Local Search: Putting Power in the Hands of the Consumer

I grew up in the direct marketing world, professionally speaking. For nearly two decades, I developed and sold marketing solutions that helped businesses acquire customers; the last three of those years running a direct marketing services company.

Now, I find myself leading an Internet local search services company and it has occurred to me that local search is very similar to traditional direct marketing, except businesses and consumers play opposite roles in each.

Local Search and Direct Marketing: What’s the Difference?

In its simplest form, direct marketing (like most marketing) is intended to bring two parties together. One party takes on the proactive role of planning, strategizing, researching, analyzing, targeting, and executing a program. The other party’s role is to react.

Traditional direct marketing puts the burden of planning, research, analysis, and execution on the local business trying to reach the consumer. Once a campaign is executed, the business then waits and hopes the consumer reacts and makes a purchase.

The process is the same for local search, but the roles are exactly opposite. With local search now spanning search platforms, social media, and mobile apps, the consumer is the planner, the researcher, the analyzer, and the executer. And, it is the job of the local business to be there to react.

Here’s the challenge: consumers are doing their part but many local businesses are not.

Local search queries continue to rise each quarter on major search engines, mobile phones, and social networks. Consumers are taking on the proactive role. However, local businesses often aren’t giving them the information they need to make an informed buying decision. Let me draw an analogy to explain further.

In traditional marketing, a business strives to use intelligent target marketing to reach prospective customers. In order to do this, they need information. They first select a universe of prospects and then research that universe to determine which are most likely to react to their offer.

In the traditional B2C scenario, businesses use information about the consumer to narrow their pool and select the most likely responders. This includes previous purchase history, personal or household information such as estimated income, age, length of residence, marital status, number of children, and more. These demographic details are collected to better target potential customers and drive sales.

Consumers are the Active Local Search Agent

Consumers are the proactive party when it comes to local search. Local businesses must provide consumers with the information they need to make an informed purchase — an accurate NAP (name, address, phone number), brands carried, hours of operation, social media links, special services (e.g., valet parking, delivery, emergency service). These details show consumers what’s different about your business.

Unfortunately, this type of information often isn’t available in local search results. Only about 30 percent of all U.S. businesses have such detailed information on local search platforms. What’s worse, up to 25 percent of the anchor NAP information in local business listings is outdated, inaccurate, or completely missing.

Today, savvy consumers require more specific and detailed information about a business before they make a call or step foot in their car for a visit. They are searching using keyword attributes and looking for photos, videos, user reviews, and are even searching social media sites for a business page and recommendations from their friends. And, if that level of detail isn’t available, consumers will move on and search for the next closest business.

According to a recent Local Search Usage Study by 15miles, 69 percent of respondents said they were more likely to use a business if it provided information on a social network.

Regardless of the platform, the most successful businesses marketers make sure that their anchor NAP information is accurate, and their business profile is keyword enhanced and readily available to potential customers.

The Solution

As local search continues to eat into traditional marketing channels, businesses must create accurate and detailed local business identities across the Web. By profiling their business, actively managing and consistently distributing information to local search platforms, social networks, and mobile apps, local businesses will arm consumers with the information they need to take charge, and position themselves to catch the sale.

Join us for SES Chicago 2010, the Leading Search & Social Marketing Event, taking place October 18-22! The conference offers 70+ sessions on topics including PPC management, keyword research, SEO, social media, local, mobile, link building, duplicate content, multiple site issues, video optimization, site optimization, usability and more.

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