Note: this article first appeared in Young Upstarts.
Because of the explosion of social media and mobile as the primary, go-to consumer device for local information, Google is increasingly losing search share to local directories, social media sites and maps apps. In the local space, about 50% of searches are done on directories and map apps – further fragmenting an already dizzying number of ways customers find out and select small businesses.
Unfortunately, fragmentation is not going away, but there are some key ways to focus on taking advantage of the opportunity in a post Google dominated world.
1. Make Sure Your Data is Right on a Vast Network of Directories and Maps Apps.
Almost half of local business listings have basic errors in Name, Address and Phone number – what’s called NAP in the search engine world. With so many sites out there, it’s just not worth your time to manually claim and optimize each one. Services such as Moz Local, Localeze, Infogroup, Factual and more distribute lists of small business info to major directories and can help correct the issues in a matter of weeks or months. Fewer companies have direct access to change the directory information in real-time, which is recommended. Why wait when you are losing customers right now?
Additionally, it is critical to make sure to syndicate out descriptions rich with keywords. Yelp doesn’t know your Italian restaurant serves brunch, has pizza or is family-friendly. Make sure you are not only categorized correctly, but also put those search friendly keywords everywhere you can so Yelp can present your business when someone searches for specific attributes. Photos and videos not only have been proven to help convert a profile view into a paying customer, but by filling all this out, your directory profile is typically seen by 3-5 times more customers. Take advantage of every opportunity on these profiles. Like my father said, “anything worth doing is worth doing right.”
And as a bonus, getting your Name, Address and Phone number right everywhere online (website, social, directories, etc.) is one of the most critical local search ranking factors in Google and Maps. So it’s a double win and the first thing you should do.
Want to know where you stand now? Click here to quickly check your local business information consistency online across 100+ directories.
2. Guard Your Social Reputation and Use It To Increase Customer Communication and Intimacy.
88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations2. Your social reputation will either drive customers or turn them away when they find you online. You should be monitoring your online reputation closely across the most important sites in your industry. For local, the most critical sites are:
- Google Maps / Google My Business (the most popular maps app)
- Yelp (the most popular local review app and powers Apple Maps)
- Facebook (has more than 3x the reviews of Yelp)
- com (mostly service industry)
- Trip Advisor (for travel destinations and services)
Every time you get a review, you should know about it almost immediately either via email or preferably via text or mobile app notification. Responding quickly to negative reviews can help you resolve the situation. In fact, 33% of negative reviews turn positive3 when you respond to them.
But don’t stop there – respond to positive reviews as well! Each positive review is a customer who has taken the time to sing the praises of your business. Encourage that behavior! Plus, a simple thank you and an offer to come back will increase loyalty and repeat business. Could you imagine if a customer walked in, thanked you for great service, and you simply turned around? You would never do that in person, don’t do it online.
There are many tools out there like Hootsuite, SproutSocial and LocalVox that connect to all the relevant sites and notify you when you need to act. With just 5 minutes a day, you can have a rock star reputation and drive repeat revenue.
Also, don’t forget to tell your loyal customers that your online reviews matter. Whether it is in a Facebook post, email newsletter or a face-to-face, you might be surprised how many customers are willing to give you a review to help your business.
As a bonus, the more reviews you have, the more often you will show up in searches on directories. For example, having at least 5 reviews is a key threshold in showing up in Google Maps/Google My Business. Number and quality of reviews will only increase.
3. Syndicate Content Out, Build Links In
You can take advantage of all the site fragmentation because that means there are more places to post to, reuse and syndicate blogs, specials, events or announcements and in turn build links to all your social profiles and websites, pushing out the competition. Deals are great way to do this. Many directories like Yahoo, Citysearch, Mapquest and Superpages support a “Special Offer” field that can link to any announcement or deal. Coupon sites like 8Coupons, Coupons.com, the LocalSaver Network and many more allow you to post your coupons directly. And you can submit events to event aggregators like Eventful; news to Google News, Bing News and Yahoo News and submit content to local sites like Patch. Of course, this can be quite time consuming and so it makes sense to hire an intern to do this or to use a software platform that does this automatically for you.
You can also get creative. One local business decided to launch a $500 scholarship for students and got every local university to post it to their sites and promote it on social media, networked with other local businesses to promote it on their sites and submitted it to national scholarship directories. The result was not only overwhelming local good will, but links and activity throughout the web that helped them build their social presences and reputation. It also built a lot of links for traditional SEO. Creativity and $500 can go a very long way.
Control What You Can Control, Spend Your Time Wisely
The world used to be simpler when all you had to do was focus on Google, but you can’t control the explosion of sites and mobile apps. The key is not to get lost in activities that don’t add value and to find the most productive use of your time and especially money. There are a lot of overpriced agencies, consultants and snake oil salesman out there, but ultimately it’s about understanding the key blocking and tackling that needs to be done.
Educate yourself on what’s important, find trusted advisors and focus on what’s in your control. Remember that time is often your most precious resource, so time box how much time you spend on marketing and leverage software platforms and tools that make your life easier and show you real improvements that affect your bottom line.
- 1AT&T Small Business Technology Poll;
- 2Local Consumer Review Survey;
- 3Center for Media Research