Online Local Marketing for Small Businesses

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While you’re updating to adapt to the changes that come with COVID-19, be sure you’re including local marketing strategies.

What do I mean by that? 

Well, simply put, I mean that you should be making updates that drive local traffic. I know that may sound confusing when your brick and mortar location may be temporarily closed. But it will make more sense as we go along, so stay with me. 

In this article, I’m going to explain what local marketing is and why you need to do it. Then, we’ll talk about what needs to be updated and how it should be updated in order to make sure that your marketing efforts are local, as well as global.

What is local marketing?

Local marketing consists of marketing efforts that are designed specifically to draw in local traffic.

Before COVID-19, that meant putting sidewalk signs out front, placing ads in the local paper or with the local radio station, and getting involved with your community so that people would get to know your business through getting to know you. 

In our current situation, where most of us are quarantined inside of our homes, some of that has changed and some of it hasn’t.

Why is local marketing important?

Local marketing is important because it drives local traffic to your business. It brings people through the doors — virtual or not.

Why is local marketing important now?

Believe it or not, local marketing may be more important than ever right now. As we’re being pushed apart with social distancing requirements, we are becoming more and more aware of how much we need to come together — at a safe distance, of course.

With the need and desire to come together, we are reaching out to those we are closest to — Our family, our friends, and our neighbors.

My pre-COVID-19 habit was to order delivery for lunch once a week and now that I’m working from home, I maintain that habit. Only now, I’m ordering for my whole family instead of just myself. This is just one small way in which I can support small businesses in my community. And I’m not the only one. One of my co-workers orders delivery every day for the same reason. We know that with dining rooms closed, our local restaurateurs need our patronage more than ever.

But it’s not just about restaurants. Every small business and small business owner needs our support — all of our support. So, every time we need something, we look to purchase it from a local source first. 

People want to shop local

Because we’re more conscious of the need, we make more of an effort to shop locally than ever before. The difference now is that instead of driving to a store or walking through a mall, we turn to the internet to shop locally.

Therefore, you need to make sure that your local shoppers are finding your local business.

How do I localize my marketing?

Whether it’s business as usual, or it’s another crazy day in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic, keeping your customers in the know about what your business is doing is imperative. So, make sure that all of your business information is up to date and consistent everywhere that you’re online.

And as you’re updating, localize. I’ll explain how.

Your website

As always, when it comes to online marketing, this is the first place you want to publish updated information. After all, your website is “the source” for all information on your business, therefore it has to be up to date and accurate at all times. So, if you haven’t done so already…

Add a map and a clickable link for directions

It doesn’t matter if you’re not offering curbside pick-up and your store is temporarily closed. If you want people to know that you’re local, you want them to be able to see exactly how local you are. 

And, when you open your doors again, you want them to be able to find you quickly and easily. There’s no better place to get directions to a store than straight from their website.

Optimize your website for locally-relevant terms

Throughout your website, localize by “name dropping.” You do this by updating your About page, your Blog page, and really, every page on your website. I’m sure you’ve heard the term “name dropping” when someone wants to appear important, but when referring to your website, “name dropping” is a process of interjecting locally relevant names, terms, and even common slang like “wicked smaht.” 

When you describe where you’re located, let your potential customers know that your store is “just around the corner from Shay Stadium,” or “across the street from Colonial Park” or “right next to” any locally well-known landmarks. 

You can have fun with it, but make sure your location is clear, and it references something that locals can relate to.

Listing and review sites

When people are looking for a business, whether to make a purchase or obtain information, the first thing we all do these days is “Google it.” And if we’re looking to find something local, we often add the words “near me” onto whatever we’re Googling…“hair salon near me…Italian restaurant near me…donuts near me…” You get the idea. 

When the search results come up, Google is nice enough to provide a map showing businesses closest to your location. Along with listings of the three closest businesses, including links to their websites, directions, addresses, hours of operation, and their overall review score.

Google search near me search for hair salons
A “near me” search for local hair salons

And if they were to click on one of the businesses to learn more information (like for the one that says it will be open at 9am on Tue.) then they’ll see something like this:

selection of one business within initial Google search, shows map and specific information for the business chosen
Basic Google My Business listing for local search for hair salons near me

Notice the small warning sign that says “Hour or services may differ”? 

Google disclaimer that hours or services may differ due to COVID-19 changes and business not updating their hours of operation with Google My Business

That’s a notice that Google has added due to coronavirus closures. Here’s a listing where the owners updated their hours of operation with Google My Business themselves:

Google Search stating business is temporarily closed. Business updated their hours with Google My Business

Notice the difference?

The reason I’m showing this is because online listings aren’t as simple as just claiming your business. To really harness the power of listings & reviews, you also need to complete all of the sections available to you and update them accordingly. In this case, don’t just update, but localize as well.

For local online marketing, create your listings and check them twice.

