The Internet has changed buying behaviours to the extent that customers habitually research suppliers of goods of services online long before they seek to make a purchase. In fact, increasingly the actual purchase transaction now occurs completely within the online environment – meaning if you can get the customer to your online space, you have a chance of making a sale then and there.
This considered, business directories can be compared to full time sales staff; answering customer queries about where to find a particular product, service or business segment (including the non commercial and public service) and directing them accordingly via a convenient web link.
Local business once meant a street presence
Occupying a main street frontage in a local community used to be the standard model for local business operators. Butchers, retailers, food outlets and other business serving the local community could be found in prime positions on the main streets of the locality. Quite apart from the fact that your ‘local’ butcher may now not occupy any local real estate at all; preferring to operate wholly online, customers are now less willing to linger in main thoroughfares as they seek ever greater efficiency and convenience from suppliers.
Put simply, local customers have adjusted to the conditions of an online world. There is little need to sit down with a travel consultant when the entire transaction can be researched for price and inclusions and finalised online. Even a trip to the local supermarket can be avoided by organised shoppers who make their purchases online in the convenience of the home; with no supermarket lines or runaway shopping trolleys.
Online street presence
To compete in the world of local business, real street presence has been supplanted by virtual presence or an online profile. Part of the equation is setting up shop in a pleasant, user-friendly online space; though not even nearly sufficient in and of itself.
Physical street presence comes at a much higher cost than its online equivalent, with prime positions attracting high rents due to the regular foot traffic, business exposure and likelihood of unsolicited off the street custom. This can happen in the online world also, but requires significant efforts to position the site correctly and strategies to drive internet traffic in the right direction.
There are varying ways to increase online traffic; back links, promotions and giveaways, community presence at local events, cross promotion with other community websites and local businesses and a myriad of other marketing strategies which harness the power of the online world to reach local households and businesses.
Local business directories are like an online phone book
While we already have access to an online version of the standard phone book, enhanced with additional goodies using the unique strengths of the internet, local business directory is a different proposition in that it serves the needs of a particular community grouping.
Often the scope is wide: such as industry based, or state or regional in focus. Consumers may then filter down to their specific requirements. By listing in a number of differently focused directories, local businesses increase their reach across the community in varied ways. This provides additional touch points with the consumer and assists in building familiarity and customer loyalty.
A complement to search engines
The prevalence of search engines as an everyday research tool has trained modern consumers in basic research methodologies; customers generally have a good idea what they are searching for and what keywords to enter to increase their percentage of useful hits.
Internet business directories help customers by filtering one level for them without any more effort being expended; simply by going to the directory as a starting point rather than the standard internet-wide search engine. Now they know that all the hits will be relevant to their locality: no strange pizza place on the other side of the world popping up unexpectedly.
Experience with search engines has trained internet users to expect great results and to be impatient with nonsense hits and keyword stuffed content that causes them to waste unnecessary clicks on useless information. A directory can remove a lot of this clutter, engendering a more positive frame of mind as the customer peruses the options.
Closing the deal without saying a word
A really great site which is easy to use and offers a clear and simple means of processing payment is best geared to operate as a virtual shopfront. Internet directories usually allow a range of contact details to be provided, but ideally the transaction can be undertaken without any need for manual intervention.