However ubiquitous the internet is, people still enjoy going to their local stores. Maybe it’s the local comic book store that serves as the nexus of a graphic novel-oriented subculture. Maybe it’s a boutique clothing store that mothers have been taking their daughters to for time immemorial. Maybe it’s the best homemade ice cream store in town.

If you’re a small business that is well-known in your community, gets a lot of business from word-of-mouth recommendations, and draws interest from foot traffic, it’s tempting to ignore digital marketing altogether. But there is no reason to choose between traditional marketing methods and digital marketing. Small businesses can and should employ both methods to find new customers and keep connected with loyal patrons in their community.

Local Marketing the Digital Way

When most people think of digital marketing, they think of the internet’s ability to give even the smallest business global reach with its message. But if you’re a small business with a physical store, expanding your reach to Tierra del Fuego or Timbuktu may not make sense. Instead of sending out a marketing beacon into the wide world, however, your business can instead utilize digital marketing to focus tightly on your immediate community and existing customers, surgically targeting your message to locals and those in the vicinity of your business.

  • Smart phone usage has had a significant role in the rise of local marketing campaigns. In 2014, for the first time since the internet began being used by consumers, more online searches were conducted using mobile devices than computers. Which means, if your company website isn’t optimized for mobile devices, you are likely losing out on some potential customers.
  • A great way to take advantage of smartphone users is by offering promotions and discounts through check-in apps like Foursquare.You can offer sales directed to first-time customers, loyalty specials to incentivize repeat visits, and flash specials to increase patronage at certain times of the day.
  • Location-specific search services like Google My Business and Bing Places make it simple for local businesses to be found on search engines by adding their business information for users to easily find. These services work by allowing business owners to add their company name, logos, phone number, location, business hours, photos, and more. Then, the tools optimize the listings to ensure they are placed in front of customers searching online for the products and services you offer within a designated service area or particular location.
  • Business review sites like Yelp and Google Reviews also allow local businesses to build their credibility and reliability to attract even more customers. In particular, many rating sites are accessed via smartphone, which allows users to filter results by their location.Of course the quality of your product or service will be the key factor in your ratings, but don’t be passive when it comes to review sites.Decide which ratings sites will likely be a reference for potential customers.Then, ask your best clients – those that use your service frequently or provide referrals – to take the time to review your business on that site.Having a robust presence on ratings sites makes your business visible to out of town visitors or tourists who aren’t familiar with your local reputation.
  • Pay-per-click advertising can be highly effective for targeting nearby potential customers.AdWords and Facebook both offer features that you allow you to display ads only to users within a predefined radius of your business.These pay-per-click platforms thus offer a digital analogue of placing ads in a local paper or handing out flyers.
  • Hashtags have saturated every corner of our digital platforms. Whether you are using Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for your business, many social networking sites implement the use of hashtags for categorizing and searching. Hashtags can include both general and specific tags, which makes them useful for targeting both hyperlocal and general audiences. A local distillery, for example, might want to use a hashtag associated with both their spirit of choice as well as the local drinking scene when posting on Twitter. A family-owned restaurant could upload photos to Instagram of their latest dishes with a tag for both the meal itself as well as the region it was inspired by. A small-town realtor sponsoring the local Little League team would publish a post on Facebook with a hashtag for the team name as well as the event title.

As consumers increasingly rely on online reviews as a proxy for reliability, small businesses take a risk if they don’t cultivate a positive online presence.Websites like Yelp are now the virtual version of word-of-mouth recommendations. Searching for “neighborhood diner” on your phone has replaced wandering a neighborhood looking for a place to sit down and eat. 90% of consumers use review websites to help in their buying decisions and a meager presence on a rating site coupled with lackluster reviews may take a toll on your business’ reputation. While word-of-mouth recommendations and good-old-fashioned location continue to be powerful drivers for the success of many small businesses, small businesses should not underestimate the importance of maintaining a comparably positive reputation online.