Must-Know Actionable Local Business TechniquesKaren Axelton
When people in your community need a product or service right away, chances are they’ll turn to a local business first. According to BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey, last year 97% of consumers searched online for local businesses, and 12% did so every day. Are you taking advantage of this trend to capture customers? Let’s dive in and find out:
- Why small businesses have a local advantage
- 3 things that matter most in getting the customer's business
- Tactics to help you deliver on customer expectations
Why small businesses have an edge over big businesses
If you have a small business, you may feel like it's hard to compete with big-box stores or online retailers. However, small businesses have an important advantage in attracting customers: the local advantage.
There are several reasons why people prefer to buy from local small businesses:
- According to a recent Gallup survey, Americans trust small businesses more than big businesses. In fact, the only institution Americans trust more is the military.
- Americans understand the importance of supporting small businesses. Just look at the continuing growth in popularity of Small Business Saturday, a post-Black Friday event in November that encourages consumers to do their holiday shopping at independent local businesses instead of big chains. Consumers know that money spent at small businesses stays in the community and helps create jobs.
- Small business owners who are part of the community know the local market and its needs better than multinational corporations whose focus is spread thin between multiple markets
The 3 things customers want from local businesses
It's encouraging to know that customers want to support small business. However, you can't rely on goodwill alone to get them to choose your business. That's why a strong marketing strategy is so important to success.
When a user begins an online search to find a business that services their needs, this is what they are looking for:
People who search online for local businesses have strong intent to act on what they find:
As you can see, most consumers searching for local businesses are making plans to either do something or buy something. One-fourth need a particular product or service, and 24% have plans to make a purchase. In addition, 15% need to connect with a business right away.
Most people searching online for local businesses have a fairly urgent need. For example, you probably don't search online for pizza delivery two weeks before you order a pizza. In fact, you might end up waiting until you have a house full of hungry teenagers on your hands, or that roast didn’t turn out quite as you had planned. In these situations, users need the services of a local business urgently:
That’s right, more than one-third of consumers need the business immediately or have an emergency need. Wow!
Proximity is almost as important as price in choosing a local business, as you can see from the graph below:
Search Engine Land reports that 93% of consumers typically travel 20 minutes or less for their general shopping needs. The more "everyday" the product is, the closer to home they want to stay.
For instance, someone buying a new sofa might be willing to drive 30 minutes to get the best price, since it’s a big purchase. On the other hand, someone looking for shoe repair services might care more about finding the most convenient location.
All else being equal, where would you go if you wanted to get a product or service right away? You'd probably choose the one that's closest to you.
This concept even applies to service businesses. Someone looking for a plumber is likely to choose nearby companies, because they know plumbers far away may not service their area.
Local marketing tactics that deliver customers
Now you know the three things consumers want when they look for local businesses online. Here's how you can meet those needs:
1. Make it easy to take action.
Think about all the different actions a customer might want to do when they find your business online.
They might want to:
- Call your business
- Go to your website to find out more about your business
- See photos of your products or an explanation of your services
- Find out what your store hours are
- Find out your business address
- Get directions to your business or view a map of where you're located
- Browse your products online and place orders
- Make an appointment or reservation online
Something to keep in mind: these activities are likely taking place on a smartphone. Why? Because people who are searching for local businesses generally want the information fast, and they are often on the go.
That's why your website must be mobile-friendly. Customers need to be able to easily use your website on their phones. Sadly, there are still some businesses (even relatively big ones) with websites that aren’t mobile-friendly.
If you don't think that matters, consider this example: just last week, my husband and I were deciding what restaurant to go to. Two local restaurants sounded appealing. Both served the same type of cuisine (Mexican food). However, one had a mobile-friendly menu so we could check out different meal options.
The other site wasn’t mobile-friendly and we couldn’t read their tiny menu.
We didn't spend time squinting at the tiny type on the non-mobile-friendly site; instead, we scanned the menu on the mobile-friendly website and decided what to order.
2. Make it fast.
Whether the user is on a desktop, laptop or mobile device, your website needs to load quickly. Google has an easy-to-use tool to test your mobile site speed. If your site is slow to launch, few potential customers will bother to stick around.
Your web designer and/or website host can offer advice on how to speed up your site, such as using images with the proper size and resolution and other elements that can affect site speed.
But speed isn't just about how fast your website pops up: It's also about how fast you respond to customers who contact your business. Whether a prospect is filling out a leads form online, calling your business to make an appointment, or emailing you a question about your services, rapid response is critical.
It's not good enough to return a call from a prospective plumbing customer the next day. Their sink is overflowing now!
To ensure your business is responsive to customers:
- Set standards for yourself and your employees’ response time. For instance, you might set a goal to answer every phone call on the second ring, respond to emails within a certain amount of hours, and contact leads from lead forms by the end of the day they’re received.
- Use your automated phone system menu to give customers self-serve answers to common questions like your hours and location (“For our hours, press 1…for our address, press 2,” etc.).
- Anticipate questions from prospective customers and set up a frequently asked questions (FAQ) section on your website where they can get answers quickly.
- Set up automated responses to texts and emails that tell customers you received their message and how soon they can expect a response, and then follow through on that promise.
Responding quickly and actively engaging with customers shows that the lights are on, you’re listening and you care. If you consistently demonstrate that your door is open to welcome new customers, you’re going to get more business.
3. Highlight your location.
Claiming and optimizing your Google My Business listing and other local search sites helps improve your search engine results position and your odds of showing up on Google Maps when someone searches for a local business.
To highlight your location, use keywords related to your city, neighborhood, and other location elements throughout your website and in your local business listings.
You can also attract nearby customers by using pay-per-click (PPC) ads to target customers within a certain radius. For example, Google Ads lets you narrow the people who will see your ad by location (among other factors). You can set your ad to display only in specific areas, so if your store is in Milwaukee, people in Boise won't see your ad.
Bringing it all home
The good news is, people are eager and willing to support small businesses. Now it’s up to you to make sure your marketing strategy is catered to the needs of your local market.
Potential customers are looking for action, speed, and proximity. If you listen to them and give them a positive customer experience that addresses their needs and wants, you might just end up as the most successful business in the neighborhood!
Karen Axelton is Chief Content Officer of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses.