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Monday, August 24, 2009

Local search opportunities and challenges

This is a screen shot from the ReachLocal website. Leslie-Anne McAlllister has been marketing the local search co-ordinator's services by building relationships on Internet forums such as

Yesterday, I had a fascinating conversation with Leslie-Anne McAllister, who represents ReachLocal, a search engine marketing agency.

Based in Atlanta, McAllister naturally gets most of her business within her own region, but she isn't restricted in her territories, and so we initially "met" through the forums.

McAllister believes paid local search provides the best marketing opportunities for many businesses. Budgets will vary, but you can expect to spend $2,000 or so a "cycle" for paid keyword searches. The "cycle" won't be less than a month, but could go longer, depending on how keywords are taken up by the search engines, or the business's operational or seasonal requirements.

Not surprisingly, big Yellow Pages advertisers are the primary market for local Internet search providers, especially clients who want to mind their business more than the Internet, and are used to having dedicated advertising representatives to guide them in their decision-making.

McAllister makes a few interesting points. First, although she uses the moniker "Google Girl" in her online postings, she says Google is not the 900 pound gorilla in local search. Yahoo and Microsoft's Bing share the spotlight -- and she says Bing is currently providing better value and results than Google.

(She says ReachLocal isn't beholden to any single search engine, "We're agnostic", meaning her business will place the search engine ads with whatever provider provides the best results for her clients.)

Of course, local search services like ReachLocal provide some genuine advantages over the old Yellow Pages. You aren't locked into irreversible annual contracts with a fixed message; you can track, measure, and change your advertising strategies virtually instantly, and you can reach target markets and specific demographics easily.

(McAllister says the Yellow Pages, in fact, probably is only really useful these days in some specialized circumstances -- say you provide emergency roofing service and wish to get information out to potential clients when the power is out.)

Of course, the question arises, could you do things yourself, and would organic rather than paid search be a better value?

McAllister says the "do it yourself" approach is usually false economy, with experience, not-so-obvious keyword combinations often provide much better results, and the tracking and managing of local search is a task that truly is beyond most businesses. For example, she said: "Lots of people think Atlanta Plumbing or Atlanta Plumber is the way to go, but that can cost $10 to $14 a click, when 'leaky faucet' at $1.10 may be better, or localized search such as Roswell or Kennesaw might be more appropriate if you are in these neighbourhoods or suburbs."

However, she says one of the most important preconditions for success is to have a solid website, and she will recommend prospective clients fix their sites before they get started with an organized local search marketing campaign.

(ReachLocal also provides tracking resources for other media; you can include a tracking number in your print ads, for example. Calls are funneled through special phone numbers ensuring that businesses know how many people are calling from their online advertising.)

These points made, I asked if search engine marketing is best for business-to-business services such as hers (or ours). And here, I confirmed an important marketing distinction. She says that she gets most of her business through online forums, networking, community activities, and repeat business -- that she wouldn't expect search engine marketing to provide enough volume of the right type of clients for her own marketing, and probably not for mine.

In essence, she uses appropriate marketing techniques to market her own marketing services.

Can she (or anyone) help everyone?

"I have to make sure that we don't raise unrealistic expectations," she said. One electrician wanted to spend no more than $500 a month, and wasn't certain if he wanted to serve commercial or residential clients, for example.

This person will have trouble getting results, especially if he is expecting immediate reward.

Another contractor, with a specialized service, wanted to cover a wide geographical area. She suggested he narrow his search parameters to communities closer to his home.


Ned Overton said...

As a member of the Remodel Crazy forum the Google Girl has provided me with a few simple but extremely valuable marketing tips.

Ned Overton
FW&D Remodeling Services
Arlington, VA

Strat HD said...

Google Girl's webinar on Remodel Crazy was excellent. Very informative.

Strat HD

George Ruckstuhl
Findlay, OH

Strat HD said...

Google Girls webinar on Remodel Crazy was excellent. Very Informative.

Strat HD