What Is the Essential Digital Marketing Bundle for Local Businesses?

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Local Business - Marketing Concept for Small Business

In this regular Street Fight feature, local marketing gurus David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal kick around some of the biggest ideas affecting the local search ecosystem and the broader industry. Send an email or leave a comment if you have specific topics that you’d like them to touch on in future columns!

David: Hey Mike, feels to me like it’s been a weird month with the late election and early Thanksgiving. But there’s always time to squeeze in a little local search discussion!

Mike: You know what I say about local search: all local, all the time!

David: We concluded our last chat by saying we’d talk about the ROI opportunities in local, and how media companies and local platforms can help small businesses find and execute on these opportunities.

So let’s kick things off — in honor of Cyber Monday, where should small businesses be spending their money (or energy) right now to maximize their digital investment?

Mike: For me it always starts with a website. Even with the trend for many small businesses to have just a Facebook page or maybe a single-page website, I see a well-done multi-page website as one of the best single investments that a small business can make. A great website can be amortized over 3 or 4 years and have an effective monthly cost of $80. And if configured properly, it can be very easy to be able to track exactly how many people you are reaching for your money.

But it needs to be mobile-ready and maybe even be AMP-capable (or should be in the next few months). Even if Google is gobbling up traffic with ads and their own self-referential tactics they will still send a good website well-qualified traffic.

What about you? After the website what would be the cheapest way to extend their marketing?

David: Well first let me agree with you, as I have since you first released your web equity infographic several years ago, that a website is central to any business’s digital existence.

While I don’t think the centrality of the website in that infographic will change anytime soon, I think we are at an inflection point in terms of how your website content will be displayed, with the trend towards rich snippets, AMP, and now voice results.

I believe it’s time to start thinking of your website as an API that Google, Siri, Alexa, and Cortana can consume and spit back in a variety of formats depending on the context of the user.

Whether it’s AMP, or simply well-structured HTML, that delivers that “API,” I completely agree with you in the value of that long-term investment for future visibility.

One difference, though, is that visibility may not come with a visitor.  My reaction to Dr. Pete Meyers’ recent comparison of desktop and voice search results is that attribution is the new clickthrough.

After the website, what’s next?

Mike: Being in local, I am a big fan of a one-time citation push to be sure that your hours, directions, phone and web are consistent and accurate across the internet.

You don’t need to get crazy and hit a gazillion directories, but you should hit the biggies a la Moz Local for $9/month or so. That isn’t so much of an ROI as it is guaranteeing that customers can find you and trust you. There was recent YP.com research that showed that 37% of consumers would abandon an SMB if their online information was inconsistent.

OK, we are up to $90 a month, affordable by most businesses, even the smallest. What would be the next cheapest thing you think most SMBs should engage in to proactively grow their business?

David: How about a freebie (cost-wise)? Email. Mailchimp is free up to 2,000 subscribers, which covers a pretty wide band of “small” businesses. And even the worst-performing businesses get open rates of 6-10%, several times higher than what they would get from an organic social media post.

The problem with email of course is the time involved in building a list, designing and formatting your emails (even in a great program like Mailchimp), and creating the content you’re going to send out. But it requires very little technical expertise and offers one of the most direct communication channels with your customers.

Over the course of the last seven months, I’ve learned from my own newsletter that the engagement rate from email can be huge. So needless to say, I’m a big fan.

Mike: I agree email should be a staple. It continues to offer very high returns and we see at GetFiveStars that most small businesses can get open rates in the mid-to-high-40% range. That’s huge and very inexpensive. People obviously open and engage with email from a trusted source.

David: OK, so we’re starting to build out our bundle here, and we’re still at $90/month.

Mike: Well, we are at $90 if you can figure out how to get the content done. For many, that is a big if, Barbara Oliver figured it out by recruiting her husband and leveraging a recent hire.

David: Website, Citations, Email…the next expenditure for me would probably connect the last two components: review solicitation and management. Which, in a shameless plug, your product does very nicely for $30/month.

So now we’re at $120, and probably at the end of the organic product set. At this point, I’m into Facebook ads, and especially Instagram ads where there’s almost no small business competition. With the intersection of demographic and geographic targeting, these can be wildly successful with minimal expenditure.  

Mike: I frequent a small local bakery that recently did a boosted post around an apple pie giveaway on her Facebook page. For only $15 she had a reach of 7000 (about the equal of our local paper) and a click through of ~1200.

The only problem I have with Facebook ads is closing the “last mile” of client acquisition.  She doesn’t really know who these folks are and has no way of getting in touch with them again without paying Facebook. Maybe the new ecommerce and scheduling CTA from Facebook will help with that, or perhaps she could have structured the giveaway in some way to have acquired email addresses.

David: I think that success is more typical than not, or at least could be.

The problem I have with Facebook (and Google, and Twitter, and every other major tech company selling to small businesses) is that they encourage small businesses to blow their budget on too-wide an audience or too-competitive a keyword set.

Ignore their self-serving recommendations, start very tight with your targeting, build your way out, and you can be very effective.  

Mike: Regardless, you can do a lot of marketing there for $50, bringing our running total to $150/month.

David: Remarkably, we’re in agreement up to this point. From here though, things wildly diverge based on the industry, geography, and budget of the business we’re talking about.

Google is driving everyone pretty aggressively into Adwords. You need to look no further than the recent three-pack purge and simultaneous ad release in San Diego. In those verticals this is probably going to be a compelling expenditure for the businesses that can afford it.

Mike: And Adwords has gotten very expensive and requires a great deal of expertise to run properly. It’s hard to do much in many categories for less than $1000/month with competent management. Works great in some verticals but certainly doesn’t fit our “baseline budget for the SMB” that we are putting together.

In other verticals, professional content and a managed social presence might make more sense but probably would bust the budget as well.

David: Yep, I’m optimistic about how LinkedIn’s new product will perform for professional service categories, but we’re certainly in “your mileage may vary” territory.

Sounds like our essential bundle is: website, citations, email, reviews, and Facebook/Instagram ads for right around $150/mo. Let’s tackle how agencies and resellers might package and sell that in our next chat!

Mike: Works for me!

Got an idea for what you want Mike and David to discuss next time? Send it to either [email protected] or [email protected], or just leave a comment below and we’ll put it in the hopper!

After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now serves as VP of Product Strategy at ThriveHive, leading the direction of the company’s search-related product offerings. He’s also the Founder & CEO of Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletters, Minutive and the Agency Insider. He’s the former founder of GetListed.org, Director of Local Strategy at Moz, and along with Mike Blumenthal, he’s a co-founder of Local University. Mike Blumenthal is the co-founder and analyst at Near Media where he researches and reports on reputation, reviews and local search. Mike has been involved in local search and local marketing strategy for almost 20 years. He explores the online to offline local ecosystem and helps businesses understand it and benefit from it through writing, speaking and education.