In the search engine game, a small business can find themselves competing against major businesses and big brands for online attention. So how does a small business stand out amongst a Googol of web pages?
Build it and they will come. It may have worked for Kevin Costner In Field of Dreams but it doesn’t work in the world of digital marketing.
You can build the best web site with the best content that showcases great products. But getting customers to visit is a whole different story.
With a Googol of pages out there in cyberspace (and that’s not a typo) web sites are like needles in a very large haystack.
Once you’ve built a site, and let’s assume it’s a good one that is optimised for search engines, it takes time and a whole lot of patience to get the word out there that your site exists.
If your business or brand isn’t a household name, people aren’t going to visit your site directly. So being found means having to compete with better ranked sites in organic search, and bigger advertising budgets for search engine visibility.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that small and medium business are often time poor, and don’t necessarily have an endless marketing budget. So spending hours managing search engine marketing isn’t a goer. And online advertising can get real expensive real quick.
Maybe that’s why, even with broadband Internet and email now ubiquitous, a large number of small and medium size businesses still don’t have web sites.
When Localist was ‘born’ as a new local media provider in the Auckland market, the concept was to be in partnership with small and medium sized businesses who wanted to acquire more customers and/or promote their services to local markets.
The Localist proposition itself was formed around the concept of ‘localism’ – that people like to support their local communities - and that the benefits of doing so are both economic and social.
In the early days, a couple of light bulbs went on around how Localist could support SMEs (small to medium enterprises) by providing better value advertising.
The second was that the simple and spontaneous act of ‘sharing’ had the potential to change the face of marketing. Inside social media, the audience decides what’s good and what isn’t. Small insignificant pieces of content can go viral and reach an audience of millions. Inside social media you don’t pay for clicks and eyeballs – you earn attention.
All at once, social media is the great leveler. It’s one of the few environments where a small business really can compete with a big one. If you know what to do and the right buttons to push.
One piece of research shows that 78% of consumers trust what friends and families say about brands compared to 14% who trust what the brands say about themselves.
It’s a statistic businesses can’t ignore when deciding whether to embrace or be fearful of what is said about them online – through comments, feedback, ratings and review engines.
When Localist launches its digital media service in the next month, educating and supporting local businesses to use online and social media will be a key theme. And effort will be devoted to encouraging businesses to embrace digital media rather than worrying about the negatives.
Within the Localist web portal and mobile application, small businesses can have a presence for free, or pay a nominal monthly fee to use their page like a full business web site.
In this respect, Localist works more like a social media that an online directory.
Businesses can post news about their business, promote offers and sales, add updates and images to their pages, then share the content across facebook and twitter automatically. Great fresh content also has a better chance of being picked up and indexed on Google.
The analogy or metaphor is that you have to scatter not one but a hundred little breadcrumb trails to get someone to visit your gingerbread house.
The Localist search engine itself is based around relevancy – much the same as Google. However it also rewards businesses with great user feedback and those who regularly post new content – using a quality score to place those search results first.
That means businesses have to be committed to spending small amounts of time daily feeding their online presence. But it’s an investment of energy and enthusiasm in talking to potential customers, not an exercise in how much money to spend trying to buy traffic.
Localist will launch its new community web portal and mobile app. in the next month. It also publishes print guides across Auckland promoting local trade. Call 0800 030 030 for more information and a free online listing.
Sheryl Nichols is a former journalist and marketer specializing in small business strategy and start-up ventures. She is now Head of Marketing and Communications for Localist – a new local media business in Auckland. Localist is a wholly owned subsidiary of New Zealand Post.