Expanding your customer base, locally

Thinking of turning to the global advertising potential of the Internet? Perhaps you’ll find more customers closer to home…

One of the commonly cited advantages for having a website was that for many businesses, they would be able to increase their advertising to a wider audience – assuming they could actually provide products or services across the continent or even globally.

While this is still a major benefit for having a website, a new audience has re-emerged as a major target for your marketing strategies – customers in your own local area.

Let’s look at some figures

Surveys have shown that many internet users are now turning to internet searches to look for local businesses, rather than use their traditional phone books. These figures are taken from an American source, however there’s no reason to doubt UK users wouldn’t be embracing local online searches in a similar way.

  • 97% of American internet users use the internet to shop of which 57% characterize their behaviour as “shop online, purchase offline” (NPD Group)
  • 90% of online commercial searches result in offline bricks and mortar purchases (proprietary research / comScore)
  • 82% of local searchers follow up offline via an in-store visit, phone call or purchase (TMP / comScore)
  • 80% of budgets are spent within 50 miles of the home (DMA / proprietary)
  • 74% of internet users perform local searches (Kelsey Group)
  • 73% of online activity is related to local content (Google)
  • 66% of Americans use online local search, like Google local search to locate local businesses (TMP / comScore / proprietary average)
  • 61% of local searches result in purchases (TMP / comScore)
  • 54% of Americans have substituted the internet and local search for phone books (comScore networks)
  • 35% of all searches are local (DM News)
  • 25% of internet searches have a purely local, commercial focus (Kelsey-Bizrate)

(source: http://www.sbimonline.com/content/local-search-statistics-and-small-business-promote-your-business-using-local-search)

It’s not a geographical factor, but a generational one. Younger users are more likely to use internet searches as they’ve grown up with that medium, whereas older users are still using traditional searches such as Yellow Pages. What you can therefore assume is that over time it will be more important than ever to take steps to ensure your future customers can find you.

And they’re not just using online equivalents of the phone books, such as yell.com and so on, but standard search engines like Google, Yahoo or Microsoft’s Live search (recently rebranded as “Bing”).

The major search engine players have always been important for putting your website in the front of a wider audience, but they now play a major part in generating local business opportunities as well.

“But” I hear you say, “Our Company already appears near the top of the search results.”

But does it really?

Here’s a quick test. Put yourself in the shoes of a potential customer. They’re new to your area, have never been past your office before, and have no idea you exist. Imagine they’re looking for a company that provides a service or product that you happen to supply. They don’t know the name of any specific company or brand, so they’re likely to type something like:

  • Estate Agents in Walthamstow;
  • Solicitors in Chingford;
  • Web Design in Walthamstow;
  • Gardening tools for hire in Waltham Forest;

The results appear, and there’ll be lots of them, but the user is most likely to click on one of the first few links. If you’re lucky, they may even stray onto page 2, but why would they if the first page of results has plenty of potential companies ready to provide them with what they need?
Now, if that link in front of them is to your website, then congratulations, you can stop reading, you’ve passed this particular test and you’re one step ahead of your rivals.

But what if that first page of links only shows websites belonging to your local rivals? If so, then let me lend you a shoulder to cry on. You’ve just given your rivals a new sales lead, and the user is still unaware that you even existed. The reason your website doesn’t seem to be generating any business is because they didn’t find your website to begin with. That must be worrying? How many potential clients have found your competitor instead of you?

In some cases, you may find that your company name is mentioned in that first results page, but it’s listed on a directory website, rather than your own official website.

How frustrating must that be? You’ve probably spent good money already on making your website look great, but most of your users are probably struggling to actually get to your website, and their first impression of you is some plain looking, generic, directory page, which just lists a contact number, address and if you’re very lucky, a link to your real homepage?

If you’re unlucky, then that user is likely to just click the back button, and try the next link in the results list. Sorry, but you’ve just lost another potential customer.

So, how do you take control and make sure your company is one of the first ones to appear in front of a user looking for your kind of product or service?

How to gain more local business opportunities

  • Ensure your website is built to web standards to improve readability by search engines.
  • Create and maintain fresh content that search engines can read and index.
  • Make sure you include key words and phrases in your content, page titles and meta tags that mentioned the services you provide and the local areas you serve.
  • Build your online presence by ensuring any directory profiles and entries have important information filled out.
  • Get links from highly regarded websites back to your official site. Quality over quantity.
  • Make sure the main search engines know about your site and can index it by using sitemaps.
  • Ensure your business is listed in Google Places and take ownership of the entry if you don’t already.

The great thing is, most of these can be achieved very quickly, easily and cheaply, but are highly effective at promoting your company, not just to the local audience that we’re talking about here, but potentially further afield as well.

Can you afford to keep giving your local competitors a head start? It’s not just one lost customer you’ve lost either, how about repeated custom and word of mouth recommendations? Over time, that could seriously harm your business with a lot of lost leads.

If you would like to do something about it today, contact me for more information.

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