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Not long ago, many people believed that small businesses could earn customers from around the U.S. simply by being on the Internet. It hasn’t exactly worked out that way. In a recent national survey by Sage North America, 74 percent of small businesses said the majority of their customers are local. In short, when consumers look to buy, they still look local—and they start by looking online.
“One in three searches on Google has local intent, which is a really big number,” said Mike Ramsey, founder of local search marketing firm Nifty Marketing. “This is people looking for a local pizza place, a local nail salon, a local dry cleaner. And half of people on mobile devices are looking for localized content, which ups the stakes even more.”
Ensuring that consumers can find your business with an easy search is critical. Here are three ways to shift the local search odds in your business’s favor.
“Sites like Yelp, Google+ Local, Angie’s List, or CitySearch-these are local directories that are basically online phonebooks.” Ramsey said.
Fortunately, getting listed is easy. Start by searching for your business on these sites. If you’re not there, don’t worry—most sites have a “get listed” link at the bottom or side of the page. Click it, fill in some basic information about your business, and you’ll be added to the directory. If you want your listing to be more prominently displayed, you can pay extra for better visibility.
There are also free tools to help you get listed in a variety of local search directories. GetListed.org, for example, will give you a snapshot of your business’s local search performance, along with resources and advice for improving your business’s visibility in search engine results.
The oldest form of marketing is now more powerful than ever. Word-of-mouth marketing has taken on a new meaning—and greater impact—in the digital age. A 2013 survey by local SEO firm BrightLocal found that 85 percent of consumers read local business reviews. What’s more, according to the Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Survey, 70 percent of consumers place significant trust in these reviews.
“Your business has to get reviews,” Ramsey said. “That means you have to encourage your customers to review you on local search sites.”
The challenge, of course, is that most customers are only motivated to write a review when they’ve had a bad experience.
“You must have an active review protocol at your business that promotes people to leave good comments about you online,” Ramsey said.
Encourage satisfied customers to provide positive reviews of your business on sites like Yelp and CitySearch. You might be surprised at the number of people who will write a positive review if you ask nicely and give them a link.
Many business owners spend a lot of money to make their physical business space attractive. These days, however, many customers form their first impressions of your business by looking at your digital presence.
“People put a ton of money into a great physical storefront and good staff, but then they spend no money on building a website,” Ramsey said. “You need to ensure that your website matches your brand and portrays the same impression you want portrayed by your physical storefront.”
Having a polished professional website is only part of the equation. Your digital footprint extends into social media and mobile devices, as well. Research by IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark shows that mobile traffic now accounts for nearly 35 percent of all online traffic. So your website must look good on the small screen of a smartphone, and it must deliver information in small, quick bites.
“Consumers are demanding information much faster and you have a much shorter amount of time to explain why you’re the best business around,” Ramsey said.
“It’s a matter of getting your phone number out there front and center so customers can call you with just one tap or can easily get directions to your location. If that stuff is not easily accessible, they’ll find another business where that info is right there for them.”
Tim Devaney and Tom Stein write about technology and business for a number of publications. Tim has been a senior editor at Red Herring, Industry Standard and San Francisco magazines, and editor in chief at the Berkeley Monthly. Tom has contributed to leading publications including Wired, Business 2.0, Venture Capital Journal, AllBusiness, and Tennis Magazine. He has also held staff-writer positions at the San Francisco Chronicle, Red Herring, and InformationWeek.
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