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9 Steps to Win Your Local Online Space

Local SEO
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Google now states that 50 percent of mobile searches are local, and the rising popularity of mobile means that local is growing in a big way. Modern consumers ignore the phone book on their front porch, preferring the convenience of search engines or the social proof of Foursquare. The “world wide web” is increasingly tied to the real world and our local community. How can businesses take advantage of these changes?

1. Set Up Local Social Profiles

Immediately after setting up your own site, get started with this. Your success depends on your ability to create buzz, and social networks are the place to make this happen. Set up business accounts on these networks:

It doesn’t cost anything to set up these profiles, you get trustworthy links, and you get a platform to start growing your online exposure. The process of setting up profiles on these sites is pretty self-explanatory, so I won’t go into it here except to say that you should fill out every field and use eye-catching images that look good as thumbnails.

However, it’s worth explaining how to make the most of these profiles, since many businesses fail to understand why people use social networks in the first place. The answers are a bit different for each network:

Facebook:

According to a recent study, most people use Facebook for entertainment or to pass the time, and a smaller number of people use it for self-expression and communication. Virtually nobody uses the network as a source of information, so it is not the best place for direct sales messages.

Instead, businesses should try to create an entertaining experience for subscribers by sharing images and content that will appeal to their target audience. This includes content from all over the web, not just your own site. (We will explain how to create your own content in later sections).

You can also appeal to those with a desire to communicate or express themselves by asking questions, posting surveys, and so on.

The point is to keep your audience entertained and talking to each other.

You can also take advantage of several Facebook features that appeal to local businesses:

    1. Share posts only with local users by switching the settings from “Public” to “Target by Location/Language”

 

    1. Schedule posts to go live at the optimal time for people in your area, generally between 1 and 4 PM.

 

    1. Take advantage of Facebook Events and attach a local placemark to them with a map and driving directions.

 

Facebook users prefer you not to post too often. Once a day is generally fine.

Twitter:

According to a 2009 study, Twitter lacks many of the characteristics of a genuine social network. The structure of followers and communications suggests that it is more accurately described as a news media source.

People communicate with one another much less on Twitter than they do on Facebook, and trending topics usually coincide with headline news. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advantage of the community aspects of Twitter by responding directly to tweets or asking your followers questions every now and then. It’s just important to realize that the small character count makes Twitter less effective as a place to have conversations, and more useful as a way to share content. Post links to pieces of content you think your followers will love.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter followers love it when you are constantly posting content. To avoid this becoming a distraction, it can be helpful to use a service like HootSuite, which you can use to schedule tweets for later. Use this to gather all your tweets together at the beginning of the day (or the day before) and schedule them to go out later. This expands your reach without you needing to be on the network all day.

That said, you should still check in on Twitter every now and then to respond to @ messages, and to answer a few questions.

Twitter is also a good place to find influential people online. Search Twitter using queries like “near:Seattle within:30 mi” to find tweets from people in your area. Build relationships with these people to grow your audience.

Google+ and Foursquare:

While Google+ is not as popular as the other networks, its connection with Google Maps and the Google search results can’t be ignored. If a user follows your Google+ profile or +1′s your content, you are more likely to show up in their personal search results. Google+ Local’s information is closely linked with Google Maps, and Google+’s user ratings play a big part in whether your business is likely to show up in the search results as well.

Foursquare is also a tremendously popular site that people use specifically to discover local businesses. Users can “check in” to a business using their phone’s Foursquare app, which can be set up to notify all of their Twitter and Facebook friends. In addition to claiming your location, you can take advantage of:

    1. Send out updates with photos and deals

 

    1. Use Foursquare specials to give people discounts if they check in on Foursquare

 

    1. Leave tips about ho to make the most of the experience with your company. If they get “liked,” they will show up at the top and highlight your business’s strengths

 

  1. Post events

Since Foursquare and Google+ Local are specifically designed for local users, they should be a huge part of your strategy for online growth and exposure.

For more on how to capitalize on social media, we highly recommend 101 Ways Local Business Can Leverage Social Media.

