In the decades since the internet became accessible to everyday consumers, the information superhighway has grown in importance for the way we learn about things and communicate with each others. Most small business owners are aware they can use the internet to find new vendors, keep track of industry trends, and connect with a worldwide consumer base. However, some local business owners have yet to take advantage of the internet to market their business. It's understandable the owners don't want to waste money by advertising to people who can't possibly use their services; but any money a business days by not using online marketing come at the cost of the great sales potential the Internet has for all businesses. Even without a single item online there are many reasons why local businesses need to market their business online.

Local business owners need to understand the power of the Internet for search and discovery. Whether they're searching for authentic Indian tapestries or the local sandwich shop, people use the internet to find where they want to spend their money. Modern consumers are far less likely to discover a business simply by seeing its sign on the road than they were the past. Besides the cost in fuel, the bounty of information available online makes random stops without researching first less attractive. By ensuring their business can be found through online searches, local business owners exponentially increase the odds that consumers will find out about their services.

This intuitive way of thinking about the importance online marketing for local businesses is backed up by research. There have been many studies, some recent, that show local businesses need search based marketing. According to one study, 89 percent of consumers start with a search engine when looking for information on products, business, or professionals. Earlier this year, Ipsos MediaCT and Google released a study which stated 88 percent of smartphone users and 84 percent of tablet owners conduct local searches. And a February report from Bright Local found people were usually willing to drive up to 17 minutes to reach a destination they had searched for.

There's also data to show the greater value of internet marketing over traditional means. According to one report, the average cost to generate a lead through inbound marketing ($143) is about half the average for outbound marketing ($373). And Hubspot noted that organic search leads have a 14.6 percent close rate, while outbound marketing leads have a 1.7 percent close rate.

Another reason local businesses need to market on the World Wide Web harkens back to something we mentioned earlier. Modern consumers don't just find out about new brands or products from the internet; the internet gives shoppers the tools they need to easily compare and evaluate the offering of a business. No matter if a customer is looking for the lowest price, the best reviewed item, or the most generous service package, they know they can find the information online. Local business owners need to use the Internet to highlight the best features of their business. They can no longer rely on people coming to their store first and then discovering these positive features. If that information isn't available online it may never be discovered.

Again, this is all backup by empirical data. According to Forrester Research, 71 percent of US consumers expect to be able to view a retailer's in-store inventory online and 50 percent of US consumers expect to be able to purchase items online and pick them up in-store. A Brandpoint study reported that 68 percent of consumers check out companies on social networking sites before buying. And according to an eMarketer report, "Nearly 70 percent of US internet users sometimes compared prices or read reviews before visiting a brick-and-mortar store."

As the internet continues to connect our society, it will only become more and more important that business owners use this technology to their advantage. Even owners who can't possibly sell their goods online need to have any strong Internet presence. True, you can't groom someone's pet over the Internet, but it's unwise to expect a business to thrive based only on the people who drive by at the time or who still look in phone book.

Published on: Jul 28, 2014