Are you new to online marketing for your small business? Or do you just need ideas for what to write about to market your local business online?
You’re not alone!
Many of the small business owners we work with know they need to have more (and better) content, but don’t know where to start. In this post, we’ll take a look at how to use content to market your business and put a brighter spotlight on your business in your area.
Why local content matters.
Having good content—and enough of it—is essential if you want to compete online in your local marketplace.
Because, to rank your business higher in search results, Google wants fresh content that’s relevant to both what your business offers and to a searcher’s intent. If someone is searching for “mosquito control Houston,” Google isn’t going to display results for a pest control company in Denver. What it will display—particularly in the organic search results—are local companies that Google deems the most authoritative, authentic, and relevant to a searcher’s query.
That’s where local or “localized” content comes in: The more high-quality content you have that includes mentions of your location in a natural, non-spammy way, information that’s relevant to your local audience, and the keywords related to the business you’re in, the better your chances are of being seen online.
What type of content should you create?
When we refer to content, we define it as images, videos, blog posts, website copy, ebooks, case studies, infographics, and more. Basically any type of media a visitor to your site will read or listen to and share.
You have a business to run, of course, so you probably don’t have time to produce every type of content (and certainly don’t need to), but you can start by focusing on just a few, which will give you time to get that content right and see how well it performs over time.
Let’s look at some of the types of content that can get your business on a path to greater local visibility. Some require frequent care and feeding, while others will have a longer shelf life. Whenever possible, each should have some sort of local angle.
This is one of the best ways to keep the content on your website fresh, build authority, engage and/or educate an audience, and increase the amount of search engine-friendly content on your site.
Here are answers to some questions we hear about blogging for business:
- How often do I need to post on my blog?
There’s a good bit of debate in the digital marketing world on how often you should write a blog post. The Marketing Insider Group recommends blogging two to four times a week for the best results, for example, and that’s a good place to start. There’s a strong argument, though, to posting new blog content more frequently: Research from HubSpot shows that small companies posting 11 or more blog posts every month have nearly twice the traffic of same-sized companies that post two to five times a month. The most important thing to consider is how much time you can devote to blogging while keeping the quality and the relevancy of your posts high. Better to offer truly valuable information than create a piece of content just because it’s on the schedule.
- How long should blog posts be?
For many years, a word count of about 350 to 500 was the norm. In the last few years, however, Google has increasingly rewarded much longer content with higher rankings. In 2016, one study showed that the average Google first-page search result was 1,890 words long, but today, the best results are seen with much longer content, often 2,000 to 3,000 words. You can read more about these numbers in our guide to long-form content and why it’s so important, or scroll down for some long-form blog post ideas.
- What should I blog about?
Your blog posts can be about anything you want, of course. If you’re going to invest your time in writing, however, focus most of your content on topics that help you reach your marketing goals and are relevant to your business. We offer some content ideas later on in this post.
- I have some content on my blog that’s been there awhile. Is there anything I can do to make it better?
The beauty of the web is that you can update, revise or expand existing blog content at any time. If you have older blog posts that weren’t relevant to a particular time frame (such as a sales promotion you had nine months ago) but that still offer something of value, consider expanding or updating the information in it. An example: A pest control company published a 300-word post two years ago promoting its mosquito control services. The company expanded this post by adding new topics: information on what customers can do to keep mosquito populations down, how certain mosquito species pose particular health dangers, the role of local municipalities’ mosquito control programs (get that location in there!), and a set of FAQ on how the company provides its services. Increasing the word count, posting new content, and offering useful information that’s relevant to search queries make this content work much harder.
Think about how many Google searches you’ve started with the words “how to.” Now think about how you can answer a “how to” question for your potential customers. Identify a topic that lets you share your knowledge and expertise and that lends itself to an in-depth, long-form content format (perhaps 3,000 words or even more). Include step-by-step, practical information that covers as many aspects of the topic as possible and avoid self-promotion. Guides are an opportunity to become an authority on your chosen topics as you boost your local SEO rankings.
At DAGMAR, we’re building a library of guides. Some are focused on specific types of businesses, such as attorneys, and others provide information any type of company can use. Each of them offers valuable, in-depth information that can help readers improve their marketing results.
A couple of years ago, it was estimated that about one-third of all activity on the web is watching videos, and it’s not a stretch to assume those numbers are even higher today. More recent research cited by HubSpot in an article about video marketing showed that 54% of people want to see more video content from marketers.
