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"As Seen Online" -- Local Businesses Finally Figure Out the Internet (and Newspapers, Yellow Pages May Feel the Pinch)

A catering company in a suburban Connecticut town eliminates its Yellow Pages advertising, which once ran to $12,000 a year, in favor of promoting its website. For a growing number of small businesses, local Internet marketing is proving cheaper, and more successful, than traditional local advertising.

People have talked forever, it seems, about how consumers are searching online for local products and services, and how this will siphon millions in advertising dollars away from print Yellow Pages, newspapers, and other local media. If the story of one caterer, who axed his $12,000 per year Yellow Pages advertising budget in favor of local internet marketing, is anything to go by, the worm may finally have turned.

As recently as 2004, clients of, located in Norwalk, CT, were leery of spending anything in the online sphere. Small Business Online's clients are, for the most part, local businesses serving a local customer base: lawyers, realtors, caterers, small retailers, sailing schools, chiropractors, lumber yards, to give a sample. In 2004, most were happy to get a search engine-optimized website online, and leave it at that. By 2005, a marked change had occurred. Success in the online sphere, for these local businesses, led to more investment in Internet marketing, which led in turn to more success. Examples: the caterer who received so much new business from the Internet that he needed to hire a new employee. A furniture retailer, with a bricks and mortar store, who now gets about 90% of his new business via the Internet. A lumber supplier who is selling $20,000 flooring jobs spurred by his website.

The siphon effect? Two out of these three businesses have already eliminated virtually all of their print Yellow Pages spending – in one case, representing a $12,000 a year loss to the Yellow Pages industry. Their new Internet marketing campaigns are costing these businesses less than their old Yellow Pages or newspaper advertising. The caterer who added a new employee is now spending about $500-600 a month on Internet marketing – the equivalent of a modest Yellow Pages ad or a single newspaper ad. For this, he is getting a steady stream of visitors to his website, with a successful conversion rate into paying customers. For these small businesses, local Internet marketing is proving both cheaper, and more successful, than traditional local advertising.

A new professional niche is emerging to support this growth: the local Internet marketing consultant, or expert on local search marketing, as it is sometimes called, who can put it all together for the local businesses. Such an expert is essential. The field is strewn with ill-advised offers and products from companies promising to simplify the process and bring tons of new customers to the local business. Some examples of "get rich quick" schemes for internet marketing include mass submissions to search engines (useless); affiliate linking schemes that will boost search engine rankings (this one may result in a website actually being dropped by a search engine); "guaranteed" search engine placement (no-one can guarantee this) to name just a few. Also questionable are "packaged leads" whereby a vendor provides traffic to a website for a flat fee. Successful Internet marketing depends on an integrated approach, from lead acquisition to sales conversion. It is useless to drive traffic to a poorly-designed, single webpage. The business ends up paying for leads that don't convert into customers. Contrary to what some marketers may say, the online space can be complex, and a local business must maximize its Internet marketing with a careful strategy.

Done properly, local Internet marketing views each business as unique, and creates an affordable, ongoing marketing plan that fits the business. Successful elements of the mix include such things as optimization of the website both for search engines and for customer conversion; carefully-planned pay-per-click campaigns, that deliver quality, rather than quantity, of leads; online publicity; appropriate linking campaigns; submission to local and vertical directories; special website promotions; customer email-marketing, and more. The secret is in getting the mix just right for each business, and maintaining an ongoing program to keep the business's website front and center before the local audience. When carefully-planned and executed it can bring big dividends to a small business.

For many local businesses, the question is no longer whether they should begin to market in the local online space, but when. Currently, as Neil Street, sales and marketing director of Small Business Online sees it, incredible opportunities are being missed, as consumers search online for local products and services, but the businesses do not have an effective online presence to serve those customers. But as success stories such as the caterer's, or the furniture retailer's, begin to spread, that gap will close, and significant advertising dollars may soon shift to local online marketing.

About the Author
Neil Street is co-founder of Small Business Online, an internet marketing and web design company, based in Norwalk, CT. Email Neil at Small Business Online or call him at 203.299.0889