Roughly 75% of the business owners I speak with in any given town or city see little, if any, need for an online presence. They believe in doing business the way it's always been done, with local advertising, foot traffic, telephone book listing or advertisement, special promotions, and word-of-mouth marketing, and assume that local residents will find out about their business in these same ways.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with these promotional methods, but it does create a tunnel vision view of marketing in this day and age. In September 2004, a Kelsey Group-BizRate.com study found that more than 74% of respondents said they had conducted local searches and confirmed that 20% of all searches among respondents was local. Whether business owners acknowledge it or not, the Internet is here to stay, and using the Internet to find local businesses has now become mainstream, and will only continue to grow as today's children and teens, who have been online almost all of their lives, become adults.
I know that when I do a search for local businesses, I am often taken to one of the local city directories, where I am given the address and phone number of the business, and if I'm lucky, the website URL, if they have a website. Most days, I search out the website of a local business to "check them out" before deciding to do business with them.
One of my most frustrating times comes when I want to place a takeout order at a local restaurant and don't have a takeout menu handy. I'll go online to find the menu of the restaurant, and unfortunately, unless it's a local chain with multiple locations, I don't typically find what I'm seeking. That restaurant usually ends up losing my business to one in which I can scope out the menu online and call in a takeout order.
If you have a brick-and-mortar business, how much business are you losing because you don't have an online presence, or your website doesn't contain enough information to help someone decide to do business with you? Or, if you have a virtual company, what if no one can find you when they conduct a local search of businesses in your industry?
I do no marketing locally, as there is little demand for the type of services I provide in this area. However, I began to wonder if I were losing out on what little local business might exist for my virtual company, so I did some research to find what websites would help my company website show up in any local searches.
1. Local Portal Sites: Search Google, Yahoo, and MSN for your city name and see what comes up. Are there any sites on the list with which you can exchange links, buy advertising, purchase a membership, submit articles, etc.? If you live in a small city, as I do, you might also search for larger cities that are close to your location, or search for a regional name that your area might have. For example, I found more portal sites by using "Southeast Texas" as a search term, rather than an individual city name.
2. Search Engine Directories: Search Google Directory, http://directory.google.com for your city name and look for a category that ends with "Guides and Directories". When you click on that, you'll see the directories listed by importance, as determined by Google's Page Rank feature (you'll need to download Google's toolbar to see this info. The toolbar can be found at http://toolbar.google.com. The higher the rank (10 is high), the more traffic the site has. Or, you can manually search Google as follows: Regional Directories (by continent/country): http://www.google.com/Top/Regional/ By state in the US: http://www.google.com/Top/Regional/North_America/United_States/
You can also search Yahoo Directories, http://dir.yahoo.com. To suggest your business for inclusion, see Yahoo's guidelines here: http://help.yahoo.com/help/us/dir/suggest/index.html Yahoo's regional directory listing can be found here: http://dir.yahoo.com/Regional/ and listing for the US states is found here: http://dir.yahoo.com/Regional/U_S__States/
3. Yellow Pages Sites: There are a number of bigger city options here: YellowPages.com (SBC and BellSouth): http://www.yellowpages.com/guide/cityguides/ Super Pages (Verizon): http://www.superpages.com
4. Nationally-Based City Guides: The largest of these services, CitySearch, http://www.citysearch.com/, drives content to many other city guides. Other city guides include AOL CityGuide, http://www.digitalcity.com, Area Guides, http://www.areaguides.net, Online City Guide, http://www.onlinecityguide.com, and Associated Cities, http://www.associatedcities.com/
5. Newspaper-Based Local Sites: If you live in a larger urban area, your local newspaper may sponsor a site for your city, like Charlotte.com, sponsored by the Charlotte Observer) or Boston.com, sponsored by the Boston Globe.
6. Locally-Based City Guides: Again, in larger urban areas, your local chamber of commerce, convention and visitor's bureau, or a private business may operate a local portal for your city. Here in Southeast Texas, our locally based site is SoutheastTexas.com, owned by a private business. Others, like FortWorth.org, is sponsored by the Ft. Worth Convention and Visitor's Bureau.
7. Association Guides: Your membership to your local chamber of commerce, convention and visitor's bureau, professional association (by industry), general business groups (networking groups, men's or women's business associations, civic groups) may pay off if the association has an online membership directory where your listing might be found. Make sure that the listing includes both your contact info and a link to your website.
I've only scratched the surface of the local possibilities available for both virtual and brick-and-mortal companies. In doing the research for this article, I discovered there are thousands of businesses who aren't listed in these directories. Don't let yours be one of them. Get your business listed locally so you local customers can find you!
Copyright 2006 Donna Gunter