Sawaram Suthar is the founder of TheNextScoop and Jagat Media. A digital marketing consultant, he has experience in branding, promotions, page optimization, research, and strategy. He has an MBA from the University of Pune. Anyone can find him on Twitter @sawarams.
When you start to make the move to an online presence, small businesses of the bricks and mortar variety are often left wandering in the dark. Unlike national firms, you likely don’t have the budget to hire an outside source to do it for you and with few staff, you’re under some crippling time restraints. There are only so many hours in a day!
Identifying the strategies that target your local consumer base
For this article, we’re going to identify 5 effective online marketing strategies with the small business owner in mind. It doesn’t matter if you’re a baker, butcher or candlestick maker, these methods are all viable resources for accomplishing the following:
- Increasing your business exposure to a wider audience
- Engaging a wider audience as part of your online growth strategy
- Increasing your potential for sales conversion
1. Leveraging “Google My Business or Google Places” To Target a Local Consumer Base
Google My Business is all about increasing the visibility of your business within a limited geographical area. If you only take one tip away from this article, make it this one; it’s getting increasingly difficult to make an impact in a local area without it. 43% of searches within Google are local in intent, in this case meaning that potential customers are looking for your service within your area.
You can also include the other major search engines, such as Bing in this plan (and should do!), but for the sake of brevity I’ll concentrate on Google and you can move the concept across to the relevant services after you’ve tackled this one.
How does this increase the visibility of your brand to a local consumer base? When searching for a particular town, city or county, Google Places are more often than not the top results (now reduced from 7 to 3) and there’s a direct correlation between the relevance of your Google Places entry and the search position of your website.
- Under most circumstances, they are listed above all organic results
- Your contact number is included, as well as a direct link to your website
- Your business location is marked on the map
- Business related images are displayed
The Benefits Of Google Places For Business
Double the exposure - Google Plus Local pages give a potential for two results on page one of Google. Let that one sink in for a moment; two results for the searcher to click on that puts you leagues ahead of the competition. Imagine being at number one in both Places and the organic results and the increase in both exposure and click-through rate that can generate.
Increased trust via testimonial and reviews - because Google Places allows previous customers to review you, using an unbiased rating and review system, testimonial placed here is often seen as trustworthy. After all, it’s in Googles best interests to weed out unscrupulous business owners who like to spend an afternoon creating fake accounts for fake reviews.
It’s under your control - So many advertising opportunities today are run on an automated basis, to the point where a simple change of business address involves endless emails to a directory site who's owner doesn’t update. Google Places For Business is entirely editable at all times, even if some changes require review before they become live.
How to optimise Google Places for best results
Before jumping into your account (or creating one!), bear this one point in mind at all times. Your contact details - for example, business name, address, post code and links - should be the same for every entry you make on the web, no matter where. This is called a citation.
Citations make up 25% of the overall local search ‘score’ and the aim is to always provide complete, not partial, citations for maximum impact.
Why are citations so important?
- Citations help customers find you
- They are an important part of local search engine optimisation factors, because search engines rely on the consistency of results to give the best results.
Ok, so let’s begin optimizing that account!
Keywords - the search terms you expect visitors to find you with. As with traditional on-page SEO, you need to include these within your listing. Don’t go all spammy on me; you only need to mention this a handful of times within the description of your business. Keep your English flowing and readable; the keywords need to sit as a natural part of the text. Write for humans, not search engines.
DO NOT places them within the title, unless they are part of your official business name. Sooner or later, Google will lunge out of the darkness and drag your listing to hell for trying to game / spam the system. Keep very much to building your brand; if your business is called ‘Italiano’s’, don’t be calling yourself ‘Stone Baked Pizza’.
Set your service area - anecdotal advice is to set your location as a primary physical location, as opposed to a radius. The radius setting waters down the impact a little, with less chance of a strong position. From previous experience, the position of your Google Places account seems to tally up with the health of your website SEO, so if you’re in the top slot already, by all means experiment.
Categories - first up, make sure you’ve got your primary category first. Select as many categories as you think are relevant to your to your business; the more the merrier and it can give added exposure.
Imagery - a decent image is worth a thousand words and Google Places puts them in a prominent position. If you have an elegant restaurant that looks great in photographs, this is going to attract more customers to your fine dining experience than any amount of gushing prose.
