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How To Promote A Local Or Regional Business On The Web

by Jonathan Mizel

While many of our subscribers operate national and even global businesses, there are some who want to promote their business only within a targeted region.

Maybe they operate a retail store (like a pet shop), their services are location specific (like a snowplowing operation), or maybe they are prohibited from doing business outside their licensed area (like real estate and insurance agents).

If this sounds like you or one of your clients, this article will be invaluable. You are about to discover the top seven methods to promote a local, regional, or location specific business online, as culled from our case studies with real-life customers.

Even if your business isn't location specific, you'll learn some unique and inexpensive ways to generate traffic to any website.

Before you start

Before you begin there are several important points to consider:

  1. Is there any way to do business outside your region? Many companies are equipped to do business by mail or even digitally, however, they are more comfortable dealing with a local audience. If this sounds like you, it's time to break out of your self-imposed bondage. The bigger your target, the easier they are to identify and contact. One of the most difficult-to-find online advertising options is geo-targeting, or targeting by area or ZIP code. Some companies charge as much as quadruple to pinpoint a specific location, and few have large lists since many site owners don't collect ZIP code or even country when they are compiling their names.

  2. Does your business have an existing customer list? Local advertising is no different from any other form of advertising in it's process. Establish relationships, foster them by e-mail and the Web, and create a climate of trust that leads to a sale. If the business owner has an existing customer list including e-mail addresses, the process of marketing can begin immediately. If not, a large part of the initial advertising effort will be devoted to creating a list of local opt-in recipients to market to.

  3. Are you marketing online for the wrong reasons? Make sure you have a strong purpose for promoting your local business online. We have seen companies create Web pages for no reason other than to impress themselves or their friends (or because their "competitor" has a site). Marketing online is a commitment, and the ROI you achieve must be compared with the ROI you get from offline advertising.

In other words, pick the low-hanging fruit of easy sales and existing customers before you spend a lot of time or energy on costly, complicated promotions.

Techniques and case studies

Below you'll find techniques that really work as well as examples of what local business are doing to generate traffic and sales. Many of the links are from businesses based in Boulder, CO, because that's where our offices were when we wrote this article:

1. Build an e-mail list of local customers

Boulder is pretty wired. Many of the local businesses have websites or ISP accounts. However, only a few are able to execute effective marketing campaigns that bring in actual results, and those are the ones who understand e-mail and direct response marketing.

Of course, before you can run an e-mail promotion, you must have a list of opt-in names to mail to. Thus, below you'll find the four primary ways to generate an opt-in e-mail list of local patrons:

  • As part of a newsletter or registration offering: The best place to find future customers is right in your store or retail establishment, usually wandering around browsing. Many shops maintain mailing lists, but rarely do they ask for your e-mail address. Big mistake. In addition to a physical newsletter (or even instead of), a business should offer content online. Give people a choice of a digital-only version and see how many respond. This cuts down on postage and allows you to push specific offers to people who are already familiar with you, which increases response.

  • In your store and on the phone from people who buy or request information: As far as we are concerned, anybody who buys or requests information from you and gives their e-mail address is an opt-in name you are free to mail to unless they tell you differently. Of course you should always honor remove requests, and you should make it clear you are going to stay in touch by e-mail. Give sales people an incentive to build your opt-in list by paying them a bonus per name.

  • As part of every coupon or discount promotion: One of our local businesses is very smart. They send a coupon to people via direct-mail. When you go to the store to redeem it, you are asked to verify your physical address and write your e-mail on the back. Though e-mail isn't required, the management tells us over 50% of the people write it down it anyway, which builds their opt-in list at zero cost. You can also offer an e-mail based "Online Discount" mailing list, and allow people to sign up when they are in your store or establishment. This allows you to send coupons only to people you know are interested.

  • On your website: If you have a website, trade a discount coupon or free bonus for opting in. It's an inexpensive form of advertising and is performance based (the people must become customers to redeem the coupon).

4 companies who do it right

Boulder Theater: Opt into their list, and in addition to upcoming events, you may score free tickets to see a hot band or discount pricing to a movie. Everybody in town loves this place, and the messages are perceived as "important information from a good friend" instead of advertising (though advertising is exactly what they are).

Mountain Sun Brewery: Mountain Sun doesn't even have a website! But they very effectively collect e-mail addresses on little cards they scatter throughout the brewpub. When you get an e-mail, which happens about once a month, it's from the owner himself, inviting you to a "Friends of Mountain Sun" party or telling you to come in after 10 PM for $1 pints. Not the kind of service you get from a big corporation. (Can you say warm and fuzzy?) We've heard that they make an extra $500 - $1,000 every time they send a note to their list.

Pedestrian Shops: Pedestrian shops has excellent search engine positioning so they are easily found when searching for a local shoe store, and they offer a printable coupon right on their site to track sales which originate online.

