It’s a pivotal question for any business, and especially critical for web designers. Most web designers ask themselves this question when starting their business:
In what geographical area will I serve clients?
If it doesn’t strike you as an important question, I may be able to change your mind in the 5 minutes it takes you to read this.
For some reason, many web designers gravitate to the local market. If you browse the portfolio of a few smaller web designers, you’ll typically see their clients are local small businesses and organizations.
This is logical, but I wonder if these small web designers are limiting themselves by targeting only their local area…
Take for example a web designer targeting Cincinnati, a market of about 400,000 people including the surrounding communities.
400,000 seems like a lot of people, but contrast that with the US population of over 316,000,000, and you see by choosing a local market, you’ve cut your target market to a slice of pie about 0.12% of the whole.
And Cincinnati is a large city. So if you’re in a much smaller city or town, your slice of the pie becomes much skinnier.
I’m not saying eating the whole pie is always the best idea. I’m just trying to frame the importance of this question when starting your web design business.
Now, hopefully you understand there is an important decision to make. Let’s investigate the ups and downs of targeting local and broad markets.
Advantages of Targeting Local Market
- Ease of face to face meetings – Obviously, the greatest advantage in targeting your local market is close proximity and the assurance that your prospects are always nearby. This makes face to face meetings much more feasible. A lot of your prospects will prefer meeting face-to-face so this will probably raise your conversion rate of turning prospects into clients. But I also believe that in-person meetings are not all rosy. They have a downside and I’ll explain below.
- Local SEO popularity – Google has shown a trend toward displaying search results that are local and personalized. So if you focus on a local market and optimize your site for that region, Google will probably take notice and you’ll enjoy higher rankings and noticeable traffic bumps for searches in your region. On the other hand, targeting the entire US can spread your “SEO juice” too thin and give you mediocre rankings overall.
- Brand name recognition in the local market – Imagine you develop a website for Bob the plumber in your town. Bob has 2,000 website visitors per month on his website and most of them are also in your local area. Bob the plumber’s website visitors may see “Website Designed By…” at the bottom of his website and go check out your web design services. When they realize you are right down the street, you’re golden! You can imagine how this effect can quickly snowball into enough local business to keep your prospect pipeline full for a long time.
Disadvantages of Targeting Local Market
- Ease of face to face meetings – Being near your prospects and able to meet face to face seems like an advantage, but it can be a disadvantage. Check out some interesting sales data from Green Leads testing sales by phone vs face-to-face meetings over 5 years. Not only do personal meetings take much longer, but based on their data, they may not produce superior results over phone calls.
- Limited online marketing – The advantage of online marketing is the ability to reach millions of people nationwide or even worldwide. If you are only targeting your local market, the internet advertising advantage is significantly diminished. You can still advertise online, but they call it the World Wide Web for a reason and you’ll only be utilizing a small portion of it.
- Smaller market size – A smaller pool of people is the most obvious downside to targeting a local market. This really needs no explanation, but I did discuss it above in the Cincinnati example. It’s the main reason that web designers need to consider broader markets.
Advantages of Targeting Broad Markets
- Larger market size – The #1 reason people ever expand their target market – more people = more potential clients.
- More marketing opportunities online – If you decide to target a broader market, the entire web is your playground. You can use pay-per-click marketing, content marketing, and online advertising with the confidence that most visitors to your site are potential clients.
- Ever-expanding market size – Internet use is growing at a staggering rate worldwide. As internet use grows, more businesses come online and more websites are needed.If your targeted geographical area is expanding, the number of people in your targeted region will continue to grow exponentially as internet usage skyrockets. This is especially true for web designers targeting expanding global markets.
Disadvantages of Targeting Broad Markets
- Spreading yourself too thin – I mentioned the SEO effect of spreading your website authority too thin and hurting your rankings overall, but there are plenty of other practical challenges in targeting expansive markets. Dealing with high phone expenses, time zone differences, and regional market distinctions are a few that come to mind.
- Difficulty building brand recognition – You probably won’t have people in the neighborhood recognizing your brand name if you’re building websites all over the country.
- No Face to Face marketing – I’ve discussed face-to-face meetings a lot already. Whether you see face-to-face meetings as a negative or positive, you won’t even have the option for face-to-face if your clients are in other states, provinces, or countries. Not having the option is definitely a disadvantage.
The Irony of Web Designer Local Targeting
I’ve always thought it ironic when I visit a web designer’s portfolio and see they have built a website for everyone (and their mom) in the neighborhood but no one outside of it.
Didn’t the internet make the world smaller fostering an era of global community? Social networking and advances in technology have created seamless communication between people worldwide. But website designers, some of the main developers of this global community, are still only doing business in their city.
Maybe it is time for web designers to expand their horizons a bit.
I believe the scales are tipped in the direction of targeting larger markets, and that’s what I chose for my business.
But every business is unique with distinct goals, so you’d be wise to weigh the advantages and disadvantages before launching your web design business and drawing the boundaries of your target market.