More and more customers now start their journeys to local businesses, online.
Not just from a desktop computer at home or at work, but increasingly from on a smartphone, tablet or laptop.
There has never been a bigger opportunity for you to attract more customers to your local business.
But … how do you get your business to show up on a customer’s online radar?
Here are 10 ways to get the ball rolling:
1. Localise Your Website
Do you have a website? Have you really thought about why you need a website?
Sprinkle your site with lots of local ‘keywords’. Local address, city or town name, suburb name, post/zip code, maps and directions are a good start.
Search engines (like Google, Bing or Yahoo) also like to see your business address and phone number on every page. It’s also important to be consistent with your business name, address and phone number across your site and across the third-party sites we talk about below.
2. Get onto Google Places – & Make it Work for You!
When you search for a specific product or service in a specific location then Google will often list first those sites that have what’s called a Place Page. This is a service called Google Places.
A Google Place Page is where a business can freely register details about their business. These details include address, opening hours, description of business, photos, videos & more. Customers can add their own ‘Google’ reviews directly to the Place Page. Google often rolls in reviews from specialist review sites like TripAdvisor.
But beware, just claiming a Place Page and filling-out the bare minimum details is not enough.
Here’s an example. I just searched for “Cambridge Jewellers” and the first 7 entries (after the ads) are all Place Pages. After that, it’s the usual mix of general search results. Of the 128 total Place Pages for that search only the first 7 are displayed.
If you want to be found then you need to dominate Google Places for your niche. According to a respected & detailed survey of 33 SEO experts these are the top 10 factors:
- Physical address in City of Search on Place Page
- Manually owner-verified Place Page on Place Page
- Use of proper Categories on Place Page
- Volume of citations, i.e. references from other websites
- Address on website must match Place Page address
- How well website pages rank for SEO
- Quality of inbound links to website
- Phone number on website must match Place Page phone number
- Local area code on Place Page
- City, State in Places Landing Page title on your website
3. Claim Your Profile at Online Directories
Make sure you claim and fill-out your business profiles on all the relevant Yellow Pages-type directories like Yelp and Qype. These sites are usually free, get a lot of traffic and linking from them will help boost the number of visitors to your site. Make sure you’re on all relevant directories including the national and local ones.
Sites like GetListed.org and UBL.org make it quick and easy to check how complete your profiles are right now. They show you where the gaps are and, for a fee, will get set them up for you. This is something to keep a regular eye on so setup a calendar reminder to go and check say one a month. These sites cater to businesses in US, UK and Canada.
4. Direct ‘Local Traffic’ to Your Website
Make sure that you have lots of ‘local’ links pointing to your site: so-called inbound links. Use local place names in links from your social media business pages.
Exchange links with other local businesses and local business partners. Setup profiles and links from your local Chamber of Commerce, local business groups, local newspapers, magazines, local blogs and even friends sites. There are lots of other ways but these are a good start.
5. Ask for Reviews & Ratings
Local SEO experts believe that the number of reviews you have on your Google Place Page directly affects its search ranking. But the quality (or ratings) of those reviews also play an important role. For maximum effect, aim to get an above average number and quality of reviews for your niche.
Non-Google review sites are also important. The powerhouse review sites in the US include Yelp, Google Places & Citysearch. Sites like GetListed.org and UBL.org can point you towards review websites that are relevant to your location and niche.
Make sure you encourage a steady stream of positive reviews both directly on your Place Page and on other relevant review sites. Start by asking for reviews on your Places Page. You could do this face to face, via email campaigns, order follow-ups, or direct mailings.
Late-breaking news: Google recently confirmed they are supportive of in-store ‘review stations’. These are computers provided by the business owner at their business premises for customers to fill-in their reviews there and then. Just be careful not to come across as desperate and certainly don’t offer a monetary ‘incentive’ for customers to give you a good review. Google have published guidance on the sort of Places reviews they can (and do) remove.
6. Consider Offering ‘Daily Deals’ – But Be Careful!
According to Forbes magazine the fastest growing company in history is Groupon – the name comes from ‘Group’ & ‘Coupon’. The idea is that businesses (often small and local) signup with Groupon on a 50%+ discounted deal for a limited number of customers over a set period of time. Groupon promote the deal online on a local basis. If enough customers sign-up then the deal goes ahead; if not, the deal’s cancelled. Groupon takes 50% of each coupon it sells.
