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Welcome to my newly released blog series on the local marketing success secrets I’ve honed over 20 years of expertise in digital marketing and search marketing.

Local websites have come a long way since this was standard online marketing practice: “We sell custom cigar humidors. Our custom cigar humidors are handmade. If you’re buying a custom cigar humidor please contact our custom cigar humidor specialists and contact us at custom cigar humidor. Email customercigarhumidor@CCH.com”

You might smile, but this type of black hat keyword stuffing was considered perfectly acceptable by small business owners and local marketing companies until relatively recently. Of course, Google and the other search engines have always been wise to this, but it’s only now that they’re starting to significantly outsmart the black hatters who have been gaming the system for the past few decades. Using these keyword techniques will these days have you banished to the nether regions of all search engines.

For many business owners and their small marketing teams, the headache is how to climb to the top of Google in local search, either organically or even on pay per click. You have a small marketing budget and a lot of competition to overcome if you’re going to rise to the top in local search. You can achieve that top slot, that sacred page no 1 in Google and Bing, but you have to work at it. And ironically if you work in a smart way you’ll achieve your goal and you’ll save money. Read on and you’ll find out why.

Way back when

Back in ye olden days pre Internet small local businesses had a tough time of it. It was a perennial problem – how to get customers through the door to buy your products. You had to be dedicated, inventive and work damned hard at it. You sold by phone, by word of mouth, by pushing leaflets through letter boxes and by getting listed on the local Yellow Pages.

All that changed in 1996.

Where’s your website?

Local businesses were suddenly made aware that if they invested in a web page, they could put information online. These were essentially brochures; little different than the leaflets being bundled through letter boxes. Only now they were online.

Businesses quickly started queuing up for domain names and the early internet became another avenue for marketing. Not particularly innovative, but somewhere else you could send potential customers to have a look at your wares or buy your products (primitive e-commerce sites started up in 1998).

A couple of examples of early websites that we built in html were www.sofas-direct.com and www.leathersofas-direct.co.uk. Out of sheer sentimentality we’ve kept them going just to remind us of those times. Click on them, you’ll see what I mean. Primitive eh?

With those first websites, by testing and tweaking, we soon understood some crucial truisms that underpin successful businesses which climb to the top of local search. These truisms have not changed; they’re still as relevant in 2016 as they were in 1996. We list some of them below:

You’ve Got 8 Seconds

Customers need to understand what your business is offering within 8 seconds of landing on your home page. That’s vital for business owners to understand. As the great Dave Trott of Gold Greenless Trott said: “If you’re a market leader, grow the market, if you’re not differentiate yourself.” Most readers will have to differentiate themselves and those 8 seconds are critical if you’re to succeed in making that difference (unless, of course, you’re the market leader).

You need to convey what you do in those 8 seconds in the text above the fold. Forget showing pictures and videos of your products down below the fold. Few people will see them. We’ve tested this time and again. Above the fold gets 100% views; below gets 25%. 75% of people will never scroll down to find out what you’ve hidden at the bottom and you’ll lose the majority of your traffic the minute you make them scroll down.

Design is critical for success

The design of the website is critical for the success of your business online. Again, we tested this until we were perfectly sure of the answer. For our www.aiminternet.co.uk website we put in a huge amount of research. When it came to local marketing we knew we were not the market leader, so we had to differentiate ourselves. We wanted to convey innovation, forward thinking and collaborative ways of working. We wanted to show how important it was that we could work with customers to shape their ideas. So we decided on a video above the fold. No one in the West Midlands was using this method to emphasise collaborative working. The video portrays a future where offices are virtual and we knew that in a market which is rapidly changing, we had to show we were changing with it. Technology, collaboration, change – they were the messages we wanted to convey. We knew this formula worked because we tried and tested it over the years. Clients fed back from their clients with favourable answers. It worked. Bingo.

Working with data

Working with data is another key essential factor; data is your best friend. We now knew that businesses were eager to buy our website design, but we had to sell them the idea that data was king (along with content, of course). Data and local marketing go hand in glove. But this is still difficult to get across to clients. I knew data would be important from the start of websites back in the 1990s. One of our first clients, Griffingandking.co.uk, was also our guinea pig. We worked closely with them, again testing and analysing results, measuring their data leads during an 8-year period. Armed with all that rich data information we then built other client websites around the data we discovered and they had more leads as a result. It worked. Bingo.

Use social to engage not sell

Finally, with all our clients we tell them to go back to the high street. Back to the time when word of mouth was a good way to tell people about their products. Only this time it’s in social channels. It’s worth remembering that your customers are also consumers of information that is shared and liked across social networks. They will ‘like’, ‘follow’ and ‘share’ your content if it’s relevant to them and if they trust you. You have a huge, active, local audience where your existing customers and prospects are liking and sharing information that you are generating. Talk to them on Facebook and Twitter, show them your products, but don’t sell; simply reach out and tell them about some offers and deals you might have. If you engage with your customers, they’ll return again and again. Also use your social media channels to point traffic to recently updated areas on your website. Make sure you do the testing of each social tool, so you know the right one for your business. And don’t forget to analyse the data for feedback. Facebook has a phenomenal reach and is now used in local marketing search results, but like Google Adsense you need to use this wisely if you’re not going to spend money unnecessarily. As with Adsense, we’ll show you how that works. The channels you choose will give you access to thousands of local people every day and maybe even millions worldwide. Make sure you’re sending messages they want to receive.

This is just a brief introduction to local marketing and your local digital ecosystem. As I build up this series of blogs, I’ll be taking you through all the areas that are essential for your business to grow and for your website to become a selling machine that has the top slot in Google’s local search results. I’ll be giving away a lot of secrets we’ve built up over the years through slavish testing and tweaking. From how to guides; to a better understanding of data; to using content to improve your search results; to using social to improve online engagement.

Stick with me and I’ll show you how to get to the top in local marketing.