If you run a local business, there’s a chance you may not have discovered the power of the internet for marketing yet. After all, if your company only caters to a local audience in your immediate geographic vicinity, what’s the point of spending money and energy to cast a marketing net that is as vast as the reaches of the world wide web?

However, if you haven’t tapped into the power of online marketing thus far, you’re actually missing out on one of the most powerful — and cost-effective — tools for generating leads and bringing in customers that exists. By focusing on online marketing for your local business in 2017, you can both build business and improve your company’s reputation as a forward-thinking, tech-savvy organization.

Why Does Online Marketing Matter for Local Businesses?

If you advertise in local magazines and newspapers, pay for ads on billboards, and utilize television and radio promos to get word out about your business, do you actually need to focus on marketing online, too? Statistics prove, undoubtedly, that the answer is yes.

One reason it’s crucial for local businesses to make sure they are discoverable online is that the internet is where B2B business decision makers are now going first when they need to purchase a product or service. In fact, a study on organic search by Google showed that 71 percent of B2B researchers begin their purchasing process with a search engine search.

Studies also show that B2B business decision makers consistently turn to the web to learn more about a business’s reputation before purchasing; 81 percent of B2B buyers read online forums and blogs to help them decide where to buy, and 84 percent of B2B CEOs and VPs consistently use social media as a resource before making purchasing decisions.

In addition, when studying local search behavior, Google found that 88 percent of smartphone users and 84 percent of tablet users conducted local searches on their devices to find information about businesses nearby. This means that more than four out of five customers discover and decide who they are going to do business with in their geographic vicinity based on a simple online search.

Elements of a Successful Online Marketing Strategy for Local Businesses

Clearly, online marketing is a powerful tool for local businesses, and in 2017, it’s going to be essential to utilize online marketing if you want to maximize the amount of leads you bring in. If you want to get started building an online marketing plan for the coming year, the following strategies will help. These facets of online marketing will ensure all your bases are covered so that you can take full advantage of the power of the web.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is one of the newest — and perhaps most powerful — online marketing strategies that local businesses should take advantage of. Content marketing is an inbound marketing strategy, and it essentially entails using high-quality content that offers helpful information to prospects in order to draw them into your business, convince them that you are a trustworthy and valuable thought leader, and ultimately convince them to buy. There are countless examples of what constitutes content marketing, including blog posts, email newsletters, webinars, white papers and many, many more.

Content marketing is important for local businesses because it helps build strong relationships between businesses and leads. In fact, 78 percent of people equate content marketing with relationship building. According to data compiled by the Content Marketing Institute, 70 percent of buyers prefer to get to know a company via articles rather than ads, and 90 percent of consumers find branded content useful and informative.

In 2017, content marketing will continue to reign as one of the most important online marketing strategies. Experts predict that video content will become more important than ever, as there has been a 360 percent increase in video views over the last several years. B2B business can create videos like how-tos, demonstrations and more to harness the power of content marketing.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is another online strategy that has proven to be extremely effective for local businesses. Email marketing combines the power of direct marketing with the speed of online marketing to deliver a fast, personal message to potential buyers. Seventy-three percent of all B2B marketers believe that email is one of their most powerful tools for growing their business, and 59 percent of B2B marketers believe it is the best way for them to generate revenue.

Email marketing is effective and important for local businesses because it’s a popular communication tool. Today, more than 145 billion emails are sent daily, and 95 percent of all people who shop online also use email to communicate. Finally, local businesses should also take advantage of email marketing because it delivers a great ROI: For every $1 spent on email marketing, $44.25 is returned.

Email marketing is generally effective, but in recent years, it has been proven to be more effective when emails are very specifically tailored to the recipient (in terms of their place in the sales funnel, demographic, etc.) In 2017, marketers can expect to see superior segmentation in their email marketing efforts. If you are marketing a local business online, you should use software that helps you gather analytics and data in order to target leads based on a wide variety of factors; this will ensure that the messages your leads receive in their inboxes are consistently relevant and helpful.

Also, in 2017, email marketing will go mobile. As more and more internet users access their web on-the-go, marketing emails should be optimized for mobile so that they both appear and function well on a myriad of user devices.

Social Media and Review Sites

Of course, social media is a popular tool for connecting and communicating with loved ones, but what many local businesses don’t realize is that it’s a powerful (and free!) marketing tool as well. Social media networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and more are available to all businesses, and they are extremely useful for growing brand awareness and easily distributing helpful information for people who are looking for it. Review sites are also helpful resources, with sites like Yelp, and FourSquare offering firsthand accounts of consumers’ experiences with companies.

