Find the growing value in local

In a recent TechCrunch story, Erick Schonfeld pronounced "the online ad recession is officially here." To a certain degree, he's right. Revenues are down, and with the economy as unpredictable as ever, many ad-supported businesses are suffering. Schonfeld aggregated the Q1 advertising revenues of Google, Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo to make his point: There's a 2 percent decline from one year ago, and a 7 percent decline from the previous quarter.

And yet, as any media-savvy reader knows, this kind of hype can be misleading. A closer look at the online ad industry shows that one segment -- local -- is not shrinking but thriving despite the tough times. Why? Numbers.

• There are 14.6 million small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) in the U.S.
• SMBs spent $6.7 billion in local interactive advertising in 2008
• SMBs are now investing in online advertising more than ever -- it represents 11 percent of their advertising budget, up from 4 percent in 2006, according to a report from Borrell Associates

For local online advertisers, this means there is a big opportunity. With 82 percent of local business searches starting online (up from 63 percent in 2007), the demand is only getting stronger. Simply put, a subscription with the local yellow pages as your only marketing channel doesn't have the impact it once did.

This also means there is a big opportunity for local business owners, like dentists, locksmiths, plastic surgeons, and even garage door repairmen. Take, for instance, online searches for garage door maintenance. Recent Yodle research shows that there are two times as many online searches for "garage door repair" as there are for "garage door install."

On top of that, 10 times as many people who search for "garage door repair" end up actually calling the number to inquire about the service as opposed to just clicking on the ad and then surfing elsewhere.

This means two things: First, consumers aren't shopping for new garage doors. Second, people still need their garage doors repaired.

This trend makes sense considering homeowners these days are more likely to fix what they've got rather than install new, expensive systems. With that intelligence, garage door companies can make it count by adjusting their SEO strategies. In this case, changing one word -- "repair," instead of "install" -- will result in significant improvements in their flow of new business.

So what does all this mean for local business owners today? It's more critical than ever to get savvy about online marketing and advertising for a new economy.

Not too long ago, all a business owner needed to do was take a page out in the yellow pages and his phone would magically start ringing with new customers. Today, this magical process has become far more transparent. So how can small businesses take advantage?

Step 1. Build your website.
A website is like your storefront, and is a crucial step in drawing business through the web. Local online ad networks like Yodle, Leads.com, ReachLocal, and Webvisible help design your website, bid on appropriate keywords, and ultimately drive in new business by making your phone ring with potential customers.

Step 2. Find the ad network that's right for you.
Local online ad networks help manage a business owner's ad inventory from a central platform; their far-reaching network spans sites from Google to Yahoo to MSN and dozens of others. This gives a small business owner a massive scope that would be nearly impossible to manage with their own resources alone.

Step 3. Identify your keywords.
The online networks provide expertise for how to optimize the key search terms that potential customers are using (i.e., they would help you choose "garage door repair" instead of "garage door install"). Turning to local networks has become a simple process that surprisingly few small businesses are aware of. From website creation to purchasing strategic search keywords, to monitoring clicks and calls, local networks are making internet advertising simple and manageable for business owners. Few traditional ad networks provide the complete technology platform to manage bidding, websites, and phone calls, which small businesses require. The local networks have filled this void.

Step 4. Track where your dollars are going.
Using online tools, local advertisers are able to track ROI generated by their online media spend down to the penny and phone call. By tracking clicks to their websites and calls to their businesses, small businesses are able to measure their advertising success.

Instead of just cutting a check, crossing their fingers and hoping for the best, thousands of business owners are now getting strategic with their advertising dollars. Local online ad networks provide the intelligence and the platform needed to take control of your advertising investments.

Court Cunningham is CEO for Yodle.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

 

Comments

Drew A Pitcher
Drew A Pitcher July 10, 2009 at 12:56 PM

To direct local businesses to established global marketing projects such as adwords can be a very rewarding service, for the businesses and for me as a service provider.

I strongly discourage clients from placing their business in startup projects that offer yet another variation on social network strategies. Start-ups are most often promoted by their owners and those hired by investment capital to promote unproven sites with no broad based audience support. To imply that new social network sites are the least bit similar to a proven, metrics based marketing program such as adword advertising undermines confidence in the scientific approach to advertising.

For me to promote unproven start-ups to my clients not only risks damaging my clients' perception of the inherent opportunities in online advertising, it also encourages them to participate in activities that can harm their business. Generally, customers of my clients don't care to hear my clients' engaging in small talk, social activities or business schmoozing when the customer walks into the store to select a product. The customer wants to feel as if the sole purpose of the store and store staff is to attend to their needs. A proprietor who has exposed a business through a half-dozen unfinished profiles on a handful of startup sites creates the impression of a proprietor who started to create a display in their shop window but was distracted when an old friend walked in, and instead the window is a clutter of open boxes, some tools and three people having a lively personal conversation.

I always urge my clients to never, ever let customers see them, hear them or even feel them talking about strategies to persuade their customers to buy.

Matt Howard
Matt Howard July 10, 2009 at 8:55 AM

Great post.

Indeed consumers are spending less time looking in Yellow Pages and more time on the web searching for local merchants and service providers -- making it absolutely critical that SMBs do more to properly promote themselves online so they can be found whenever and wherever consumers are looking.

This leads to a massive commercial opportunity to help SMBs promote themselves locally online -- an opportunity that is bigger than just paid search advertising.

For example, an innovative service called www.cloudprofile.com is launching this coming Monday that helps SMBs attract more customers online.

Different from traditional web sites and search marketing services, CloudProfile is simple and inexpensive and enables SMBs to talk about themselves online, engage prospects in authentic conversations, and monitor and respond to whatever consumers are saying on the web. In other words, CloudProfile is more about "word-of-mouth" and less about "clicks and calls".

Be sure to check it out....