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By Christa Roettele

The web has revolutionized and helped the way that small businesses operate, including everything from purchasing, order fulfillment, order tracking, inventory, and even recruitment. There seem to be endless ways that web has in some ways leveled the playing field for small businesses. As the web continues to develop as a business tool so too must small and medium size businesses grow and learn how to harness all the capabilities that the web has to offer.

One of the ways that the small business can use the web to compete and gain customers is by reaching them on the net and driving them to their local stores/offices. Local search is a growing subset of online search. Depending on the analysts you consult, anywhere from 25 percent to 60 percent of all searches are local in nature. Small businesses need to tap into the growing trend of local search and reach the people within their community who are probably the easiest targets in terms of acquiring customers.

As more and more people switch from the traditional yellow pages and telephone directories to their laptops to find out where the nearest lawyer, tax preparer or even the carrier of the their favorite Merlot, small businesses will need a strategy to drive those online customers to their offline businesses.

“Customers using local search have a problem and are looking for someone in their area to solve it,” says Jake Baillie of TrueLocal.com, a search engine which specializes in local search in the U.S. “People want to be able to find a Treo 650 or lawyer in their area and drive to get the service or product they searched for; small to medium sized businesses can monetize those searches by creating a good online and offline marketing strategy.”

A recent study by Borrel Associates contends that by 2010 local search advertising will reach $4 billion by 2010, far outpacing the $420 million spent in 2005. These numbers, while predictions, shows the importance that local search as a category will have in years to come. As local advertising as a concept grows so too will the pool of potential advertisers raising the cost of paid search.

Small businesses often are early adopters of beta technologies due to cost and the fact that they can accept change more readily, put solid strategies in place now to start building their local client base and then grow along with the trend.

Many small businesses have relied on the efforts of traditional media, yellow pages, direct mailers, city pages etc to reach their local market. While some of these have their advantages online local search gives small business owners greater control over their advertising and marketing dollars.

With local search engines advertisers are able to track user activity much than with the traditional print, radio and TV advertising. A web advertiser is able to track the number of impressions, how many people saw the advertisement, clicks to their website, how many people downloaded driving directions to their business, how many emails and often how many calls were made to your office or store.

With the increased tracking small business owners can truly see where the ad dollars are going and how effective the ads are. With greater control and tracking business owners can easily change listings on local search engines when the results they see are not online with their expectations.

Now What?

Now that the case for local search advertising has been made the question still remains – how do I do it effectively? There are many things that should be examined when seeking out local search as an advertising option. The first of which is hitting the specific geo specific areas you wish to target. There are a few obvious expansions that can be made for example within a city, zip code, and obviously the state. There are also a few that are not so obvious that need to be looked at such as neighborhoods, area codes, airport codes and even counties. These expansions if done properly can reach the exact target you are looking for.

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Chrisita Roettele is the Marketing Coordinator for TrueLocal.
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