Target Local With MerchantCircle

I’m a big fan of MerchantCircle, the largest social network for local businesses, because their site is all about helping local communities.  MerchantCircle offers many benefits to local business owners with free listings and tools to promote their business.  Here is a great interview with the CEO of MerchantCircle, Ben Smith, IV explaining more about their site.

Let me know your thoughts on MerchantCircle!

O2O-Online to Offline: The New Marketing Strategy

Have you heard the term O2O yet?  If you haven’t, you will.  It stands for Online to Offline and it’s the newest strategy in marketing.  It is actually considered to be one of the top trends to shape small businesses in 2011.  While most small businesses have been focusing on getting online this year, the trend next year will be to integrate the online marketing with the offline marketing.  As my awesome Marketing Coach says, “In this high-tech world, people need high-touch.”  She is absolutely right!

The O2O marketing strategy provides a more personal experience by bringing people from your online networks to your offline networks.  This is done by connecting and engaging with people online and then inviting them to your store, a networking event, a Chamber meeting, or even lunch.  I have met many people “in real life” that were online friends or connections.  Some have turned into great friends and some are now clients.

There were many predictions this year about traditional marketing being dead.  While it may have slowed down, it definitely seems to be making a comeback.  People miss seeing people, the handshakes, and real conversations.  Networking groups have increased nationwide, thanks to the popular site Meetup.com.  I’ve always believed that you need a combination of both traditional and technology styles of marketing.  This past year I’ve written about how to establish an online presence for your business and the importance of social media marketing.  Now, it’s time to integrate that with offline meetings and events.  Online and offline marketing will be working together!

So, add the O2O strategy to your marketing plan for 2011 and have fun meeting people. Let me know your thoughts on O2O!

Online Tips for Local Holiday Business

It’s hard to believe that the holidays are right around the corner.  Wow, this year has really flown by!  This year has also brought incredible opportunities for local businesses; the Internet officially went “Local”, the search engines created local directories, local social networking sites were created, and social media is booming.  All of these factors will have an impact on holiday shopping for local businesses!

What will be different this holiday season?

  • People will be sharing about the best deals and their shopping experiences through social media.
  • Recommendations and reviews are going to be a big consideration.  People trust online recommendations from their friends and family, and people in their network.
  • 84% of consumers are expected to be searching online for local products and services during the holiday season.
  • Facebook Fan Pages are very popular right now.  People are looking for and connecting with their favorite businesses on Facebook, which are usually local.  Businesses with Fan Pages will be using them to promote holiday deals.

We all know that holiday shoppers search online for the best deals and gift ideas.  And, more people are now researching products and services online, and then purchasing offline at a local business. What will you do different this year to encourage visitors and increase holiday sales?  Here’s a few ideas:

  • Increase your social media presence; build your networks and schedule the time to increase your activity.
  • Offer something free if they “check-in” at your location on Foursquare.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, just something to entice them.
  • Provide a special discount for Facebook Fans only
  • Create a sale or coupon on MerchantCircle
  • Email a newsletter, include pictures of holiday items and a special discount code

Be different, be creative and benefit from the new online opportunities!  Please share your ideas!

How MerchantCircle Benefits Local Businesses

MerchantCircle for Local Business

Social media is definitely a great marketing medium for businesses today.  While most of the buzz is about Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and YouTube, there is another great social networking site that you may not have heard about.

MerchantCircle is a social networking site specifically for local businesses.  Their focus is connecting local businesses to help build real relationships.  In addition to increasing your business’s online presence, here’s a few of MerchantCircle’s other benefits:

1. Free Listing

MerchantCircle offers local businesses a generous free listing that includes a detailed business description, story, products and/or services, map, offers, and pictures.  That is a lot of information for free!

2. Promotional Tools

MerchantCircle features many tools to use in promoting your business online. Your free account includes a blog, newsletter, a coupon, sale, promotion creator, and customer reviews.  When you create a blog post, coupon, sale or promotion, your network is notified and it is also included in the weekly MerchantCircle newsletter for your city, “Neighborhood Times”.  Additionally, this information will continue to be included in the newsletter week after week, keeping your business in front of potential customers.  I highly recommend utilizing the free blog within your account for additional search engine exposure.

