Not so long ago, when you needed a plumber or a hairdresser or a great place for chicken cacciatore, you asked your friends for a recommendation. If that didn’t work, you picked up the phone book and checked the Yellow Pages, or you checked the classifieds and the ads in the local newspaper. If you were lucky, you might even find a coupon that you could cut out and bring in to get a discount on the “best cacciatore in the city.”
Times have changed. Many homes don’t even have a phone book – or even a home telephone. Newspaper subscriptions – especially for local newspapers – are at an all-time low, and your friends? They’re leaving their recommendations for their favorite just-about-anything on review sites, Facebook and their favorite local business directory. If your business doesn’t have a vibrant and active online presence these days, you’re missing out on the best customer referral strategies ever created.
But before you jump in and start marketing your business online – or if you’ve tried to do that with little success, there’s a few things you should know.
All Online Local Marketing Methods Are Not Created Equal
Many business owners start from the premise of creating their own website. It’s a good start, but as many learned, simply creating a website for your business isn’t enough. This was especially true in the earliest days when small local businesses were competing head-to-head with national corporations that had money to burn on advertising and gaming Google. If your customers searched for “pizza delivery,” for example, Google would point them to the ubiquitous national pizza chains. If the little brick oven pizzeria on the corner showed up at all, it would be on the second or third page of the search engine listings, where most local customers would never find them.
To be fair, Google, and by extension other major search engines, have come a long way in helping people find businesses that are geographically close to them. That’s only half the battle, though. If one of those national chains has a franchise in your area – and odds are that they do – their listings will still come up ahead of yours unless you do a bit of work to make sure your business gets found.
The Beauty of a Local Business Directory
Enter the local business directory. Local business directories are designed to highlight small businesses operating in a particular city or town. Some are little more than a database of businesses with basic information, sorted by type of business. Others, like FindUsLocal.com, are far more elaborate and offer more value for the time you invest in claiming and refining your listing, such as reviews, news and community connections. There’s more to your business listing than just the on-site benefits, though.
When you make sure your business is listed in as many local small business directories as possible, you’re really leveraging a lot more than just the power of the business directory.
Five Benefits of Using an Online Local Business Directory as Part of Your Marketing Strategy
- You’ll be putting your business in front of the people who are most likely to patronize your business. If you’re making pizzas, you’ll find most of your customers within 5 miles of your business location. It only makes sense to use geographical targeting to get your name out to those folks.
- You can use your local business listing to funnel traffic to your business website and social media pages, where folks can learn more about your services or make purchases.
- Every business listing in a local business directory serves as a “citation” – a signal that helps search engines like Google figure out where your store is located. That way, even people who use Google to find great local businesses will be more likely to find your business.
- A good local business directory can serve as a central location where folks in your neighborhood can read the reviews from many different online review sites in one place.
- Being listed in a business directory that allows nearby neighbors to search by service or industry is like having a dedicated niche on a community bulletin board.
A Basic Local Business Directory Strategy
The best online promotion strategy for local businesses includes making sure you claim your business profile on as many local directories as you can find – but that doesn’t mean you should put the same amount of effort into each listing. This section is about taking the simplest, most basic steps to elevate your online business profile using local business directories. In the next section, you’ll find more advanced, specialized strategies that you should use on business directories that offer you more options.
- Search for your business name and city on Google or another search engine. You’ll see your business listed on many websites you’ve never heard of. Most of these are online business directories that compile basic listings from public resources.
- Visit your listing on each business directory. There will be a link asking if this is your business or inviting you to claim your listing. It’s always to your benefit to do that.
- Check that the information listed is correct and complete.
- If there are errors or missing information, correct or supply it. The more citations Google finds with the same information, the more credibility they’ll give your business when people do searches. The more credibility Google gives you, the more likely it is that your business will come up high in the search engine listings when people search for your services.
- Visit the home page of the local business directory to evaluate the quality of each. Make sure that you have geolocation services turned on in your browser so you’ll see exactly what others in your area see when they visit the site. (Hint: websites that use geo-location services will usually ask if you want to share your location with the website. Clicking “yes” will show you information that’s most relevant to your city, town or neighborhood.)
Leverage Your Local Listing with the Best Local Business Directory
Once you’ve narrowed down your target business directories to one or two, you can work on a more targeted local online visibility strategy for your business. These tips and hints will help you make the most of your local directory listings.
- You’ll get the best results from local business directories that offer up-to-date features. FindUsLocal.com, for example, uses geo-location services to show you information that’s targeted for your immediate area. This is a huge benefit for your customers who don’t have to wade through listings of businesses that our outside their service area – and that makes it easier for them to find you.
- Does the front page of the business directory you’re looking at offer news and other features that draw people to the site? While most local business directories keep their focus on letting people search for businesses, the most popular ones serve up features that bring visitors back to the site again and again. With community newspapers going out of business or focusing on national and international news, these local directory sites take up the slack by showing news stories that are most relevant to the town in which you’re located. The more often they visit, the more likely they are to see your local listing. If you choose to pay for a premium listing (usually at very reasonable rates), they’ll see your listing featured over and over again.
- Any small local news site will tell you that event listings and calendars are among their most popular features. Some directories, like Find Us Local, prominently feature upcoming events on their auto-personalized front page. They include concerts, sports events, theater and other events happening soon, and even provide links to ticket-buying services for the convenience of their site users.
- A business directory that allows people to leave reviews offers even more value for your business. People like to shop and dine at businesses that their friends like. Good reviews will bring more people to your business than any amount of advertising. While you’re at it, make sure the local directory site allows you to comment on any reviews left by customers. Those reviews offer you a chance to thank customers for patronizing your business and reach out to those whose experiences were less positive. People will actually have more faith in a business that responds publicly to a review with negative points than in those with only stellar reviews.
Pulling It All Together – Three Take-Away Points on Using a Local Business Directory Strategy
- Find and standardize your business listing on as many online local business directories as possible. They only take a few minutes each if you stick to the most important information: business name, address, hours and contact information.
- Wherever possible, make sure your website address – including your Facebook page or Twitter account if you use them for promoting your business – are listed and accurate.
- When you find a local business directory like Find Us Local, take advantage of everything they offer to boost your business profile among the people most likely to patronize you. Because Find Us Local goes out of its way to keep local readers coming back for more, they provide your business with the best opportunity to be seen by the customers that are most important to your business.