Many of my small business clients are trying to get local customers via their websites. After using organic SEO to optimize their website for their target markets and geographic areas, I often suggest other marketing tactics to get trusted links to their site. To accomplish this, we’ll often set up free Google Places, Bing Business Portal, and Yahoo Local listings for their business. But there is one often overlooked tactic that is both cost-effective and already optimized for the local market: joining your Chamber of Commerce or Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Importance of Local Searches in Internet Marketing
Before getting into the SEO benefits of joining a Chamber of Commerce, here are some recent events and statistics that support getting local backlinks to your website. In October 2010, Google started emphasizing local search in their results pages. They did this by integrating Google Places information and Maps right into their search results pages. They also updated their search algorithms in the past year to serve up more local results when you search the web. This gives local results a boost in search ranking.
Here are some statistics regarding local search behavior:
97% of people do research online before buying from local businesses
70% of online searchers will use local search to find offline businesses
Over 40% of offline U.S. retail sales are influenced by the Web
20 percent of all Google searches are for local information–about 600 million searches a year
What’s important for small businesses is that people are searching for local companies on the web even if the company doesn’t sell products or services online. So, it’s important to for all small businesses to have a local presence on the web.
Chamber of Commerce SEO Benefits
When you join a chamber of commerce, you automatically get added to their online business directory under your business category. You generally get to put the contact information for your business along with a short description and a link to your website into your chamber profile. Yes, a link to your website from a local organization that residents and businesses use to find services and products in their own city, town, or neighborhood. And, of course, Google values these trusted links to your website when calculating search rankings.
In addition to listing members on the chamber’s website, most chambers create a paper business directory of members that is distributed to the community. Sometimes this directory is created in partnership with a local newspaper or media company. That media company may post the Chamber’s business directory on its own website to increase local SEO for your business even more.
The cost for a small business to join a chamber of commerce is generally between $200 to $500 a year. Your membership will most likely include many other benefits not listed in this article. The main one being local name recognition and connections to local prospects that are very cost-effective compared with other forms of advertising.
Optimize your Chamber of Commerce Listing
If you have an online listing in your chamber of commerce business directory, contact your chamber to see what features you can use in your listing. The features depend on the membership database that your chamber of commerce uses. One product that is commonly used by chambers is ChamberMaster. This is what the Northern Minnesota Chamber of Commerce uses. With this product, each member can have their own web page on the chamber’s website with the following features:
Business Contact Information
Secure Email Contact Form
Links to social network profiles on sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn
Short and Long Business Descriptions
Bullet points describing products and services
Logo and photos
YouTube video link
Up to 20 keyword search phrases to help your business’ chamber web page be found
Hours of operation
Map and directions to your business
Entering all of this data enriches your online presence and targets local markets in your geographic area for SEO and name recognition. Keep in mind that some chambers do charge an extra for this type of premium listing, but when you look at the big picture of local search marketing this type of exposure is invaluable.
So, contact your local chamber of commerce, join if you haven’t already, and optimize your online business directory listing today. By doing these things you’ll take several important steps toward implementing a local search strategy for your business. As an extra bonus, you’ll be doing some link building at the same time.
About the author:
Mary Gammel is the author of marygammel.com. She started blogging at SEO Tips and Strategies in 2009 to help businesses learn more about how to get their websites noticed on search engines. Now she shares her musings on technology, SEO, recipes, and more as a true eclectic techie.