The Power of Local – why small, local businesses matter so much

There are a lot of businesses operating in the US. 

How many is “a lot”?  Well, back when the last set of official stats existed for 2007, Canada’s population was just over 30 million.  Now you’re wondering what Canada’s population has to do with local businesses in the US, right?  Well, there was almost the same number of businesses in the US in 2007 as the population of Canada!  The actual number the US Census Bureau states for businesses in the US for 2007 was 27, 757,676.  WOW!

Now, here’s a more telling stat.  Of those almost 28 million businesses in the US, roughly 22 million of them had no payroll.  This means there were no “employees” in the traditional sense.  This leaves me wondering how many of those 22+ million businesses have the time and ability to effectively market themselves online?  My guess is relatively few of them.

We do know, thanks to SEMPO, that the search services sector will hit $19 billion in spending this year, so it’s clear that a lot of those businesses are spending money on search services.  As anyone in the industry can tell you, we’ve also seen an explosion in search service providers willing to manage “local” work for small businesses.  It’s a very compelling story for the local small business (SMB), as they have an expert on hand who can manage the entire process, front to back, and ultimately they see more foot traffic and sales.  If the SMB has a website, the service provider can also drive traffic increases there.

The engines long ago learned that people did a lot of searching for local services and businesses, which is why you see so much effort being invested into building better local search features.  Whether it’s finding a local business or verifying an address before running errands, more and more people are turning to search to find the local information they need.

Supporting local in search

Local search as a feature has grown a lot over the past few years.  Today’s offering is a big step forward for searchers, and even more or a dramatic leap for those businesses wishing to appear in front of those searchers.  Every local business now has, within their control, the ability to show up in local searches and drive people through their doors.

Today, services such as Bing Business Portal have the ability to enable very rich listings for local businesses, as seen above.  With numerous options available to include detailed information about the business, BBP helps local businesses bring forward a solid web presence, even if the business doesn’t already have their own website.  In fact, the service at Bing steps forward by offering a free mobile website for each listing, ensuring the data captured for the listing is shared in a mobile-friendly way.  Taking things one step further, Deals are integrated, enabling each business owner the ability to offer daily deals direct to visitors hitting their local listing page.

Local and mobile – the overlap

With mobile devices continuing to grow in popularity, we’re seeing that a large percentage of searches from mobile devices is local in nature.  Some estimates place this as high as 80% of mobile searchers being local in intent.  Makes sense when you think about finding a parking garage, finding a gas station, locating the store you want to visit while out running errands, etc.

Local has shifted gears from its early days as a standalone entity and today it is very tightly aligned with mobile.  Thus it makes sense to see tools like those noted above being brought forward to help local businesses drive traffic through their doors.

Activation and protection

While it may seem like the process of activating a local listing is difficult, its actually quite simple.  Two ways exist to activate a local listing with Bing.  First, you can choose to receive a postcard by mail with the activation code listed.  Entering that code into the businesses BBP account activates the listing.  The second option is essentially the same process, but via telephone.

While it may be tempting to think you want the phone option, its only available to businesses whose phone number we can independently verify.  For example, if you’re a locksmith, with a yellow pages listing, and we can scan for your phone number there.  If it matches what you have in your local listing data, we’ll give you the option to complete the sign up via phone.  Failing a direct match, we’ll only offer the postal method for verification codes.

This is done to protect the business and the holder of the phone number.  We do not want to create a scenario where we are phone false numbers needlessly.  For the same reason, sending a verification code via the mail may seem old fashioned, but we need to ensure it reaches the business at a physical address.  The same physical address a human would go to enter the business.  This is also why you cannot specify a single address for multiple businesses.  Each business needs to complete the cycle of proof of location.

Summing up

Local will continue to grow in prominence in the coming years.  Those millions of local small businesses we mentioned at the opening of this article aren’t suddenly going to grow expertise around online marketing.  They are florists, dentists, locksmiths and lawyers.  Plumbers, carpenters, lawn mowers and donut shops.  They are experts at what they do, each and every one.  They aren’t experts in online marketing, yet everyone one of them would like more business.  The power of local in search is not just the ability to drive traffic through their doors.  It’s also the ability to enable the marketing in a simple manner.  It’s enabling a business owner who has a computer, a camera and 15 minutes the ability to create a space online, share their message and compel users to do business with them through offers designed to make consumers take action.

The power of local is in the control it places at the fingertips of local business owners.

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