3. Local Search Visibility

Did you know that 84% of people search for businesses based on their location? By creating a listing with MerchantCircle, your business will appear in more location-based search engine results. MerchantCircle is extremely search engine friendly and every feature added to your listing increases your local search visibility.

4.  Networking Opportunities

Within MerchantCircle, you have the ability to network with other business owners both in your city and other cities.  Creating an online referral network benefits your business by increased visitors and potential customers to your website.  The best way to find other members is to use the search function, then invite them to your network.  MerchantCircle also suggests members to add to your network. You’ll be surprised at how many people in your city are already members!

5. MerchantCircle is Growing!

MerchantCircle has over 1 million members, and they’ve only been around for less than 4 years. They are the largest social network for local business owners and have begun establishing partnerships with other companies to help spread the word.

I encourage you to read more about them at www.merchantcircle.com.  Then, sign up, create your free listing, utilize the promotion tools, and enjoy the benefits!  Don’t forget to add me to your network 😉

Creating A Local Business Listing On Google Places

Google Places has made significant improvements over the last few months to help local business owners reach more potential customers.   If you haven’t claimed your local business listing on Google Places yet, you can do that here www.google.com/places.  These listings are free and appear in Google search results when people search for local products and services.

In your listing, use as many keywords for your business as possible in the Description and Additional Details fields.  All of this information is search engine friendly, which means that the search engines will scan for these words in searches.  Choose the provided Categories that most closely match your type of business.  Then, create custom Categories specific to your city and business. Upload photos of your products, storefront, logo, etc.  If you have a YouTube account, enhance your listing by including the URL of videos associated with your business.  Other great features include a Coupon for visitors, a Review section for customers, and a Post section to announce specials, events or new products.

Potential customers will review your Google Places business listing when it appears in search results, so think of it as a one-page website for your business….make it interesting and include a lot of information!  The video below will help you get started.

Small Businesses: Just Get Started With Social Media

Small businesses have an incredible opportunity with social media, yet many are still not taking advantage of it.  Some of the things I hear from small business owners about social media are:  they’re unsure what it is and how to use it, they don’t understand why they need to be involved, and they’re intimidated by it.  All understandable, but today’s business world has changed and social media is a big part of that change.  If you own a business, it is no longer an option to be involved with social media.  Here’s just a few reasons why:

  • Consumers have embraced social media and are using it to find products and services, and asking for recommendations from their social media friends/followers/networks
  • If consumers don’t find you on social media, they will find your competitors
  • You need to know what is being said about your business and monitor its reputation
  • Consumers want to be engaged with and marketed to through social media

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with social media, where to start, which networks to be involved in, what to post, etc.  Small business owners need to think of social media as a marketing medium. What do you consider first with other types of marketing?  The cost…social media is free.  What do you want to accomplish, more visitors to your website, more visitors to your business?  Determine your objectives and goals.  Then plan a strategy, just as you would with any other type of marketing.  Where is your target market, and what social media networks are they using?  That is where you want to start.  Just start with one social media network and get familiar with how it works, how to interact, how to promote your business.  Then add another one and do the same thing. Yes, there will be a learning curve with each social media network, so allow yourself the time….it is an investment in your business.  Just remember that the key to social media success is to be active and build relationships with people.

Don’t let being overwhelmed and confused about social media stop you from getting involved…and missing opportunities.  Just get started  🙂

Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

3 Online Essentials for Local Business

Most local business owners have a hard time understanding why it is so important for them to have an online presence.  After all, they advertise in the local paper and Yellow Pages, why do they need a website?  Well, the simple truth is that’s where the people are.  When was the last time you actually picked up the Yellow Pages to find a local business?  Chances are you went to your computer or mobile phone and Googled what you were looking for.

