A Website, an App, and Going Local With Social and SEO
There are people who are not VC or Angel funded that still want a piece of the digital landscape. I was approached by someone who wanted to know how she could bring a website along with an app to the local market and get people to notice these products. Millions of projects exist already and there will be millions more as time goes on and the internet matures. Each app or website still has the basic fundamental problem regardless of how awesome their creation is. It’s the common “How do we get people to know about it?” issue.
Search engines, social media, and local efforts are real traffic generators that have very different approaches. Mastering all three takes years to just build a basic idea of what tools and skills are needed to work within the confines of each segment. For this particular exercise I wanted to discuss how to go local. I have been highly successful with several localized projects.
One example of success is when I helped to launch a video game tournament center in Augusta, GA. I had to take a much different approach to win the local crowd over and get their eyes on my websites and in the door. It took at least 6 months of burning the midnight oil to have a steady clientele and it wore me down. Within a couple years we were churning competitions out and even had a couple top MLG competitors training in our facility. Late nights, and early morning coupled with passion will drive your train as it did mine.
Let’s go on to define what local means. When I say we are going local, I mean within your city, town, or village. I could be talking about a State or Province, but for the sake of simplicity, I would like to use city as the reference point. Local means that you can physically reach someone with a flyer or business card and put a face to your product. You could also travel to them and discuss why they need your tools within a reasonable amount of time. Unless you live in Bangkok, you should be able to drive less than 30 minutes to be inside their business for this example.
To get into this and break apart the layers of the onion, I will take each aspect of handling a localized product and gaining traction and go through the basics. I think it’s also important to note that no matter how perfectly you execute each step, failure is a real possibility. Online businesses come and go more than any brick and mortar because you can easily delete a website. You can’t just delete a physical store. Additionally, there is a lot of competition online so you must ensure your product is solid, your execution is flawless, and you have the charisma to entrench your app/website into local businesses. This takes grit and a lot of handshakes. I know, because I literally travelled all over Augusta, GA many times to put a face to the business so people would use it.
With the introduction out of the way, I want to jump right in and explore the very nature of your endeavor. I hope that you will get some actionable ideas from my thoughts and apply them when your product is ready for beta testing.
I am going to skip over the brainstorming segment because I would assume to get to this point in your project you would have already completed it. The next phase starts with researching what your niche needs. You have to make absolutely certain that your product is not what they want. Wants don’t survive in today’s world. Needs are what makes a product successful. Researching a need comes from issues or problem you find that don’t have a solution or that you can provide a better solution for. Many national and global companies were spawned because of a need.
You will also need to account for your competition, market size, potential growth and of course profitability. These are all major components when talking about local markets. There just isn’t enough room for error when you don’t have as many people to pitch to as if you were going national or even global. So get your research hat on and prepare to get your hands dirty!
You’re new platform has to be a value proposition, solves a problem, and is easy to use. Your idea must meet these following reasons to exist:
- People are frustrated and need a solution to a reasonable problem. (Blockbuster late fees = Netflix)
- It simplifies their life and routines. (MS Office Calendar)
- It provides value and eliminates the steps they were using to get to an end result. (Amazon)
- It makes them more money faster and easier. (High-Frequency Trading)
- It is a business multiplier that expands their presence better than traditional means. (Google Adwords)
- It replaces a product or service that was no longer meeting people’s needs. (Digg v4 spawned Reddit)
To research your idea you will need to go out and survey your audience. You need to ask people outside of your group if the same problem exists among other segments in your targeted market. Research is also seeing if your target audience needs this product as much as you think they need it. It’s also important to understand that not every problem needs a solution, and that those problems may simply be an inconvenience that people won’t pay to have fixed. This may be one of the most difficult aspects to cope with because what we might think is a big problem to us, maybe be only a small problem to others, and it could cost us everything by getting this stage wrong. Most of these can be seen on TV in an infomercial. Those products are a flash in a pan because no one really needed a solution like the Slapchop, Shamwow, or even the Clapper. It was cool to clap and have the lights turn on and off, but I wasn’t that lazy to get up and turn the light off manually before bed.
Get your clipboard ready, print your questionnaires out, and go stand on the corner of the busiest intersection and start asking people. Get as much input as possible before bringing your team back to the table to validate the community’s response. Don’t skip this critical step because these are the citizens that you want to use your website or app. If you embrace this step you will more than likely realize the correct features you will need to put into the product to bring users into the ecosystem you want to create.
Starting with 1-2 cities to launch in is a huge deal to sort out up front. You need to consider things like resources you need, if the cities have the same needs in common, or if it is necessary to start small and then grow, or start large and go with the flow. Personally, when I am dealing with going local and figuring out how big of an area to service tend I start small. If the need is present and your initial buy-in from the community is potent, then growth will happen naturally. Uber is a great example of doing a few test cities before expanding rapidly into other markets. You may not like their business model if you are a taxi driver, or their CEO if you are an investor, but their local expansion is solid and business is good.