That same research also showed that the four most common types of video content are:
- Product demonstrations
So what ideas do those categories spark? Think about how these and other types of videos may be right for your content strategy:
- Explainer videos are most often used to give audiences a simple explanation of a service or product. Is there something about one of your products or services that people misunderstand or don’t see the full value of? Do you have a new product to introduce? A brief video (say, 90 seconds or less) that makes it easier for customers to understand how you can help them may increase the likelihood that they’ll decide to contact you instead of your competitor. This video from Mint.com explains its personal finance management product and shows how easy it is to use.
- Testimonials in any format are powerful, but especially in videos. A testimonial from a satisfied customer will be seen as a third-party endorsement or “social proof,” which consumers prefer over having to take your word for how great your own company is. An article in Forbes on “How to Make an Effective Testimonial Video” has some good suggestions for how to put together the flow of your video, such as starting by introducing your company with footage of your storefront, signage or personnel.
- Product demonstrations and how-to videos can be used for the same purpose as guides and deliver a lot of value to viewers. If you or your employees are featured in the video, all the better—you’ll be adding a personal touch and helping prospective customers get to know you, while putting your company’s expertise in the spotlight.
- Staff interview videos can have more than one purpose. If you’re in a service business such as HVAC, for example, that sends technicians into customers’ homes, featuring employees can go a very long way to making viewers more comfortable with you when they can see how professional, friendly and knowledgeable your team members are. Another effective use of videos that feature your staff: attracting employees by promoting your company as a great place to work with people who like their jobs.
- Behind-the-scenes videos can be fun, interesting and educational. Take your prospective and current customers on a tour of some of the inner workings of your company to give them an insider’s view of things. Much like staff interviews, these types of videos can break down barriers that may have kept people from finally choosing to do business with you, and they can make you and your company appear more approachable overall.
Infographics are perfect for condensing a great deal of information in an interesting way, and they’re easily shareable. Graphs, charts and images have particular appeal to audiences that are in a hurry to get the information they’re searching for and/or prefer to get their information visually.
If you have the budget, you can contract with a designer for a custom infographic. You can also take advantage of one of the many infographic tools on the web, most of which have user-friendly drag-and-drop interfaces and customizable templates.
5. Downloadable checklists
Offering a downloadable checklist in exchange for a site visitor’s email address has several benefits: It can help you build an email list of people to market to, it provides information that’s helpful (and therefore valuable), it positions you as an expert, and it’s inexpensive to produce.
As an example, we offer a very practical SEO Checklist for Launching Your New or Redesigned Website to developers to help them build in SEO best practices from the start.
6. Web pages
Don’t overlook the opportunities on the pages of your website! If you haven’t already, you can boost your local SEO by creating location-specific web pages.
As an example, let’s say you have a gift basket design service in Orlando. Your delivery area, of course, goes well beyond the official city limits. Your potential local customers probably search for “Orlando gift baskets,” but they may also search for “Winter Park gift baskets” or “Kissimmee gift baskets” to find services closer to where they live or work.
Create new pages for each of the cities (and major neighborhoods) you serve using those search phrases, making sure that the content on each page is unique and original to avoid the SEO rankings problems that duplicate content can cause.
Note: If you have more than one local brick-and-mortar location, it’s especially important to have website content that’s specific to each one. Just having a page that lists all of your locations isn’t enough—you need separate web pages for each. SEMrush, a service that provides tools for competitive research for digital marketers, offers a solid overview of why you should create location pages and what should be on them. It also offers this good advice: “Think of your location pages as microsites that you can expand on to create relevant related content.”
7. More long-form content ideas
In addition to comprehensive guides that answer “how to” search queries, these approaches can help you create the long-form content that search engines reward:
Frequently asked questions (FAQ): Coming up with enough questions and answers to reach a 2,000 or 3,000 word count certainly seems daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Start with questions that you actually hear from your customers or clients to ensure that your content will be relevant to them and be helpful. Then take advantage of the “People also ask” box that appears on most Google results pages. Example: A search for “what is personal injury law?” brings up these questions:
This is a quick way to find out the most common questions being asked about your topic, and you can use them to come up with more ideas.
“Questions to ask” lists: This is another format that can be great for search engine rankings and useful to your audience. One specific approach is to generate a list of questions to ask when choosing a company or firm that’s in your industry. Using the same example as above, a “Questions to ask personal injury lawyers” list could include questions such as:
- “Have you handled a case similar to mine?”