  • If your competitors are there, you should be too. Claim your business on any and all relevant, local online business listing sites, services, and agencies. 
  • Google yourself. For listing and review sites like Google My Business, Yelp, or TripAdvisor, make sure that your business is earmarked for your local area and do your own search to double-check.
  • Copy your website. Just as you did for your website, if a listing site has an about section, go ahead and name drop when describing the most important attributes of your business. For example, if a highlight of your menu is a sub sandwich named after a local hero, mention that. But as always, make sure it’s relevant and relatable to your business and your community. And while we’re talking about subs, that’s another great example of localization. Depending on where you live, it could be called a hoagie, a grinder, a hero, or a torpedo!
  • See double. Check to make sure that your business address and description are correct, and identical, across all listings sites. This may seem rudimentary, but consistency across all platforms makes a big difference to search engines. So, double-check that your street address, city, and zip code have been typed in the same way every time. For example: If you typed in 1234 6th st., Sacramento, CA 00000-1111 in Yelp, don’t put your address as 1234 Sixth St, Sacrament, Ca 00000 in Google My Business. Those typos, shortened zip codes, changed capitalizations, and random punctuation matter.

To make sure that your information is consistent across all listing sites, we suggest that you type your business address, description and any other important information that you want in your listings into a document and then copy and paste it into each online listing. Staying consistent will help your business perform better in online searches.

But online searches aren’t the only way people find you when they want to shop locally. 

Your brick and mortar location 

Remember how I said that some local marketing strategies have changed but some haven’t? Well, this is the part that hasn’t changed.

People are still seeing your local, brick and mortar store. They are still making trips to the grocery store and going for walks. And I don’t know about you, but when I go outside now, I take my time — I’m certainly in no rush to be cooped back up inside. I walk to the grocery store, instead of drive and I take the time to look into shop windows as I pass. And I make a note of shops that look interesting that maybe I hadn’t noticed before.

So, use that space for local marketing. Put up large, easy-to-read signage letting people know if you have limited hours, have an online store, or are providing content and information online. Take that foot traffic and drive it to your website, your online store, or to your social media page(s).

Social media platforms 

If you remember, I previously mentioned that part of local marketing is getting involved with your community so that people would get to know your business by getting to know you. In an online world, social media platforms are what you use to be involved in your community.

Social media isn’t about telling people what your business is about (that’s what your website and listings do). Social media is about interacting with your customers, your community, and your potential customers. It’s about conversations, support, interactions, and marketing. And although marketing is last on that list, it’s actually what you’re doing when you participate in the previous three — as a business.

Follow and subscribe

On any social media platform, the first thing you should do (after setting up your own small business page and inviting everyone you know to follow it) is to subscribe to, and follow, other local pages.

The most important pages for a small business to connect with are:  

  • The local Chamber of Commerce
  • Your state Better Business Bureau (BBB)
  • Local Media outlets
  • Other local small businesses and small business owners

Gather together

Search for and join local online groups. Facebook Groups will even make some suggestions for you. That’s where you will find out what other small businesses are doing in your area.

If you don’t find a group of small business owners in your area — start one. Create a private page where you and your neighbors can share innovative ideas, discuss collaborations, and support one another, not only through the tough times but also in the future when the discussions can be less out of need and more in the spirit of creativity and fun.  

When using social media, you’re building your brand with every interaction you have. So, while commiserating with your peers is a positive thing, beware of falling into a black hole of negativity. Emotional venting can kill creativity, productivity, positivity, and forward motion — not to mention your brand’s reputation.

Support, share, and promote

Social media is best used in support of your online community. So, if you find a local charity that’s started a fundraiser, find out how you can help. If it’s in your budget, become a sponsor. And if nothing else, share their message with your contacts and followers.

If you’ve found a creative way to adapt to social distancing, share it by posting the idea on the pages of your local media, the Chamber of Commerce, or suggest that another local business try it out by mentioning them in your own post.

One of the best things you can do for your brand is to properly utilize social media marketing. So, use it — just be sure to use it in a positive and proactive way. 

Use social media to promote your town and other local businesses. Use it to have positive conversations about adapting to changing government regulations and social norms. And be sure to use it to bolster and cheer on your neighbors who are also dealing with a new set of hurdles and hardships right now.

The 80/20 rule

We call it a “rule,” but it really should be a law. When using social media, 80% of your activity should be focused on the conversations, the promotion and support of others, and basically letting people get to know about your business by getting to know you — through your online actions.

If you’re doing that 80% of the time, then it’s okay to promote your business, your products, your services, etc. 20% of the time. Just try to promote them in a manner that is helpful to your followers, instead of an in-your-face sales pitch.

Not sure what I mean by helpful? Try these post examples on for size:

  • “Pick up our new artist kit to stave off boredom and ignite your inner DaVinci.”
  • “Like a good murder mystery as much as you like a good cup of joe, but low on both? We’ve partnered with Cona Coffee Corner to bring you a special, limited edition, Mystery Buff basket!”
  • “Missing your romantic nights out? Here are our top five tips for a romantic night (then share the five tips and offer a “romantic night in” kit to “help set the mood” which they can have delivered to their door, or pick-up curbside — depending on your local health and safety regulations).

And remember: When using social media, you’re building your brand with every interaction you have. (Tweet this.)

So, be positive, think creatively, and most importantly — be kind.

Now you know

Online local marketing isn’t really all that different from any other kind of online marketing. The difference is that you’re focusing your efforts on local traffic, local customers, and local connections.

No matter what the world looks like, owning and running a small business is still all about building relationships. So get out there and use local marketing to start building strong relationships with the people in your community.



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