Since we are discussing an app/website the aspect of starting out in 1, 2, or even 3 cities might be a thought that seems ridiculous because it’s online. Just being online, doesn’t mean there isn’t offline stuff to consider. Depending on the sector you might have to deal with licensing, marketing, surveying, SEO for different markets, if each city has the same need or if a separate problem needs a tweaked solution. There are real consequences of not taking this into account. Demographics can play a huge role in whether or not the community downloads your app. Perhaps you are a political type of product and one city is more conservative than the other. Ask these questions and before you make the jump, consider if you need to go back and do more research.
Resources is another consideration to address in the beginning. Do you need to hire more developers? Perhaps it’s more or less marketing costs depending on which city you start with. You have to account for the people you need on your team, the hours you will spend telling people about it, and of course how many plans you need to develop. Stay small and win is a smart strategy every time.
I am going to skip over product development since it’s the obvious part of the process and it comes between the planning stages and the testing stages. However, if there is a need to address development processes, I will be happy to write a more indepth post specifically about that so I don’t take away from the overall point of this post. Just know that you need the right people (coders, project managers, designers…etc) on your team to accomplish this very intensive building period.
Finding local people to test your product is the best course of action since the entire idea is based on those in that particular community who will consume your product. They can tell you directly what the strengths and weaknesses are of the implementation you have developed. Take in as much information as they are willing to provide and prioritize it from most important to least important. Make sure to let them tell you what is most important during the feedback stage of testing so you don’t fix the wrong items. If your local testers like what they see and you can get them onboard then your product should be an easy sell. Seems easy right? It’s easy to write these steps, but actually doing it correctly and getting the right feedback is more often than not challenging.
Let’s discuss not being able to use the folks in the community to test your product. Sometimes you just can’t get people to do so due to timing, seasonal obstacles, or you might be an introvert. That’s OK, there are ways around this and that is by sourcing testers from the internet. Using Fiverr to hire testers is a good way to see if your products makes sense to strangers from around the world for only $5 per gig. They will test it, download it, and provide you with their thoughts. Maybe you don’t like the idea of Fiverr. There is also the option of using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk workforce that provides microservices for opportunities like this as well. Check out both and see which one fits your needs.
Whatever you do, don’t skip out on the testing phase. Much like everything that came before it, this is imperative to do. I want you to have success and ignoring the basics will be a dangerous road to travel.
Now it’s time to find your audience, and in some cases you should be doing this while in the research phase. If you haven’t then now is the time to get going. When thinking about social and how it works with your business you need consider it like having a face-to-face conversation with people. Social isn’t just a place to advertise and post your sales. Social is almost everything in today’s internet-connected world and where you should plan to invest a lot of time and energy once you have a product to work with.
A social approach that I feel is the most effective, and something that I took away from Gary Vaynerchuk, is the 1-2 platforms to start with. Gary preaches that you should focus your social media presence in the beginning to what you are capable of owning and actually being present for to engage with people. This approach has changed the way I build a product, brand, or whatever it is that I am working on. Let’s look at a short list of possible combinations that you might use in your approach.
- Facebook & Twitter: One is product centered and the other is interest centered. On Facebook people will come to you and you have to be on your game with content. On Twitter it’s all interest based and everyone is on the same level having conversations. Both platforms convert and maybe a great combination to use to see what is more effective.
- Pinterest & Instagram: If you have a very visual product then you might pick these platforms to invest your time in. Both are incredibly hot and can convert users to your product if you have a great graphic designer on hand to support the messaging.
- Tumblr & Google Plus: These platforms may not deliver the massive traffic we all hope for, but they are still a viable option. A different approach in content generation is needed with these platforms and both have a younger generation attached to it. Tumblr is a social blogging platform owned by Yahoo with a younger crowd that loves animated GIFs. Google Plus is great for GIFs, high-end photography, and meeting people through interests.
I am only listing three combinations to get you thinking about what is right for your situation. Perhaps Quora, Snapchat, YouTube, Soundcloud, or some other platform make more sense. They all have some value that can help prop your ideas and products up. The goal here is to find at least one if not two of them to get you going.
Applying It Locally
After you have settled on the right places to be, you need to construct your messaging plan. This is the story you are going to tell to people you are trying to reach. For local businesses it’s all about finding those in your community that will like, upvote, or share your message to others in the city you are targeting. This is where interest-based social media platforms shine. Take something like Twitter and the ability to hashtag a community and follow those that live in the locality that you are targeting. If this concept is new to you then I would highly recommend searching out some “Twitter 101” videos on YouTube to get up to speed. It’s a great place to learn so you can jump right in and start building.
