Before going further, we should describe what we mean by local businesses. Some have asked us, “isn’t every business local to some place?” The answer is yes, however, for this discussion, a local business sells products or services to customers or clients in their local geographic area. In contrast, an e-commerce site that sells products to customers statewide or nationwide does not fit the definition of a local business.

To help clarify the search marketing and advertising options available to local businesses we’ll divide them into two categories: 1) partially automated search packages and 2) fully customized search marketing services. TopSide offers both options, and we are writing about them candidly from our own experience.

Partially Automated Local Search Marketing Packages

This search marketing service typically combines a web page or microsite with advertising traffic from multiple search engines for one fixed, monthly price. Depending on the provider, there could be other sources of web traffic, ranging from natural search traffic to contextual ads included in the package. Local search packages typically have a low cost of entry (starting at a few hundred dollars per month) and do not provide the option for lots of ongoing changes to the overall search program.

Since many packages include a web page or microsite, this is the choice for businesses that:

  • Don’t yet have a website
  • Have problems with their current website such as poor conversion of web traffic to buyers
  • Want or need an additional online presence

The type of features that typically are not available in the packages include frequent changes in monthly ad budget, different geotargeting or changes in the geographic territory of who can view the ads, testing or changing landing pages, etc. The packages cost less primarily because there is less hands-on customization required in the building and ongoing optimization of the settings. The automation allows features that are otherwise not affordable to a local business.

We won’t mention any companies by name, but one issue to beware of is the bundling of offline advertising you have already done too much of (or otherwise don’t want) with the online search marketing that nearly every local business currently needs.

Customized Search Marketing

In contrast to the partially automated package above, customized search marketing is suited to businesses that need lots of changes and manual attention to the settings that control their ads. Examples of these changes include regular changes to the monthly ad budget (up or down), changes in the geographic location in which ads can be seen (by IP address), changes or testing of landing pages, etc. Although bid management tools may be used to reduce some routine manual actions, custom services require a great deal more hands-on time to build and maintain.

How to Compare Local Advertising Options

If the criteria listed above do not provide you with sufficient direction on which type of search program is right for your business, then comparing the actual cost or estimates of the total cost per lead or sale is the best first step. Be sure to count online leads and incoming phone calls. Cost per lead (and of course, the percentage of those leads that covert to paying customers) is a way to measure or compare any direct marketing effort. If you have decided that a local search package is for you, then use total cost per lead to compare one provider of local packages with another. We often see local business owners put too much focus on the process details and not enough on this simple but critical measure of results.