I get a lot of hyper-specific local marketing questions, e.g. “should I get more links?” “how do I rank #1 on Google in my area?” or “I just launched website and want to try Twitter ads.” They are great in a way – I’m a huge fan of experimentation.
But most local store owners haven’t developed an effective inbound* marketing strategy at all. They miss the forest (how everything works together) for the trees (specific tactics) so to speak.
*Inbound = the industry jargon for marketing that focuses on being where your customers are so that they buy from you “naturally.” Inbound contrasts with outbound marketing, which focuses on finding, interrupting and cold pitching potential customers.
The exciting opportunity about local marketing is that even in major metros – few businesses have a consistent idea about what they are doing.
And unfortunately, the local agencies they hire either have no idea what they are doing either…or they remain focused on a single (billable) tactic.
So – if you are a local business owner and can take the time to develop a single comprehensive marketing strategy (don’t worry – it’s not as complicated as it sounds), you can take all in a winner-take-all-world of digital marketing for not that much money.
I’m going to outline the the exact inbound marketing strategy for local business that I recommend to every reader and client I’ve ever worked with (example case study). I’m focusing on local but 80% of this applies to every business (I even wrote a similar post for ecommerce here).
This post is 4400 words. It’s meant for reference as you tackle each part. The 5 step short version of the strategy is –
- Decide exactly who you are selling to (e.g., “hotel managers in the Charlotte metro region” or high-income women in Buckhead, Atlanta” or “people stranded in a grocery store parking lot around Los Angeles”).
- Build a website with Analytics enabled with pages that address problems & services your target market will need.
- Systematically claim & build out local profiles that your target market is likely to look at.
- Launch small ad campaigns on Google AdWords to get data & feedback on your site.
- Systematically build out new content & new promotional channels based on what you are good at & your market wants.
Definitions & Business Goals
Before you decide to do anything, you have to figure out what you have, what you want, and who you are going to market to.
This part of the strategy can be a big slowdown for people; so many action-oriented people immediately jump to trying stuff. That is true, but there’s a balance. It’s just as important to shoot in the right direction as it is to pull the trigger once you’re generally right.
There’s 3 things that you have to figure out. You can figure all of them out simultaneously or in any sequence, but you do have to have a general idea of your product offering, marketing personas and revenue goals. The good news is that the “local” part of your business makes this process simpler.
What are you offering? What’s your brand? What do you have access to that’s different in any way?
Remember, you’re defining your product offering, not your grand life mission. Your product offering needs to be simple, clear and straightforward. Your offering should be something that is different in some way – ie, a competitor shouldn’t be able to copy + paste and be you.
If your sole offering is that you are the product provider at X address and not at Y address, that’s fine…but you should keep that in mind in your marketing. Your product is still competing for time and attention. For example, the only hot dog stand in Downtown is still competing with packed lunches from home. The only shoe store in the local mall is still competing with free shipping from Zappos.
Personas are the foundation of marketing and are simply process of developing a composite of your ideal customer. You can read very in-depth guides to personas or listen to episodes on personas but you can also keep it short, simple and straightforward (especially for local marketing).
Outline the wants, needs, likes, dislikes, habits, and information of someone you think would definitely buy your product offering. Outline where they hang out, what they read, who they pay attention to, etc.
Don’t just armchair imagine this. Ask potential customers what neighborhood they are from? What other shops do they visit? What local organizations do they volunteer with? What problems do they have that your business solves?
Make 2 to 4 very specific personas. Remember that your initial market is not your total market. Even if you start out by targeting a very specific geographic area or a very specific customer doesn’t mean that you can’t expand. It’ll just give you more focus.
Your initial target market/persona is simply your initial market. It’s small enough that you can effectively reach them but big enough that you can get some sales and feedback to polish your product and brand while rolling out to a bigger market. Nearly every business started this way – including famous local businesses. Shake Shack’s owners started by focusing on 5 minute walking area in New York. Zingerman’s Sandwiches started by focusing on college students in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
You have to put real money goals in place. Even if you feel like your budget is arbitrary…you still need a budget if only to give yourself some frame of reference. Outline all your product costs, profit margins, and what kind of marketing spend gives you a positive return. Here’s a more extensive post on “quant-based marketing.”