2. Get Listed in Local, Relevant Directories

When your business is listed in local directories that people actually use, you will see an increase in referral traffic as well as search engine traffic. Here are a few examples of trustworthy directories:

The links help your website rank, and the address citation will make your site appear more prominently in Google Maps (more on citations later). You can also search for trustworthy local directories using SEOmoz’s directory list.

3. Optimize for Mobile

This is a huge part of success. According to Google, 50 percent of mobile searches are local. A successful mobile strategy demands:

  • Responsive web design that adjusts to fit smartphone and tablet screens, with buttons large enough to push with an index finger
  • HTML5 design: your site should run with no third party downloads necessary
  • Fast load times that accommodate slower wireless internet connections
  • Mobile apps, so that users don’t need to use their browser to take advantage of your features. Nielson reports that people use mobile apps even more than the mobile web, almost half as much as they use the web on their PC. That’s at least 101 million Americans, as of July 2012.
  • Targeted ads that display based on user location

You should also keep in mind that many people are accessing their social networks through apps and mobile browsers, rather than from a PC. Images uploaded to Facebook, and the like, should be shaped for easy viewing on mobile platforms.

To learn more about this, we like Hubspot’s mobile marketing guide.

4. Engage Your Local Community

Seek out events happening in your community and get involved. Work together with organizations and non-competing companies in your area, especially those with a large web following. Events have great appeal to social networks, and discussions often spillover to the online community.

Encourage this connection by posting updates from these events to your social networks and your blog. Use a hashtag to help promote the event in your tweets, and be sure to take advantage of Facebook Events to publicize it. Put up posters and signs to encourage people to Tweet, post to Facebook, check in on Foursquare, and leave reviews on Google+ Local. Here are a few ways to leverage your local community:

  • Sponsor an event or organization with a large online following
  • Host an event of your own and promote it through all of your channels
  • Attend a seminar, or speak at one
  • Post feeds of online activity at your events

No matter how you engage your local online community, you should aim for a feedback loop between your local and online efforts. Promote your events before, during, and afterward online, and (subtly) encourage your audience to do so as well.

5. Encourage Reviews

Reviews on Google+ Local help your results show up more prominently in Google Maps, and Foursquare reviews generate buzz online. You absolutely want to encourage your customers to post reviews, but you should avoid getting overzealous. Don’t do things like:

  • Pay people to post reviews
  • Offer deals in exchange for reviews
  • Set up kiosks etc. specifically for the purpose of soliciting reviews

Instead, you should:

  • Go out of your way to make customers happy
  • Encourage salespeople and service representatives to mention online reviews when they notice that a customer is very happy, and give them business cards to make this process easy
  • Post noticeable but non-intrusive reminders at your location to encourage reviews
  • Offering incentives to check in on Foursquare or other social networks is much more acceptable than doing the same to get Google+ Local reviews
  • Respond helpfully (never angrily) to negative reviews and be as accommodating as you reasonably can. Your response to a negative review is an advertisement to other consumers and tells them how they can expect to be treated by you
  • Include information about how to review your business on receipts and on your other branded materials
  • Mention reviews in your email newsletters

6. Start Blogging

While social media profiles and targeted ads can do a lot for your visibility, no online local strategy is complete without a home for your efforts. The best online home you can put together is a blog. Blogs give consumers a reason to visit your website even when they don’t need to make a purchase. This keeps you on their mind.

Well-executed blogs also attract attention which can spread virally and cause long lasting improvements in search engine traffic. Many businesses fail to understand how blogging should work, however. A successful business blog is not:

  • A company diary
  • A list of upcoming events
  • A series of deals
  • An encyclopedia knowledge about your products
  • A list of reasons to buy your products

Instead, a blog is a media outlet and a central hub for your online community. It’s goal should be to:

  • Solve problems for the kind of people who would like your products
  • Entertain your target audience
  • Appeal to the lifestyle of your brand (as opposed to the subject)
  • Produce viral content that is constantly shared with your core audience’s friends and acquaintances

It should be clear from this that blogs posts should have intrinsic value. Even though consumers aren’t paying you to read your blog, they are investing their time. To share your content, they are even staking their reputation on you. Most consumers don’t want to irritate their friends by sharing deals and specials, even if they think it’s a great deal.

In other words, you need consumers to buy in to the content itself. Once you develop a solid content brand, people will come to trust the quality of your products and services as well. Take a look at our content marketing guide for an idea of how you should approach blogging.

