Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bing, Caffeine, Google Maps Local Business Center, Hot Frog - What You Need to Know

Change. The word is on everyone’s lips. It was the central theme of the just past political season. It is currently the underpinning of legislation being pressed on Health Care and Energy policies. Alvin Toffler in his talk of ever accelerating waves of change foresaw a time when change would be so rapid that the vast majority of the population would give up trying to keep up. Has the internet brought us to that place? For the local small business owner, the answer would
seem to be a resounding yes.

Marketing a small business
in 2009 is complex beyond understanding, or at least the average small business owner thinks so. Internet marketing is now the primary driver of traffic to local businesses who supply goods and services to consumers (B2C) and to other local companies (B2B). Strategies for being visible on the internet change so fast that even many experts have difficulty keeping up.

In just the last three weeks, we have had the merger of two major internet forces. The resulting new search engine, Bing, raises new questions about how to stay relevant. Not surprisingly Google has responded with Caffeine, a faster, more sophisticated engine. Google
Maps Loca
l Business Center, Yelp,, CitySearch, MerchantCircle, and over 65 other national Local Search Engines (LSE's) duke it out for their share of search for products and services at the local level. HotFrog, a more recent launch, goes from obscurity to solid contender in just weeks, after Merchant Circle did the same within months.

Randy Kirk, CEO of spelled out the current situation: "For the local bakery, restaurant, lawyer, or general contractor, the ability to be seen on page 1 of a Google Search has
dropped exponentially in the last 24 months. Where a well designed website with decent Search Engine Optimization (SEO) may have provided that visibility two years ago, the LSE's now control most of the top 10 - 20 positions on most searches, not specific business websites." President, Ollie Danner laments: "Unfortunately, the LSE's content is pretty awful across the board. When you go on even the best of them, a search for Italian Restaurant in Las Vegas will commonly include many, many listings that have nothing to do with
Italian Restaurants. Moreover the consumer may or may not realize that reviews on these sites may be "flames" (bad reviews) created by competitors. We realized this need for better results for local businesses and created local search engines directories such as and have plans to roll out close to 100 such GoTo sites in the coming months."

What can the local business owner do? Kirk, author of "Running a 21st Century Small Business" answers: "For many, the answer has been to move to other methods of advertising and promotion that are throwbacks. There is a lot more networking taking place. This is not
just the kind found on Facebook or LinkedIn, but real, face-to-face interaction with others in groups like LeTip or BNI. Where 20 years ago the major local business group might have been Rotary or the Chamber, today businesses are being far more explicit in what they hope to gain from membership in a business club. They want a business connection that will result in dollars in their pockets"

This new direction has spawned networking meetings that are similar to speed dating clubs. Twenty to 40 local owners will meet and spend five minutes with each of the other attendees seeing how they might be able to connect and do business together.

These ideas are useful and can produce business. But for many businesses, not being visible on the web is the kiss of death. So how can these small businesses possibly keep up with the change. Kirk points out, "there is a growing group of companies who specialize in visibility issues. We have created one such company that will use up to a dozen different methods to get our clients on page 1 of Google searches for key words that matter to them.

Danner adds: "We have used YouTube videos, PR releases, Flickr., Blogs, Craig's list, and many other methods. Of course there is still a need for an outstanding website, and for many businesses, we can get them excellent visibility with their website. We also concentrate on
those 72 Local Search Engines. We make sure that our clients are on all of them and that they're listings are optimized on those LSE's.

"While there are some other companies doing what we do, we believe that we are unique in that we employ a full-on marketing department to make sure we are creating the greatest potential for a return on the client's investment. Even with those resources being employed, our services are priced starting well under $1000."

But what about the changes? Won't there be another new LSE like HotFrog emerging next week or next month? Won't Bing and Google and other search engines be changing how they rate businesses almost monthly? Besides, the small businessman in this climate has to be constantly
changing, too. How will he be able to communicate his latest invention or idea or product to those 72 search engines.

Kirk acknowledges that it isn't easy: "We have to stay on top of all these changes every single day. The local owner does not have the luxury of doing that. So we offer them a service for about $100 a month that makes sure they stay up to date. We even call them from time-to-time to check on changes that they might not have called in to us. We insure that they will stay on page 1, and stay relevant."

So how do companies that need the kind of service you are offering find a quality provider? Kirk concludes: This is just one part of the change we are in. We don't know of anyone else that does what we do. We invite competition, because we can't possibly do this for 5,000,000 small businesses. We're even willing to create partnerships with others and teach them what we know. For now, we just try to handle all the business that is coming our way."

For more on visit their website or call 800-708-1748.

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