These days, local business owners are regularly faced with the question of where to advertise to attract new customers.

While there’s basic knowledge that consumer media habits are transitioning, many businesses often lack an in-depth understanding of exactly what has changed and how they should be adjusting their marketing strategies to match current trends.

This month, new data was released from the research firm Burke looking at habits of consumers searching for local business information across various local media.  The results verify common perceptions, but also clearly dispel some notions about how people find local information.

In an earlier post on Search Engine Land, Greg Sterling provided top-line results on the study. I’d like to go a step further and translate the findings into five key takeaways to consider when planning your local advertising strategy:

Consumers Searching For Local Businesses Continue To Grow

In 2010, major search engines such as Google and Bing ran neck and neck with Yellow Pages and topped other media like magazines, newspapers, and coupons as the go-to source for local business information.

Approximately 67% of study respondents said they used search engines to find business information within the past month, topping other media sources.

Search engines also received solid marks in the trust and accuracy categories – second to Yellow Pages. About 41% of respondents said search engines are the individual source they trust most, while 39% said they think search engines provide the most accurate information.

So what should you consider when trying to attract new customers via search engines?

  • Ensure that your company’s website – as well as its profiles on local search sites such as Google Places, Yelp and Citysearch – have detailed, up-to-date and accurate information. The last thing you want is for potential customers to reference outdated store hours or invalid payment options – and for you to lose a purchase as a result. The more complete your listings, the more legitimate your business appears. Also add authenticity by featuring photos and videos illustrating your business in action.
  • Encourage customers to post regular reviews of your business on a variety of local search sites so that potential customers know you do a good job. Recently, I went on a local search site to find a pizza place, and selected one that appeared at the top of search with plenty of positive reviews. The delivery came with extra cans of soda and a hand-written note asking me to post a review if I was happy with my order. I was so impressed with this small gesture that I immediately posted my feedback. The business’ tactic helped drive me to the listing in the first place—with so many positive reviews, it appeared high within search results.  The approach also will make it more likely the next potential customer searching for pizza will contact that business as well.
  • Monitor the online conversation about your business and engage when necessary. If a customer posts a negative review, respond quickly and offer tangible steps to remedy the situation. While some details likely will need to be discussed directly – and you should try to take that conversation offline as quickly as possible – do your best to respond publicly, acknowledging that you are addressing the customer’s concerns. If the situation is easily fixed, don’t be afraid to ask the customer to post an update acknowledging you have made things right.

Remember Yellow Pages Have Gone Multichannel

Yellow Pages have always been about connecting buyers and sellers, but Yellow Pages companies today offer print, Internet and mobile local search solutions.

Print and Internet Yellow Pages remain a leading source of local business information. Print and Internet Yellow Pages were used by 84% of respondents to find a local business within the past year.

In 2010, consumers generated 11 billion references to print Yellow Pages. Recently, comScore found that Internet Yellow Pages generated 5.6 billion searches in 2010, for a Yellow Pages industry total of 16.6 billion.

Respondents indicated Yellow Pages are the most trusted, most accurate source they choose first when searching for local business information. They also rate Yellow Pages as the easiest and most convenient to access, and the source they find “best in class.”  Another key metric worth noting: about 8 in 10 Yellow Pages lookups resulted in a purchase or purchase intent.

How can your business leverage a multichannel approach?

  • Monitor the success of your local advertising strategy and shift dollars between platforms to achieve the highest rate of return. Businesses advertising in print, online and mobile directories can track new customer calls resulting from individual listings and determine whether they are quality inquiries that are resulting in real sales. You can use this detailed data to drive your decisions to expand listings on certain platforms and cut back on those that aren’t attracting a worthwhile number of leads. When all is said and done, you’ll have a better understanding of which available platforms work best for your business.
  • Explore opportunities to advertise on new platforms and services, ranging from vertical websites dedicated to specific industries to daily deals that can provide immediate, real-time exposure and sales for your business. These initiatives can be launched in conjunction with your existing ad buy to maximize results.

Social Is Just One Piece Of A Larger Strategy

Online social networks are growing fast, but their current reach as a resource for local business information is more limited to other media. Go ahead and get ahead of your competitors by building your social networking presence.

Almost one in three respondents (32%) said they used a social network to look up local business information within the past year.

While consumers have shown interest in engaging local businesses of all kinds on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, this data shows that a social-only strategy will not provide the greatest reach. That said, growing adoption of social networking and new and upcoming features for local businesses to gain added exposure on these sites will likely drive higher usage in the years ahead.

What should you consider when building your approach to social media?

  • Continue to invest in creating active and engaged communities through your Facebook and Twitter pages, which should be integrated into your website and actively publicized in your ads and customer materials. This begins by providing compelling content on a daily basis, ranging from updates on new products and services to special promotions. It extends to offering your unique perspective on issues that you know about to gain credibility among your followers. And it continues by creating an environment where your followers are encouraged to engage with you and others, and where you actively respond to them.
  • Consider paid advertising opportunities to simultaneously engage and attract social media followers and generate new sales.
  • Look at your social networking strategy as one that may be much more about building reputation and goodwill towards your business – and in many cases, engaging customers – than serving as an active driver of new business leads. While your return on investment may not always be clear, don’t underestimate the long-term value of the direct connection you are building with your customers.

Differences In Customer Demographics

The ways in which consumers search for local business information are driven in part by demographics – which means your advertising approach should consider your target consumer.

The Burke study found key demographic differences in how consumers searched for local business information within the past month, including:

  • Consumers aged 18-35 were significantly more likely to use Internet sources – including search engines, Internet Yellow Pages and social networks – to find local business information than other sources.
  • Print Yellow Pages usage is higher in rural areas, although nearly half of urban and suburban residents used print directories within the past month. Suburban residents are more likely to use search engines and Internet Yellow Pages than urban or rural residents.
  • Men are more likely to use search engines to find local business information than women.
  • Use of Internet sources increases with income.

What should you do to ensure that your business is considering demographics when planning its local advertising strategy?

  • Keep on top of the latest research about your target customer demographics and approaches by your competitors to attract new customers
  • Try new approaches, but don’t stop using one medium that generates results simply on the perception that it’s no longer popular. On the other hand, don’t stick just to one medium simply because it’s working – when opportunity may exist to generate additional results by expanding your reach.

Ignore Any One Medium At Your Peril

Given today’s fragmented media environment, it’s best to leverage as many local search offerings as possible to promote your business. The Burke data shows that consumers consult two to three sources on average when searching for local business information.

Recently, several Yellow Pages companies have partnered with major search engines and local search sites to expand the distribution of their business listings. A local business advertising with Yellow Pages can potentially see its listing appear on a variety of additional sources of local data, both online and mobile.

Some Yellow Pages providers are selling specific local search services, including sponsored links on search engines, through these agreements. Additionally, some companies have launched application programming interfaces (API) that allow partnering local search sites to stream their directory content into their sites and applications. As a result, one ad placement can appear in multiple locations – significantly improving return on investment.

What does this mean for your local business?

  • Be strategic about your advertising selections to ensure that you’re maximizing opportunities to be seen in most if not all of the places your target customer is looking.
  • Don’t rely on just one medium to advertise simply because it’s the most popular or trendy. Determine your ongoing strategy based on performance, including real metrics such as the number of quality phone calls or click-throughs your ads generate. Every business is different, so always make sure you choose the solutions that will work best for you.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column

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About The Author: Natalie Wuchenich is Director, Research for the Local Search Association and the National Marketing Division (NMD).

Connect with the author via: Email | LinkedIn



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