When it comes to finding local businesses online, a lot has changed in the past decade. For example, in the early days of internet marketing, local businesses could get by with organic reach. Where if they shared something on Facebook, they could be confident that a large percentage of their audience would see it. Or if their website ranked near the top of the results page, it would get a lot of clicks. However, platform algorithms have changed, consumer behaviors have shifted, and online marketing has become more competitive, to the point that having a strong organic presence is no longer enough.
Imagine your toilet suddenly starts leaking all over your bathroom, and you need a plumber fast. So, you quickly pull out your phone and start searching online for local plumbers in your area. However, do you scroll down on the results page to the organic links, click on one and search their site to find the information you need? Probably not. If you’re like most people, you instead look at the Google Service Ads running at the very top of the page — ads that show you all the key info you need (their customer rating, phone number, services, etc) at a glance — and press the “call now” button.
The same goes for social media. These days, there is so much noise and competition on social platforms that trying to reach new customers using organic tactics alone simply won’t cut it. You can’t always passively wait for consumers to stumble upon your content and subscribe to your page — especially if you’re a small, local business. You need to actively get your brand in front of your desired audience instead of waiting for them to discover you by accident.
That’s not to say that in-bound strategies like local SEO and content marketing don’t have a place — they absolutely do! However, these strategies take time. If your website is new, or you’re a small business that is just starting to build a social media following, you’re effectively invisible online. It can take months, even years of work to start ranking well in organic search results. Investing in more active approaches like search and social advertising ensures that you show up at the right time and place in the short term, so you can start building brand awareness and getting conversions while you grow your online presence.
What Is Search Advertising?
Search advertising, also known as paid search advertising or search engine advertising, is a marketing technique where a brand’s online advertisements show alongside organic search engine results.
Most small businesses use what is called a “pay-per-click” (PPC) model for search advertising. This means they only pay the ad platform when someone actually clicks on their ad. However, there are other options, such as pay-per-view, (most often used for video ads), or pay-per-impression.
When and where your ads appear, as well as how much you pay for each click, is determined by a variety of factors, including your bid, how relevant your ad is to the keywords you’re targeting, the quality of your ad’s landing page, etc.
Search advertising is a powerful marketing tactic because businesses can select their desired keywords so that their ads show up when people are looking for exactly the kinds of products or services they provide. Moreover, how people search online (the search terms they use, the location, the time of day, etc) reveals a lot about where they are in their purchase journey. This information allows you to target a far more defined, relevant audience than you could with traditional mass media advertising.
The most important platform for search advertising is Google Ads, which makes sense considering Google is the most popular search engine in the US by a large margin. Google Ads operates on an auction-like system, where businesses bid to appear in certain search results. Winning ads show above organic search results and advertisers only pay when the ad is clicked. The platform also provides numerous options to ensure ads only reach people who are likely to buy — which helps small businesses stretch their ad budgets.
For example, if you are a local service area business, you can set geographic targeting parameters so that your ads only run for people who live or work within your territory zip codes. You can define your audience by demographic information like age, gender, or household income. You can bid higher on keywords that indicate a strong buyer intent (such as “buy now” or “open now”) and block keywords that indicate weak buyer intent (such as “free”).
While Google is currently the most popular search advertising platform, it isn’t the only option out there. For example, in June 2021, Bing handled over a quarter of all search queries in the United States. Rather than putting all their eggs in one basket, savvy local business marketers are increasingly making use of Microsoft Advertising (otherwise known as Bing Ads) to increase their reach. Like Google Ads, the Microsoft advertising platform uses an auction model and allows businesses to define their target audience using keywords, locations, and demographic information.
What Is Social Advertising?
Social media advertising, or paid social, helps small, local businesses to promote their brands on social media platforms that their audience frequently uses, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Nextdoor.
Like search advertising, social media enables brands to connect with their ideal buyers based on their geographic, demographic, and behavioral characteristics. However, where search is a more focused, goal-oriented activity (i.e. someone is looking for something specific), browsing on social media revolves around discovery. This makes social ads particularly effective for building brand awareness. Search ads are served based on the keywords a person uses. However, social advertising algorithms place ads based on the user’s geographic location, demographic traits, and previous account behavior.
While Google and Bing are basically the only two players in the paid search advertising market, there are a lot of different social media platforms you can advertise on. As such, part of running a successful social advertising campaign is understanding which channels are most popular with your target audience.
Here’s a quick summary from the Pew Research Center which provides a great snapshot of the preferred platform of different demographics in the US. As you can see, two of the most important networks, overall, are Facebook and Instagram. Both of these platforms provide a variety of different ad formats (including photo ads, messenger ads, and video ads) to help you attract attention and engage your audience.
Depending on your industry, you will also want to explore advertising on more niche social platforms. For example, if you provide professional services (such as being a lawyer, CPA, or estate planner), LinkedIn will be an important platform to consider advertising on. If you are a home services provider, then you will likely want to focus more advertising budget on a channel like Nextdoor.
Why It’s Smart to Combine Search and Social Advertising Together
One of our top digital advertising tips for local businesses is to build your online presence across both search and social. The goal is that whenever someone in your area is looking for your products or services, your business shows up as a nearby, local provider. Combining search and social advertising into a multi-channel marketing strategy helps you to reach potential clients throughout their entire customer journey — from brand discovery to the final conversion.
For example, a dog owner might be scrolling through their social feed and see an engaging video ad for your pet spa. Even if they don’t click on that ad to sign up then and there, it still introduces them to your brand. Later, when they have strong buyer intent (for example, their dog tangled with a skunk and really needs a bath), they do a quick search for “local groomers.” Now one of the first things they see is your search ad with a “schedule now” button. Since your brand is already familiar to them, they are more likely to book an appointment.
Taking Charge of Your Online Advertising With Surefire Local
When you choose to work with Surefire Local, you partner with the leading all-in-one marketing intelligence platform for local businesses. Our goal is to make digital advertising easy by having one place, so you can manage everything and gain insights into what’s working and what isn’t. In addition to the Surefire Local marketing platform, you can work with one of our digital advertising specialists, who can help you maximize your visibility and ROI. We are always happy to share useful digital advertising tips for local businesses to help you get the most out of your marketing efforts. Request your demo today!