Local businesses will find numerous free ways to advertise online. How well they work depends on the audience size, the effectiveness of the free ad and other factors.
A review of five major sites that offer free advertising shows that they have several features in common — free basic contact information, a business description and at least one photo.
But some offer the ability to provide much more information and capabilities than others.
1) Yahoo Local Business
ahoo Local has been around long enough to provide one of the more sophisticated products for free online advertising.
It has a free version and a premium version. The free version allows basic information — name, phone, address, email and hours of operation. It also offers the ability to post the business’ Web site address, which one other major service does not.
Yahoo provides a verification code via phone, text message, email or postcard. I used the phone call procedure without any trouble.
It then provided a message saying that the listing was under review and would take up to 30 days before appearing in the directory. An email included the following:
‘We will review your change request for inclusion in Yahoo! Local. We will send you a confirmation email after review. Your existing listing will remain on Yahoo! Local until your changes are approved. Please note any further edits to your listing may not be made until we review your current submission.”
Once the listing is approved, a business can add a photo, more business subcategories and hours of operation. It also can import statistics from Google Analytics for the business Web site and insights from its Facebook page.
2) Bing Places
ike Yahoo, Bing offers basic listing information plus several additional features in the best interface of all the products I tested.
In addition to the standard information, Bing allows a business to enter a Facebook page link, Twitter account link and additional related Web site links. It also allows up to 10 photos, an extended description about the business, parking options, payment options and professional affiliations.
Like all of the major “free” forms of online advertising, Bing has integrated its product into an optional paid advertising service.
At the end of the process, it says it will send a verification code via postcard to the business address.
Its extensive capabilities have a lot in common with LinkedIn.
he professional networking focus of LinkedIn allows people with career profiles to link them to a company page.
For anyone who already has a profile, click on your photo in the upper right and then on Company Page.
The free company page has the ability to list a product or service with a photo, description, category and Web site address.
Anyone with a blog can post links back to the blog for added promotional reach.
To connect your profile to your company page, go to Profile / Edit Profile and click on the Edit link under Experience. Enter or re-enter your company, and you should see it pop up. Simply click on it and save.
4) Google Places for Business
o a quick search on Google for Google Places. All you need is a Google account to log in and set up the business.
The free version displays the business name, location via a map, business category, hours, photo and a brief description.
It also has a light version of AdWords to get started with placing contextual ads on Google and its partner sites.
Another benefit is that it provides an audience report for businesses that have verified their account via a PIN number.
My own experience with Places is mixed. Once the account is set up, a PIN is required to edit the information. Google is supposed to send a postcard with the PIN number to the business address. My card didn’t arrive; I’m waiting for the second attempt.
ne of the oldest and most popular forms of online advertising comes via CraigsList, the spare-looking site that is almost entirely made up of plain text.
The other sites have a directory focus while CraigsList has more of an approach similar to traditional newspaper classified advertising.
Visitors view listings by first going into a local market rather than finding them via search. Advertisers can only post to that local market.
An account is easy to set up, and an ad can be posted quickly.
One feature of the site that can be both an advantage and disadvantage is that all ads appear in chronological order.
The advantage is that a new ad appears at the top and gets maximum exposure. The disadvantage is that the ad can be buried quickly if the category is highly active.
That means the best approach for an advertiser is to post ads there on a regular basis.