It should go without saying that you should promote your blog content as well. Do so through all of your social networks, as well as local internet forums and other local hangouts online. We also recommend doing guest posts on popular blogs to expand your reach and search engine authority. Take a look at our advanced guest posting guide over at SEOmoz for an idea of how this works.

7. Make Videos and Take Photos

The web is increasingly visual, and this should be no surprise. We humans are visual creatures. This is even more important when it comes to local marketing, because we’d all love to be able to see where we’re going. Here are a few ideas to make your content more visual, and to make the most of promotion in the process:

  • Hire a photographer with a decent online following on sites like Flickr, DeviantArt, or Pinterest, preferably with a website of their own. Give them work they can be proud of and suggest that they link to the images from their web properties afterward
  • Hire graphic and web designers in much the same way, adding that they may be quite popular on Visual.ly as well for their infographics
  • Post your images and videos on your site as well as all of your social profiles
  • Post your social updates as images rather than links in order to make them more eye-catching
  • Post at least one photo with each blog post. You can use stock photos or creative commons images if resources are limited
  • Post how-to videos, since these are fairly easy to make with little experience and tend to be very shareable
  • If you have the resources to advertise on television, try using those resources to make an exceptional commercial rather than to pay for airtime, and post the commercial online with the aim of going viral, as Dollar Shave Club has done very well.

8. Get Citations

When it comes to the local search results, citations are just as important as links. A citation is a mention of your business complete with your address and phone number. Citations tell Google and the other search engines that your business is reputable and worth displaying near the top of Google Maps and local insertions in the main search results.

As we’ve mentioned before, getting your business listed in the major directories is an important place to start in order to get these kinds of citations. But there are other ways to build citations as well. Here are a few examples:

  • Local blogs – Do a search for terms like “[your city] blog” or “[your neighborhood] blog” and see what comes up. Spend some time thinking about something that could benefit these bloggers and then contact them with an idea for a collaborative project. It should be fairly natural to get a link and a citation afterward.
  • Industry blogs – The same goes for popular blogs that are related to your industry or your target audience. We already referred you to our advanced guest blogging post, and we recommend using these tactics to build massive exposure and get citations from relevant sites.
  • Organizations – Contact organizations and sponsor them or work on a collaborative project with them. Many of these sites have a listing of businesses they have worked with, sometimes complete with address and contact information.
  • The Better Business Bureau
  • Your local chamber of commerce
  • Search for your competitor’s names and/or addresses in Google and see where they are getting mentioned, then contact these sites for an opportunity
  • Include your business name, phone number, and address on all of your social media profiles, press releases, events, and any other online promotional activity
  • Target broad categories, and seek out competitor data from a broad range of niches. Don’t get obsessed with a  single keyword phrase

We also recommend using at least one of these citation finding tools from:

These citations guides are also very helpful:

9. Produce Viral Content

One of the best ways to build exposure is to produce content that people naturally want to share with their friends, and to expose that content to as many people in your target market as possible. We’ve written on some of the keys to viral content before, but as a refresher:

  • It’s opinionated (but not to the extreme)
  • It’s funny
  • It’s insider information
  • It’s cute
  • It’s bizarre and quirky
  • It’s practically useful
  • It’s powered by relatively inaccessible information from a diverse range of sources and disciplines

It’s also a very good idea to involve online influencers in the production of the content. Many experts, local bloggers, businesses, etc. will be willing to help with your project if they receive some promotion in exchange. They will also be happy to share the end product with their followers when it’s finished, especially if doing so will also help promote them.

Conclusion

Local businesses need to understand the way that technological change is impacting their strategies. Social networks and search engines offer them a way to reach consumers with relatively low costs, and build a brand in the process. Mobile technologies allow them to reach consumers when they are most likely to seek out local businesses, and local events can be leveraged to reach a wider audience than would ever be possible before technology. Viral content can spread on its own and encourage consumers to voluntarily spread brand awareness.

Have more local online marketing ideas? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments, and if you enjoyed this, we’d love it if you passed it along.

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Pratik Dholakiya is the Co-Founder & VP of Marketing at E2M. Feel free to reach him out on pratikd@e2msolutions.com.