Connecting Locally Through the Web

While the Internet offers the ability to reach out to audiences that are literally around the world, not all businesses on the Internet are really interested in audiences around the world–or even around the country. In fact, there are many businesses that are interested in connecting with local markets. An online discussion recently focused on whether there is a place for local marketers on the World Wide Web. I would say that there certainly is.

In fact, one of the unfortunate missteps that I often see businesses make – especially small businesses – is failing to establish a web presence. The sad truth is that, today, if you’re not on the web you don’t exist. Even the “older crowd” – those over 65 – are now highly engaged online according to Pew Research.

Suppose you own a small restaurant whose market represents about a 30-mile radius from your brick and mortar location. Suppose I’m a consumer within the 30-mile radius and I’d like to find a new place to eat. Where am I going to look? Well, again according to Pew in research done in 2011, more than half turn to the Internet.

No, you don’t need to be attempting to appeal to a broad national or global market to get value from a web presence. You should be taking steps to connect locally online. Does that mean you need to have an expensive and extensive web site? Not necessarily, although a web site is probably the best way to establish a presence. There are other options however:

– A Facebook business page. It’s free and relatively easy to establish.

– Listings in directories or on other web sites – your local Chamber of Commerce for instance (although, even if you show up here, if people can’t click through to your web page you’re not really well positioned against your competitors who do have a web page).

– A blog. Can also be free through online resources like WordPress and, in fact, it’s possible to use WordPress to create a web site – again at no cost.

A couple of important points:

1) You need to have a presence online.

2) Whatever presence you choose to establish, make sure that it is consistent and supportive of your brand. If your restaurant is an upscale, five-star restaurant, you want whatever you do online to reflect that level of quality.

With web sites or any social media activities – or any form of communication, actually – be sure to provide relevant, *valuable* information for your target audience. And, continue to do that on an ongoing basis. Think like your customers, or intended visitors. What kind of information is important to them and will be important on an ongoing basis? What questions do they likely have (based on your existing interactions with them you may already have some solid insights)? What knowledge/expertise can you offer for them that they can’t easily get from others – or that you represent the most reliable, trusted resource for?

I strongly believe that even small, local businesses need to have a strong web presence. In the “old days,” if you weren’t in the yellow pages you were invisible to your potential customers. Today, the same is true of the web.  The key is to appear in search results when someone goes online looking for what you have to offer. Again, if you don’t come up in those search results you quite frankly do not exist.


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