For local businesses based on leads, the data might be harder to collect. But some ballpark is better than nothing. If you can look at the last week’s inquiries and convert that to sales – that’s better than many businesses.
Website Structure, Analysis & Data
Now that you have an idea of what you are marketing, who you are marketing to, and how valuable that marketing is – it’s time to get a good digital foundation in place.
Some local businesses miss the days of Yellow Pages when local marketing was much simpler. And it was. However, the switch to digital research has become so complete that if you can navigate the foundation – you can go far beyond where you could have gone in the Yellow Pages days for far less money.
Like setting definitions and business goals, this part of the process can slow things down. But they don’t have to, as long as you keep the end goal in mind, which is:
To attract and accurately measure enough conversions (aka sales) to fund and improve your product offering, personas and revenue.
Setting Up Website
Even though you are selling in the physical world, you still need a solid website to do really well. If you are going super-lean, you can sell from a Facebook page or Yelp profile. But going without a decent looking website will put you behind the curve and place limitations on what you can do with your brand & marketing.
That route will give you a good technical foundation with fast, simple setup. It will also allow you to implement a customized off the shelf design – “themes.” Themes allow you to have a website that looks good enough to make a sale without spending months and lots of money on a 100% custom design. Creating a website on something like WordPress also allows you to implement a 100% custom design when that time comes.
Setting Up Goals
The key part of setting up a website though is Analytics. There are a ton of options, but Google Analytics is the go-to solution (also – free).
If you are using WordPress, installing the Google Analytics plugin by Yoast will give you further flexibility to track clicks to call and more.
The key is to make sure you have goals setup. At minimum, have your contact form redirect to a Thank You page – and make the Thank You page a goal completion.
Next, you should also link Google Analytics to Google AdWords and set up a retargeting audience with Google Analytics.
Then, you should set up a Facebook Ads account and place the Facebook pixel on your website. This will allow you to run retargeting campaigns on Facebook & track goals.
Then, be sure to add a Twitter retargeting pixel to your site.
*note all these are fairly simple if you are using WordPress and a theme like Genesis that makes adding code to the correct section simple.
Setting Up Local Profiles
If you are in local marketing (at least in the USA), you know all about Yelp, Google My Business, etc.
In local marketing, those local directories serve a three fold purpose in your marketing strategy –
First, they can drive customers to your website & directly to your business. Many potential customers skip to their favorite local directory before Googling.
Second, those local directories rank very well for potential customers looking for a local/product service. Do a search for your local product/service. Half the search results are probably Yelp, Yellow Pages, UrbanSpoon, etc. If you are the “result within the result” – you get to piggyback on those directories’ marketing prowess.
Third, Google & Bing use directory profiles (aka “citations”) as a factor in their local search algorithms. It is very hard for search engines to verify the existence & quality of a business in the physical world. So they use these directories as proxies for both existence & quality.
Aside – a great post on how Google is now using & serving up local data now that Google+ is gone.
So what do you do?
Manually claim, verify & fill out every. single. profile.
Yes – the process is tedious, repetitive and a bit maddening. But it’s how this piece of local marketing works. On the flip side – your time investment in getting these profiles right creates a large barrier to entry that many competitors simply aren’t willing to do.
Start with Google. You can get a full list of the most common local directories here. If you are a restaurant, keep in mind that there will be others (e.g., UrbanSpoon).
So what exactly are you doing with these profiles? A few things.
The most important item is to claim & verify the profile then edit it so that every single profile has the exact same Name, Address & Phone number (your “N.A.P.” in marketing jargon). There shouldn’t be a single comma difference among your profiles. Ideally, your public business name will be the same as the name on your government-issued business license.