Whole Foods Market: Whole Foods Market recently opened a new store in Boulder, and even more recently set aside a very valuable 250 square feet right as you walk in the front door. For what? High speed computers that allow you to shop online, and more importantly, encourage you to register your e-mail address with their website to receive a free canvas grocery bag.

2. Yellow pages advertising

Yellow pages have always been an important part of local advertising. That's because they are highly responsive: Prospects only look through them when they are ready to call someone or make a buying decision.

There are 2 primary advertising options:

  • Physical Yellow Pages: Because of the high cost, we aren't advocating running Yellow Pages ads solely to drive Web traffic. However, if you are anyway, make sure your URL is prominently displayed in your ad. You many even want to include an e-mail address connected to an autoresponder or other type of response device to capture leads.

  • Yellow Pages Online: We have clients who get dozens of unique visitors which turn into customers through Online Yellow Pages like DexKnows (US West). These listings are often included for free if you buy a physical yellow pages ad, however, they are also sold on a stand-alone basis. Expect rates to rise dramatically as the Web's utilization overtakes that of even the phone book.

Existing major directories

  • Yellow Pages: This is the combined Pacific Bell, Southwestern Bell, Nevada Bell, and Ameritech Yellow Pages site.

  • DexKnows: National business directory connected to the Qwest Yellow Pages operation.

  • AnyWho: ATT's national yellow pages site.

3. Offline promotions

If you are running offline promotions, you need to include your website address in every ad you run. You may even want to push people online before you push them to your store since it's generally a safer and less threatening place to discover your business than in person. For example, a realtor might say:

Search our inventory of available houses at: http://GreatHousesInBoulder.com

Or a roofer might offer:

Read our report, "Why Roofs Leak" at: http://StopThoseNastyLeaks.com

A mortgage broker might have something like this:

Check out how much house you can really afford at: http://PaymentCalculator.com

Make sure to include online contact info in every one of the following:

  • Newspaper ads

  • Press releases

  • Radio ads

  • Television ads

  • Direct Mail

  • Flyers

  • Publicity events and sponsorships

  • Outdoor Advertising like billboards

4. Trade links and buy advertising on local websites

Many communities have content-based sites set up as a public service by a concerned citizen. They may feature a weather report, the local movie listing, even the fishing conditions.

Many of these sites will sell you banner ad space for next to nothing, and some will give you a link in exchange for content, or just because they like you. Some examples:

You may want to consider setting up your own free community site as both a public service (remember, you get back from the universe what you give), or to use as your exclusive advertising outlet.

5. Buy geo-targeted advertising on regional or national portals

There are only 3 major search engines, but there are hundreds of regional portals which sell advertising on a local basis. The largest is:

  • CitySearch: A TicketMaster property. Not for the financially challenged. Also very expensive.

National portals like Yahoo, Lycos, and AltaVista sell geo-targeted banner ads based on keywords. For example, your banner can be set up to display whenever someone uses your city name in a search.

These types of banner campaigns cost as much as $50/CPM, with minimum commitments of $5,000 a month.

A better alternative are what we call mini-portals, or privately owned sites that cater to a specific community or area.

Mini Portal Examples

Some of these we use ourselves, and the others we found through search engines. Wherever you are located, we guarantee someone has set up a community based site you can advertise on, sometimes for little or nothing:

Search for community sites in your own city or area. You will usually find them by using keywords relating to entertainment and tourism like hotel, restaurant, gallery, club, shopping, and of course, the name of your city.

6. Use targeted per click engines like FindWhat.com

Google, the king of Pay-Per-Click search recently introduced geo-targeted advertising, which is a huge boost for local or regional marketers. You can implement this when you set up or edit your campaign.

Here's another idea... One of our clients took our ideas, concepts, and techniques about using Overture.com, and figured out a way to get targeted traffic to her Salon and Day Spa in Salt Lake City.

Based on her inventory search and location, she realized there weren't many people looking for spa services on Overture.com, so she decided to bid on the general keyword Salt Lake City, offering to pay $0.32 per click.

Then she used negative qualifier ad copy to clearly describe herself as a day spa and nothing else, looking to cast a narrow net around a wide audience. She didn't include a benefit oriented title designed to generate maximum click-throughs, only the name of her business. Here's what her listing looked like.

5. Urban Soul Body Retreat
Salt Lake City's most relaxing day spa offering body, skin and hair care. Click here for a complete listing of all of our services, specials, or to purchase gift certificates.
www.usbodyretreat.com (Cost to advertiser: $0.32)

Conclusion

Ultimately, it's possible to promote any business online, even one that's local or regionally based. You just need to be creative and follow a process that's proven itself again and again:

  • Build a list

  • Create and foster high quality customer relationships

  • Make outstanding offers regularly.

That's how it's done!

Jonathan Mizel is a well-known and respected Internet Marketing expert, and is often found advising well known companies such as Microsoft, Intel, and American Express.

 

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