Be complete - if it asks you to fill it in, wherever humanely possible, fill it in. Another mention for citations, because as we discussed, the more complete the information the more the search engines have to latch onto. This basic contact information is going to be identical everywhere.
2. Citations & Directory Listings
Remember me mentioning citations earlier? Directories form a very important part of cohesive citations across the web; a large amount of that local SEO impact comes from this, so pay attention!
What we’re not going to do is place an advert on every single directory out there. With a past history of link farms and the newer thin content penalties, choosing the directory website for your listing needs to be done with a critical eye.
Quality over quantity is the name of the game, so we’ll concentrate on those directories that have a sense of quality, which naturally tend to be the ones with a strong public branded image. A diverse link profile is an ultra important part of a modern day back linking profile.
The strongest directory entries are the ones that are both relevant to your industry and trusted
Points to bear in mind when using directories as part of your online marketing strategies
- Directories offer both paid and free listings. Paid listings are often given more exposure within the directory but the free listing still has great value.
- Never use a directory that demands a ‘reciprocal link’from your website; as a concept, this is dead in the water and contravenes the google webmaster guidelines
- As before, be complete. The same contact information across the web is absolutely crucial.
- Resist the urge to pepper keywords in the anchor titles, i.e. the link within the directory that leads to your listing. Branding is key, because SEO tactics change as time goes on.
- If the directory in question allows you to write a lengthy description then use it - but don’t bore your potential visitors to death! Vary your descriptions to avoid falling foul of duplicate content issues.
- As in Google Places, strong imagery is a big seller, so use it to best advantage.
Some great examples of directories you need to be in are:
- Thomson Local
- Touch Local
Consider using a paid for service to handle everything from one dashboard. Moz Local is making good headway and is extremely easy to use, analysing problem areas and duplicate content.
Leveraging local directories
Occasionally, you’ll come across hand curated local directories. These may be specific to your location; obviously, the links to the local area are more often than not picked up by the search engines as relevant to your listing and give a small amount of lift. Have a read through the site content first - if it’s overloaded with advertising and worthless content, avoid it.
3. Social Media - How, When and Why
The most important part of a social media campaign is to target who your customer base is in the first place and to recognise that it requires time and effort to succeed. You also need to identify which social network that demographic is most likely to use.
As time is money and time is also limited, choosing the two most viable platforms pays greater dividends than using four that you don’t have the time to do a good job with. For this example, we’ll use Facebook.
The approach requirements of other social media platforms vary wildly. Twitter is a constant crash of information that requires posting up to 15 times a day to get yourself heard, Instagram revolves entirely around images (not a good idea if you can’t take the extra time to photograph everything you do) and Linkedin deals with the more professional trades.
Facebook - The Great Leveller.
Everyone and their parents are on Facebook and it is possibly the only social network that allows promotion and advertising at an affordable level to small businesses.
Create a business page from your personal account, not a full blown personal account to promote your business. Facebook is exceptionally aware of those that do and may suspend services.
Tips to follow
Communication - Facebook is a two way conversation between you and your customers. It’s easier for a customer to message you on Facebook than it is to email, so be prepared to answer questions in a timely manner. Switch notifications on and if possible, have mobile access to it at all times.
Testimonial - if you don’t ask, you don’t get! If you have customers who are overjoyed with your services, it’s a simple matter of asking them to leave reviews.
Frequency - unlike Twitter, Facebook isn’t a scattergun of information; the posts you deliver can stick around for a while, so the last thing you want to do is drown people in information. As a rule, stick to a maximum of two a day.
Timing - this is very dependant on your target demographic. If you deal mainly with other businesses, the daytime is your best bet; mid morning lets the business owner get the early tasks out of the way. If your post is intended for Joe Public, late afternoon / early evening is the way forward, as it’s no good to them if they’re at work and unable to check Facebook.
Facebook has some valuable tools which you will need to get to grips with. Insights will be your primary one; over time, you’ll learn which posts got the most traction.
Using post promotion to expand your audience
Post promotion - hypothetically, lets pretend your restaurant has a plan to offer discounts on a Thursday to drum up trade on a quiet day. You’ve made your big announcement on your business page, so lets explore a method of getting that news in front of as many people as possible.
