I began writing for Search Engine Watch last year about the benefits and tactics for unlocking the local search space. It's more important than ever to research opportunities and adapt local search into your overall media mix. Local search is a vertical strategy with the rewards of lower leads cost with higher sales conversation.
As always, "Know Thy Consumer" is a good mantra to live by. One of the most important things to know is where your customers turn when making a purchasing decision.
In the 1960s, for example, consumers had limited choices in media with such things as newspapers, broadcast TV, and the print yellow pages. In the 1980s, consumers could also utilize cable TV and personal computers.
Today, it's approaching impossible to count how many forms of media consumers can use. MP3 players, the Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs), mobile Internet, and others are now vying for your potential customers' attention. Keep in mind it isn't a zero sum game. Many media sources influence purchase decision. In most cases, it isn't a matter of finding one media source, but rather allocating your investment over a number of positive ROI generating media types.
As a business or brand owner, it's important to understand which media influence consumer's purchasing decision. According to a study by comScore and TMP Directional Marketing (full disclosure, I'm employed by TMP Directional Marketing), the following types of media are used when consumers are looking for local business information:
- Online sources: 60 percent -- search engines (30 percent); IYPs (17 percent); local search sites (13 percent)
- Print yellow pages: 33 percent
- Directory assistance: 2 percent
- Other: 5 percent
Why do consumers turn to these sources of information when deciding what business to buy from? Though our world has become more globalized and the Internet is more integrated with our lives, consumers still purchase the majority of their products and services locally. Sixty-five percent of online searchers expect the local business results to be within 20 miles of them. After completing their search online, 80 percent of consumers go offline to make an in-store visit or phone call.
Finally, it's also important to identify other core demographic facts about your potential customers -- e.g., income, education, preferences -- through various market research tools in order to better reach your target market.
Knowing the Competition
Besides knowing your customers, it's also important to "Know Thy Enemy." Are your competitors' Web sites showing up in the organic results on search engines such as Google and Yahoo? Are they utilizing PPC ads on these sites?
If your business is service-oriented, it's also important to know if your competitors are placing advertising on the IYPs, such as SuperPages, YellowPages, and Yellowbook. And don't forget local search sites such as Google Maps, which has experienced a 33 percent increase in searches from only a year ago, according to comScore Media Metrix, July 2008.
Putting It Together
After identifying where a customer looks for local business information and what your competitors are doing, it's time to determine the optimal advertising strategy for your particular business. Media usage varies by category, so seek out information that's relevant to your business category and avoid using general statistics and usage shares. For example, the following is a breakout of how consumers search for two different service categories: pest control and plumbing.
While many online consumers who are ready to buy turn to search engines such as Google, this may not always be the case for all business categories.
In the above example, half of local business searches for pest control are conducted on search engines. It makes sense for a pest control business to dedicate a larger portion of its budget to search engines.
In the second example, however, more consumers utilize IYPs when searching for a plumber. Again, it goes back to knowing your customer. Because consumer behavior varies among industries, it's important to find the right marketing mix that's specific to your business category.
Knowing how to effectively reach your customers in the future is always a challenge. Because trends, media, and consumer intent are ever changing, there will always be a need for updated research.
Competitors will be changing their business strategies based on where consumers are looking, so it's important to keep up on your competitors' behavior and strategies. Although allocation models will change, the need for a model that continually optimizes the placement and continues to focus on increasing the ROI and decreasing the cost per lead will always be necessary.
Gauging and prioritizing emerging media options such as mobile and local is vital to capturing increased business in a cost efficient manner.
In essence, reaching your customers on a local level is a multi-step process with great rewards; lower cost leads with higher conversation rates. It's wise to invest in a marketing mix that promotes the strengths of your industry and allows your business to be found where your potential customers are looking right now, while testing emerging lead sources.
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