If you have a locally-based business, you understand the importance of advertising within your community. After all, people in your area can’t utilize your services or purchase products from you if they don’t know you exist. In the past this meant doing things like listing yourself in the local Yellow Pages, placing an ad in the newspaper, getting a billboard, or sending out mailers. Today’s local marketing, however, is increasingly happening online.
Hopefully you already know this. Maybe you’ve seen the statistics that say upwards of 90 percent of people now turn to the internet first when they’re looking for a business in their city or town. Or that 85 percent of people use online reviews to determine whether or not they want to patronize a local business. No one is saying that you should completely stop advertising your presence in “real world” sources, but it’s no longer possible to ignore online marketing without losing out on a sizable portion of your potential customers.
The problem that many business owners face with online marketing, however, isn’t the decision to move forward with it, but a lack of knowledge about how to do so and where they should advertise. Luckily, that’s what we’re here for, because when it comes to local online marketing, there are several local business listing sites that stand head and shoulders above the rest and can help you to dominate your geographic (and business) area.
Google Places. The ultimate online marketing goal of almost any business owner is to get to the top of the Google search results for their particular type of business. Google Places won’t do this for you by itself, but it can definitely help. You just have to claim your business, complete a profile, and verify that you really are the owner. The service is free, and you can even choose to hide your address if you don’t have the type of business where people need to come to you. People can review you there and Google will even link to reviews on other sites – but keep in mind that those outside reviews won’t impact your rating on Google Places.
Yahoo! Local. Their basic, free listing includes your contact information, hours, website, products and services, and payment options, but many business owners may wish to pay the $9.95 monthly fee that allows them to include pictures, coupons, a description and tagline, and see analytics information.
Bing Local. While not as user-friendly as the other two big search engines, Bing Local works much like they do and lets you add up to nine business photos for free. There is, however, one really big upgrade over the other two services. Bing Local not only compiles your reviews from a number of different online sources, it uses these reviews to determine your rating on Bing. So if you’ve got a great Yelp score but a so-so one on Google, you’ll still look pretty good on Bing Local. Speaking of Yelp…
Yelp. While it doesn’t quite have the universal recognition of brands like Google or Yahoo!, Yelp is one of the biggest and oldest local search directories out there and it’s well-known amongst people who have at least a moderate level of tech-savviness. Don’t let that last word scare you if you’re not technologically inclined, either. Yelp is very easy to use and allows business owners to include all kinds of helpful information that many other local directories don’t. Generally speaking, it’s free to put your business on Yelp, but those who wish to do so can utilize pay-per-click advertising to help you get listed ahead of your rivals.
Yellow Pages. Yes, the Yellow Pages is alive and well online. In fact, in some areas of the country the web version of the Yellow Pages still dominates their rivals. Businesses can enter contact info, extended descriptions, what categories their business falls under, photos, and a link to your website – all for free.
Merchant Circle. This one isn’t as well known, but it’s potentially useful for business owners because of a few unique features that it includes. Even businesses using the most basic features can see helpful things such as what keywords people are using to reach their listing, where you rank in your category or business circle (i.e. you’re 5 out of 10 in Portland bicycle shops), and who their leading competitor is in the area.
Getlisted.org. While you can’t technically be “on” this site as a business because it’s not a directory, it’s worth mentioning here because it can help you to look beyond the big names in local internet marketing to see which sites are having the most success in your area. For example, YP.com, the online version of the Yellow Pages, is number one in Detroit, MI, and more Manchester, NH residents use NH.com than supposedly “bigger” local search sites like Yelp and Yahoo!.