Next, make sure the profile links to your website. Fill out every field as best you can. Write a detailed description of your business.
Don’t buy ads or promotions yet. Just get everything verified & filled out.
Don’t outsource this to an agency or service like Yext. It’s tempting to have a tool do it automatically, but (speaking from a lot of experience) it’s simply not worth it. At best, it won’t be done right & will take a very long time. At worst, you will lose control of your own business listings in the future.
*side note – if you have more than ~20 locations, then look solutions like Moz Local and SweetIQ in addition to Yext. They all have tradeoffs, but once you are over ~20 locations, then you do have to start looking at tools, especially for your non-Google profiles.
If you need to save time, get an intern, a college student or your agency’s account manager to come on-site next to the owner/decision-maker. Set up a spreadsheet, a phone and a computer and have them knock it out.
Setting Up Focused Pages
Next, you need to create high-quality focused pages on your website. In addition to your Home page, About page, and Privacy page, you need landing pages to address specific needs.
When I say “landing pages” – don’t think of anything too complex. I’m simply referring to pages that visitors can land on from a search engine or an ad and find exactly what they are looking for.
Because why? Here’s pro tip that few website owners will admit to: nobody cares about or even sees your homepage. Your homepage is for people who already know you who are. For local businesses in a single specific service, you can use it to “rank” for your main industry term. For example, if you are a florist, your homepage might be titled “Bella’s Flowers: Florist for Downtown Atlanta, GA”
Landing pages go beyond your homepage.
Landing pages are for new (or returning) visitors to land on and convert. Before you build out all your website pages, you should develop focused landing pages that sell to one or all of these buckets:
Service specific – These pages are all about the product benefit for who you are selling to. They should “target” a term that potential customers are searching for. Keeping with the florist example, you should have pages about “Floral Arrangements for Funerals in Atlanta, GA” and “Birthday Floral Arrangements for Atlanta, GA”
Each service landing page should have content addressing all your persona’s concerns (ie, delivery, process, options, etc).
Local / Logistics specific – These pages are all about the location service & logistics of obtaining your products & services. If you are a restaurant, think your menu page. If you are a service area business, think neighborhood pages that you serve. For everyone, think directions page.
These pages are tough to do well. If you have the same page with one word swapped out, they look spammy. And are generally not useful. Learn how to do them well with this guide. Build them out over time based on your priorities.
The goal here is to sell to people at the very bottom of the marketing funnel – the customers most likely to convert. These pages will both rank organically – and you can use them for paid ads.
Now – you have to get people to your website. And this is where a lot of people get way too detailed…way too fast. Why?
Because not all marketing channels operate at the same speed. They also all have different strengths and weaknesses. Think of all marketing channels in terms of complementing or supplementing each other instead of competing. It’s all about how you put it together.
For example, the US Navy’s main war-going unit is the Aircraft Carrier Group. But it’s not just made up of an aircraft carrier. Instead, it’s a grouping of different types of ships that all do different things at different speeds so that the whole group together is nearly invincible.
A lot of local business owners want to start with only SEO or with a fully fleshed out social strategy…usually because the clicks are nominally free. To keep to the analogy, that’s like sending your battleship and aircraft carrier to scout out for the rest of the group.
Not usually ideal. Battleships (aka SEO) and Aircraft Carriers (Social) take a while to get going and to turn. Save those until you know where you’re going. For SEO, if you have built out a few key landing pages with the right keywords and titles and have your local profiles set up, your SEO strategy is already in motion.
For social, treat it like a customer support channel and/or dedicate minimal time to it until you have enough traffic to figure out what works.
Start with channels that can speed up, slow down and change direction at will. That means 2 things: direct outreach and paid traffic.
I call this channel direct outreach, but other people would call it “just hustlin'”. This channel consists of all the tedious and tough pitching that you know you need to do…but don’t want to do.
This means emailing and Facebook messaging people that you know might be interested. And sending them to your landing pages to buy or subscribe to an email list (for discounts, etc).
