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Recent Trends Should Guide How Businesses Grow Local Search Strategies
When it comes to online and mobile advertising, many local businesses are still getting their feet wet. Even for those who have dove head-first into opportunities online or via mobile, the rules and solutions are changing so fast, it’s often difficult to keep your head above water and stay ahead of the competition.
As we head into fall, let’s catch up on the latest trends and developments in local search space – and what you should consider as you start to build out your business’s advertising strategy for 2012.
Take Charge Of Social Media
Social media is playing a significant role in how consumers find and interact with businesses on a national level, and we’re increasingly seeing that trend extend to local businesses as well.
Yet while the majority of local businesses are signing up on social networks, they’re not creating a presence on enough of them. And even when they do, their level of engagement is often too low to leave a meaningful impact with current and potential customers.
These insights are derived from the results of a recent study by Palore, which found that:
- While nearly six in 10 (58%) of local businesses have a presence on either Facebook or Twitter, only 22% have pages on both Facebook and Twitter.
- The percentage of small businesses with Facebook pages is nearly double the share of those using Twitter. While Facebook dominates the social media space – and one might expect a higher number of pages – Twitter is quickly attracting a very sizable audience as well, counting approximately 13% of U.S. adults among its user base.
- Approximately 38% of Facebook pages had fewer than 100 likes, while nearly 45% of Twitter pages had fewer than 100 followers. Only a handful of small businesses’ Facebook pages had more than 1,000 likes (16%) and more than 1,000 followers (19%).
So what do these results about social media mean for your local business?
- If you haven’t launched a presence on Facebook or Twitter, the time to get on board is now. There’s no longer a doubt about whether consumers are relying on social media for local products and services. In fact, the Local Search Association’s recent Local Media Tracking Study found that 12% of consumers said they leveraged a social network within the past week to find local business information. While this is a small figure next to other major sources, the role of social media will surely grow exponentially as consumers begin to integrate it more into their daily lives.
- Make social media a integral part of your local advertising strategy by dedicating the necessary personnel and resources to ensure that your channels are successful. If you’re not social media savvy, consider hiring or dedicating one of your existing staff members who knows social media to build and manage your accounts. Integrate your sites into all of your communications and launch social media-only contests, discounts and other incentives to get people to “like” or follow your pages.
- Create dynamic content related to your business – links to insightful articles, or top-line tips based your expertise – to provide value to your followers and demonstrate that you are a thought-leader in your field. And most of all – do whatever you can to engage users by asking them for their opinions and answering any questions they may have.
Source: Bloomberg/YouGov Survey
- Always look ahead to what’s next – and right now, it’s Google+. The new Google social network launched in June, and predictions already show that the site may grow to claim 22% of online U.S. adults in a year, passing Twitter and LinkedIn to become the second-most popular social network after Facebook, according to a new Bloomberg/YouGov survey.
Already, Google+ is growing faster than MySpace and Facebook did in their early days, with more than 13% of U.S. adults signed up and another 9% projected to be added over the next year. While Google+ doesn’t have local business-related capabilities just yet, they’re sure to be coming down the line. In the meantime, make sure you or those running social media at your business get signed up fast so when the opportunity comes, you’ll have existing familiarity with the site and be ready to build a presence there.
Prep For Big Mobile Changes
And while we’re talking about Google, last week, the company made major headlines by announcing that it is purchasing Motorola Mobility, effectively rocking the mobile landscape by turning the search engine giant into a full-fledged cell phone manufacturer.
Today, various manufacturers leverage Google’s Android platform – now used by 2 out of 5 smartphone users – and despite the new deal, Google has said it will keep the platform open. That said, analysts are speculating that some manufacturers may begin looking for new partners (such as Microsoft) now that Google has effectively turned into their competitor.
In addition, Research in Motion (RIM), which makes BlackBerry and has struggled to keep up with Apple and Google in recent years, is thought by some to be next in line to be purchased.
In light of these developments, what should your local business do to ensure it’s ready for what’s next in mobile?
- First of all, recognize the importance that mobile is already playing in how consumers find local business information. According to the Local Search Association’s “State of Local Search” study, 77.1 million mobile subscribers accessed local business content as of January 2011, up an astonishing 34% from a year ago. In fact, local content users now account for one-third (33%) of all mobile subscribers, up from 25% last year. Given this, mobile should play a growing role in your local advertising strategy in order to attract new customers and keep old ones moving forward.
- We can expect ongoing changes in the popularity of different mobile platforms with consumers – now more than ever after Google’s announcement. These trends are increasingly important to local businesses given the rising popularity of mobile applications, which are now used by 56% of local content users, up 34% since last year, according to the study.
- Make sure your local business is listed on as many online and mobile directories as possible – everywhere from CitySearch to Google Places to the Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs). These days, you never know where consumers will search for you, so it’s important to cast as wide net as possible. For many sites, the signup process only takes a few minutes.
While most online business directories and local sites have applications for each of the major mobile platforms, local businesses should make sure that they’re investing in those that are the most popular.
For example, an online directory may have a popular iPhone app, but a lagging Android app – so your business should compensate by finding another directory with a stronger Android presence to supplement your existing directory. On a related note, local businesses can now purchase in-app local ads on the AT&T Interactive mobile ad network, which opens another set of doors for consumer engagement.
Widen Online Exposure
This summer alone, popular search engines and local sites including Microsoft’s Bing and Foursquare continued the trend of teaming up with IYPs to help inform and expand their online directory databases.
These sites are increasingly depending on IYPs to provide comprehensive, accurate listings of local business information. Additionally, we’ve seen strengthening advertising distribution relationships with a variety of local search companies, which is broadening the exposure that local businesses receive.
How should local businesses leverage these growing partnerships in the online local search space?
- Look for opportunities to get the most exposure for your spend by placing your advertising dollars where you’re guaranteed the widest range of consumers, combining the “eyeballs” you’ll receive with those promised by your provider through its distribution channels.
- Recognize the ongoing value that listings in established and trusted online directories, as well as other types of media, give your business by ensuring that potential and current customers are provided with your accurate contact information.
- Take advantage of opportunities to integrate your online advertising efforts with a smaller set of companies, or even with just one. Today, many online offerings provide packaged services that meet a variety of needs while simplifying and streamlining the advertising process and saving money for your business.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.