The Ultimate Handbook for Local Business Owners

  • July 2, 2024
  • SEO
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Local business owners frequently encounter a persistent digital marketing challenge.

With a plethora of options that seem to expand daily, augmented by recent AI integrations, determining the optimal and most effective approach for your business can be daunting.

Primarily, most local businesses have two (or technically four) strategic paths to choose from: Organic and paid strategies for both search engines and social media platforms.

This guide will delve into the intricacies of each option, examining their advantages and disadvantages while offering actionable insights to help you make well-informed decisions on where to allocate your valuable time, resources, and budget.

Understanding Organic And Paid Strategies

First, let’s clarify the core difference between organic and paid strategies:

  • Organic: This approach focuses on cultivating long-term brand awareness, trust, and authority through the creation and dissemination of consistent, high-quality, optimized content and community engagement. Building a loyal customer base through this strategy is inherently time-intensive and requires significant effort.
  • Paid: This strategy involves investing in online advertising campaigns to achieve rapid visibility and reach a broader audience swiftly. While offering a quicker route to results, paid strategies require careful consideration of cost versus lead volume and quality.

For both search engines and social media, local business owners must navigate these organic and paid options, each coming with distinct time, resource, and cost considerations regarding initial implementation and results.

We will explore best practices for success and discuss the pros and cons of each strategy.

Note that ongoing monitoring and optimization are crucial for all digital marketing efforts, as highlighted in this resource.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

SEM often gets conflated with paid strategies, but it truly encompasses both organic search (local SEO) and paid search (PPC).

Organic Local SEO

Local SEO aims to enhance your business’s prominence in the Local Map Pack and organic search results for relevant services or products.

Screenshot from search for [barrie plumbers], Google, May 2024

Local SEO is analogous to traditional SEO but necessitates additional steps.

Best Practices

  • Keyword research: Identify keywords pertinent to your business’s services/products, geographical location, and competition that potential customers are likely to search for.
  • Website/on-page optimization: Develop a mobile-friendly, responsive, locally-focused website. Optimize title tags, headings, links, meta descriptions, and content with relevant keywords.
  • Local listings: Create and maintain a comprehensive Google Business Profile (GBP) with consistent NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) information across online directories.
  • Reviews: Facilitate and quickly respond to positive, authentic customer reviews, particularly on GBP, to establish local authority.
  • Backlinks: Secure inbound links from relevant local and industry-specific sources to enhance authority.
  • Content marketing: Regularly produce and distribute high-quality, locally relevant content that addresses your audience’s needs and offers value.


  • Cost-effective: Although SEO involves significant research, implementation, and ongoing monitoring, it tends to be more affordable in the long run compared to paid search strategies.
  • Credibility: Users generally perceive organic search results as more trustworthy.
  • Long-term benefits: Continuous optimization of your web presence can sustain organic traffic over time.


  • Delayed results: Establishing online authority is a long-term effort, often taking months to yield substantial results.
  • Algorithm and AI dependency: Constant updates in search engine algorithms and AI impact require ongoing optimization.
  • Competitive landscape: Achieving visibility for popular keywords can be challenging, especially in densely populated areas.

Local Paid Search (PPC)

PPC advertising involves creating and placing text, image, or video ads on Google or Bing’s networks, linking to highly-targeted landing pages designed for conversions.

Service businesses can also utilize Google Local Services Ads, which require a thorough verification process.

Google Local Map Pack
Screenshot from search for [barrie plumbers], Google Maps, May 2024

Best Practices

  • Keyword bidding: Select relevant keywords with high search volumes and low competition.
  • Ad copy optimization: Develop compelling ad copy that highlights your unique value proposition.
  • Landing page optimization: Create landing pages aligned with your ad copy and designed to drive conversions.
  • Remarketing: Target previous website visitors with ads tailored to the products or services they showed interest in.


  • Immediate visibility: Ads appear near the top of search results immediately.
  • Targeted reach: Ads can be precisely targeted to specific demographics and locations.
  • Measurable results: Detailed tracking of impressions, clicks, and conversions allows for campaign performance analysis and budget adjustments.


  • Costly: PPC can be expensive, particularly for competitive keywords. For instance, a Wordstream study shows the average CTR on Google Ads is 1.91% on the search network and 0.35% on the display network, demanding significant impressions to gain clicks.
  • Quantity over quality: High PPC traffic does not necessarily equate to high conversion rates.
  • Click fraud: Bots or competitors might generate non-valuable clicks, wasting budget.
  • Temporary results: Once you cease payments, both ads and traffic quickly disappear.

Social Media Marketing (SMM)

Social media is ubiquitous in our modern world, yet many local businesses struggle to determine its role within their marketing strategies.

