Local Search

Channel Diversity in Local Search – Looking Beyond Google

By April 19, 2018 2 Comments

Small businesses tend to be extremely  dependent upon Google organic search results, including the map packs and local packs. Maintaining channel diversity is important, even to small local businesses.

We were recently in Austin meeting a bunch of folks from small to large businesses as we participated in two LocalU events, SMB and Advanced. As always, it was interesting to read the feedback surveys submitted after the events . However,I saw a bit of an alarming trend.  Many indicated they wanted less advice on email marketing and ppc and nobody indicated they wanted more social media content. We didn't really touch on social for this set of events.  If you remove email marketing, PPC, social media - and rely solely on Google organic (local and straight organic) results for your business, what happens when there's a hiccup?

Google organic rankings, including localized organic or local map pack rankings can be a fickle benefactor.  The volume they hold when it comes to search engines means you can't completely discount them, but even the smallest tweak to your website, optimization, profile, etc could cause a dip in rankings.  While you try to repair the mistake and get your rankings back, where will your customers come from? Having all of your eggs in one "Google basket" makes it easier to manage, but in the long run, you're missing out an a lot of tactics that can convert well, and protect your website or foot traffic in the event of a rankings dip.

David Mihm, founder at Tidings Co, an email newsletter platform and part of the LocalU Faculty  shared this thought with me,

“Years ago we used to warn that it was unwise to put all your eggs in the Google organic basket because you never knew what the next algorithmic update would bring.  Fast forward to today -- it’s still unwise to put all your eggs in the Google basket. Not because of any looming algorithmic changes, but because of the radical shift in presentation and monetization that’s underway. Simply put, Google is becoming more pay-to-play, and in order to make your Adwords expenditures pencil out, you need to do a better job of converting those prospects to customers, and extending the life-time value of those customers via ongoing engagement through channels like email newsletters and loyalty programs.”

So how can a small business diversify without a) spending a fortune on either hiring someone to do it for them; or b) buying paid ads on multiple platforms?  Here are some ideas for creating a diverse network of referrers and utilizing the customers you already have.

Directories Work - If You Find The Right Ones.

Once upon a time in online marketing land, agencies had rooms full of interns and entry-level marketers who had one purpose in life- to submit websites to as many directories as possible Fast forward a bit, and we've realized this tactic doesn’t really work for organic rankings in Google.  However, it can work to draw referral traffic to your website if the directory is related to your business and/or location. A sweet side effect might be a nice ranking for a good keyword query for your listing on that site, but what we're really looking for are directories that are powerful in their own right and send traffic to your business via clicks, calls, emails, visits or social media.

Real Estate companies live and die by the MLS.  They pull in inventory from other realtors in their area and they feed their own listings out so they're available to other realtors.  These days, realtors are adopting an "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" mentality towards the big sites like Realtor.com, Zillow.com and others.  Having your properties listed there is important and these are important directory listings for a real estate business.

If you sell and  install furnaces, getting a listing on the Lennai or Whirlpool websites as an authorized dealer/installer in your area can bring pre-qualified traffic to your business via phone call, website click or walk-in.  

Your ultimate goal with a directory listing should be traffic to your business.  Don't even think about links in this exercise. After you ensure data consistency in trusted places, directory listings  are about putting your brand in front of potential customers.

Don't Ignore Bing.

I'm guilty  (I'd bet we're all guilty) of ignoring Bing.  Its market share is pretty low, but in fact I've seen Bing convert much better across a wide variety of verticals and price points from vacation rentals to automotive accessories.  While I don't recommend concentrating your SEO solely on Bing, make sure you're paying attention to their Bing Local product, that your "brand page" on Bing is predominantly yours and that you're ranking your most important products/services there.  If the bottom falls out of Google, for whatever reason, getting some traffic from Bing can help mitigate the financial fallout.

Email Marketing Newsletters

It's business 101 - retaining a customer relationship is easier than obtaining a new loyal customer - so keeping them appraised of what's going on in your market/industry/niche can keep your brand top-of-mind when they're ready to make another purchase.  Email marketing has been the top converting form of marketing for quite a few years.  Email newsletters allow you to send out "news" that engages customers that have chosen to receive information from you - that's a highly qualified audience you're looking at!  Keep them "on the hook" with a weekly/monthly/quarterly newsletter and 1 or 2 more sales type emails every quarter.

Facebook Targeted PPC

While getting businesses posts seen on Facebook in the regular news feed has become harder, Facebook has put a lot of effort into refining their Sponsored Ads product.  You can upload your email marketing list to Facebook and create an audience of brand-loyal customers who, if they use that email address for Facebook, will see your Sponsored Ads.

You can target neighborhoods, radius from an address, zip codes, age, gender, interests, and more.  You can show ads ONLY to people who have liked your page, or to friends of people who have liked your page.  On the whole, Facebook allows more granular targeting than Google AdWords, and has proven to be less expensive on a per-click basis in many niches & market areas.

Facebook Groups

I wrote an article about Facebook Groups being a powerful local marketing tool  within a specific city or area. While some groups are pretty strict about advertising, there are multiple posts per day in our local group for people ISO Plumber or ISO Carpet Cleaning (ISO means in search of.).  For members of these groups it’s completely acceptable to answer that query with a post indicating that you're a plumber or carpet cleaner along with your phone number.  I know people in the trades that fill their entire schedule with work booked via local Facebook groups.