Although a local business may not always turn a profit on these so-called Daily Deals they can bring in large numbers of new customers many of whom may turn into repeat customers. It’s also a great opportunity to up sell other goods and services at full price.
There’s no doubt that Groupon has been good for the consumer, has done extremely well for itself and, has spawned hundreds of copycats like LivingSocial. Google recently got in on the act with Google Offers, and it works closely with Google Places. It’s currently only available on trial in parts of the US but it’s something to watch carefully.
What’s not so clear is whether Daily Deals are good for local businesses themselves. For example, The Telegraph recently reported on a UK baker who landed orders for 102,000 cupcakes! A positive problem if ever there was one. Many others though have reportedly lost money on the deal with not enough follow-up to compensate.
As ever, it makes sense to negotiate the best possible coupon price with Groupon, agree a cap on the number of coupons to be sold, and make sure you can logistically deal with the maximum number of orders. Another tactic I’ve come across is to stage the deal over 2 or 3 of return visits. If you run a low margin business then I’d think carefully about whether Daily Deals makes sense for you.
7. Encourage Customer ‘Check-ins’
In early 2009 a company called FourSquare kicked off a new way for brands and local businesses to get online users to become customers at their brick-and-mortar venues. According to FourSquare these users are ‘setting off for a trip around the world, coordinating a night out with friends, or trying to pick out the best dish at a local restaurant’.
As of December 2011, over 500,000 local businesses are now offering ‘Specials’ to around 15 millions users. To claim these specials, users have to ‘check in’ to local venues on their mobile devices. So far there have been over 1 billion check-ins, with millions more every day. This is a global phenomenon not just in US.
Users check-in to access Specials. There are several types of Specials that a business can setup to acquire and retain customers such as a free glass of wine for a first visit or at every 10th visit, or 30% off a meal for an advance meal booking. The service is free to use for both businesses and users.
Each time a user checks in then they can (and do) share the event with their social networks. User can leave Tips (or online recommendations) and can ‘friend’ each other to keep track of each others’ venues and Specials.
Scvngr is a recent competitor who are more about games and are doing well. And definitely one to watch: Google are rolling out Check-ins for Google+ users. FourSquare’s biggest competitor was until recently, Gowalla: they’ve just been bought out by Facebook which shows how important Facebook consider the Check-in model to be.
There is a huge opportunity here for local businesses to be creative, spread the word and generate more business. For now FourSquare has the upper hand and the most active users. They have proved there is a viable model here for both customers and local businesses.
8. Be a Local Community Resource
Another effective way to attract local visitors to your site is to create content that relates to your community regardless of whether or not it’s directly about your products or services. For example, cover local markets, or festivals. Or maintain a calendar of local networking or business seminars.
Just writing a few paragraphs of local interest once a week around your niche will really help in the local search rankings. If writing isn’t your thing then ask one of your staff, or maybe your partner to help out. Another option is to ask others related to your market to write the odd ‘guest post’. Or, setup a local community blog to share the load. Just remember the golden rule of online marketing: Keep it fresh. Don’t (overtly) sell. Be helpful.
9. Be A Multi-Media Mogul
YouTube is the second most popular website in the world, after Google. Use it to host and share videos that you make about and around your local business. When you upload a video, use local names, tag it with local terms and describe the content with rich local descriptions.
Check out this YouTube video by Original Skateboards (it’s had nearly 3 million views):
Note how the video is not directly pushing the product but instead it’s all about the experience… [It's a bit long in my opinion but it shows the sort of thing that works]
Most of these sites allow you to geotag where the video or image was shot.
All these site are free. Use them to host your media, attract more targeted prospective customers and drive them to your website and your local business.
10. Get Active on the Social Networks
Like it or not, your customers are on the social networks: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ plus many other smaller & niche networks. You can now setup free dedicated business ‘pages’ on all the main networks. This keeps them separate from any personal profiles you might have.
So long as you are clear about your goals, then targeting time on social networks lets you:
- Find out what people are saying about your business, what they like and dislike
- Attract more customers to your website and your business by posting useful or entertaining content of local interest
- Make your site more findable by having more inbound links to it
- Pull in more customers by spreading the word far and wide on focussed Daily Deals, Check-ins and Specials
What Do You Think?
What works for you, and why?
What hasn’t worked for you, and why?