Getting Started in Local Search

Welcome to the local search column. We will be exploring strategies and tactics to uncover local lead sources and leverage sound online marketing practices, along with cost-effective ways to turn these leads into sales. Initially, we will deal with the basics of developing a reliable local search program, as it’s important to create a firm foundation.

As background, I have spent my career in search developing local sales leads for national brands and the dealers, franchisees, and branches that support local sales strategies for these brands.

The questions posed by many local merchants and national brands seeking to market locally when first getting involved in the local online space are:

  • How do I get started?
  • Where can I find cost-effective leads?
  • How do I know if the online segment will provide a cost-effective way for me to market my products/services?

These questions require two considerations: (1) cost and (2) the amount of involvement needed to ensure a successful local search campaign. Your first two steps in getting started deal with generating leads and developing a media plan.

Step 1: Generating Leads, Do It Yourself (DYI) Vs. Lead Aggregators

Aggregators play a valuable role for businesses just getting started online that lack knowledge in where and how to advertise online. Often times, local merchants can test the waters to determine whether or not the local search space provides them with the type of leads that convert to high-value sales/customers. There are many aggregators that specialize in service businesses, such as Service Magic and Product-based lead aggregators usually specialize around a particular product category such as auto sales, e.g., Dealix. Also, shopping engines such as Shopzilla, eBay and Yahoo! Shopping can provide online merchants with a marketplace in which to sell their goods.

Once you make the determination that online local leads are valuable to your business, it is time for you to conduct a time/cost-benefit analysis on whether to continue with a lead aggregator or to try to create your own local online campaign. The following are a few considerations for making the decision.

The Pros of Using an Aggregator Firm

  • You can purchase leads that have a known, good sales rate of conversion.
  • You save labor time and costs.
  • You can buy what you need on your own timeline.

The Cons of Using an Aggregator Firm

  • Leads are resold more than once, requiring you, the local merchant, to act quickly to leverage the leads’ shelf life and to act before the competition.
  • Leads cost more than DIY-sourced leads.
  • Merchants will not enjoy the additional branding or name exposure of advertising a business because the aggregators use generic category ads (e.g., Plumber in Avon, CT vs. Gregg’s Plumbing – Avon, CT).
  • If you choose the lead aggregator route, keep a keen eye on your sales lead costs and your conversion to sale. Aggregators are continuously adding lead sources and, quite frankly, some are better than others. It is always a good idea to have a firm understanding of the ongoing value you receive from any purchased lead source.

The Pros of Doing It Yourself

  • The cost of sales leads is lower.
  • Conversion rates to sale are higher.
  • The flexibility gives you the ability to enter and exit the lead market, adjusting to your specific capacity issues.

The Cons of Doing It Yourself

  • You must make a serious time commitment to be effective.
  • You will need to develop a knowledge base and adapt to the quickly changing media environment.
  • You will need to establish a system for continuous analysis and action to ensure lead costs are in check with sales delivery.

Step 2: Developing a Media Plan

Many local businesses that try lead aggregators migrate over time to either DIY or to employing a specialist agency to do the work. If you have decided that you are ready to tap into local online marketing, you will need to create a strategy or plan to help guide your progress. The first building block of your plan is the identification of the Web sites or media sources on which to run your ads.

The Major Search Engines

Google, Yahoo! and MSN command over 80 percent of online search and have easy-to-use, self-guided ad centers to help you get started. You can find them at:


In future columns, we will explore in detail how these sites operate their local search components and how to leverage their offerings.

Underutilized Local Media Sources

If your product or service category is highly competitive, price restrictive, or you want to expand the reach of your online program, you will need to find additional media sources that can deliver high-quality leads in a cost-effective manner. Keep in mind that for the most part, local search is performance-based. Prices and availability are driven by market demand, so most smart marketers continue to identify and leverage emerging and less-well-known, but proven lead sources.

Next time, we will explore how to identify and leverage these underutilized local media sources.

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