An example I can offer is a Facebook page that really understood it’s messaging. An Albuquerque man had started the “I Love Alburquerque” Facebook page and made it a place that people flocked to by posting positive things about the city. He went to places around the city and took beautiful pictures, interviewed people, and talked about events happening inside the ABQ area. He did such a fantastic job, that I was the target for writing an anti-ABQ post in my comedy blog a few years ago. I wrote “40 Things That Suck About Albuquerque” one day with a couple friends and posted it back in 2010. I lived there and I was just poking fun a little. Two and a half years went by and this page found my post and then reposted the link to my fun little list and luckily a friend of mine sent me a message asking if it was my blog. I said of course and over the course of 3-4 days almost 12,000 fans of this page visited my post and left over 1,000 comments. In turn, I responded to every single one of them in a very light-hearted way and I turned a potentially negative situation into a very positive one.
That long story showed that having your messaging right on the platform of your choosing can rally people to a cause, a product, or a person. In my case it was an angry mob wanting my head because I had disrespected their city. It was all local that drove this. This person engaged with his flock of dedicated Albuquerque lovers and had over 40,000 fans at that time. It was a page that people fell in love with and consistently visited to see the wonderful images and content that was posted. This was getting “socially local” correct in every way possible.
I will leave this section with one more example. If you have an app that reviewed and rated every dentist in the city then it might be smart to tell their story through your fan page. Perhaps going to dental offices and taking photographs, having interviews with the dentists in your city, and perhaps talking about dentistry in general on your social platform is a good story that people might be interested in. This is your chance to highlight the local businesses and those that work in them. People want to be able to use your app to find the right place but they will probably get to the download page by consuming your social content first. If you decide on weekly updates to your Facebook page then you probably won’t do much. You need to provide a lot of content on social for people to care.
- Post daily, and post quality. This could be hard to do everyday so if you can schedule posts then that’s a great option as well.
- Speak the language of the platform. Research the type of content that works for your platform.
- Use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Seriously, this matters…a lot.
- Don’t post nonsense. People want quality content to engage with.
- Go for the emotional strings to get people caring about what you are posting.
- Don’t beg for shares, likes, or other gimmicks. People will do those things if it’s good naturally.
Search Engine Optimization is an area that deserves some discussion. People still search for their wants and needs through places like Google, Yahoo, Duck Duck Go, and other sites. As much as I would love to downplay this, I simply can’t. When it comes to targeting local needs like restaurants, hardware stores, gyms, salons, and many others places people hit the search button. Social media isn’t where it needs to be to remove the need of search engines, so until that happens let’s talk about the things you need to do. The biggest hurdle is to decide if you can handle doing the SEO yourself or if you need to hire someone to do it for you. This area requires you to build incoming links to your website or app so it shows higher in organic search results.
There are two different types of SEO. The first is on-page SEO. This is where you make sure that your content is spelled correctly, formatted for human readers, that “Alt” image tags are filled in, and that you have the right keywords in the content. If you have a WordPress site then you need the “WordPress SEO by Yoast” plugin that will help you with this very important area. You have to account for everything and that even includes things like using SSL, or making sure your website loads faster than your competitors. The second type of SEO is off-page. This is link building, submitting sitemaps to Google Webmaster Tools, building social signals, and working anchor text from high-quality sites linking to yours. Yes I added linking building twice in that last sentence because it’s one of the biggest factors on whether or not Google indexes your site or page at the top of a search result.
How do I get links to my product? I am glad I asked and I will discuss several avenues to do this. You can Google this but you will ultimately end up with a bunch of self-proclaimed SEO experts that you can hire for thousands of dollars a month. They will provide you with results, but the impact might not be what you were hoping for. Stay away from places like Digital Point and Warrior forum for advice. It’s loaded with people waiting to take advantage of the unknowing and it’s too big of a risk to recommend them. Please don’t Google those either, unless you can’t wait to give away your money for nothing.
Here is a list of ways to generate high-quality links to your content with keeping local SEO in mind.
- Write high-quality content on your website that people want to share or repost on their website. Ensure you are using the city’s name and other local words in your copy.
- Write press releases with your local anchor text linking back to your site and submit them to places like PRWeb, NewsWire, and other free press release websites. This will generate links with your anchor text if it’s good and people find it interesting.
- Connect with local bloggers and discuss your product and perhaps find a way to have them write about you, your business plans, or your product. Bloggers love having great content to share with their readers. Offer to meet you at the local coffee house and buy them a cup while you discuss what you are doing.
- Use your social media accounts to link to your product once in a while. Please don’t try to upsell your stuff in every post. You will lose followers by doing so.