It means looking in your immediate area or niche social networks like NextDoor to see if there’s any way you can help neighbors (who are already fans) help you.
Paid Search Traffic
Yes, “inbound marketing” is usually associated with getting people to your website for “free.”
But I think search marketing is a bit of an exception. You are doing inbound marketing – being where your customers are when they are interested in buying – but you are just paying Google to be at the front of the line.
AdWords can be expensive for a good return on investment, especially for the close to converting keywords that you should try to buy. But your goal is slightly different.
You are buying data. Lots of data. And spending some money to acquire this data is a lot more effective than spending tons on an local content strategy right out of the gate.
Plus, if you run a well-structured, hyper-local campaign (remember those focused landing pages?), you can run a very cost-effective local campaign.
You should be doing a few things with your new traffic.
- Look at what keywords are driving sales. AdWords gives you this information. Try using modified broad match for your keywords. Many times customers are using a wider variety of keywords than you’d guess.
- Run your ads very focused on geography. If you have a landing page for a neighborhood, set up a campaign for that area.
- Look at what landing pages are driving sales & calls.
- Look at what areas are driving sales.
- Test ad copy and figure out the right messaging. You can use this data to inform any print or display campaigns.
- Test things like free coupons, events and offers in ad copy.
- Testing related products to try to increase average order value.
- Set up Google retargeting campaigns – not generic “buy, buy, buy” campaigns but interesting retargeting ads that you can afford to do when your traffic is small. Think retargeting repeat customers for a review. Think neighborhood specific coupons.
- Set up Facebook retargeting campaigns – again, you can do some very interesting things with Facebook including all the same ideas for Google, but more focused.
- Remember that you can setup retargeting cookies to last up to 540 days. That’s more than a year. If you have a long repeat sales cycle, you can bring back repeat customers every year.
- These retargeting campaigns are all with people who have come to your website & are familiar with your brand. They’ve heard of you.
Now that you have some sales and some data, you should have some sense about where to head next. You can move to Organic Search – or keep moving with more paid options.
Other Paid Options
Facebook – you can run hyper-targeted local campaigns. Pair that with persona data, and you can end up paying very little per click for an extremely targeted ad. Facebook can put Yellow Pages and traditional advertising to shame.
Twitter – Like Facebook, Twitter can put traditional advertising to shame when it comes to hyper-local targeting options.
Google Display (w/ click to call) – Most top publishers run some ads brokered by Google. This means that you can test advertising on local publishers on a cost per click basis. You can even pair it with a click to call option.
If you aren’t sure about budgeting, options & time – move to organic search.
Organic Search (SEO) Traffic
Organic traffic (SEO) still might not be the best next channel to pursue after paid traffic.
And yet, most website owners do have a strong sense of the sheer volume of traffic that Google organic search can drive. For most, a successful SEO campaign would be a huge win. They just need to execute in the right context.
Google processes 4 billion queries with local intent per month. And for most queries, more than 80% of the clicks go to an organic result. And you’ll know from your AdWords campaigns that clicks for commercial keywords can be quite expensive. That’s a cost you don’t have to pay if you rank in the organic results.
So I won’t hide my enthusiasm for SEO. It’s my specialty and is the giant battleship that will keep on going once it’s headed in the right direction.
When you are setting your local inbound marketing strategy, you just have to know what it takes to get organic traffic and what it will take on your part to get it done.
SEO boils down to 3 components:
The first component is technical SEO.
Technical SEO is all about ensuring that Google/Bing bots can crawl and index your website effectively. It’s about making sure you’re not generating tons of duplicate content.
If you are already using a different platform, a technical audit might be the SEO item worth paying for. Mentioning a “stand-alone technical audit with recommendations” to an SEO expert can be valuable if you’re on a custom built site. Just don’t let them sell you on “ranking #1 tomorrow!”
If you are running WordPress, install WordPress SEO by Yoast and run through my guide for using it effectively.