If your business doesn’t have an online presence, you are losing potential customers.  People want to quickly be able to find information about a product or service they are looking for.  And, people are more likely to shop with a business that is found online because they have information about them.  Simply put, an online presence is a must for today’s business.

These are three essentials to help you establish an online presence for your local business:

1)  Optimized Website – A basic website that provides information about your business and its products or services.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate with videos or lots of photos; it just has to be informative.  Also, your website needs to be search engine optimized.  This means that your website should include keywords and terms available for the search engines to pick up and include in the search results.

2)  Local Search Engine Listings – These are free listings by Bing, Google, and Yahoo and allow you to provide a lot of information about your business.  Be sure to utilize all of the features, upload a photo of your business, and create a coupon.  Potential customers will review these listings when they appear in the search results, so make them interesting and include a lot of information!  Here are the links to each:

http://www.bing.com/local/
http://www.google.com/places
http://www.local.yahoo.com

3)  Facebook Fan Page – This is the newest trend and quickly proving to be an essential.  Facebook has literally become a search engine in and of itself.  With over 400 million active users, people are searching for local businesses within Facebook. A Fan Page is a great way to promote your business, it’s free to set up, and you’re probably already familiar with how to use Facebook 😉

Here’s a great quote that really puts all of this into perspective!

“Over time the single greatest opportunity is to rule the local search landscape.  20-30 year olds go straight to their mobile browser or Google Maps to find everything — shoes, food, insurance, a dentist, you name it.  If they don’t find you by doing that, then you don’t exist.”
John Jantsch, Founder of Duct Tape Marketing

Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

Internet Marketing For Local Businesses

Internet marketing for local businesses is a significant part of an overall marketing strategy.  In addition to traditional marketing methods such as local magazines, newspapers, or direct mail, add some internet marketing to the mix.  Both types of marketing have a purpose and both are successful.  People still subscribe to magazines and read the newspaper (especially in rural areas), everyone still receives mail, and practically everyone has internet access.

Now that the internet has officially gone local, there are numerous opportunities to market your business online, increase its exposure, and reach an entirely new audience.  Internet marketing consists of many different mediums; blogs, articles, e-zines or newsletters, social media, press releases, and videos.  Facebook and Google ads are another popular medium of internet marketing.  Utilizing these mediums will increase traffic to your website, visitors to your business, and allow you stay in contact with your customers.  Some interesting statistics about internet usage for local shopping:

  • 70% of U.S. households use the internet to research information when shopping for local services and products
  • 84% of online searches are for local businesses and services
  • Google Local Business search engine has an average of more than 50 million unique visitors every month
  • 82% of local online searchers follow up offline via an in-store visit, phone call or purchase

These statistics show the growth and importance of including internet marketing in your overall marketing efforts.  The key benefits of internet marketing are it is no cost/low cost, easy to implement, targeted, and highly measurable.  As with any type of marketing, you need to determine your target market, develop a strategy, and measure your return on investment.  When people call or visit your business, ask them “How did you hear about us?”  Find out how people are finding you, so you know where your marketing dollars are working and where they are not.

I appreciate your feedback, so please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

Get Listed and Get Found

The slogan “Get Listed and Get Found” used to apply to an ad in the Yellow Pages.  Those days are long gone and so is the way we locate local businesses.   People search online and local businesses now have more opportunities than ever to get found.  In addition to the three major search engines, Google, Bing, and Yahoo offering local listings, there are other local online directories that are proving to be a must for your business.  Localeze, Yelp, InfoUSA, and City Search listings increase the online visibility of your business.   Merchant Circle is also a great place to set up a profile and create a listing; they frequently appear in search engine results.  All of these local online directories are indexed by the search engines, free, simple to set up, and will open the door of your business to many potential customers.

Here are few tips for your local business listings:

  • Include the entire name of your business
  • List a local telephone number instead of a toll-free number
  • List a physical address instead of a PO Box
  • Use keywords in description and title
  • Upload photos of your product, your storefront, or yourself
  • Utilize the free coupon feature

So set aside some time to create your listings, be as detailed as possible, and get your business found!