Let’s Ask Google: How To Market Your Local Business

Caroline Canlas

Google - how to market

Google Instant’s predicted results for “how to market your local business” show the top results as “how to market your local business online”, “how to promote your local business”, and “how to promote your local business on the internet.”

Using the internet to find a local business is now the universal, most pervasive research method.  Prior to the World Wide Web, most people turned to their Yellow Pages to find a local business.  Now, even the Yellow Pages has moved online, so you have to ask yourself, “When someone looks for my business online, have I made it easy for consumers to find me?”  Keep in mind that even if your website is absolutely gorgeous, responsively-designed, is conversion-friendly, and is fully optimized for search engines, you can’t rely on your website alone to drive customers through your door.  Below are the top five channels to market your local business online:

  1. Local Citations

Local search has evolved into a complex ecosystem dominated by Google. Corporations and mom-and-pops shops alike are fighting to put their business on the map with local citations.  Similar to referral links in search engine optimization, citations are used to determine the relative importance or prominence of your business listing. If Google notices an abundance of consistent citations referencing your business directly, it makes Google think that your business is reputable, important, and highly relevant to the user’s search query.  In turn, you get rewarded with higher visibility in local organic search results. Remember, the more citations your business has, the more important it will be in Google’s eyes.

To get started, you’ll need to create a Google+ page.  Previously, you needed to create a Google Places or a Google Local listing, but Google has slowly petered out these products and has integrated Google Local, Google Places, etc. all under the Google+ umbrella.  You’ll need a Gmail account to set up your Google+ page to promote your local business.  You can enter company name, address, phone number (referred to as NAP in the SEO world), website URL, and other information.  Your information is verified through a telephone call or postcard.  Upon verification, voila!  You will get a map listing of your business.  This process usually takes a few weeks.

You can also create basic listings in other directories according to category or geographic location.  Free online directories include Yahoo, Yellow Pages, Yelp, FourSquare, etc.  There are directories that are specific to local businesses, local events, local coupons, etc. so take advantage of them all if they’re relevant!  As well, don’t forget about industry and business associations like the BBB or your local chamber of commerce.  These are great directories in which to list your business.

  1. Content Creation

I’m sure we’ve all read and heard about how content marketing is the next big thing, and the ubiquitous catchphrase of marketers alike, “Content is King!”  It’s not the next big thing, it is THE big thing, right now.  Regularly providing and distributing unique, fresh, keyword-laden, quality content that’s indexed easily is a great way to market your local business online.  Keep in mind that this content can also include rich media like infographics, videos, webinars, etc. Done well, content marketing is one of the most effective ways to market your business online and attract new customers.

To increase your visibility in local search results, add a few location-specific landing pages to your website.  These are pages about a specific city or town your business services.  Keep in mind this content must be relevant and useful to your visitors in order to really add value to your organic search results.  For example, location pages can show specific directions to your office from a major landmark.

Blogging is another great way to add fresh, unique, easily indexed, and regularly updated content to your website. You can use your blog to connect with local news organizations, charities, industry associations, as well as local bloggers.  In addition, blogging about your industry allows you to establish your brand as a thought leader and industry influencer.

  1. Encourage Reviews

 In local search, customer reviews are bigger than life.  Online reviews are the modern version of word-of-mouth recommendations. According to the most recent Nielsen data, 84% of consumers around the world say they trust word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family when making a purchasing decision. Consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, while the majority (52%) say that positive online reviews make them more likely to choose a local business. The influence reviews have on your local business go well beyond social proof. Good reviews can boost your local search visibility, while bad reviews can destroy your business.

google reviews

For example, check out the screenshot above. Notice that the top organic local listing result for “toronto dentist” was the business that had the most Google reviews.  That’s not a coincidence!

There are several review destinations to which to direct your customers.  The top review sites are, of course, Google+, followed by Yelp, and then more industry-specific review sites like RateMD (for the medical industry) and TripAdvisor (for the travel industry).

Encourage your customers to write reviews about your products or services. These reviews are written to elaborate pros and cons of your business. Not only do reviews aid in directing traffic to your website, but they also provide you with another customer service channel.  Did you receive a bad review?  Connect directly with that client and apologize; strive to ensure their experience with you is a positive one moving forward. Reputation management is a full-time job in itself, but if you’re doing it right, your company will shine online.

  1. Social Media

Social media is a critically important channel to market your business online.  The benefits of social media for small to large businesses alike have been touted extensively, and with over 1.3 billion monthly active users, it’s definitely the right avenue in which to connect with your brand community online.

Keep in mind that social media marketing is not as simple as starting a Facebook page for your business.  It’s important to keep your social profiles up to date and fresh with regular posts (at least a few times per week) and to create dialogue with your customers as opposed to just feeding them information.  This includes daily moderation and management of your company’s presence on social destinations like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, etc.

With the recent change in Facebook’s algorithm, the organic reach of business pages are declining exponentially.  This means that, unless you have over 5,000 friends that will like your page if you tell them to, you have to incorporate an advertising campaign on social media in order to increase your visibility on the social platform. YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter also provide a paid advertising channel on their sites.

  1. Paid Advertising

PPC (pay-per-click) marketing, SEM (search engine marketing), and CPC (cost per click) marketing are all fancy ways of saying, Paid Advertising, or advertising I’m paying for.  This is probably the most direct, most effective, yet most complicated, of all the channels in which to market your business online. Most advertising agencies require their PPC staff members to be certified in Google AdWords, as it demonstrates that you’ve mastered the uber-complicated Google Advertising best practices.

In general, Google AdWords is the most robust advertising marketplace.  Bing Ads are a distant second, but with Microsoft rebranding its advertising arm as part of a deeper partnership with Yahoo, combined with recent reports of Bing stealing about 5% of Google’s search share from June 2011 to June 2012, Bing Ads have become quite the hot topic with search marketers. Although they are slowly catching up to Google AdWords, they still only account for 25-30% of market share (approximately 6 billion searches).

What’s great with Google AdWords (there are a lot of things that are quite great, actually, but I’ll keep this short) is there is no minimum spending commitment.  You choose where your ad appears (Search Network, Display Network, Retargeting, Mobile), set a budget you’re comfortable with, and measure the impact of your ad.  You can pause or stop your campaigns any time.

The complexity behind search engine marketing is tied into the keyword and market research, campaign structure, and the campaign optimization process.  There’s nothing more tragic nor costly than targeting the wrong keywords and appealing to the demographic that doesn’t need your product/service.  As well, if your campaign structure hasn’t been set up properly, it will result in a poor quality score, low click through rate, and subsequently, a more expensive cost per click.

What’s interesting to note, is that Google AdWords actually rewards businesses with a mobile-responsive site, and Enhanced PPC Campaigns that encourage mobile search activity.  Again, the importance of embracing mobile consumer behaviour shows that a responsive site is not a luxury, but a necessity, because it impacts all the major channels in which you’ll need to market your business online.

What do you think, readers?

A good integrated marketing strategy is critical to the success of your business, regardless of size. Whether you’re just starting out or have been in business for years, the combination of the proven marketing strategies above can help to grow your business and find new customers online.  There are quite a few things that I had to chop from this list in the interest of brevity (Email Marketing, Integrated Analytics Tools, etc.), but felt that these top five were the most important.  What would you have included on this list?

Caroline Canlas

Daily routine: Get out of bed. Be awesome. Go back to bed.

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