How to Market a Local Business Online
Consumers increasingly look online for local service providers. But it’s sometimes hard for those service providers to become visible, so consumers can easily find them. Brendon O’Donovan, product marketing manager for Vocus, an online marketing tools provider, recently spoke with Web Marketing Today to discuss how to market a local service business.
Web Marketing Today: Assume I’m a local service provider, such as a CPA or an electrician. How should I market my business online?
Brendon O’Donovan: The first thing you want to do is to have a website where people can find information about you. Once you have your web presence, there are many other tools and a lot of other ways to build that presence. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn — these are all free social media sites where your customers are. You just have to find them. They are free tools that you can use for this. You can network with your customers and really promote your business, with next to no cost.
The next thing is being in the places that people are looking for you — a lot of the places you look now to find local business. such as Google, Yahoo!, Yelp, depending on your business. So if you’re an electrician or a local CPA or a plumber, people do searches for their local area to try to find you in those places. List yourself there and then when people look for an electrician in Washington, D.C., for example, you’re one of the first results that pop up.
Once you have listings and once people can find you there, it’s also important to make sure that they can find your website. Search marketing, from organic search marketing to paid advertising through Google AdWords, gets you in front of the right people and drives traffic to your website. Finally, when you’re talking about online marketing — when you start getting this traffic — people will opt into your information. Email marketing is a wonderful opportunity to keep that relationship and those communication channels open with your prospects and your audience.
WMT: Do you know the percentage of leads that are coming in online versus traditional printed yellow pages?
O’Donovan: Local search results now have over three billion page views. That’s people who are actually searching for local items online. When you think about the way that people look for businesses, they’re out with their mobile phones, they’re out with their tablets or they’re sitting at Starbucks with their PCs. They don’t need another resource. The shift from trying to find a business in, say, the traditional printed yellow pages to finding it at YellowPages.com has been dramatic in the past few years. It’s definitely becoming the primary source for research when it’s coming to local businesses.
WMT: One of the issues that local service providers have is obtaining the expertise to market themselves online. How can a CPA be a social media or an SEO expert?
O’Donovan: Anyone can really be a social media expert. Some people just really like technology. Those people are just going to jump right in. They’re going to try through trial and error and see what works and what doesn’t. They’ll be able to read the extensive information that’s on the Internet now. There’s that type of person that really likes technology and really likes that type of interaction with the web or with their community online.
But that’s not everybody and that’s really not the majority of people. For most of the small businesses, time is of the essence. They really need to get something done efficiently. They don’t necessarily want to take the time to learn how to be the expert. That’s where small business consultants and marketing consultants really come in. Even software packages that help guide you through the process. There are a number of software tools that simplify your process and bring your information that you’re looking for from a sense of your Twitter conversations or your Facebook friends and give you the ability to see it in one place and make recommendations on what to do with that. That’s really the helping hand that can make a small business person go from zero to hero very quickly.
WMT: Walk us through the online conversion process for a smaller service provider. The first step is presumably to get traffic to the website. The next step is enticing visitors to call or fill out a form or something similar. Ultimately, they hopefully will become a customer. Explain the easiest way for a local service provider to do that.
O’Donovan: It starts with getting people to your website. That starts with search marketing, such as writing a news release that shows up well in results to get people notified that you have a website. Do some things with paid ads to increase the prominence of your site. Use social media, making contacts, and getting those followers to share with their followers.
That’s the first thing, the awareness of your website. Then how do you get people to call you? How do you really start getting that connection with your audience? Once you get their interest, there are a number of things that you can do. It can be an offer. If you’re a CPA, you could create a guide, such as “10 Helpful Tips for 2013 Tax Season.” You can capture people’s information from that. You can get them to call you. You can get quality content pushed out to have people associate you with being the expert. If you’re an electrician or some other consumer service, consider coupons, which everyone loves. Those are great ways to drive people to give you their information, or to call you.
WMT: Tell us about Vocus, the company you work for.
O’Donovan: Vocus has been around since 1992. We offer a marketing suite for everything from a small business to mid-sized company that gives you a number of tools to use to market your business efficiently. We help with search marketing. We help with social media and local listings. These are all things that our software helps local businesses do. We offer the ability to keep track your social networks. We give you recommendations on what to do with content, who to respond to on social media, who to follow, who to connect with. We offer something we call “buying signals” that help you connect with somebody that has a need for your service for advice for your product. Then we also offer search marketing through things like press releases to get your name prominently out into the search engines, so when people are looking for tax advice, for example, you’ll be able to be found. What our suite really does is simplify the process and make it approachable for any level of expertise.
WMT: What is the cost for your service?
O’Donovan: Our software starts around $3,000 a year. That would get you everything: social media management and social media recommendations, email marketing, alerts, a number of different things to really help keep your business well marketed.
WMT: Can you give us examples of companies or customers that have come to Vocus and what it’s done for them?
O’Donovan: We have a number of customers that have had wonderful success with our software. There’s a company called Living Fuel. It sells health supplements and nutrition food. They use our buying signals. For them, they watch social media to connect with people to offer them vitamins or supplements or some other sort of nutritional food. They’re able to get about 20 to 30 new leads from social media through the software each day. That puts them directly into contact with people who are able to buy from them directly. Living Fuel is a great example of a small business that’s really able to tackle social media in a big way without having to do a lot of major investments or a lot of major hires.
WMT: Are they able to manage all of that from your dashboard?
O’Donovan: Exactly. Our software has what we call our stream. Our stream gives them the ability to outreach through Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. We’ll monitor content from a number of sources like Twitter and Facebook. We monitor about 30 million blogs. We monitor all the mainstream news. It really gives them a broad swath to look and see what comes in from the whole of the web, not necessarily just the social. From there, we’ll give them recommendations on what to do with that content. With buying signals, when people are tweeting their needs out there, “I’m looking for a new vitamin supplement. Anybody have an idea?” They can go and they can say, “Yeah, have you tried this one?” Or, “This is something you might be interested in.” They can respond back to that public tweet. That’s essentially for them an online lead.
WMT: Anything else?
O’Donovan: Marketing is a long-term game. It’s not short term. There’s always going to be certain ways to make marketing convert faster. There’s something like your buying signals, your social media tools, that you can speed up that conversion. But it’s important to know that there’s always going to be competition out there. There’s always going to be people that are shopping for your services. It’s a long-term gain to be in marketing and pay attention to the market and continually evolve the marketing to meet the needs of those people.