By Brian Lindamood
Smartphones and Internet searches have made it easier than ever for customers to find local businesses. Every product or service they could want is literally just a click away, and it’s changing the way customers shop and buy. According to eMarketer, 81 percent of shoppers use a search engine to look for info about businesses, and 58 percent visit a retailer’s website or app before making an in-store purchase.
While the search may be easy for customers, getting found can be quite a challenge for businesses. Owners now compete with every other business on the Internet – from other local mom-and-pops to international ecommerce giants – to rank in search results, get a customer’s attention, and make a sale.
But there’s good news, too. The same tools that customers use to search for businesses can be turned to your advantage. By following these simple steps, you can use the power of Internet search to boost the visibility of your business and reach more customers.
1. Claim Your Google My Business Listing
There’s no question that Google is the 800-pound gorilla of the Internet. If you want customers to find your business, you need to be found by the search giant. Start by claiming and updating your Google My Business listing. (Not sure how? Here's a step-by-step tutorial.)
Listing your company on Google My Business will…
- Help you show up in search results
- Help you show up on map results
- Use your address to help rank in local searches
- Allow customers to review your business
From your Google My Business dashboard, you can manage your listing across Google’s entire network – Google Search, Google+, Google Maps – making it easy to boost your visibility on some of the most popular platforms from one place.
2. Add Photos to Your Google Listing
When customers are looking for a business or researching products and services, a photo is one of the best ways to get their attention. You can add relevant photos to your Google My Business profile, and they will appear on your Google search listing and Google Maps.
What kind of photos should you add to your listing?
- Your storefront exterior and sign, to help Google Maps searchers find you.
- Store or office interior.
- Company logo.
- Products or completed projects.
- You and your employees at work.
- Anything that shows off your business’s personality and helps customers make purchasing decisions.
3. Ask Customers for Reviews
Online reviews are a signal to search engines that you own a real business with real customers. Whether they are positive or negative, reviews increase the visibility of your business listings. (If you do receive negative reviews, show off your customer service chops by responding in a gracious, constructive way.)
Every small business owner should ask their customers to post reviews on Google and Facebook. Depending on your industry, you may want to encourage reviews on specialty sites as well, such as:
- Angie’s List (contractors).
- OpenTable (restaurants).
- TripAdvisor (hospitality).
- RateMDs (medical).
- Avvo (legal).
Yelp is important for restaurants and retail, but the platform discourages business owners from asking customers for reviews. Whichever online review platforms you focus on, make sure you monitor the sites and respond to both good and bad feedback from customers.
4. Build Consistent Business Listings
In addition to Google My Business, your business listing appears on more than 70 other local directories, social media sites, maps and smartphone apps. Search engines look for consistency across all of these listings. Basically, before sending customers your way, search engines want to see that you are an actual, reliable business with the same phone number and same address listed everywhere on the Internet.
The problem is that many of these listings are not correct. Online directories license listing info from third-party data merchants, which source the data from various public records that often are outdated or incorrect. Business owners should claim and update as many of these listings as they can.
When updating your business listings, make sure the following info is correct and consistent across all directories:
- Business name.
- Phone number.
- Hours of operation.
- Website address.
- Industry or business category.
- Business description, including products or services.
Taken together, these four tactics will help boost your company’s search engine optimization (SEO). And when your business listing ranks higher in search results, it will be easier for customers to find you – and easier for you to make more sales.
About the Author
Brian Lindamood, content director for Manta, is passionate about great marketing and management advice. Manta helps small-business owners succeed on their own terms with educational resources and digital marketing tools that are simple and effective.