- “Do your attorneys have trial experience?”
- “Who will be the attorney handling my case?”
- “Can you provide references from past clients?”
As you write the answers to these questions, take advantage of the opportunity to highlight your company’s strengths and the benefits you can deliver to clients. “Questions to ask” lists offer a way to compare your company to your competitors’ and provide a great deal of detail on a range of topics.
“Best of” compendiums: This is the type of blog post you can work on over a period of time. As you come across things online that are pertinent to your business and customers, bookmark them.
Put some science behind your content strategy.
Basing your content on data can help you get more from the time, effort and money you put into marketing your business online. The more you know about your competitors and your customers, the harder your content can work.
Even the most preliminary research is worthwhile and you don’t have to devote a lot of resources to it to get some value from it. There are a number of free tools that can help you plan a smarter content strategy:
- Google’s Search Console will show you what keywords your website ranks for, external sites that have links to your content and points out issue your site may have, such as pages that Google can’t access.
- Google Analytics helps you see how people engage with your content, interact with your site and more.
- Keyword Explorer from Moz lets you find keywords your site can rank for.
- Google Trends can help you understand how search trends change over a certain period of time, which is useful for planning the timing of your content. As a very simple example, here’s a look at the crazy spike in searches for “gift baskets” in December as last-minute Christmas shopping ramps up:
It’s worth your time to learn more about keywords—check out this guide to keyword research from Ahrefs if you’re just getting started.
Get creative with localized content.
This section can help spark ideas on how you can go outside the lines to connect to local audiences with content. These ideas usually don’t lend themselves to a long-form word count, but they are focused on the important “local” angle and can be a relatively quick way to engage readers.
Let’s use a hypothetical accounting practice here in Jacksonville as an example for how a local business can come up with interesting localized content. We’ll call it Astrid Accounting Service.
You might expect the company’s content to stick with topics such as taxes, bookkeeping and the latest regulatory action affecting its clients, and that’s certainly the arena where Astrid should work to position itself as an authority among “Jacksonville accounting firms.” But the local angle doesn’t have to stop at some arbitrary boundary that says Astrid has to stay in its “local accountant” lane. In fact, the focus can be put more on the “local” aspect when it comes to getting creative. Here’s how that can work in several different ways:
- Tie into a local event. Jacksonville sometimes achieves a sort of perfect storm of events in the fall. A single weekend can have a football game, a fair, and a popular performer at a theater that brings crowds to the downtown area. Astrid Accounting can tie in by doing a post on all of the ways people can get downtown without taking a car or where the best or most affordable parking areas are.
- Offer a local guide. Guides relevant to your local area can make for great content that’s useful for readers and for your search engine rankings. Astrid can do this with a blog post on “Free Things To Do With Kids This Summer.” Such a topic can be both hyper-local (list and link to specific places to go in and around Jacksonville) and relevant to Astrid’s authority (“we know how important saving money is to our clients”).
- Offer your take on local trends or news. Jacksonville was recently named to a list of the most affordable America cities for retirement, coming in at number 4. Astrid Accounting can do a blog post or even a guide that answers the question, “Is Jacksonville a good city to retire to?”
- Feature a local charitable organization. Is your company or one of your employees involved with local non-profit activities? You can demonstrate your commitment to building a better community by highlighting an event or organization that you support and get some SEO goodness by linking to relevant websites.
- Do a “## Tips” list. Astrid Accounting can do a blog post in November on “10 Tips for Holiday Shopping in Jacksonville,” which includes links to some popular locally owned stores and holiday events where great gifts can be found.
You’re a publisher! Now it’s time to be a promoter.
Once you get in the habit of creating content to market your business, what’s next?
Promoting content is part of what’s called content marketing. Hubspot has a good definition of this often-confusing term:
“Content marketing is the process of planning, creating, distributing, sharing, and publishing content to reach your target audience. As a business, this tactic can help you improve brand awareness, boost sales, connect with your target audience members, and engage prospects and customers.”
After getting the “planning and creating” part going, here’s how the “distributing, sharing and publishing” part of content marketing can help you achieve your marketing goals:
Social media: Whether your service or product is marketed to local consumers or other local businesses, the people you need to reach are likely to be on social media. When you’ve just published a blog post, guide, infographic or any other kind of content, also publish a post on your social media accounts to promote it.
A few tips:
- Use imagery! Nothing grabs attention like an interesting image. Become familiar with the various image size/type requirements on each platform, too, since they’re all different.