Forums

Many neighborhoods, larger towns and metro/regional areas have online forums where people go to ask questions or share information.  If your business is in an area that has one of these boards, being involved can be very lucrative.

Some larger sites have boards for your specific geographic area area that you can participate in.  For example, Tripadvisor forums have city/town specific forums that make sense to belong to if you operate a tourism-related business in a specific area.  Not just lodging properties, but activities, equipment rentals, restaurants, etc. can benefit from active participation in the Tripadvisor forums. If you are in a business related to obstetrics or raising kids, WhatToExpect.com has a forum that is broken down by city that can be useful to your local business.

The key to successful forum participation as a marketing  channel is to first be helpful and then be available as a business.  Answer questions without a sales pitch.  Some forums allow you to create a signature that can mention your business/contact info.  Answer the question and let the "pitch" be passive in that case. Don't offer your "elevator pitch" unless someone specifically asks for it.

Loyalty Programs

There are a ton of programs out there now to help a small business set up a customer loyalty program.  It might be as simple as a punch card, or something more complicated like a mobile phone app. Whatever you choose, giving a discount via these programs not only encourages repeat business, it rewards on the back end instead of the front end.  My business partner always reminds me, "We can offer discounts, but not on the first project. Offer a discount on the fifth project."  By offering the deal on the back end, you've established that this customer is one you want to keep, is willing to spend money with you repeatedly, and is unlikely to leave once they get their "reward."

There are a few companies that will help you set up an online/app-based loyalty program.  We haven't used any of these companies, but they have good reputations and provide a service that could help you entice repeat visits/contracts with your customers.  Pricing varies so find the solution that's right for you. Check out Square, Thanx and Flok to learn more.

App-Based Referrals

These days, Yelp is becoming a bit of a dirty word in online marketing circles.  Many SMBs struggle with seemingly arbitrary review removals, aggressive ad sales teams, and lower-performing listings.  However, if you live in a community that makes heavy use of Yelp, you need to be utilizing that platform as much as you're comfortable with.  While Yelp listings tend to rank well in Google for branded queries, many users rely on the Yelp app on their phone to help them find a plumber, restaurant, locksmith or dry cleaner.  As a small business in one of these Yelp-heavy markets, you should be involved on Yelp as well.

If you're in the construction, home repair or maintenance industries, you should make sure you have a listing on the Angie's List, Houzz, or HomeAdvisor apps.  These may cost some money, or they may offer a basic listing for free. If a payment is required, ask them to provide usage/adoption rates for your metro area/niche before deciding if it's worth the investment.

TL:DR

Putting all of your marketing efforts into one channel is a bit dangerous.  A change in circumstance or algorithm that is completely outside of your control can drastically affect traffic to your business.  Consider diversifying your online referrals and put some effort into channels set apart from Google to ensure a healthy flow of online and foot traffic to your website.

Do you have a referrer that sends a good amount of traffic your way that is in no way dependent upon Google? We'd love to hear about it!

UPDATE:

We heard about Waze Local and Waze Ads from Joy Hawkins and Daniel Green.  Here's what Daniel had to say:

2 Comments

  • Dave says:

    Such a critical piece of advice. I both operate businesses and do the seo/marketing along with others. How disappointing to hear that the businesses themselves didn’t want to know about anything but google!!!! Very disappointing.

    But not surprising. I speak with many operators. They know their businesses. They are clueless about other things, like marketing. They need assistance and expertise!!

    Are they getting sold a bill of goods with overemphasis on google. I’ve begun to ask that question.

    One element of your article references that point: David Mihm’s comments about over dependence on google. That is true on the universal sense. A business cannot be overly dependent on any one buyer or supplier. Something will go wrong at one point. Then without other sources everything goes to hell. Avoid that at all costs.

    Similarly with Google on the marketing side.

    Some “stuff”/data gets oversold. It often appears in the GMB and its stats. For instance I was looking at calls in the GMB. I assume they can only be sourced via clicks on the mobile call button in the Knowledge Panel. Pay attention. There is no phone number in the 3pac any more but there is an automatic button for calling. Convenient, but it also gives Google a way to quantify the calls that are generated off views of the mobile KP.

    But our smb’s average about 5-10 times more inbound calls than what we see in the GMB insights. I really need to know about the majority of calls…not 10-20% of them. I’m NOT going to make good decisions about my business if I’m ignoring 80-90% of inbound calling.

    On GMB graph detailing name (recovery) visits in search vs discovery visits the GMB data has always been overwhelmingly over stated. Always and Always overstated.

    We’ve studied this for over a decade. It matters to our marketing and sales. Why is that data so off base.

    Our best SMB’s get huge volume of business via referrals and WOM. They have for a couple of decades now. We have been working to utilize that for decades.

    Hey…a good volume of those folks get our phone number and website from a google search.

    I can’t over value Google on that. We find out about the real reasons for getting to buyers via speaking with them, because we have involved services wherein we have a chance to speak with them. The over reliance data on Google comes from speaking with the customers….not some web supplied metrics.

    We’ve been using email successfully. Its powerful. We use WOM, we use social media, we really focus on what I call LOCAL/SOCIAL. Our customers are LOCAL so any way we can get to them is a way that works.

    Very valuable topic above for the business operators. Its a shame they only want to focus on google.

    On the other hand–> Google loves hearing that!!!

    • Carrie Hill Carrie Hill says:

      Hi Dave,
      Thanks so much for your thoughts. I think there’s an intersection of SMBs thinking if they can just master this one thing, they’re home free. And they might be, but maybe not….its a gamble.

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