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Use Local SEM to Compete with Big Businesses

March 9, 2016 • 5 mins read

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a powerful way to increase your online visibility, yet a lot of small businesses shy away from it. Perhaps this is because SEM has become increasingly complex; gone are the days when you could almost effortlessly achieve high search rankings simply through updating directory listings and publishing keyword-stuffed landing pages. Yet, small businesses can effectively employ local SEM.

While SEM has become more challenging, your marketing budget probably hasn’t grown in response. According to a recent survey of online marketing agencies that serve small businesses, the typical client has a monthly search marketing budget of $500 to $1,500. Small budgets like this are a challenge—especially when you’re competing with corporate giants for search rankings. What can a small business with small marketing budgets do to improve their search rankings?

Actually, there’s quite a bit small businesses can accomplish with local SEM, enough even to compete with industry giants. The beauty of local SEM is that you don’t need a big budget to start affecting SERPs. Simply understanding what search engines are looking for gives you a running start in optimizing your content.

While you should increase your SEM budget when you can, the following measures will start making a difference in how search engines see your pages and lay the foundation for a better search rank.

Local SEM: Keywords through Geotargeting

Geotargeting simply means delivering content to website visitors based on their geographic location. And, if you’re targeting customers in a specific neighborhood, it’s a good idea compete only for keywords related to that neighborhood, rather than compete on a larger scale, such as city or state. Geotargeting has worked well for small businesses over the years, and there’s no reason to neglect this strategy in 2016.

Geotargeting works well because it’s based on Google’s Pigeon algorithm update. The algorithm returns better search results for queries related to neighborhoods, as well as for areas slightly outside of a searched-for neighborhood. This means small businesses can compete with the big guys—who are unlikely to pay attention to neighborhood-specific search queries—for higher search rankings.

If you have an AdWords account, you can use Google’s Keyword Planner tool to search for geo-specific keywords. But it’s also important to do some firsthand research.

When narrowing your search for geo-specific keywords, consider answering the following questions:

  • Which neighborhood contributes the most clicks and customers for my website?
  • Which locations can I target slightly outside of that neighborhood?
  • Which services and products are most applicable to customers in that neighborhood?

Once you have a list of keywords to target, check out Google’s guide on including negative keywords in your campaign. These keep Google from showing your ad to people searching for something different that uses the same or similar phrases. For example, someone searching for “bark” might looking for a bark collar and not bark mulch. Negative keywords thus help you reach the right customers and keep costs low. Use all relevant keywords in pay-per-click (PPC) ads and website content.

Cornwall Cottages specializes in holiday catering accommodation in Cornwall. The agency that managed their PPC campaign restructured their keywords to capture clicks from all geographical areas and ensure more targeted ad results. With the revamp, there was a 42 percent increase in targeted traffic and a 33 percent decrease in cost-per-click. 

Optimize Your Ad and Landing Page Copy

Your budget doesn’t allow you much flexibility for A/B testing your PPC ads, or investing heavily in interactive ads, so it’s especially important to craft compelling ad copy for your local SEM to be effective. The headline should catch the reader’s attention, while the rest of the copy should contain at least one keyword relevant to your targeted neighborhood.

It’s also important to optimize the copy of the landing page that’s linked to the PPC ad, meaning the page must be easy to navigate, and the product or service people are searching for should be above-the-fold . Don’t make visitors scroll down—most will give up and navigate away from your site if what they’re looking for isn’t immediately visible.

local SEM
The ad on the left leads to the landing page on the right.

You can also leverage extensions to improve your ad rank: PPC extensions are easy and quick to set up. They allow you to add text to your social presence, phone number, location, and other key details about your firm, as in the example below.

PPC extension adwords

Extensions don’t cost extra and they provide additional real estate in search engine results pages (SERPs). This apparently tiny addition can have big returns for your local SEM.

Continental Van Lines, a moving company based in Washington and operating out of Alaska and Washington, revamped its PPC campaign and included ads with local extensions.

PPC extension SEM

Using extensions along with other efforts, like segmenting for neighborhoods and using local PPC options, resulted in a return-on-ad-spend of 300 percent. The company’s revenue increased 74 percent.

For your ad, you can even use the Click-to-Call feature. This enables those who see the ad on mobile to call your business directly.

Click to call AdWords SEM
Image courtesy of Google AdWords.

You can also customize the ad copy based on this feature to create urgency or excitement in users. You could, for example, use a call-to-action like “Call today to pick up your new desk!”

Cut PPC Costs

Ideally, you should expect a good return-on-investment (ROI) from your campaigns before they hit the budget cap. To boost your ROI, in addition to optimizing your ad copy, you can make the most of your PPC budget by modifying your bids.

For instance, you can:

  • Limit your ads to the search network: Although you have the option to make ads appear on the display network and search network, keeping them visible on just the search network works well for lower-budget campaigns. Search network visibility is effective because it displays ads to people who are actively searching for something and, therefore, more likely to click on ads.
  • Set budget caps: Chances are, your campaigns reach their budget caps quickly. Small businesses often automate PPC campaigns, letting them run around the clock. However, this schedule isn’t always cost effective because these campaigns may be leaking money at certain hours of the day. With Adwords Dayparting, you can reduce your ad spend and display ads only during the hours when your audience is most active.

Optimize the Ad Copy

Limit the number of keywords in your PPC ads. The more keywords you have, the more difficult it is to track ad performance and keep costs down.

optimize low conversion SEM

If your ad copy looks similar to existing PPC ads for your targeted keywords, like the Dallas lawyer example here, stop and analyze your headline and description, because too-similar copy won’t earn conversions.

Make your ad stand out from competing ads by writing unique copy.

Create copy that lets search engine visitors know your ad is relevant to their needs. If you’re targeting other local businesses, for example, headlines that include words such as “Ideal for SMBs” would work well.

relevant keywords in headlinesSome final pointers to keep in mind:

  • Don’t make empty promises: Ad copy offering a promise that isn’t fulfilled on the landing page may get clicks but won’t convert well—and may increase your bounce rate.
  • Use power words: Phrases like “be the first,” “hassle-free,” and “winning solution” can significantly improve the ad’s effectiveness.
  • Highlight important elements: Standard PPC ads have 25 characters for the title and 35 characters for the description. Use this real estate to highlight the most important elements of your offer. If you’re offering affordable hostel rooms, you’d want to include the price factor, for example.

Keep in mind, these local SEM tactics are just the tip of the iceberg. To continue improving your website rankings, consider using them alongside a thoughtful content marketing strategy. Publishing quality content on your landing pages and social media profiles will enrich the experience of visitors who come to your website via PPC ads, encouraging them to share your content and make return visits.

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