'As a fine dining chef, I always had this strange desire to serve hamburgers.' That's the first line of a marketing e-mail that Terrapin, a restaurant and catering business in Rhinebeck, N.Y. sent to the nearly 20,000 addresses it has collected over the years. The e-mail went on to explain how Josh Kroner, Terrapin's chef, delighted in cooking burgers from natural meat, as well as other comfort foods such as macaroni and cheese in the restaurant's less-formal bistro room. The e-mail also featured a lavish photo of a juicy bacon cheeseburger.
That one simple message resulted in lots of business, according to Elissa Mastel, marketing and public relations director for Terrapin. 'We had so many people come in for burgers that week,' she says. 'The effect was comparable to when we won the best mussels award in Hudson Valley magazine.' It was a highly effective use of localized online marketing.
Even if yours is a business that customers have to physically visit to patronize -- such as a restaurant, beauty parlor, or health club -- you can still use the World Wide Web as an effective tool to get them there. But the rules for success when promoting a local-based business online are different from those for an e-business with national or international reach. Here are five tips on how you can best use the Web to bring in local customers:
1. Make sure your website is optimized for localized searches. The way to do this is to include the name of your town, county, or neighborhood several times in your meta tags, title tag, and the text on your site. This way it will rank high on a search engine if someone is looking for your type of business in your location. (Terrapin's site, for instance, is the first result after Google maps in a Google search of 'Rhinebeck, N.Y. restaurant.')
'If I add a locality to my title page, it's easier to gain rank in a search of, say ‘print shop, Litchfield County, Connecticut,'' says Josh Katinger, president of Accession Media, an Internet marketing firm. 'I've immediately outranked everyone who may have a bigger marketing budget than I do, but isn't in my area.'
2. Make the most of Google Maps. With applications for the iPhone and other mobile devices, as well as an automatic top spot on Google searches that specify locations, Google Maps is the killer app of localized online marketing. You should make sure your business is listed so that it will help attract customers. Once Google has verified your address with either a telephone call or postcard, your listing will appear. You can write your own descriptive text, offer coupons for potential customers to print out, and even adjust the indicating arrow in case, for instance, the entrance to your business is on a different street than its legal address.
3. Bribe customers for e-mail addresses. Most people these days are aware that their e-mail addresses are a valuable commodity, and they also fear spam. So simply asking customers or potential customers to add their addresses to your list may not bring the desired result. At Terrapin, each check comes with a comment card for diners to fill out and provide their e-mail addresses. Those who do fill out the comment card get a chance to win a prize, such as a $50 gift certificate to the restaurant. 'We couldn't get anyone to add their names before we started this promotion,' Mastel says. 'Now just about everyone who pays fills one out, and sometimes other people at the table do as well.'
Once you've got those precious addresses, make wise use of them, she advises. For instance, she crafts Terrapin's e-mails carefully, trying out several different subject lines and sending them to herself as a final test before sending them out. She also recommends using a third-party e-mail service such as iMail or Constant Contact. Among other advantages, a service like this will prevent customers from getting duplicate messages, she notes.
4. Consider online advertising. 'I've always been skeptical about print advertising, and we're gradually moving away from that to online advertising,' Terrapin's Kroner says. 'The beauty of online advertising is you always have analytics to let you know what's going on.' For instance, Google Analytics told Kroner that a large number of site visits were linked from the Rhinebeck's Chamber of Commerce site.
5. Use a custom site to test non-online ads' effects. If you do decide to advertise offline, you can test your ad's effectiveness by sending listeners or readers to a custom URL that is different from your regular one. If you do this, Katinger recommends creating a custom domain name, and not simply adding an extension to the end of your regular URL -- which may well get forgotten. 'I also own the domain www.am-llc.com,' he says, 'I can use it in a TV or radio ad to track responses very specifically.'