For the purposes of this article, there are three categories of online service business:
- Businesses offering services that can only be delivered within a certain range (e.g. startup ISPs)
- Businesses offering services where distance isn’t a factor (e.g. freelance coders)
- Businesses that offer both types of services (e.g. design firms)
This article focuses mostly on the first type, but there’s some advice in here for everyone.
For example, no matter what type of service you offer, the first step to marketing it is to identify your target audience as precisely as possible, whether it’s through a buyer profile or just careful analysis of your analytics data. This will dictate where you should be looking for them and what methods work best to find them.
The second step is to register your business with Google Places. Yahoo Local and Bing will also help. Why? That brings us to our first step…
Reviews are crucial for service businesses, especially location-limited ones. We’ve done a full article on this, so make sure to check it out. But here’s the short version:
Ask your customers to review you, either online or in your business-related documentation such as emails or receipts, improve your customer service to make sure your reviews will represent your business’s best face, and interact with reviewers, making sure to address the concerns of negative ones as professionally as possible. This will show the public that you’re a business that cares about customers’ opinions.
And once you’ve signed up with the list of sites seen above, I encourage you to keep looking for more. The more review sites you have a presence on, the more places where your business’s name, address, and phone number will be listed. This is great for for many reasons, which we’ll now delve into further.
Local SEO is one of the best ways for location-limited businesses to connect with people in their area. This is another subject we’ve done an entire article on, which I also recommend you read, but for now, here’s the abridged version:
First, you need to make sure that your name, address, and phone number are displayed in a prominent place on your website, preferably in a header that appears over all your pages. And in every rendition of your contact information that you use elsewhere on the internet, make sure that the spellings and abbreviations are consistent.
Your URLs, image tags, and sales copy should also use place names or keywords that identify where you are.
Many small businesses put the majority of their focus into their organic search rankings, but pay-per-click advertising is still a perfectly valid way for a service business to bring in views. As Search Engine Land’s Chris Smith explains, there are 1,700 accountants in New York City, but nowhere near enough space on a search engine’s first page for all of them to rank well. PPC is how the others can make up for that deficit.
Now, if you’re just starting out with SEO, paid search can also start to bring in traffic until the SEO measures you’re taking have time to take effect. And even afterwards, PPC can make a great supplement to SEO. However, take note of the “local” aspect. When you’re running a location-limited business, any money you accidentally throw at people outside your area is wasted, so geotargeting your ads is essential to making sure your limited advertising spend goes to the right audience.
Google offers a wide range of ways for you to select the places you’re targeting, and will show you how many people you’ll reach by targeting those areas. You can also select a distance radius around the location that you’re targeting—this is known as “proximity targeting.” Or, exclude certain regions from your search that you don’t expect to be profitable. Take full advantage of all those features.
Finally, make sure your local PPC ads are mobile-optimized, as customers searching from their phones are usually out of the house and ready to head somewhere and spend money.
Local Social Media Marketing
One of the best things about social media is that so much of it is location-based, making it excellent for getting in touch with people in your area. Facebook marketing locally isn’t that different from Facebook marketing globally—with the exception that Facebook, like Google, allows you to geotarget your ads. You can also target people who’ve brought from you in the past and offer discounts and incentives to locals.
When it comes to local Twitter marketing, your best friend is the advanced search function, which has a built-in location option. Using it, you can search only for people tweeting about topics related to your business in your area, which is particularly useful for B2B businesses, and instantly get a conversation started with them.
One social network that truly shines on the local level is Foursquare. On Foursquare, users “check in” to a business on a mobile device, rate it, and leave mini-reviews and “tips” on the best services it offers. Businesses that [receive a lot of check-ins can be featured on their city’s front page.
However, that’s not the main thing you should set your sights on: some business owners monitor who is checking into other businesses in their area, then target their marketing efforts at them, often going out of their way to start direct conversations with the ones who are most active on social media. However, no matter what you’re hoping to get out of it, completing a Foursquare profile is vital for businesses that are interested in attracting more local traffic.
Even more than with other kinds of e-businesses, demonstrating expertise is very important for service businesses. If someone’s going to hire you for an expensive hourly job, they need a demonstration that you know what you’re doing.
Blogging admittedly offers more benefit to businesses with no location limitations, since it’s far more likely that most of your readers will just be curious people from out of state who are looking for more information on your product. However, when combined with local SEO and local social media marketing (see above), it can be just as powerful of a tool for holding the locals’ interest as well.
Videos can help take your customers behind the scenes of your business. It can also be great for demonstrating just what it is you do and how well it works, especially if it’s something unique or interesting to watch. In addition, video is unique as a form of marketing because it requires your customer’s full attention.
There’s one social network we didn’t talk about, but it might be the most powerful one of all: Meetup. Despite the unparalleled opportunities for online marketing right now, the best way to get the word out about a business is still just going out and talking to people about it in real life.
So look up business meetups and conventions, hand out business cards, tell friends to tell friends, and if you feel there’s something special about your business that makes it newsworthy, reach out to local news outlets and let them know what that is. Word-of-mouth is still the best marketing there is. However, the arsenal of tools listed above definitely won’t hurt, either.
Any questions about further ways to promote your service business? Suggestions for other ways? Let us know in the comments section.
Image: Selena N.B.H.