Facebook allows you to boost that post with the following settings
- Target the audience by location (at a town & city level)
- Deliver the post according to the age, gender and interests of the audience
- Allows you to set a budget and the number of days you’d like it to run for
- Estimates the potential audience numbers for the campaign
Keep track of your campaign on a regular basis - if you’ve boosted for a week and you’ve had no traction a couple of days in, pause the campaign and analyse why it’s failing.
Share and share alike
The more methods you employ for customers to visit your account, the more exposure you get as part of you online marketing strategies. Your social media accounts should be accessible everywhere; clickable icons on your website, email signatures and addresses on all marketing materials. Join groups and (where allowed to) post special offers and promotional material.
Exposure is key, so get liking other peoples posts and sharing their content - a regular sharer of good content often gets shared in return.
4. PPC - Pay Per Click Campaigns
PPC results in all those sponsored ads you see at the top of the page, just before the local and organic listings. Don’t neglect your organic search results and rely on this - good ongoing online marketing strategies are never reliant on any one technique.
For those that have already given PPC a try and given up as their budgets have vanished overnight with no results, this is for you. If you’ve never given it a go, take the following tips on board in order to maximize the potential conversions from visitor to sales.
Create a separate landing page for your campaign.
The aim for this strategy is to deliver what the visitor wants and simply dumping them on your home page is going to send a very confusing message. Your aim is to steer the customer in two directions, giving them a very clear choice of action:
- Provide their contact details within the form included - this is a ‘call to action’, a method of steering the visitor to the intended result.
- Phone directly on the number provided
Within the page, you’ll also highlight what the offer is all about and (above all else) highlighting the benefits for the visitor, alongside preferably attractive web page design. Restrict navigation to crucial elements and under no circumstances give too many options. Your goal will be lost.
Analyse your keywords
These are the search terms you want you advert to show up for. Bear in mind that they have to remain relevant to the subject matter of your landing page. Google has a great tool just for this job in the form of Keyword Planner. It’ll tell you how much competition and potential traffic there is for given keywords, as well as the cost you pay every time someone clicks on it.
It’s all in the words
You’ve got a very limited number of words to play with, so you need to write a sufficiently compelling advert that piques peoples interest. They’ve already searched for what they are looking for - it’s up to you to go the final mile and stand out.
Track and adjust
All advertising campaigns should be tracked and reviewed on a regular basis. Never fall into the trap of launching it and coming back to see the results after it’s finished, because by then it’ll be far too late to correct any mistakes and Google doesn’t give refunds.
5. Reviews and testimonials
People sell people and it’s just as true on the internet. Where your customers put those testimonials is just as important. The aim is to maximise visibility and where possible, have those reviews show as part of the pathway to your website, in other words the search results.
The main aims of testimonial are:
- Building the credibility of your brand
- Providing proof of your previous track record
- What are you like to work with
I talked about Google Places earlier on, but didn’t mention one crucial component - the review functionality. Of all the various parts that make up the Google ecosystem, it’s this one that can affect a local business directly and drive the click rate up.
When a customer leaves a review for you on Google Places, it achieves the following:
- Displays gold stars next to your Places listing, increasing visibility and providing a visual cue
- Provides verifiable testimonial that is relatively hard to fake
Getting the testimonials in the first place…
… is actually harder than you’d think, but there are ways around it. People are more likely to complain about a sloppy service than praise a good one! But worry not, there are methods for gathering them.
Leverage previous reviews - if someone’s already reviewed you, there’s no harm in asking them to do it somewhere else as well.
Across social media - if you have good standing through the community in general, why not simply ask?
Follow up with email - if you have a method for gathering customer details (and you should), send a follow up email asking if they were happy with the service and provide links to places they can review you.
Provide handouts - even if it’s on the other side of your business card. As before, provide links to places for testimonial.
Of course, don’t restrict reviews to Google Places, there are many other places where reviews would be beneficial. All those directories we talked about earlier would be a great place to put them, including Yelp, Scoot, Touch Local.
Don’t neglect your website!
That lovingly crafted copy is far more likely to sell you when accompanied by testimonial. Choose your top three testimonials and get them proudly displayed in a prominent position on your website, preferably with links out to the original location of the review. By all means include a separate sub page containing your best testimonials.
This article was written in order to give a good grounding to those with local businesses 5 effective online marketing strategies that form a grounded base in order to expand from. With so much information available and so many techniques, it’s often hard for the average small business owner to know where to start from.
Guest Post by Kieren from Freshly Blended
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