Since ad:tech New York 2010, Brafton has reported that experts anticipate local search will become increasingly mainstream. At Affiliate Summit West 2011, discussions are also revolving around thinking local with...  <a class="excerpt-read-more" href="" title="Read Buzz at Affiliate Summit West 2011: Paid search and SEO must go local">Read more »</a>

Since ad:tech New York 2010, Brafton has reported that experts anticipate local search will become increasingly mainstream. At Affiliate Summit West 2011, discussions are also revolving around thinking local with paid search and SEO, and marketers might not be able to ignore some of the reported ROIs.

Bruce Clay (founder of his self-named internet marketing optimization company and general SEO expert) suggested during one panel that local targeting will be key to online campaigns this year. Fellow panelist Todd Friesen, director of SEO at Performics, agreed that localization will play into link building this year.

In a session themed around generating local leads, the marketer known as Ad Hustler reported that 90 percent of purchases are made within 20 miles consumers' homes – and the majority of all purchases are researched online. (Brafton has reported that 58 percent of Americans research products and services online before making purchases.)

Yet, Amanda Orson, managing partner at affiliate marketing firm Lacuna Group, points out that most neighborhood businesses might still rely on traditional platforms – including radio, outdoor advertising, phone books and direct mail. Orson says certain well-worn channels (including direct mail) are still working for SMBs she's worked with, however others (including printed phone books and radio) are less effective.

Small and micro-businesses would be well served by local online campaigning and its granular, measurable results, she says. Orson urges marketers to generate quality content that will appeal to nearby audiences and mark a site geographically in search engines. She says her clients have been able to get their sites to rank well relatively quickly when they optimize sites and landing pages for local search traffic.

"With good content, it’s feasible to get things ranked well if you keep ahead of Google Local," she says. Orson also suggests that marketers stay in tune with industry-related topics that are trending in or about their regions and reverse engineer content for their sites. (To this end, industry-relevant news content with a specific geographic focus might help keep sites fresh and frequently updated.)

In addition to local-leaning SEO practices, Ad Hustler indicates that clients have seen huge lifts in traffic from local paid search campaigns. One of his business partners in the auto industry used a paid ad to promote a car with traditionally poor sales performance.

A geotargeted, text-hevy ad with a contact form funneled traffic to his client's site. He reports the ad saw more than 19,000 clicks in a short period of time. It generated 852 email leads and 647 phone leads. Overall, the company sold more than 1.7 million of these "hard-to-sell" cars during a time that the auto industry was experiencing downturn.

One reminder from Orson and Ad Hustler is that businesses must act quickly on local leads. Whether SEO brings consumers to info request forms or paid searchers click to learn more, both say their clients have learned the hard way that the value of local leads drops significantly after the first 24 hours.

Marketers will have to respond fast, and they might also want to move fast into the local space in light of the reported results others have seen using locally conscious SEO and paid search. Plus, Orson references Google's renewed focus on local, which may mean that advertisers will soon have more neighborhood-friendly options on the search giant.

As Brafton has reported, local search is Google's top priority. Just last week, Google exec Marissa Mayer claimed that location-based services from the company are on the way, and the search giant is aggressively looking for local SMB ad partners.

Katherine Griwert is Brafton's Marketing Director. She's practiced content marketing, SEO and social marketing for over five years, and her enthusiasm for new media has even deeper roots. Katherine holds a degree in American Studies from Boston College, and her writing is featured in a number of web publications.