing dollars on “ready-to-buy” consumers. What that means is that they concentrate on being found when the prospect is searching for information to satisfy an acknowledged need or desire. They like to take advantage of that opportunity to quickly engage the prospect because research shows that local searchers are generally well qualified and more apt to buy.
When it comes to improving local search results advertisers should consider the following:
- Adding local modifiers to your paid search keyword list in order to localize your search program.
- Geo-targeting your keywords. Geo-targeting refers to the physical location of the website visitor. For example, if your company uses geo-targeting and the consumer is located in Dayton, the search engine will serve up an ad for your location in Dayton. Geo-targeting enhances the customer experience by providing local, relevant information. It should be noted that effective geo-targeting requires businesses to have an accurate understanding of their trade radius. Casting too wide of a net could result in wasted advertising dollars, while too narrow of a focus could result in lost sales.
- Feed management services. This will help ensure that your business listing information is accurate and up-to-date as the data is fed directly to the local search sites.
- Localized landing pages. A localized landing page is a stand alone page that appears when a potential customer clicks on an advertisement or a search result link. The landing page should contain information (hours, maps, service offering, etc.) relevant to the referenced location. Localized landing pages have the added benefit of increasing organic rankings as they are often picked up by Google and Yahoo! maps and included in their local search results.
Lastly, it should be noted that search, mobile marketing and social media are converging on local markets. This convergence will continue to reinforce the need for strategic integrated marketing that focuses on the consumer buying process with a goal of delivering a superior customer experience. Cross channel pollination between print, digital, and social media, as well as direct mail and TV will continue to accelerate as organizations look for ways to create greater synergy with their marketing budgets.