Local businesses have a compelling need to advertise their existence to attract customers in order to grow and stay profitable. These days they also have a compelling need to advertise online.
It is easy to imagine that most businesses will find that local online advertising is both necessary and even quite inexpensive to do.
The hard part is knowing where to begin and how to do it right.
Large businesses can hire an agency to do it for them or even use in-house marketing talent to get it done.
Smaller businesses may not be able to afford to hire an agency or have a staff with the right expertise.
Fortunately, it is quite easy for a business to get started. In fact, even if a business could hire an outside agency, it might want to start on its own to gain some insights about how it is done.
The following tutorial provides 10 simple steps for any local business to get started in online advertising.
Step 1: Identify Your Goals
A business may have only one major goal for online advertising while others may have several of them.
Either way, it is important to identify the primary goal and any secondary goals because those goals determine the next steps in building an ad campaign. Potential goals include:
– Store traffic. Most retailers of course look to increase store traffic. One type of campaign that increases store traffic drives the maximum number of visitors from specific zip codes to the retailer’s site to promote an in-store sale.
– Audience growth. Some businesses simply want to increase their overall site traffic. A campaign certainly will boost the visits, but will they come back? One way to get them to come back is by pointing the ads in the online campaign to pages with a signup form for email newsletters.
– Social media followers. A related goal is gaining social media followers with the hope of reaching those followers on a regular basis through social media posts — such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus — with the intent of attracting them back to the core Web site.
– Lead generation. A visitor to the site is a potential client. An online advertising campaign might point visitors to pages with a form where they fill it out because they want to be contacted or get more information. Auto dealers, Realtors and mortgage brokers are common examples of local businesses that thrive on lead generation.
– Transactions. Even better, some businesses want to have their visitors conduct transactions right there on their sites. Many retailers sell the same products on their Web sites as they do in stores. Again, a campaign should send visitors to the pages where transactions can take place.
– Advertising revenue. Some local companies such as newspapers and TV stations promote their sites for the sake of advertising on their sites. More sophisticated online retailers will actually run ads from national vendors such as Google and Bing right next to the products and services they are trying to sell.
Step 2: Choose Your Vendor
National online advertising companies love to attract local businesses because of their ability to target ads at the local level.
Some of them, again including Google and Bing but also Facebook, are adept at targeting down to the zip code level because of the massive volume of traffic they receive every month.
Certain national sites target specific categories of local business such as Realtor.com for real estate, Cars.com for automotive and Monster.com for employment.
But local options exist as well including local media sites from newspapers, cable companies and TV stations because of their large volume of purely local traffic.
Step 3: Establish a Budget
One of the greatest benefits of trying an online advertising campaign is the ability to start with a small budget.
Bing Advertising and Google Adwords allow businesses to start with as little as $5 as a total budget. Facebook requires a minimum of $5 a day, but the campaign could last only a day and limit the total cost to just that $5.
What matters the most is setting a budget that generates enough traffic to gain insights about what works in the campaign and what doesn’t. What also matters is how much each click costs for the following reasons.
Facebook, Bing and Google typically charge only for the clicks. In other words, an ad could appear 100,000 times, but if it is clicked only once, the advertiser gets charged only for that one click.
In reality, ads get clicked much more often. Imagine a $100 budget with 500 clicks at 20 cents a click.
A total of 500 visits should be enough of a response to see how many people fulfilled the campaign goals of leads, transactions, etc. A campaign with 1 or even 10 clicks won’t be enough.
Step 4: Pick an Ad Type
The local business has decided on a budget and has created an account with an advertising vendor. Now it must decide what kind of ad it wants to display.
Many campaigns at all local and national vendors come down to two basic types — text or graphical. They are similar to the classified and display advertising types in a newspaper.
Text ads are least expensive because they take up the least amount of space. They may be as brief as a single line with a link to the landing page — the page on the local business site where people will go if they click on the link.
Graphical ads are much more expensive because they take up much more space on a site. Common ad sizes are 728×90 pixels, 300×250 and 160×600.
