Pew Study Shows That Internet Is Crucial for Local Business

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By: Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.

When consumers are looking for a local business, they are likely to turn to the Internet, according to a recent study by Pew Research Center entitled How People Get Information About Restaurants and Other Local Businesses. Pew set out to learn who seeks information about local businesses, where they can turn for information, and which sources they rely on the most.

Released in December 2011, the study indicates that 47 percent of consumers are most likely to turn to the Internet when seeking information about local businesses other than restaurants and bars – including 36 percent who rely on search engines to help them find what they need.

While the Internet is the most popular venue for information, 30 percent of consumers also told Pew that they rely on local newspapers for information, and 22 percent said they rely on word of mouth from family and friends.

Prerequisites for Survival

These findings suggest that online marketing is the most important choice for a company that is trying to connect with new customers. Any local company can improve its appeal with a few smart e-marketing investments. Here are the basics that you need to cover:

  • Publish a website that has a professional look and feel and makes it easy for visitors to understand the value that you deliver.
  • Help search engines like Google and Yahoo find your site by building in search engine optimization (SEO), which is behind-the-scenes coding that tells the search engine what your site is about. When Google’s software knows what you’re selling and where, it knows when to include your website in search results.

Meeting those basic requirements is nothing less than a prerequisite for survival in 2012. You must have an attractive website that the search engines can find, or 47 percent of your potential customers might not even detect you when they go shopping for services like yours.

If your 2012 agenda calls for growth, consider a few more online investments that can connect you with more prospects and help you stand out from the crowd. Start with website enhancements that will make your company more appealing. The top priority is to optimize your company image. Develop a website that reflects so well on your company that prospects will see you as the clear best choice.

Make Your Company the Obvious Choice

A local company can greatly strengthen its appeal by making the website a hub for self-service transactions. Install online applications in the site that enable customers to look up their accounts, place orders, schedule appointments and make payments.

If you can afford to do so, take the site to the next level of appeal and convenience with an online loyalty rewards program, optional e-billing and online scheduling. The same customers who use the Internet to find a local business might also like to do business with you online, rather than by phone. Show how easy it will be for them to do business with you online, and you’ll be more likely to get the account.

Adding informative content and self-service applications will make your website – and hence your company – much more appealing, but website quality is just half the battle: You also need to ensure your site’s outstanding search performance.

Every site needs carefully written SEO that identifies it to the search engines. Your site should be coded to maximize exposure to all your products and services so that a prospect can discover you any time they are searching for any service that you offer.

Raise Your Visibility

The companies that achieve dominance in local search results do so by optimizing their sites thoroughly and then taking extra steps to raise visibility. Publishing a blog and posting on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter can improve your search performance in multiple ways. Your home page can appear closer to the top of the results for relevant local searches, while your social media activities generate additional references in search results. Rather than having one appearance in search results, you could have several and create the appearance of being everywhere.

Another great way to get found online is with pay-per-click advertising. A well-crafted campaign in Google Adwords includes advertisements for all your major products and services, with keywords and phrases to match.

Internet presence should be the top priority for customer recruitment. Consumers’ reliance on the Internet will only increase with each passing year, and any sound investment in your online presence is likely to deliver a solid return.

The Pew Research study also noted that newspapers and word of mouth remain important information sources for consumers seeking local businesses. Once you are satisfied with your Internet presence, consider newspaper advertising and a strong customer referral program to boost sales further.

Richard Rutigliano is President of PriMedia, Inc., a full-service Advertising/Integrated Marketing Communications/New Media firm with offices in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.