- Get out in the community and talk to your target audience offline and maybe they will come back online to talk about you and link to you.
There are more ways to “Guerilla Market” and you have to start somewhere. These ideas should get you thinking about the ways you can develop your own strategy. It’s important that you focus on local partners and content creators that you can build real relationships with. If they like you and your offerings they will link to you naturally and you won’t have to rely on scummy tactics. You don’t need to do blog commenting, directory submissions, and other low-level linking that really does nothing for your search result positions. Focus on quality and engagement up front and you will reap the rewards.
Buying Impressions & Clicks
Sometimes you just need more than posting links and stories. Paying to get seen using social media ads on Facebook and Twitter is a smart move especially if you can focus in on those potential users in the city you have chosen to go local with. Most ad systems like Google Adwords and Facebook/Twitter give you very fine-grain targeting ability. You can look for your demographic at the city level and only target them. Buying clicks is always a last resort for me, but I have done it and it has helped in some situations. You need to make sure you exhausted other avenues before you starting burning through cash reserves trying to get seen. You are going local after all and you can rent a billboard or find another way to get seen within your city limits.
If you still can’t find another way to target your local citizens then go buy some ad space on social media or search engines. I will warn you ahead of time that depending on your niche, you could pay more per impression that another niche. Keywords are all very volatile depending on the demand for ad space. Liquor for example might be a very costly ad space to be in. The key here is to do research on keywords and find the right ones that will be low to purchase and the most beneficial for conversions. If you are like me and don’t want to become an expert in ad platforms, then please outsource this to someone who is considered a professional. This will probably be the shortest section of this post because I simply don’t believe you have to take this approach unless you have deep pockets or can’t break through any other way.
Hitting the Streets
Something that many entrepreneurs forget about is that physically going out and handing out flyers to potential users within your cities is valuable. I know the thought of marketing an app by handing a piece of paper to someone on a corner seems a bit silly, but it’s not. Putting a QR code on the paper and explaining to people the problem you are solving can be beneficial. Face-to-face marketing is underrated by many but still yields a higher impacts because people know who is actually behind the product. Real relationships are stronger than virtual ones and will drive a passion if you impart the correct attitude and excitement onto someone else. Let me list some ways to hit the street that can make a difference.
- Put vinyl decals on your vehicle. I had a large part of my back window covered with my business logo and contact information. This was a huge boost. People would call my cell phone while I was driving down the road and the person on the other end would be the car behind me wanting more information. This really works!
- Hand physical business cards out. I am a firm believer that business cards are dead and digital contact information is in, but for a $20 box of cards I am not leaving this possibility out. Meet and greet with people and leave a card with them. Even if you get a few bites, it’s better than nothing.
- Sponsor things in the community if you have the funds for it. Go hang a banner on the Little League fence. All those in the audience will be looking at that banner throughout each game. Part of advertising is getting your name out there several times for people to remember it.
- Get a table at festivals and pass out your information. I had a table at any festival I could get my hands on and I handed out keychains, bumper stickers, and any trinket I could have made in China. You might hate me for not having made in the U.S.A., but it was cheap, quick and effective.
- Help a charity if your product is something that could be beneficial on that level. They will remember and talk about you if you can help them out enough. I did graphics and printing for several local charities and businesses and they pitched me every chance they got. I seriously made ten’s of thousands of dollars using this approach alone.
- Find something that gives your users a value. Sometimes that is meeting someone and shaking their hand to start a conversation when it’s appropriate. I can’t tell you when that is, but if you bump into someone at Wal-Mart in an aisle that has something to do with what you are creating why not start a conversation? Maybe it’s discussing with someone about the correct sewing thread to use in a craft project, and your project is about sewing so you have a connection and a reason to engage in a conversation. Be creative and not aggressive. Forcing your project onto others should be completely off the table.
Let’s Wrap This
Being local is simply taking a project and getting it to the people closest to you. Walk out your front door and you will find your audience. If you have ever done something on a global or national scale, you have what it takes to shrink it down to the local level. It’s doing it right the first time and not being afraid to say hello to people and tell your story creatively on social media. It takes time and hard work. If you think it’s going to be successful then you already have the passion. Get the determination and go for it.
I understand that this topic has already spawned books, careers, and large media businesses. I tried giving it the justice it deserved in 5,000 words, but if you are starting with nothing then this should at least give you a direction on what to go and you can search specifically for help with your situation. I plan on dissecting this into smaller chunks and explore deeper and share some of my stories in future posts. Like most of my posts here, it’s from a question someone contacted me with. I tend to think about it and then answer those questions in long-form like I have here.
If you have questions about anything I have written about please feel free to connect with me here in the comments or on social media. I love engaging with people who have a passion in business or content creation.