Traditional marketing and advertising can cost a lot of money. If you’re a smaller, locally-owned business, you want to see your investment post a quick ROI. The trouble is, many consumers won’t connect to your business through traditional marketing.
Those channels are good for creating awareness and keeping your business top of mind. But when push comes to shove, consumers are turning to search engines to find you. That’s why it’s important to optimize your online presence for local search. Businesses that fail to do so could lose customers before they even walk through their doors.
This point became even clearer after a recent conversation with a jewelry store employee. This individual felt like they were having success with an ad campaign targeting bus stops and bus boards. But their 3.6-star rating was acting as a deterrent to some customers who Googled the business instead of going straight to the URL. Consumers put a lot of trust in your star rating and low to middling ratings could be a turnoff.
The problem could get worse if a consumer searched ‘jewelry stores near me.’ This is because your business might not compare favorably to local competition. So what can businesses do to maximize all their marketing efforts? The key is finding a balance between traditional and digital marketing.
For many local business owners, things like local SEO, website design, and email marketing are probably not where their expertise lies. But luckily for you there a number of low-cost, easy-to-use tools that will simplify the process of taking your business online.
In this guide, we’ll outline seven steps to crafting an online presence that will make your business stand out to customers and search engines alike.
1. Build a website
This first one might be too obvious, but if your business doesn’t have a website nowadays, it’s almost like it doesn’t even exist. Lucky for you building a website for your business is super-easy. You no longer need to have coding or design skills to build a slick, attractive website. There are a number of low-cost solutions that will provide you with templates and WYSIWYG editors along with the option to code on the backend if you have that knowledge or employ a developer.
Before you get started, however, it’s important that you determine the purpose of your site. Is it strictly informational (contact information, details on products and services) or are you going to have an e-commerce element?
Having this knowledge will be essential because it will help you determine the scope of the project. The type of business you operate will determine how in-depth you will need to get, but you should build out more than just a homepage. Think of what type of questions your customers commonly ask. This is the kind of information you want to be made readily available on your site.
2. Choose a domain name.
A business’ website is often referred to as its online storefront. And just like in the real world, if your business is hard to find, potential customers will probably move on to the next one. That’s why it’s imperative when securing your domain name that you make it simple and easy to remember. It’s also important you make sure to register and renew your domain name. You don’t want to wake up scrambling one morning because your domain has expired and someone has grabbed it and is holding it for ransom.
One of the biggest benefits of registering your domain name is even if you change hosting platforms, your URL will follow you. Having a consistent web presence over the years will make it easy for returning customers to find you in the future.
Registering your domain is easy enough. But before you pull the trigger, always do a domain search to see if it’s also available across social platforms. Using a consistent brand name across the internet will help your customers find you and only takes a few seconds.
3. Optimize around local SEO
When developing content to populate your website you should identify keywords that are important to your industry or business. In its simplest terms, what are people going to type in a search engine when they are looking for a business like yours. According to Moz, “It's not always about getting visitors to your site, but about getting the right kind of visitors.” High traffic to your site is okay because it creates awareness, but what’s even better are visitors who are motivated to buy.
Optimizing your website goes beyond just keywords. There are a number of factors that make up Google’s local SEO algorithm. Businesses that want to be found should make their name, address, and phone number (commonly referred to as NAP) are consistent across all business listings. For local businesses, updating and accurately listing your business is one of the easiest ways to improve local search rankings.
4. Claim your business listings
Before the Internet, getting your business listed in all the right directories was much easier. Most businesses didn’t need to do anything except buy an ad in the local Yellow Pages, and maybe get listed in an industry-specific directory depending on the type of business they were in.
Now there are a seemingly endless number of online directories to choose from. Finding the right one can be difficult. Hubspot has created an exhaustive list of online business directories, but even it is incomplete.
For example, if you were an auto dealer you would want to be listed on Cars.com, DealerRater, or Edmunds. If you were a doctor or dentist, having a profile on HealthGrades or ZocDoc could be beneficial.
Every business is different. That’s why it’s important to conduct research about your audience. Doing so will help you obtain an understanding of how they go about finding businesses like yours. This knowledge will help you identify which directories to focus on.
It’s not enough to have a listing in a directory. You should also take control of your online presence by claiming and managing those listings. Claiming your business listings is super easy, but many businesses fail to do so. In fact, a recent study by Brandmuscle found that 56% of local retailers had not claimed their listing on Google My Business. The process for claiming directory listings is fairly consistent across most sites.
Optimize business listings
Once you’ve claimed or created your local business listings, it’s important to take the time to optimize it so that it’s attractive for both searchers and search engines alike. The first thing you should do is upload high-quality photos of your business. Photos are important because they help tell a visual story about your business. They let consumers see what it’s like to do business with you, so they know what to expect when they arrive.
