Local Search Education - Mobile or Not

Ok, this story isn't 100 percent about mobile, but that's how it started.

I got my hair cut earlier this week. Lisa has been cutting my hair for years. She recently opened up a salon of her own with a colleague. They are typical small business owners. At some point, the following dialogue begins:

Lisa: Why did you use Yelp to call us? I had to pay $15 for your call.

Julie: What is Yelp?

Lisa: You found our number on their web site.

Julie: I didn't realize you'd have to pay for the call. I didn't realize it was a paid service.

Lisa: Yeah, it's happened three or four times this month. One client that I've had for 20 years called through Yelp, and we paid $15 for the call.

Julie: Wait, now I remember. I couldn't find your phone number. I tried Google SMS and that didn't work. Tried Google - that's how I must have gotten the number.

Lisa: What is Google SMS?

Julie: Do you know what SMS is?

Lisa: Yes.

Julie: Well, Google SMS is a 411 service. You didn't show up in their listing though. You aren't searchable on a mobile device.

Lisa: Are a lot of people doing that? Looking up our number with text messaging?

Julie: Not yet, but an increasing number are. Google makes it free now to encourage adoption. It's not ad-supported yet. Here, let me show you how it works. [No search terms returned the name/address/phone number of the salon]

Lisa: You are stressing me out. How am I supposed to know about that. That $15 came out of my profits. You are going to have to pay it back to me in consulting services. (joking)

Julie: In terms of Yelp, they must be buying your name on search sites or they have a more relevant listing than your web site. If they are buying your name, I'm sure it costs a lot less than $15. If someone types in the name of your salon, they are not likely a new lead - and definitely not worth $15. That's borderline what auto dealers pay for a car lead. If someone is a new customer, it's probably worth it.

Lisa: No new customers have come through Yelp this month - just ones we already have. I need to cancel that service.

Julie: If I called through their site, they were likely the top listing under Google.

Lisa: Can you show me? Can I call Google and change that? And, can you explain to me in English what you're talking about. You are totally stressing me out.

Anyway, so it goes. I type the name of their salon into Google and Yelp is the first listing. Their web site doesn't make page one. How does a new business owner make their site more searchable? learn to bid on search terms?

I then told her about the range of new companies that had been funded. Told her that this was just the beginning and that there would be many, many more versions of local search coming and she was likely to be asked by many companies to pay up for leads even from cell phones. It's too much. They just want their phone number to show up when someone types the name of their salon into a search engine. In reality, that's what consumers want and what would serve them best. How does a small business owner ensure that they show up in Google's directory for SMS or otherwise.

We always talk about inventory as being one of the issues for local advertising online including search.

My colleague Sapna has the following advice for small business owners: (Lisa, this is for you)

So the link below is the one you go to, to get an idea of how much folks are bidding on keywords..click on 'view bids' under tools [right of the page]

http://searchmarketing.yahoo.com/rc/srch/

I would mark it up by about 20 cents, if you wanted to ballpark it for Google.

Yahoo's local listings program, for example is cheap enough for these guys to use themselves. http://listings.local.yahoo.com/
As does Google's

https://www.google.com/local/add/login?hl=en-US&gl=US

I searched for 'San Francisco hair salons' on google.. and Nob Hill Spa-Huntington or some such was listed first on sponsored listings..I clicked on their rsults and in the page below, Yelp is listing their review..
http://www.google.com/maps?hl=en&lr=&q=hair+salons&near=San+Francisco,+C...

Cunning, if they got the lead of $15 from the spa as well [though phone numbers are the same, so i guess these guys dont pay yelp]..Their USP seems to be the reviews, have used yelp oftentimes myself. But it definitely makes sense for the local biz to advertise themselves on search engines..the cost is actually extremely cheap directly with the engines. I just noticed that 'S.F spas' costs 2.00$ per keyword, so looks like everyone is doing it already.

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