As the local component of the online space continues to heat up, it is starting to get very crowded. There is Google, Facebook, Groupon, foursquare, Gowalla, Yahoo, Bing, Yelp, IYP, YellowBook, Merchant Circle, InsiderPages etc, etc., etc.—the list goes on and on. As with anything in life, if there are a lot of options, you are either happy for the choices or confused and frustrated by too many options. In the online space, especially as it relates to SMBs (small and medium businesses), frustration and confusion are often the reactions to just how much can be done online. The real trouble is, however, with the limited time and resources that most have, they need to “cut to the chase” and go to the place where they can get the most bang for their buck.
In the local Internet marketing space there are two real category breaks in the local game. On one side you have local services. This would be the Facebook Places, Groupon, Yelp, foursquare kind of sites that offer specific offers to the SMB to use. These are extremely important, but are second to (for now) the other category: local search.
I say right now because Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is making bold predictions about the future with the social graph (which he wants to control) and the implication that search will be passed as the most important source for information.
Personally, I think that is great fodder for the press and necessary talk from someone positioning himself as a visionary in the next generation of the Web but I don’t think it is going to happen, because most people still follow up on recommendations from family and friends with their own research. In the future, it will be normal to have a supposedly impartial view (search) and a highly emotional and personally invested view (social).
So knowing all of this, I began to wonder what the average SMB should be doing when it comes to local search. Of course they need to be involved, but where and to what extent?
This is where the confusion and frustration comes in. Should the SMB be in all engines to cover all bases? After all, between Bing and Yahoo that represents 27% of total US searches. With Google hovering near 70% of the total search market and having arguably the more sophisticated Internet user as their “customer,” should all the effort go there?
My belieif is that the SMB should concentrate on Google only. I realize that there is more of the market out there that could be reached through Bing and Yahoo, but at what cost? The time and effort needed to manage three different options needs to be weighed by the potential return by the average SMB. (Yes I know that Bing and Yahoo share organic and paid search results, but there are nuances that create differences.)
Because most SMB’s don’t have the luxury of staff dedicated to these efforts or even the luxury of having first hand knowledge of best practices, they need to pick and choose where to place their valuable time and limited budgets. When asked by any SMB to make a choice, I tell them to concentrate on Google and Google only.
I do this because I am a realist. Although I work in the Internet industry, I can see just how poorly we present our services to the regular guy and gal who make up roughly 95% of the businesses in the US. I realize that Internet marketing is not intuitive and it is a grind to keep up with the innovation even when it’s your full time vocation. Knowing that, it is completely unreasonable to talk to the SMB as if they are on par with the Internet Retailer 500 crowd. They are not and they never will be. They need to focus where they will get the most impact. That’s it. End of story.
As a result, it is important to help them eliminate the frustration and confusion. For my part, I am telling any SMB reading this post that it is perfectly fine to concentrate your efforts on Google local Internet marketing and to leave Bing and Yahoo alone. I realize that you might be inclined to think that you are leaving opportunity on the table by doing this. You are.
My question is, “At what cost?” Is the extra time and money needed to cover that 27% of the market going to reap returns that are positive? Are you going to get a few new sales but in the end realize that the cost to get those new sales was disproportionally high as compared to other methods?
As an SMB, you need to make decisions every day that are not about whether you WANT to do something but rather about whether you CAN or even SHOULD do something. In a perfect world, like the one the Internet marketing industry paints, you should be able to do everything all the time, and rather easily, too. That’s just not true.
So, I say that it’s OK (and maybe even prudent) to focus on Google only, for local Internet marketing. I know there will be a lot of disagreement from industry pundits, but that’s fine. It’s the pundits that promote this unrealistic view of SMB options in the Internet space to begin with, so right out of the gate we don’t always see eye to eye anyway.
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