Uploading pictures will also draw searchers in and encourage them to click through to your listing. According to Google, profiles with pictures see 42% more requests for driving directions from Maps and 35% more click-throughs to your website than businesses that don’t. Photos also help increase engagement. According to Yelp, users spend 2.5x more time on profiles with pictures than on profiles without. When uploading images you should include the following types of pictures:
- Exterior of business
- Interior of business
You should also take the time to update the hours of operation for your business. Not having accurate hours of operation can be frustrating to the consumer. This is especially true if they looked you up to see if you were open only to drive across town and find out you’re closed. Fortunately, Google has taken steps in Maps to prevent this from happening. But the data is only as good as what users provide.
Impressive photography can only get you so far. If your customer experience is underwhelming your reputation and Google Reviews will eventually reflect that. Today, it’s more important than ever to have a review management strategy in place to keep up with the competition.
5. Collect and manage online reviews.
Online reviews provide businesses with the dual benefit of boosting local SEO ranking while also helping build trust and credibility with consumers. This makes it easier for consumers to find your business and impacts buying decisions.
At Podium, we have helped thousands of businesses optimize their online presence and reputation through online reviews. As a result, we have developed a tried and true method for increasing the quality, quantity, recency, and frequency of online reviews – all of which play a role in where businesses rank according to Google’s local search algorithm. They include:
Determine the right timing of the invitation.
Timing is everything when it comes to online reviews. There is no perfect time that works for every business. We suggest looking for a time in the sales process where your customer might have a little free time.
For an auto dealership, that time might be just after the sale is complete and the customer is waiting for finance. For doctors and dentists, that might be right after the consultation when the patient is talking to the front desk.
It’s also important to let customers know what to expect from the process. We recommend telling customers, when they will receive the invitation, how they will receive the invitation (text or email), and why feedback is important to your business. If you set those expectations with your customers, you should see an increase in your online reviews.
Ask all your customers.
Many businesses only ask happy customers to provide feedback online. This is a huge mistake. Online reviews can be a valuable feedback tool to improve your business, and you won’t have access to that data unless you ask.
Respond to online reviews, even negative ones.
No matter how you try, not everyone who leaves your business is going to be happy. Every-so-often that unhappy customer is going to take that frustration out on your business online. The key in those situations is to remain calm, apologize, and offer a proactive solution. Then take the discussion offline and have someone in customer service work to resolve the issue.
Following those steps shows online searchers that you care about the experience. When consumers see that you care, that negative can quickly become a positive. Conversely, if a consumer comes across a negative review posted without a response it could have the opposite effect.
Finally, businesses should consider what others are saying about them online. One way to track this is by implementing an online review management platform. This will give you access to all of your business’ reviews across a wide range of platforms including Google, Yelp, Facebook, and industry-specific sites.
Another key feature of an online review management platform is the ability to manage the dissemination of review invitations, which allows you to significantly increase the number of online reviews for your business. Taking control of your online presence will help you increase sales, improve local SEO, and enhance your customer experience.
6. Stand out on social media.
When deciding which social media platforms to focus on, it’s important to do some research on where your customers already are. If the individuals you are targeting congregate on LinkedIn it might not make sense to put a lot of effort into a Facebook presence and vice versa.
Once you’ve determined what platforms you are going to work with, you should then set goals for what you are trying to accomplish. Are you trying to drive leads through a social selling campaign or just increase awareness about your products and services?
You should also invest in a social media management platform that allows you to maintain all of your social media accounts and provides you with a dashboard that lets you track engagement, reach, and interactions.
Last, but certainly not least, you should make sure your pages look professional. No one wants to interact with an egg on Twitter. Take some time to upload a profile pic and cover photo that will give your followers a better understanding of who you are as a brand. There are a number of free design tools to help give your accounts and your posts flair and personality.
7. Build a targeted email list.
Depending on the size of your business and customer base, email marketing can be a good tool to provide valuable information on promos, new products or services, as well as nurture content. Email marketing is an effective way for you to communicate directly with customers and potential customers who have opted in to receive content from you.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when building out your email marketing strategy is how often to send out emails. It’s a fine line business owners must walk. Send too many emails and you run the risk of overwhelming customers. Send too few and you might leave your customers scratching their heads wondering who you are the next time you decide to send an email.
Why does an optimized online presence matter?
Traditional marketing and advertising are still an effective means of getting the word out about your business, but it isn’t enough. To take your business to the next level, you also need to emphasize your online presence and reputation. Doing so will pay huge dividends down the road. It’s not rocket science. If you want to turn browsers into buyers, customers must be able to find, connect, and support your local business.