As mentioned earlier, you should have Google Webmaster Tools verified. It will tell you if you have any major problems.
The second component of SEO – on-page content and optimization – is all about “targeting” the right keywords and ensuring that your website is laid out in a coherent way that is understandable by search engines and users browsing your website.
For local marketing, there are a ton of different pieces of content that can bring in visitors. Your early focus should be on your focused landing pages. But there’s nearly unlimited potential to “localize” questions & answers about your products and services.
The idea here is to take pre-qualified content ideas and put a local spin on it. You will stand out if you put some research and thought into it.
Your content should bring in new people AND support sales. Don’t create keyword-stuffed content that won’t help customers on your website make a decision. Make the authoritative content that addresses problems, questions, etc of your market.
The great part about creating the best content is that it will naturally drive the third component of SEO – off-page factors.
Search engines use off-page factors as 3rd party endorsements to judge quality and relevance (aka to rank your site higher).
In local marketing, there are three distinct sets of off-page factors – customer reviews, local citations & links.
Getting Customer Reviews
Reviews on your local profiles are important. They are also incredibly hard to get. There are dozens of ideas on getting more reviews – from review handout packets to email follow-ups to retargeting ads.
However, many successful businesses that I’ve seen stick to the “hard way.” That is – doing an incredibly good job; going above and beyond for every customer; and when the time is right, making a sincere, specific ask from a that single customer.
Getting customer reviews is hard – but it’s equally hard for everyone. And every review that you get is an asset that you get to keep. It’s like building a moat around your local market share.
Getting Local Citations
Local citations are 3rd party mentions of your Name, Address & Phone Number. Most citations will occur in the local listing profiles that you’ve already claimed. However, they also occur outside of the typical local listing directories. Search engines look at these citations to verify that you are who you say you are in the physical world.
Your goal with citations is to make sure you have as many consistent citations as possible. If your name is listed somewhere, then it should likely include your phone number and address. If your phone number is somewhere, then it should include your business name – etc.
The simplest way to research citations is to do Google searches for your Name, Address and Phone Number separately. Look at all the results. Do email outreach to have them fixed.
Sketchy links, the type that you buy for $5, can actually harm you. However, quality links placed on a related or well-known website are the primary factor for getting better visibility in search results.
There are a lot of ways to get local links. But the best ways that I’ve found for local businesses are:
- Working closely with organizations, partners, events & complementary businesses to get a recommendation or sponsorship. If you are part of the Downtown Business Association, be sure to get the link that you are probably supposed to get.
- Hustle PR promotion – Local press is almost always looking for a good story. Take steps to establish a working relationship with the local press. Don’t focus on pitching your business. Focus on being a reliable source & providing good stories. Think back to localizing content…where you get to be the source.
Social & Reputation Management
If SEO is your giant battleship, I think of social as your aircraft carrier. It’s easy to burn a lot of energy flying planes for no reason, but nothing gives you a tactical edge and far reach like your aircraft.
Social media experts make social out to be rocket science. It’s really not. Unless you’ve started a business that you know nothing about…then you should know where your audience hangs out.
And if you know where your audience hangs out, don’t think that you have to be 110% present on every single social network. The key to social media is having direct interactions where you build relationships and learn more about your audience.
Claim and put your branding across all the various social networks, but choose the one or two that will generate an outsize impact on sales, links, and awareness (for local it’s usually Facebook).
Learn how to setup & automate the other profiles so that you have a presence even if you aren’t interacting directly. Many times customers see fully built out social profiles as evidence of legitimacy.
Don’t forget that many local directories have a social element as well. Respond to reviews – especially negative ones. Prove to prospective customers that you do actually listen.
That’s the local business marketing strategy that I’d work on for nearly any local business. It’s a long post, but it’s a plan that you can implement quickly.
Immediate next steps – start defining your product offering, personas, and revenue goals. Then break the rest into small, achievable steps that you can work on.
Check out Moz’s Local Marketing Options for more ideas.