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Technology Report 2014: At your customers’ service

Web products should meet local needs

The Web may be world wide, but the Internet certainly affects life close to home.

“Traditionally, Internet marketers thought the value of the website was having no geographic borders to their customers,” Internet marketing specialist Steve Wolgemuth said.

However, one-third of all Google searches have local intent, he said.

Wolgemuth, CEO of YDOP, said he thinks more companies are starting to understand the importance of having a strong presence on the Internet and through social media. His company does what it calls “near-user marketing” for businesses within driving distance of its Lancaster office.

Some of YDOP’s clients include Lancaster General Hospital, Members 1st Federal Credit Union and several retailers.

Because of the localized searches, Google created an algorithm to process whether a search has local intent. Those searches provide different results pages, plus maps that now appear high on the first results page.

“Google has ways of knowing where you are when you do a search. They try to provide businesses near you,” Wolgemuth said, noting Google holds 86 percent of the market share for searches.

Tyler Bouldin from WebpageFX in Harrisburg urges businesses to claim their “Google Places” listing. That allows the address and map to appear in search results.

“It’s really easy to do,” Bouldin said. “Anybody can do it.”

Online comes first

Some people say they get all their business from referrals, but in today’s world, potential customers look up referrals online before contacting a business, said Kae Kohl, co-founder of Kiwi Marketing in Lancaster.

Ninety-seven percent of consumers go online to research products and services in their area, according to Kiwi Marketing co-founder Bede Fahey, who cited a study by researcher BIA/Kelsey.

Local businesses should have pictures of their own people and facilities, not stock photos, Wolgemuth said.

“I’d like to see the face of the person who is going to be handing me a dozen roses when I pick them up. I want to see the face of the man servicing my furnace,” he said.

Bouldin, a Web analyst, also recommends that a “contact us” page offer multiple methods — an email address, a phone number, a physical address and a contact form. People make choices about which method to use based on their personalities and the time of day.

“You want to make sure you have every possible means of contact under the sun,” Bouldin said.

“That used to happen in the Yellow Pages. It doesn’t happen anymore,” Wolgemuth said.

Consider your content

Bouldin said something to consider is whether a website has thorough content that informs visitors and aids in search engine optimization. Approximately 450 words in a description is better than three sentences, he said.

Google wants to reward good users who have good material that is relevant and sensible, Kohl said.

Consider what people need and want to know when they log on with a mobile device, Fahey said.

“You really have to think about the medium, (the) platform being used,” he said.

The Kiwi Marketing team said that, without analytics, business owners are flying blind about how their Web presence is perceived.

Social media layer

In the realm of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram and other social media, experts say to choose one or two platforms by examining your target audience.

“It’s better to be really great at one of them than pretty good at five of them,” Kohl said.

“People get caught up too much on the tools and not what you’re using them for,” Wolgemuth said.

Kohl and Fahey suggested Central Pennsylvania businesses may benefit by touting their charitable endeavors on Facebook. That move seems to resonate well with local audiences, they said.

Wolgemuth advised that social media be considered a layer in an overall marketing strategy. He said local businesses should pursue their unique opportunities for deeper engagement, not base their approach on national players.

Small businesses share things in common with their customers — weather, traffic, local festivals — and can use them in the social media dialogue. Those businesses can benefit from “calls to action” such as today-only coupons or promotion of upcoming events, according to Wolgemuth.

Each business owner needs to consider the value of having a lead-generating system online versus a brochure-type website that allows for simple functions like downloading a dinner menu, Wolgemuth said. Improving placement within search results is a technical and complicated process that may require professional guidance, he said.

“It’s really just a business decision,” he said. “We’re a solution for many sizes of business but not every business.”

Common errors

Steve Wolgemuth is CEO of online marketing firm YDOP in Lancaster and the founder of the NUMA (Near-user Marketing) Conference held in Manheim in September.

Wolgemuth shared common mistakes he sees business owners making as they tackle the world of Internet marketing:

• Hiring a generalized search engine optimization company, rather than one that specializes in local search engine optimization. The search results come from different algorithms.

• Trying to look corporate, rather than embracing their localness. One study found 60 percent of local business websites don’t have a phone number on the homepage.

• Starting with tactics instead of a strategic plan.

• Using a “brochure” mentality with a website instead of understanding the patterns and journeys users go on.

• Failing to provide a good mobile experience, offer functions for directions or to make a call, or realize that top-of-page presence in search results is necessary to be found on mobile devices.

• Neglecting the issue of reviews.