The effectiveness of social media for your business depends on the nature of your services and the preferences of your audience. Are you capable of creating content suitable for platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok?

Do you anticipate that your audience will search for such content on these platforms?

A well-implemented social media strategy can extend your community outreach online, thus benefiting most local businesses.

Organic Social Media

Organic social involves posting text, images, audio, video, or links on social media without cost. To succeed, you must build and maintain a robust social following—often an overlooked step.

Facebook page screenshot
Screenshot of Superior Plumbing & Heating of Barrie Facebook page/post, May 2024

Best Practices

  • Visually engaging content: Utilize high-quality images and videos to capture attention.
  • Content calendar: Plan and schedule your social media posts ahead of time.
  • Hashtags: Employ relevant, keyword-rich hashtags to broaden your audience reach.
  • Calls to action: Prompt viewers to click, visit, or purchase.
  • Audience building: Follow, like, and share content from other local businesses and content creators.
  • Community engagement: Responsively engage with comments, messages, and mentions.


  • Cost-effective: Most social media platforms are generally free to use.
  • Brand building: Cultivate customer relationships, build a community, and showcase your brand’s personality.
  • Customer engagement: Interact directly with customers, answer their questions, and address concerns.


  • Limited reach: Organic reach is diminishing on social media, making it challenging to connect with a broad audience.
  • Dependency on social networks: Algorithm changes can significantly impact content visibility.
  • Time-consuming: Developing engaging content and managing various social accounts requires time commitment.

Paid Social Media

Paid social media involves distributing text, image, or video ads through networks where your audience is active.

Facebook ad screenshot
Screenshot of mobile Meta/Facebook Ad, May 2024

Best Practices

  • Audience targeting: Develop and target custom hyper-local audiences by demographics, interests, and behaviors.
  • Ad format: Select the appropriate ad format (image, video, carousel) for your campaign objectives.
  • Ad copy: Create compelling ad copy that highlights your unique value.
  • Landing page optimization: Align landing pages with ad copy to foster conversions.


  • Targeted reach: Precisely target demographics, interests, and behaviors.
  • Increased visibility: Enhance reach by boosting popular organic posts.
  • Measurable results: Track clicks, impressions, and conversions for performance analysis and optimization.


  • Costly: Paid social media can be expensive, especially in competitive sectors or highly populated areas.
  • Ad fatigue: Excessive/intrusive ads may annoy or be ignored by consumers.
  • Algorithm dependency: Social media algorithms prioritize paid content, potentially limiting organic content reach.

Local Challenges

Local business owners must recognize and tackle certain challenges regardless of the chosen strategy.

  • Limited budgets: Smaller marketing budgets can make it tough to compete with larger enterprises. Be strategic in targeting the right audience with the right message.
  • Local competition: Standing out can be difficult amidst local competition. Differentiate your business with unique value propositions, exceptional customer service, and targeted campaigns.
  • Limited resources: Limited staff or digital marketing expertise can hinder effective management of complex campaigns. Consider outsourcing to a digital marketing agency but vet their results thoroughly.
  • Keeping up with trends: Staying updated with the latest trends and best practices can be overwhelming. Partner with a digital marketing expert to stay ahead.

Choosing The Right Strategy For Your Local Business

The most effective approach depends on your specific goals, budget, and target audience. Evaluate the following factors:

  • Goals: What are your objectives (e.g., increase brand awareness, drive website traffic, generate leads, boost sales)?
  • Budget: How much are you willing to spend on marketing (monthly, quarterly, seasonally)?
  • Target audience: Who are you trying to reach? What keywords might they use? Which social media platforms do they frequent?
  • Timeframe: When do you need to see results for your offerings?

A well-rounded strategy often involves a mix of organic and paid tactics.

For example, identify organic keywords/topics with some authority/visibility, or high-value low-competition keywords for PPC or paid social ads that provide quick results.

Consider using paid strategies to test which keywords/topics resonate before investing in a full organic strategy.

If budget allows, integrate both paid search and paid social strategies. Use paid search to capture high-intent users and paid social to build brand awareness and nurture leads.

A Few Words On Analytics

Data-driven decision-making is a significant advantage in digital marketing. All activities can be tracked, analyzed, and optimized.

Utilize tools like Google Analytics, Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and social media platform analytics to understand channel performance.

For small businesses, simple metrics like leads or customer acquisition from online sources can offer valuable insight.

Understanding the return on investment in each channel helps validate strategic decisions and optimize performance.

The Decisions Are Yours

The choice of strategies depends on your unique needs and will likely require ongoing refinement.

By comprehending the true costs, benefits, and drawbacks of each approach, you can craft a balanced strategy that yields tangible results.

More resources:

Featured Image: chainarong06/Shutterstock

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