The adage “time is money” often proves true in business, however, these days, most of us feel like we don’t have nearly enough of either.

A few months ago, I attended an industry conference and happened to strike up a conversation with the owner of a small travel agency. As I was expressing my enthusiasm over the advancements in search engine marketing, he smiled and said, “Yes, that’s all fine and good but Travis, I only have $300 per month for my search engine marketing budget. I get sales pitches from major search engines and online directories constantly and they all promise the same results. If you were in my position, where would you advise I spend my ad dollars to get the most impact for my money?”

It was a great question and frankly, it got me thinking. Given all of the options for local businesses to consider, and with so many distribution outlets to choose from, how would a local business owner know which option will provide the most qualified leads or potential customers?

Before making a decision about which distribution to use, he should think about what action he wants consumers to take in response to seeing his advertisement. Is he looking for a phone call to set up an appointment or a visit to his business’ Web site? Do his sales occur over the phone or through his e-commerce Web site?

When he replied that his business relies on phone calls and not on his Web site for sales, we moved to the next step – selecting the appropriate distribution vehicle. In order to effectively reach his target consumer, he needs to think like one. If you as a consumer were looking to contact a business directly over the phone, what Web site would you use to find a phone number? Or, what distribution outlet naturally lends itself to the action he’s seeking from a consumer – in this case, a call?

Anticipating the expectation

Consider this theory: When consumers visit a search engine or online directory, they are likely to have a pre-determined expectation for the type of action they will need to take. For example, if I was to visit Google, I would likely conduct a broader search for a business or service and click to the specific Web site to gather more information. If I was to visit an online directory, the action I would likely take would be to search for a phone number, resulting in a call.

Once you understand which consumer intent matches up with each distribution option, as well as determine that specific action your business seeks, it becomes clearer which option will best meet your business needs.

Following are additional examples of consumer intentions associated with the two options we discussed – search engines and online directories.

Search engines

When consumers use a search engine such as Google, Yahoo! or Bing, to fulfill a need, the intent is to receive additional information about a business delivered through a click or by being directed to a business’ Web site or landing page. Thus, the response an advertiser using this distribution choice will receive is a sales lead in the form of a click to their Web site or an online form completed by the prospective customer. Businesses that conduct sales through e-commerce will largely benefit from advertising on a search engine as clicks are the desired action to convert the sale.

Online directories

The pre-determined intent for consumers who visit an online directory, such as YellowPages.COM or Superpages.com is most likely to find a phone number. Typically, at this point, the consumer has made the decision to set-up an appointment and is now looking for either a specific provider within that category or is simply looking for the business phone number. Essentially, they’re ready to pull the trigger on the purchase. The business that would most benefit from advertising with an online directory primarily seeks customers through phone calls.

For the purpose of this specific business owner – a local travel agency that primarily conducts business over the phone – the most sought after consumer intent is a phone call. Given this preference, I advised him that an online directory will provide a higher likelihood of sales conversion than a more general search engine.

With search engine marketing evolving rapidly, local businesses have many great options from which to choose. It comes down to deciphering what action you want from the consumer and selecting the best vehicle to deliver those results. A campaign can be successful on even the most conservative of budgets but it must be well thought out with special focus and detail paid to ad copy and distribution source selection.

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: is the Vice President of Publishing for Marchex.

Connect with the author via: Email



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  • http://www.ionadas.com bpcombs

    One of the common reasons people go to online directories is for the reviews. They may know the phone number, but want to find out if the company they’re talking to is reputable. This is especially true in the restaurant and travel spaces.

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com nickstamoulis

    Hi Travis, Very good points, but also something to consider is the overall demographics that use the different types of local online outlets and also the types of business (b2b and b2c). For instance, I have a restaurant as a client and advertising on Yelp and Citysearch outperforms Google and Yahoo! PPC ads…anyway just food for thought! :o)

  • http://www.urbanbacon.com Phil Novara

    Yelp and CitySearch are awesome tools for restaurants and will definitely outperform Google. Its no secret that highly targeted directories such as Yelp can benefit specific industries.

    I think an online directory is “too broad” of a scope. Typically, Yellowpages.com is not a form of advertising, more of a tool to find contact info. Which YES would entice a phone call. Anymore though, who uses the Yellowpages to find info about a business that you are clueless about? You simply just Google “travel agents” and start your search from there.

    Good article!

 

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