The Next Great Place to Find Business

DO YOU KNOW where your new customers are coming from? Around the country, more and more consumers are using Internet search engines to find services, including local plumbers, whom they used to look for in print Yellow Pages. Is your company logically findable in cyberspace? If not, you may be losing easily capture-able leads, both from potential customers who live in your work area and from those

DO YOU KNOW where your new customers are coming from? Around the country, more and more consumers are using Internet search engines to find services, including local plumbers, whom they used to look for in print Yellow Pages. Is your company logically findable in cyberspace? If not, you may be losing easily capture-able leads, both from potential customers who live in your work area and from those who own second homes in your region.

Business using the Internet as the search mechanism is booming. A survey released in February revealed that among the 5,582 online shoppers queried, one quarter of the searches were for merchants located near their homes or workplaces, which was more than twice the percentage estimated in 2003. The study, conducted by the Kelsey Group, a research and advisory firm based in Princeton, N.J., and BizRate.com, a shopping search engine, reported that 64% of respondents use search engines as the “main way” to find things on the Internet and that 44% are performing more local commercial searches online than in the previous year.

Furthermore, many people do their online searching during the day at work, where no local Yellow Pages are available and where high-speed Internet connections may facilitate fast results. They may also use the Internet, at work or at home, because they are looking for services in the location of a second home, for which they do not have local Yellow Pages handy.

Online searchers can find you in three primary ways:

  • By having at least a basic listing in your local White Pages or Yellow Pages print phone books and having various search engines pick up those listings either “automatically” as one among many in basic Internet Yellow Pages listings. You might also buy a deal bundling Internet Yellow Pages with advertising in hard-copy Yellow Pages. (This type of line listing does not distinguish you from the competition any more than a line listing in print.)
  • By advertising within one or more categories in one or more Internet Yellow Pages.
  • By listing your own company Web site with various search engines so potential customers can find it when searching for keywords you have associated with your site. Keywords can include not only various parts of your company name but also such basic target words as plumber, plumbing, heating, “emergency service,” boilers, water heaters, “burst pipe,” or any other word that describes what you do, as well as zip codes covering the geographic region you serve.

If you are geographically lucky, you may be in a locale where no other plumber has yet discovered the golden opportunity presented by being the only result brought up by an online search that combines the word “plumber” with any of your zip codes.

Some Internet Yellow Pages offer for-fee optimization that improves the chances of a particular business appearing high up on the IYP’s search engine results. If this opportunity is offered in your area, you may want to look into it. It may involve creating a special ad, which can be as basic as the IYP using a scanned-in one-page sheet enumerating, in straight text and in fonts of varying sizes, your company contact information and variety of services offered.

There are two categories of IYP: those developed and sponsored by organizations that have proven track records in print Yellow Pages (such as Verizon’s SuperPages, which reaches about 35% of the unduplicated audience, and SBC’s SMARTpages, reaching about 9%); and those that are purely Web-based, such as Yahoo! Yellow Pages, reaching about 18%, and AOL Yellow Pages, reaching about 10%.

You can also check out services that popular search engines such as Google.com and Yahoo.com offer for creating and running sponsored ads that appear on the right side of the results screen. Google, for example, has a pay-for-click program that allows small businesses to create their own ads and only pay for online searchers who click through to the ad. Creating your own ad can take less than half an hour.

If you are not inclined to market your company online yourself, or don’t have the time, you can take advantage of third-party providers. A whole marketing sub-industry has grown up around the concept of helping small businesses maximize exposure through Internet advertising.

One company, LeadLogic.com (877-LEADLOGIC) will create a Web site for your business, create a business listing, and promote your business in search and Yellow Pages. The service, which helps you choose the categories, geographies and keywords, puts your phone number, address and Web site on Yahoo (a leading Internet Yellow Pages) and on a leading pay-per-click search platform. Financial risk is minimal as the service is renewable month by month. (City listings start at $100/month and metro listings start at $400 month.) Listings online are on a first-come, first served basis.

William and Patti Feldman provide Web content for companies and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at [email protected].

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