Forget the Phonebook: 3 Local Marketing Initiatives With Higher ROIs
The phonebook is so 1998. Few people use it anymore, and yet in an ironic twist, advertising in the phonebook has become more expensive as telcos try to boost revenues. Don’t play their game.
Boost the ROI of your advertising budget by switching your local marketing focus to the following 3 websites.
The basic strategy for each of the following options is two-fold:
- The first step — making sure you are listed and have accurate info — is free for all three of the following sites. It’s equivalent to making sure your phone number and address is accurate in the free, basic listing in the phonebook.
- The second step — buying advertising — is equivalent to buying an ad in the phonebook. Versus the phonebook, you'll get more reach and better tracking data, which helps ensure you maximize your local advertising ROI.
Yelp is the premier review site for local businesses. Consumers love it because it lets them easily share their thoughts on local service providers and retail outlets, and in return, get honest reviews of local businesses from their peers. Businesses love Yelp — honest, reputable businesses, at least — because businesses that receive positive reviews see dramatic increases in referral customers.
Start here: http://www.yelp.com/business
Step 1: Control Your Listing (and Get Stats)
Yelp provides business owners that have “unlocked” their pages with lots of value-added features including messaging options (eg., post offers and announcements, reply to reviewers) and stats on how many people have viewed your business page. Check out this page for a screenshot of the business dashboard you'll have access to as the owner of the business.
The biggest benefit of taking control of your Yelp page is being able to highlight positive reviews of your business and/or responding to reviewers privately. However, don't think that just because Yelp is willing to take your money that it means they will take down negative reviews of your business. They won't, unless it violates review guidelines (eg., contains racial slurs or is second-hand information). As a good business owner, you should take comfort in this policy, because it means your less scrupulous competitors won't be able to hide their shady practices for long.
Step 2: Buy Advertising
Yelp offers two advertising options for increasing your exposure:
- Top placement in search results.
- Showcasing your business on a similar business' page.
You can see screenshots of both options here. Pricing varies based on your city, business category, and number of impressions you want to buy. You can talk details and pricing with a Yelp sales representative by filling out this form and waiting for a callback.
2. Google Local
Start here: http://www.google.com/LBC
When consumers search for a local business or a local service (eg., “thai food”, “dry cleaner”) on Google, a small map and some business results appear at the top of the search results (screenshot). Additionally, you get a business details page that can contain information like your phone number, email address, store hours, accepted payment types, photos and videos, and service or product categories (screenshot).
Step 1: Take Control of Your Listing (and Get Stats)
Adding business details and creating coupons is completely free on Google. Start by claiming your business at Google's Local Business Center. Once you’ve verified your ownership, you can start adding details and creating coupons that will appear on your business details page.
Here’s where Google Local become more exciting than the phonebook. On your Google local business dashboard (screenshot), you can see what search phrases people are typing in to find your business and where those searchers are located on a map (abstracted to a zip code level to protect searchers' privacy).
Click here for more information on Google's Local Business Center features.
Step 2A: Buy AdWords Ads
AdWords is the program where advertisers bid on search keywords and have their links appear next to or on top of search results. While the AdWords program is not specifically geared towards a local market, as an advertiser, you can limit where your ad appears based on the searcher's location.
You buy AdWords ads by bidding on how much you're willing to pay for clicks on your ad. Your ads appear on search results for your targeted keywords (ie., phrases people type into the search box). The more popular keywords (eg., "thai food") will cost more per click than more obscure keywords (eg., "pad thai").
Balancing the cost per click versus the popularity (reach) of keywords is what makes AdWords advertising a bit tricky. It does take quite a bit of management to maximize your ROI. Fortunately, Google allows you to set spending limits so you don't blow your monthly budget, and offers plenty of tools and resources to help you manage your AdWords campaigns.
Managing an AdWords campaign is beyond the scope of this article, but here are some resources to get you started:
- AdWords homepage - for getting started information
- AdWords official blog - for the latest news and tips
- AdWords for Dummies book
Step 2B: Buy Local Ad Listings
These are a new type of ads Google is selling specifically for local businesses. They are currently available only in San Fransisco and San Diego. To get a notice when they are rolled out to your area, fill out this form.
The difference between Local Ad Listings and AdWords is that you don't have to bid for keywords or do any fancy campaign management. Google charges a flat monthly rate for these ads, and shows them on local searches at the top of search results (screenshot) and in Google Maps (screenshot).
The rate depends on your city and business category. Rates are offered after you've claimed your small business listing in step 1. Once you've claimed your local business and Google has rolled out these ads to your city, you will see a new "Ads" tab in your business dashboard.
An advantage of the Local Ad Listing — in addition to having your business appear prominently on related searches — is the call tracking. When someone calls the phone number listed on your Local Ad Listing, the call is forwarded to regular phone number, and when you pick up, you will hear a short "this call is from Google" message. Counting up the number of calls you receive from your local Google ad, you can then determine if the monthly fee is worth the number of new leads you receive.
3. Yahoo Local
Start here: http://listings.local.yahoo.com/
Step 1: Claim or create your Yahoo Local listing
Just like Yelp and Google Local, you can claim your Yahoo Local business listing for free. Claiming or creating the listing will allow you to enter additional information and keep your business details up-to-date.
The first step is to create a Yahoo login. If you already have a Yahoo email address, you can use that login account to manage your local business listing. If you already have a Yahoo account, login to your account. If you don't already have one, you can sign up for a Yahoo account here (it's free).
Start by doing a search for your business at Yahoo Local. If your business already has a listing, click on the "edit info" link on the details page. Your business will then be linked to your Yahoo account, and when you go to listings.local.yahoo.com, you can click on the "Local Listings Account Center" link in the upper right hand corner to see all your business listings.
If your business is not yet listed, go to listings.local.yahoo.com and click on the "Sign Up" button. You will be presented with a form to fill out your business details like address, phone number, service description, and hours of operation.
Step 2: Upgrade to an Enhanced or Featured Listing
And just like the other options, Yahoo offers premium listings that you can purchase to give your business more prominence. Yahoo Local offers two levels of premium listings: Enhanced or Featured.
An Enhanced Listing costs $9.95 per month. You get to add up to 10 photos, a longer description of your business, and stats on how often people see and click on your listing.
A Featured Listing puts your business in the sponsored results section of Yahoo search results. Pricing ranges from $15-$300 per month depending on the size of your city and demand for your service. Click here to view current pricing details.
Check out this page for a comparison of features for the Basic, Enhanced, and Featured Listings.
Your Next Steps
At the very least, make sure your local small business is listed at all three sites. It will cost you nothing but a little time, and you will reach the majority of people searching online for a local service.
When you are ready to spend a little money (say, less than $100 per month) on increasing your local exposure, the best bang for your buck will be Google AdWords (step 2A in the Google section above). Using AdWords, you can set a low spending limit and get your feet wet with online advertising.
For a budget of more than $100 per month, consider getting both the Yahoo Enhanced Listing, buying advertising on Yelp, and (if available in your area) getting a Google Local Ad Listing.
Even though the Yahoo Enhanced listing will only cost $9.95 per month, I wouldn't advise spending that money until you've spent some money on AdWords because (a) the Enhanced Listing only provides the same features and stats as a free Yelp or Google listing, and (b) Yahoo Local searches don't reach as many people as Yelp or Google.
A final word: keep track of where your leads are coming from to maximize your local advertising budget. Spend your money on the site/campaign that produces the lowest cost per lead.