By Reynaldo Villar
Yes, it’s true. The Internet has brought the WHOLE world to your doorstep. But what if you only want to focus on local prospects?
That’s a challenge many entrepreneurs and business owners have faced as they’ve tried to establish a website presence. You know that your website can be an effective marketing tool. But prospects from states, counties or parts of the country you don’t service could just as well be from Madagascar.
You can’t really filter out the rest of the world from your website. But I’ve got five FREE tips for you to attract more local web shoppers.
All five rely on various elements of search engine optimization (SEO), today’s big Internet buzzword. But for many entrepreneurs, SEO is just a tekkie term for fine-tuning your website so that search engines will rank you higher when prospects are searching the Internet for what you sell.
But what if you don’t want to attract EVERYONE shopping the Internet? This could lead to many unqualified prospects. You want people most likely to become your clients, especially local or statewide prospects, to come to your website.
Just like you need to keep a car tuned-up with the right type of spark plugs, your website tune-up requires the right keywords. Keywords drive search engines to your website, and they need to be on your website at the right places.
For example, if you’re a health insurance agent in Tampa, FL, you need to have the keywords “health insurance,” “Tampa” and “Florida.” But you’ll also need to include the keywords for “Hillsborough County” and other cities and metropolitan areas you service.
Here’s a checklist of how to use keywords to fine-tune your website:
- Make a list.
Take the time to jot down the keywords that people in the area looking for health insurance will type into Google when they do their search. These are your basic keywords. They could include:
- Name of the product you sell
- Your County (or counties)
- Your State(s)
- Keyword tag.
Once you have your keywords, you need to add them as “HTML keyword meta tags” — another tekkie term that refers to part of the webpage code that you don’t see but search engines will. If you hire others to make your website, have them add those keywords to your meta tags. If you use a web editor like Microsoft FrontPage, select “Properties” from “File” menu, and the Properties dialog box will allow you to type in keywords yourself.
Another entry in the “Properties” dialog box is the page title. If you look at the top left border of your Internet browser, you’ll always see the title of the page you’re on. Many don’t bother to put anything more than “Home Page” or “About Us” in the title. Try to add two or three of your big keywords into your title. For example, if you’re a Sacramento life insurance agent, try using a home page title like “ABC Insurance the life insurance expert of Sacramento.”
- Page copy.
Google and other search engines may ignore keywords that are only in the Meta tags. So you need to make sure that your keywords appear in the body of your page. When you edit your text, look to see where you can add in the keywords without destroying your message and writing style. If possible, you should also add the major keywords in your headers and subheaders.
- So don’t just say “Welcome to my website” – change it to “Shop for your Sacramento Health Insurance Plan right here”
I also recommend that you use the search engines to check out how you currently appear to online shoppers. Type in the word “health insurance” and the name of your state or metropolitan area; then see how you rank.
Don’t be discouraged if you have to click back to page 57 to find your website. SEO is a long, detailed process – you often need at least 6 months to start seeing results and you need to constantly tweak.
And don’t forget about the page’s description property!
If you’ve ever used a search engine, you’ll notice that most entries have a brief description. Many descriptions don’t make any sense, because many people don’t bother including a description on their pages.
Don’t leave it to chance. Compose a page description for at least your home page, if not for all of your pages.
This page description should include as many of your keywords as possible — and ALL of your most important keywords. Like the page title, the page description is also a Meta tag that can be accessed in the Properties dialog box of your web editor.
Unfortunately, many search engines only include about 25 to 30 words for the description entry. It can be tough to write complete sentences that describe your site and still have all of your major keywords. But you have to try.
Local Online Directories
Google’s big innovation was to use links to rank web pages; and the number and quality of the sites linking to your website is still a big part of your page ranking.
So how do you get quality sites to link to you? And how do you use these links to drive local prospects to your site?
The easiest way is by getting your website listed in local and regional online directories. These directories are often free, although some may require that you add a reciprocal link to their site. If you have a link page, that’s a good place to put these outgoing links.
Where do you find these online directories? Just use Google. For example, if you are a Sacramento agent, search for Bay-area and Sacramento directories of health insurance agents. If you’re targeting the entire state, look for California directories, as well as directories in other metro areas.
Many of these directories allow you to add a link to your website. If they allow you to add a description, make sure to include your major keywords.
This will require you to do a little web surfing and send out a few emails to the directory managers. But it’s free advertising. For example, searching for “Directory Sacramento Health Insurance” will lead you to the free business listing service of the Sacramento Business Journal and SacBusiness.com.
But watch out! There are also scary places out there called ‘link farms’ which were designed to try to create thousands of instant links to your site. It worked for a while, but once Google got a hold of them, any sites linked from there can be banned from Google rankings for participating in them.
To avoid that hassle, make sure the website seems legitimate, and the pages have a good “Page Rank” value. A “Page Rank” is a value score that Google assigns to pages based on several factors, including usefulness of content (not spammy), and quality of inbound links. You can see your “Page Rank” by downloading the Google Tool bar from www.google.com.
Local Banner & Cross-Marketing Exchanges
Online advertising, especially banner ads, can be expensive. But local banner exchanges can give you access to free advertising on third-party websites where you can target local prospects.
Unfortunately, most banner exchanges are more national or Internet-wide in scope. But you’re not limited to these third parties to exchange banner ads.
If you can’t find a local banner ad exchange, you should consider creating a local ad exchange of your own.
It’s fairly easy. You begin by gathering other business owners or agents (who already have websites) and creating your own banner exchange network. As you pick your partners, you’ll want to avoid potential competitors and rivals. Instead, you’ll want to recruit complementary or at least non-competitors. For example, if you’re a mortgage broker, you’ll want to contact and recruit local travel agents, dentists, insurance agents and attorneys.
You’ll include their banner ads on your website, and they’ll put your ads on theirs. Because they’re local businesses with a local clientele, you’ll get a large number of people seeing ads that can lead them to your site. An extra bonus is that these ads also create links to your site, which again helps your page ranking.
You can also custom-design banners for specific marketing campaigns, seasonal promotions and special program announcements.
A final advantage to creating your own banner exchange is that you can control its members and keep out your competition.
In addition to exchanging ads, coordinate with your external business partners to cross-sell with emails. This is particularly valuable if you and your exchange partners have a significant email database.
Again, make sure to find a complementary business with a large database and offer to arrange a cross-selling campaign.
For example, if your accountant has a similarly sized email database of clients, he or she may be an ideal candidate for a cross-selling campaign.
You’ll email health insurance marketing pieces to your accountant’s database. In exchange, your accountant can market tax-preparation or accounting services to your client and lead list. You’ll both be able to gain potentially new clients — with little or no cost.
Your emails should be linked to your site — but not necessarily to your home page. Instead, point your email links to a landing page specifically designed to that target audience, whether they’re real estate investors, tax-filing consumers, small business owners or physicians.
Don’t Forget Your Local Image
The five tips above will bring local prospects to your website — maybe even your real office. It’s up to you to make sure that you don’t lose them when they get there.
Both your website and your office should convey an image of competence and professionalism, as well as be designed to convert visitors to leads. Both should have informative and educational materials ready for the prospect.
Whether your prospect initially visits your website or office, don’t forget to ask them for their contact information. At the very least, try to get their email address so that you can add them to your newsletter distribution and email autoresponder.
The Internet is a huge place, but a well-targeted web marketing campaign and sharp website will let you be the big gorilla in your domain.
This is an entry to Marketing Pilgrim’s 3rd Annual SEM Scholarship contest.