Someone who is inexperienced with online advertising would be wise to start a campaign using text ads because they will generate the most volume of clicks for the least amount of money. They are a low risk way of getting started and developing essential skills.
Step 5: Develop Creative
Whether the ad is textual or graphical, a few basic principles are essential: keep it simple, use a call to action in the text and have at least one or more ways of responding.
Most businesses that are new to online advertising think that the ad just needs a way for someone to click. But there are several other ways to respond as well.
Does the business have a phone number? Put it in the ad. People usually have a phone right next to their computer.
Is an email desirable? Put the email address in the ad or, better yet, have a link that triggers an email response box.
All advertising is about branding and response. National vendors are good at providing campaigns that are high on response. Local vendors are often better at producing graphical campaigns that are good for branding and integrated with traditional media advertising.
Step 6: Establish Start and Stop Dates
Setting a schedule is essential for neophytes to online advertising because it limits the risk of how much the campaign will ultimately cost.
One of the bigger mistakes is simply setting up a monthly budget, paying for the campaign with credit card and having no end date.
Because Facebook advertising costs a minimum of $5 a day, it is especially important to keep campaigns there brief in order to limit the total costs and risks.
Google AdWords and Bing Advertising are better for longer-term campaigns because they allow low daily minimum spending.
Step 7: Target Geographically and Topically
Most local businesses aren’t trying to advertise to the entire nation or even an entire state. Instead, they are most interested in three basic geographic territories: county, city and zip code.
In many ways, zip code is the most desirable but the hardest to do because it is so narrowly targeted, but at the same time, the volume of visitors and impressions may not be enough to fulfill the campaign budget.
As a result, whether to target by city/county or by zip code depends on the population size of each.
A business in a large metropolitan area will find it easiest to target by zip, while a business in a smaller city or county will probably have to advertise to the entire city or county.
It also is important to target by topic, which can be done in two ways depending on the vendor. National search engines allow targeting based on keywords that are commonly searched on their sites, such as “Boston real estate” or “Chicago jobs.” The ads that are related to those keywords often will appear when specific keywords are searched. It is a response called contextual advertising.
Local sites are more likely to allow clients to target specific topics by section and sometimes by page. In this case, the advertiser may want to sponsor the entire section and thereby dominating the market for advertising on that site and for that topic.
Step 8: Launch Campaign
The local business has now created an account, set a budget, chosen the ad type, developed the creative, established a schedule and targeted a geographic area. It’s time to launch.
Launching an online advertising campaign for the first time may be intimidating. But rest assured, it need not be if the business has taken the above steps to manage the risk. If the business can’t afford to risk even $100, it probably shouldn’t be advertising at all.
The best way to gain insights about that first campaign is by visiting the account at least weekly and even daily to look at the numbers.
Track the number of impressions, the number of clicks and the click-through rate (clicks divided by impressions). In particular, watch the cost per click.
Give the campaign a little time to evolve and build some numbers before jumping to any conclusions or making any changes.
Step 9: Analyze Results
Once the campaign is over, enter the above numbers in a spreadsheet to track and analyze results including:
- Total number of impressions
- Total number of clicks
- Click-through rate
- Average cost per click (the same as cost per site visit)
- Cost per lead
- Cost per transaction
- Return on investment — total spent divided by revenue generated or other metric
Don’t be discouraged by results that are less than expected. Like everything else in life, good results come with practice.
Step 10: Revise and Try Again
Nothing is truly gained until the advertiser tries a second campaign for the sake of making comparisons.
If the first campaign cost $100 and produced at least some results, consider a second campaign with revisions intent on increasing the click-through rate or decreasing the cost per click.
Decreasing the cost per click is especially important because it is such a major factor in improving the return on investment.
If the results of the second campaign are better than the first, try once again. This time it might make sense to increase the budget.
No matter how many times a local business advertises online, the goal should be an increase in skills and knowledge and especially an increase in results.