- Post your content on social media more than once. Try out different titles and images each time. Note that you don’t have to use the featured image from your content.
- Use the tools that social media platforms provide to determine the best days and times of days to post.
- If your post starts a conversation, make sure to join in. It’s a great way to show that there are real people behind the company.
Your email list: If you’ve been building an email list, send a quick email promoting your content. (If you haven’t, get started growing your email list!)
Paid promotion: Social media advertising is another way to promote your content. The cost of advertising on most social media channels is up to you—you can spend as little or as much as you like. Check out Facebook’s Ads Help Center to start getting familiar with how most paid social ads work.
Guest posting: You may not have heard of guest posting, but chances are very good that you’ve read several guest posts, even if you didn’t know you were. Simply stated, you (the “guest”) submit content to a third-party online publication. In return, most publications will let you include a link back to your own website or other content you want to promote, which is always great for search engine rankings.
In spite of the benefits of guest blogging or posting, getting your content published on other sites isn’t quite as easy as it sounds:
- You have to approach the right publications. If your article isn’t a very good fit for the publication’s readers, it won’t be accepted.
- Some publications want your submission to be the finished post, while others want you to pitch your topic first. Either way, your post or your pitch has to be worthwhile for the publication to consider it.
- Content that’s too promotional probably won’t be accepted. Why? Because educational, interesting and relevant content rarely includes sales talk.
- You can’t skim past the publication’s submission requirements. If they have a 500-word limit, don’t submit 1,000 words. If they want a pitch first, don’t submit an article. If they want you to credit sources of data or quotes, include them. You get the idea: Follow the rules or you will have wasted your time.
All of that said, guest posting has more upsides than downsides. Do some research into guest post opportunities, which are fairly easy to find. Using our Astrid Accounting example above, a search for “accounting guest post submission” unearths hundreds of opportunities.
A side note: Look for opportunities to have other experts or authorities post content on your site. Don’t overdo it—your own original content is always best—but take advantage of a reciprocal relationship where you can post on each other’s sites.
About the local angle here: There probably won’t be many opportunities to write for local publications, but that’s okay. Expanding your online presence with guest posts, especially when you can mention your location, will still help you establish yourself as an authority in your field, strengthen your brand, and make more people more aware of your business.
Measure, tweak, repeat.
One of the best aspects of digital marketing is that you can consistently improve on your prior efforts. Check your content’s performance by monitoring visitors, page views, social shares, comments, and conversions. If a piece didn’t do nearly as well as you’d hoped, make revisions and have another go. Don’t make too many changes at once, though, or you’ll have a hard time determining just which change made things better.
Should you outsource content creation?
The quality and relevance of your content counts, so if you don’t have the time or on-staff talent to get it right, consider outsourcing your content development and/or content marketing.
With the increasing need for businesses to publish content, there are plenty of independent freelance writers and writing services you can find and work with online, or you can work with a digital marketing agency.
As with any outside service provider, there are pluses and minuses. The pros of outsourcing your content include freeing you to focus on your core business and saving you time; the cons include the time it can take to find a good writer that won’t completely break the bank and knows enough about your industry to write intelligently on topics.
Keep in mind that with writing, you definitely get what you pay for, and you really won’t know what you’re getting until you’ve had the writer do a few pieces for you.
- Search engines and users want the same things from content: relevance, usefulness, thoroughness, and authenticity.
- Make your content locally relevant—it’s good for search engine rankings and for building relationships with the local customers your business depends on.
- Blogs aren’t the only type of content you can use for marketing: Think guides, videos, checklists and more.
- Aim for lengthier content, but not at the expense of quality.
- Always look for a local approach when creating content.
- Google rewards fresh content, so publish frequently.
- Promote your content in as many places and as often as you can.
- Promote your content more than once.
- Track your content’s performance and adjust your strategy accordingly.
- Outsource content creation if you have the budget but don’t have the time.
Need help with local content?
Using content to market your local business can help you attract new customers, strengthen relationships with existing customers, and build your brand in your marketplace.
If you’d like to know more about marketing your local business with content, DAGMAR Marketing can help with standalone content services or as part of a comprehensive local SEO strategy. Please get in touch anytime.
Ways to promote your content: The Content Marketing Institute offers these “7 Promotion Tactics to Get Your Content Noticed.”
Ranking locally: How can you get your business to appear more prominently in Google Maps and search? Learn more about local SEO and improving your local ranking on Google.