Social media and review sites are powerful opportunities for businesses, because people trust the information they read on those platforms. Studies show that 92 percent of all consumers read online reviews, and 88 percent of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Additionally, 46 percent of social media users turn to their social networks when they want to make a purchasing decision.

Social media is also a helpful tool for online businesses not only because it’s a place to learn about a business’s reputation, but also because it allows for a convenient customer service platform, where a company can easily have an open and direct dialogue with customers.

As social media expands in 2017, there is one particular platform that local businesses should be taking advantage of: Instagram. The photo and video sharing website is expected to be one of the most powerful online marketing tools in the coming year, as its user base has grown from 80 million users to 300 million users. Experts believe that the network is on track to do $3.2 billion in 2017.

Local Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of optimizing a web page so that it ranks well in search engine results. SEO is a complicated science, since Google (and other search engines like Bing and Yahoo) have complicated algorithms (which they don’t divulge) in order to give pages an SEO score. However, local businesses can improve SEO rankings by optimizing their web pages and blog posts for keywords that potential customers might be searching for — and also by having consistent business listings in online directories.

There are countless online directories in which local businesses can be listed, including popular resources like Google+, Yelp, Bing Places, Yahoo! Local and more. To keep effective, consistent directory listings, make sure you incorporate keywords throughout your business description. You should also choose industry-specific categories and tags for your listing to make sure it is searchable and include photos and videos to make the listing visually engaging. Finally, each listing for your business should also include a link back to your website; this will allow prospects to easily learn more about your company, should they want to.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

In contrast to SEO, which allows your business to be discovered naturally by people searching for it, search engine marketing, or SEM, is the process of purchasing ads on search engines in order to increase both visibility and traffic. SEM comes in several forms, including paid search ads, pay-per-click ads (PPC), and cost-per-click ads (CPC). Local B2B businesses can take advantage of SEM to create local, targeted search campaigns, where ads appear at the top of search engine results only for people searching for related product or service in their geographic vicinity.

SEM is more important than ever in the coming year thanks to the rise of mobile smartphone usage. According to a study by Google, more than 88 percent of people are using their smartphone to conduct searches while on the go. As more customers are doing searches for local businesses while on the move, your company should pay to place ads at the top of mobile search results — which directly target people while they’re out and about, looking for a specific product or service from a nearby business.

How to Start Building Your Online Marketing Plan in 2017

Now that you know about the most important facets of online marketing for local businesses in 2017, you can focus on create a marketing plan. Here are a few actionable steps you should take to get started making a blueprint that makes sense for your company.

  1. Do a SWOT Analysis

To get a thorough understanding of how to formulate your online marketing plan, you should start by doing a SWOT analysis. A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis allows you to see the big picture of what your marketing needs are, and it can serve as a useful brainstorming tool for marketing techniques.

To do a SWOT analysis, take a square napkin or piece of paper, then divide it into four smaller squares. In one square, list all of your company’s strengths; in the next, all of its weaknesses. In the third box, list all of the opportunities in the market you can take advantage of, and in the last, all of the threats to your business.

  1. Create a Plan of Actionable Steps

Once you’ve done a SWOT analysis and can see what opportunities your business can take advantage of in the market, it’s time to make a plan with actionable steps for online marketing. Each of these steps should address one of the boxes in on your SWOT analysis — that is, one should capitalize on a strength, one should fix a weakness, one should allow you to seize an opportunity and one should find a way to mitigate a threat.

For example, if your company has a great database of email addresses, one actionable step to capitalize on that strength would be to start an email newsletter; and if your company’s website is not SEO-optimized, you can get an expert to help you fix your SEO so you can remove that weakness. Do this for all four facets of your SWOT analysis.

  1. Create an Online Marketing Calendar

Once you’ve come up with several fitting marketing strategies, you should start keeping track of your online marketing efforts (emails, blog posts, social media posts, etc.) with online marketing calendar. A calendar will help keep you accountable and make sure you don’t forget to keep your marketing efforts coming regularly. On your calendar, designate who at the company will handle each online marketing effort and how regularly distribution should occur. By staying on top of online marketing, you can ensure that you take advantage of the online local audience — even as technology and trends begin to shift.

If you’re a decision maker at a local B2B business and you want to drive business in 2017, it’s time to focus on your online marketing strategy. By combining both online and offline efforts, you can ensure you’re reaching the widest audience — and generating as many leads as you possibly can.