As a local business, growing your company using the Internet doesn’t always seem like a complete necessity compared to a business that runs solely online. Contrary to this belief, marketing online should be a local business’s main focus, continually increasing that focus as we rely on the Internet more and more every day. Most people spend more time on the Internet than in the real world. It is not going away. Technology advancement can’t be stopped, and the only option is to ride the wave.
The Internet is no longer a fad or an emerging technology. It is a technology that is in its mature stages that has become an integral part of our everyday lives. Many businesses have started, grown to new heights, or have been saved by having the ability to market online. Marketing online is often not the main focus for a local business because they can still survive without making it so, but for how long?
Prioritizing what matters when marketing a local business online can be confusing, daunting, and unclear at times, especially when your business is changing the stage that it is in (e.g. startup, growth, maturity) or your online marketing is in different stages. Regardless of where your business is at, if you can check off these 5 best practices, you are in great shape.
Your website is your home base, your digital storefront, your digital business card. Most marketing today leads back to your website. If it doesn’t, chances are your prospective customer or current customer will visit the site.
It’s very easy for a local business to let their website slip up since they have their physical location to constantly worry about, may be doing very well on social media, or simply do not think websites are still important. Whatever the reason may be, it’s a mistake if you care about growing your business or even staying in business since most customers prefer working with a business that has a website that is beautifully designed that has a seamless user experience.
Make sure that your website is running on the latest technology, is secure, optimized for all devices, has a great user experience and user interface with proper calls-to-action, and accurately reflects who your business is.
If you have the budget to hire a company to build it for you, don’t even think twice (unless you or someone in your company has previous experience). A website is an investment, not an expense, as it will impact the decision of potential and current customers from working with you.
The initial build of the website is just the beginning. A website requires constant maintenance and management to ensure it’s successful. Things break, technology evolves over time, and even your business evolves over time. If you don’t have a designer/developer managing it on a regular basis, your investment will quickly go to ruin. The second best investment you can make after building a website is managing it. Once your website is live, the next step is to make sure that people can actually see it.
2. SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION (SEO)
Most people who search for any local business on Google (especially for the first time) are looking for a place that they would like to go to (even if they already know the business) and usually end up visiting it.
If I am in New York City and I am craving sushi for lunch, the first thing I will do is open my phone and head to Google. Next, I will search for a place nearby that suits what I am looking for (the closest place to me, has the best online reviews/reputation and maybe the price point), using a term like best sushi near me, or sushi in midtown. Unless a friend suggests otherwise or I remember of a place nearby that I want to go to, I am usually always going to go to one of the places that I find on this search result.
Whether it’s a restaurant, coffee shop, art gallery, auto repair shop, or urgent care, this is what any person will do when looking to get to a local business.
Google Local Map Pack search results when searching for sushi in midtown.
The first step is to make sure that you have a Google My Business listing created, set up, and optimized. Even if someone knows about your business, they will still search on Google to see updated hours, reviews, and information regarding your business before visiting. When looking for places based on distance from their location, most people will look at the local map pack that Google displays, which includes Google My Business listings. Be sure that your account is as completed as possible. Some of the best ways for your listing to come up more frequently for these types of searches in the map pack is to have a completed profile, have as many reviews as possible, make sure that the foundational SEO components are implemented on your website, and have existing traffic coming to your website from the actual Google Search Results, which we will discuss next.
Once you have your website’s foundational SEO and Google My Business listing set up and optimized for success, the next step is to start focusing on ranking for relevant keywords on the typical Google Search Results (think of the classic blue hyperlink, and black paragraph text areas).
Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP) when searching for urgent care midtown.
Let’s say I finished my sushi meal but something didn’t sit right. I am not feeling well and think I may have food poisoning. I’d like to get seen by a doctor to make sure it’s not too serious. It’s often tough to get a doctor’s appointment at the last minute, but in recent years urgent care has come to the rescue in times of immediate need. I would go back to Google and search urgent care Midtown and will find these results once I go past the map pack.
The goal is to get your website ranking on the first page (and hopefully the first result on the first page) of Google for the keywords that are the most relevant to your business and your ideal customer. The first step in ranking on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) is to discover which keywords are the most relevant to you and your customer, combined with the highest possible volume and the most realistic possibility that you will rank on that page. If you haven’t done any Search Engine Optimization yet and are looking at a keyword where established sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and big publications are ranking for each or most of the results on this SERP, you likely have no shot of ranking ahead of them anytime soon.
The main factors for ranking for keywords are relevant content, relevant backlinks, and a pristine foundational and technical SEO setup and management on your website. One can’t live without the other, they all must be executed properly in order for you to start seeing your website ranking where you’d like it to.
87% of people read reviews online before deciding to visit a local business. Need I say more?
Google is one of the most important places to get reviews (especially since it is a factor in how often you come up in the Google Map Pack), but some industries have websites specific to their vertical that their ideal customers usually refer to (think HomeAdvisor, TripAdvisor, Zocdoc, Angie’s List, etc.)
Work with automation systems that will automatically send and remind customers to review your business via email and text. That way, you know they’ll see it and you don’t have to spend so much time manually sending these messages and following up. These systems typically allow an easy upload of emails and phone numbers to contact. It doesn’t matter how long ago you’ve had a customer, don’t be shy to ask them for a review!
Reviews, along with your website and social media presence are all part of your business’s brand and how consumers perceive you. Someone is much more likely to go to a business that has 500 reviews with a 4.8-star rating over a business with only 1 1-star review, or even a business with 50 5-star reviews. Get your reviews up!
4. GEO-BASED ADVERTISING
The fastest way to get in front of your ideal customer is by running paid advertisements on platforms like Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. You can start seeing results quicker than most alternatives. The best part, you can target people based on their physical location in relation to where your business is located, on top of their specific demographics or behaviors that match your business.
Paid advertising starts by identifying your goals from these campaigns (e.g. get more awareness, get more foot traffic, get more calls, get more form submissions, etc.) and reverse engineer your campaigns around these goals.
Thoroughly tested target audiences and compelling creative are the differentiators between good and great campaigns.
Ads on Google come above all results on a page, making it one of the first options for someone to click on. This helps prevent people from having the option to click on a competitor’s website, and as long as you are paying the right amount you can immediately find yourself dominating the top position.
Facebook/Instagram ads look a lot like the organic feed and stories content on these platforms. It’s always good to create something attention-grabbing and have it feel native to the platform for the best results.
5. SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media is a great way for a customer to see who the faces behind the business are, and to get a better sense of what you are offering and the experience provided when visiting your business.
It’s extremely important to consistently create content that reflects who you are, what you do and your brand.
This is especially important when you are investing in marketing and advertising in other avenues like SEO and paid advertising, as more often than not, the prospective customer will be checking out your social media pages after finding you from one of these channels.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
The goal for any local business marketing online should be to create a relationship and brand around your ideal customer by having your business come up where they are looking for a company like yours or are just generally spending their time.
The most important best practice is to implement all 5 of these best practices. If you have a bad website and are advertising, chances are your results will be poorer than they should be. If you have a great website but you aren’t doing any marketing to get exposure, nobody will know about it and you will not be getting much business from it. Think of online marketing as a symphony, it doesn’t work right if one of the elements is not in sync with the rest.