Attention professionals: Here’s how you sell your local services online

By: Andrew Mallory

We often get emails from professional service providers — such as real estate agents, dentists, or lawyers — who want to know how they can use a website to effectively market their services to potential customers.

Most people think of the Internet primarily as a “global” communication tool — they don’t realize that it’s just as effective for promoting a local business.

BUT: in order to create a truly effective local service website, you need to make sure it…

  • Presents a professional face to the world
  • Helps you build a strong relationship with your visitors
  • Is well-optimized for the search engines so local searchers can find you

Today I’m going to tell you how to make sure your site achieves all three of these goals.

1. Present a professional face to the world

Your website needs to be as professional as you are. Keep it focused on the services you provide, and the benefits they offer to your clients.

Don’t include personal information such as your hobbies or your family life, or links to pet projects, such as the charities you support. Elements like these distract from your main message and make you seem less professional.

After all, people haven’t come to your site to find out whether you support the Heart Foundation or the SPCA (though both are worthwhile causes, of course!) — they want to know if you can provide them with the services they need.

Also, never be tempted to put advertisements for other businesses on your site.

Advertisements cheapen the whole look of your website and undermine your credibility. They tend to make you look like you’re going for a quick cash grab. Plus, they’re a huge distraction that take people away from the thing you DO want them to buy — your service!

Finally, don’t sell products with a global appeal on a site promoting a local service.

For example, if you’re a veterinarian, don’t sell dog food on your site. It undermines your credibility — and doesn’t address the reason why your visitors arrived on your site in the first place.

(Not only that, it waters down your search engine optimization efforts, because it adds content to your site that isn’t directly relevant to your best-performing keywords.)

In short, keep the copy on your site focused on the three things and three things only: the services you can offer to your clients, the benefits these services provide, and the reasons why you’re the best person for the job.

2. Build a strong relationship with your customers

Your website needs to create a friendly, helpful customer experience. In other words, it needs to do the job that you would do if you were talking to your visitors in person.

Make sure it provides all the information you would normally share with your clients in person or over the phone.

Be sure to include…

  • An “FAQ” section that provides answers to your clients’ most frequently asked questions
  • MapQuest (or similar mapping program), so people can easily find out how to get to your location
  • Transit information that shows people how to get to your location using the local train and bus services
  • A printable map that shows where the nearest parking is
  • Testimonials from happy customers to prove that other people have benefited from your services

Also, be sure to prominently feature your telephone and street address on every page of your site, so it’s easy for people to know how to contact you.

Finally, make sure you include an opt-in form that offers free valuable information, in exchange for your visitors’ email addresses.

For example, if you’re a real estate agent, you could offer a free downloadable eBook that tells first-time home buyers everything they need to know in order to make an informed buying decision.

You should consider this opt-in to be the second most important function of your website (the first being actual bookings or sales, of course).

That’s because your opt-in offer enables you to stay in touch with your potential clients and send them emails filled with even more valuable free information, so you can build a relationship with them over time and present them with more buying opportunities in the future.

3. Use proven search marketing methods to drive qualified leads your way

There’s not much point in having a website if your potential customers aren’t able to find it!

Here’s what you need to do to make sure local searchers are easily able to find you:

  • Optimize your site for the search engines. Make sure your top-performing keywords are embedded strategically throughout your copy, as well as in your HTML code (Specifically, in your title tags, your meta tags, your header tags, your image “alt” tags, and your video/audio tags.)

(You can learn more about search engine optimization if you sign up for our $2.95 30-day trial of Search Marketing Lab here: http://www.marketingtips.com/searchmarketingtrial)

  • Include lots of local references in your web copy — such as the name of your city, your state or province, your electoral riding, local landmarks, and common neighborhood names. This will really help your local search efforts.

That’s because people doing searches for service providers will often type in keyword phrases such as “lawyers downtown Chicago” or “South Beach Florida real estate.”

  • Make sure your site is registered with the “local” features of the three top search engines (e.g., maps.google.com, local.yahoo.com, and cityguides.msn.com)
  • Register your site with local service sites, “vertical portals,” and directories — not only will these sites send you visitors, the links you’ll get from them will also boost your ranking with the search engines — ultimately sending even MORE visitors your way!
  • Get links from as many reputable community-based organizations as possible — such as your local Chamber of Commerce, local industry associations, and business groups.
  • Advertise your services on free online classified sites that target your area — Again, this is more for the relevant links you’ll get pointing to your site than it is for the visitors you’ll get from these sites.
  • Participate in blogs, groups, forums, and social networks that focus on your community. Include signature blocks with links to your site on every post or comment you make.
  • Use geotargeted pay-per-click ads to drive local traffic to your site. These ads will only appear to people who live in a certain geographic area. You can make that area as small or as large as you want.

You can use “negative keywords” to narrow your focus even further. For example, if you’re a real estate agent in Madison, Wisconsin, you can make sure that useless keyword phrases like “real estate advice UK” don’t trigger your ads.

If you geotarget your ads, your traffic numbers are likely to be low — but those ads will also be very cheap. And the traffic they send you will be made up of extremely targeted visitors.

All right, so there’s your primer on how to promote a local service. I hope that gives all you professionals out there enough to get started!

[Ed. note: Andrew Mallory is one of our top Internet Entrepreneur Club experts.]

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