How Marketers Can Help Merchants and Consumers Win With Local Search

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local-searchLocal businesses still struggle with using the Internet effectively to market their business. The Boston Consulting Group recently found that small businesses (defined as those with less than 100 employees) spend only three percent of their advertising budget online, even though Google estimates that 97 percent of consumers seek information about local businesses via online search.

Due to this lack of investment in digital, many local businesses are difficult to find online, have incorrect, outdated and inconsistent business profiles, have not developed a social media strategy, and have not made websites mobile-friendly. Furthermore, the large amount of unclaimed business profile and listing information further muddies up the space. Not only are local businesses missing out on the online audience, but consumers are wasting time driving to incorrect business addresses, calling the wrong number, or not finding a business at all. This video from the Local Search Association illustrates the challenges businesses and consumers can face when it comes to local search.

For the sake of local businesses and local searchers, marketers need to come to the rescue. vSplash estimates that there is a $3.2 billion opportunity for local marketers to help clean up local search and help local businesses with their digital marketing efforts. And in that number there is some low-hanging fruit — especially for marketers that already have a foothold in local markets.

Accurate and “Claimed” Business Profiles
A Yext study from last December found that across 40,000 customer listings, 43 percent had at least one incorrect or missing address. Managing the accuracy of a business listing across multiple venues is a critical place for local marketers to start. In addition to the importance of accuracy, a recent report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) describes how listings that are “owner verified” or “claimed” have better SEO, and are less likely to be over written by external data. The downside is that these listings have to be manually entered and verified by the owner, making the management of listings a full time job especially for multi-location businesses.

Nonetheless, by working closely with local businesses and with the appropriate approvals, marketers can be authorized to claim profiles on behalf of these businesses. Whoever can find a way to efficiently and effectively claim and verify listings will be able to provide a significant advantage for local businesses. With more complete, accurate and claimed business data shared across relevant channels, local businesses win and so does the consumer (who will find that the data and information is reliable).

Social Isn’t for Everyone (Yet)
These days, social media is like a party that everyone is showing up to — but where only a few are actually having a good time. According to different surveys of more than 1,000 SMBs each, Constant Contact found that 97 percent are using social media channels for their marketing efforts, while Manta found that 60 percent are not seeing a ROI for their social media activities.

Not every local business needs to be on social media. At least not yet. In fact, the reputation of a local business is often negatively affected by a stagnant social media page that lacks timely and engaging content. In addition, even though a comScore/15 Miles/Neustar study found that Facebook’s app was used more for local business searches than MapQuest, Apple Maps and Bing apps, that doesn’t mean that all verticals are being searched for.

People are more apt to “like” or “follow” their favorite sports team, rather than their plumber. For that reason, local marketers should answer the following questions before jumping into social: Does your client’s vertical engage well with social media audiences? Is this vertical receiving leads from social? Do you have examples? As social media channels make further investment in local search — Facebook’s “Graph Search” and Google+ Local — the SMB clients that had a “no” answer to the questions above could very well turn into a “yes” in the near future.

Getting Mobile-Optimized
BIA/Kelsey predicts that mobile local search will overtake desktop search by 2015. Equally compelling, vSplash found that 94.5% of the 3.9 million SMB sites they audited were not mobile-optimized, making mobile another big opportunity for local marketers.

Navigating a website that isn’t mobile-optimized can be a real deterrent for consumers on the go who are ready to make a purchase. When consumers on mobile-“unfriendly” sites zoom in and out, click the wrong link, and struggle to find critical information about a business, they can be driven away, and merchants can lose valuable business.

Mobile sites don’t need to house every single piece of information about a business, but they should have the content — location, click-to-call, prices, map to directions, hours of operations, menus, services, et cetera — that can help a consumer make their decision. Similarly, there is an expectation from users that mobile sites function like some of their favorite apps — large, clearly labeled, easy-to-click buttons create a positive user experience.

There is certainly a significant need amongst local businesses when it comes to managing their business listings, social media pages and mobile websites. For local marketers, that need represents a huge opportunity to grow their business, improve the visibility of local businesses, and improve the overall local search experience for the consumer. When local search works, publishers, agencies, advertisers, SMBs, multi-location enterprises and consumers all win.

Morsello_JoeJoe Morsello contributes to the Local Search Insider and is the Communications Manager at the Local Search Association, a trade organization of print, digital, mobile and social media companies that help local businesses get found. Follow LSA on Twitter @LocalSearchAssn.