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Three Types of Local Websites (and How to Pick the Best One for Your Brand)

by Shane Vaughan  |  
September 4, 2012

The Internet has forever changed the shopping behaviors of consumers. They are investigating products and services like never before.

While many consumers are buying online, the majority who begin searching and researching products online end up making purchases in stores. According to industry figures, 82% of local online searchers follow up offline via an in-store visit, phone call, or purchase. A total of 80% of household budgets are spent within 50 miles of the home. While your brand may be physically present near where the consumer lives, it also needs to be virtually present where the consumer is researching, so they can find you when they're ready to buy.

Consider the example of shopping for a big-screen TV. A consumer researches online for a brand and model to buy, makes a decision, and then searches for where to buy it using their town or ZIP code as a geographic modifier. Often the search results will come back with several choices of electronics stores, but will the brand they were looking for be featured prominently on those sites? As that national brand's marketer you'd certainly want it to be, but chances are you don’t know whether your brand is showing up in local searches. That’s unfortunate because local searches play an important role in a consumer’s decision-making process when it comes to making a purchase.

National brand marketers have typically entrusted the local affiliate (e.g., dealers, distributors, resellers, agents, or franchisees) to take the consumer through the final stages of the cycle to purchase. But as consumers go online and marketing gets ever more sophisticated and technical, these local guys aren't able to execute as well as they had been on the national brand's behalf. The online ecosystem has also become very fragmented, increasing the chances for your brand to get lost in the clutter.

This is where marketing on the local web---an integrated ecosystem of online marketing channels with local websites at the core---comes into play for national brands. Instead of depending on local affiliates for building websites (that may not be very appealing or usable while also featuring your competitor's products), national brands are beginning to spend a greater percentage of their budgets on local online marketing, which includes building local websites—and they expect a return on their investment (ROI).
In a recent micro-study of 270 national marketers, Balihoo found that more than 20% of national brands are spending over 25% of their budget on local marketing, and 37% of companies that track ROI expect local marketing campaign ROI to be higher than their national campaigns. And as the investments increase, so does the need for brand control and measurement.

Three Types of Local Websites

Local websites are co-branded, geography-specific sites that carry through brand-approved information and messages as well as local information, such as location, hours, products and phone numbers, which enables them to be found at the local search level. Now when the consumer is ready to buy, the search engine will serve them the right page at the right time (and to the right big-screen TV) with an appropriate call-to-action.

For local marketing efforts, national brands should consider three types of local websites.

Co-branded affiliate sites. This type of local website structure is a specific site built for each brand's agent, reseller, dealer, distributor, or franchisee, enabling the particular affiliate's location to show up potentially hundreds or thousands of times in local searches and maps. This type of local website is appropriate for companies that have dealer locators on their national sites, so that when a customer comes to locate a reseller, he is offered choices of where to buy, and the site he is connected to is consistent with your brand and features your product. This kind of site is also appropriate for companies with co-op marketing programs to ensure the messages and the programs are supported at the local level with a highly targeted site. Co-branded affiliate sites are ideal for maximizing local SEO around your brand and your product category.

City sites. Run by the national brand entirely, these geographic-specific sites focus on the corporate brand and enable all brand locations in a particular city to be listed in one place. They are used by national brands to expand their presence in individual markets or geographies, and to provide localization and personalization for the consumer. They provide significant benefit from a SEO perspective while offering a customized location-specific experience for your potential customers.

Promotional sites. These sites help national brands communicate a specific promotion, new products or new offerings to persuade the consumer to take action. As the consumer moves through the sales cycle, this type of message is appropriate at the local level but may not be found on a national brand's site.

Tto determine which type of site is right for your national brand, you need to know your strategy and objectives. You also need to think about your local affiliates. Are they exclusively selling your product or selling competitors’ product too? Are they incorporating your product as part of a bigger solution and adding value-added services? What are their objectives? You also need to understand how your customer buys. Is it an impulse purchase? Does it require an investigative process and a longer sales cycle?

Once you know what you want the local site to accomplish, whether it's lead generation, brand content interaction or to act as a marketing hub, then you can decide on the structure of your website.

Having local websites can drive top-line growth and market share by making it easy for consumers to find your brand’s products while also enhancing the consumer experience. Local websites also offer a simple way for local affiliates to engage in sophisticated digital marketing while maintaining the brand's messaging. The ability to measure and track local marketing ROI through tagging and analytics is another major advantage and value-add for national brands incorporating local websites into their marketing strategies.

Shane Vaughn is CMO of Balihoo.

(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Young Smiling Woman)

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Shane Vaughan is CMO of Balihoo.

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