Local businesses are losing sales by not taking advantage of the Web as a sales tool. This conclusion is based on two recent personal experiences which, in my mind, highlight how woefully inadequate most local businesses are at using the Web as a marketing medium.

I am researching gas and electric fireplaces for my home out in the country. A very large retailer in Nashville who I thought sold fireplaces has no search engine visibility and almost no information about its fireplaces. If I did not already know about the company, I would not have looked at their web site to start with since it is not possible to find it in the search engines. As it turns out, I found out that this business stopped selling fireplaces two years ago, despite the fact that they are still shown on its web site.

So I continued my search. I only found a single local business online that had a reasonable number of the kind of product I was looking for. The store’s web site is not attractive and has limited product information. It is an ecommerce-enabled site, but there is so little information about the products that I don’t think any user would feel very comfortable placing an order online.

I cannot find a single business in Nashville that sells fireplaces that has a well-crafted web site with adequate information about its products. If there is such a business, it apparently has no search engine visibility. No visibility, no traffic. So I am being forced to physically visit random stores in hopes of finding what I want. If there was a single store in Nashville that sold fireplaces and that had a Web site that could be found in the search engines, that store would automatically get my business. It would be the easiest sale it ever made.

Here’s another real life, personal example.

One weekend, not too long ago, I wanted to take my car somewhere to have a new stereo put in. My business is based in Nashville, but I live in a little town called Dickson, about an hour away from my office. There is no big chain store in my hometown to have such a service performed. So I did an online search for a car stereo retailer/installer in Dickson. I found two results. According to information I found, one of the businesses had a web site and a MySpace page. The other dealer had nothing other than an address in Google Local. Intuitively, you might think that I would automatically gravitate toward the business with the web site. But that was not the case.

When I tried to visit the business’ web site, it appeared that the domain name had expired and had been purchased by someone who put up a generic web page with car stereo-related links. When I went to the store’s MySpace page, I found a couple of quotes that said something about wanting my money. The impression I got from the MySpace page was very negative. I decided to do business with the other store – the one without any kind of Web presence.

Not having a web site is better than having one that makes people not want to do business with you. You can do more damage with bad online marketing than you can with no marketing at all. If you have a web site, you should inspect every word on every page to make sure you are getting the right message across. Does your marketing copy emphasize that you really care about your customers? Or does it relay the idea that you only care about extracting money from the pockets of your customers?

I should point out that I actually ended up doing business with the store that had the bad MySpace page because the other one had either gone out of business or is impossible to find. I guess it doesn’t matter what kind of marketing you do if you’re not open for business to start with. I found the store to be just fine, but their poor online marketing almost cost them a sale.

If you own a physical business that sells products locally, all you have to do to have a MAJOR advantage over your competition is put up a high quality web site where visitors can get lots of information about your products. If they can buy the products online, that’s even better. Going back to my search for a fireplace, my sale alone would just about pay for a decent web site.

Local businesses need to also make sure to have their web sites built in a search engine-friendly manner. Ask your web site developer about this. If he is not experienced in SEO, either hire another designer or bring someone onboard who can work with your designer. Yes, it will cost some money, but it will be a very, very good thing for your business.

It seems that all a local business needs to do to gain a competitive advantage is to put up a search engine friendly web site. If you don’t care enough about your business to take the Web seriously as a marketing medium, you may be paying for it by losing sales to your competitors.

By: Jerry Work

About the Author:

Jerry Work is president of Work Media, LLC, a Nashville-based company that specializes in search engine optimization and pay per click management.

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