I could fill a fairly thick notebook with the things I love about the Internet, but its status as the great equalizer may very well be the thing I love the most. Before the Internet, a local business had a very small chance competing with the Walmarts of the world. Better service and lower prices could only do so much in the face of convenience and visibility.
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Build it and they will come?
But now we have the Internet – the ultimate tool for accessing information. The Internet changed the way people look for businesses, and then the smart phone came along and altered how people use the Internet: to search locally. Instead of waiting to look something up when they get home, people are checking for mom-and-pop restaurants, dry cleaning businesses and car mechanics while out and about.
According to Dex One, data provided by Burke Inc. showed 87 percent of people use search engines before they buy a product or service. So if your company ranks higher and more often than your competitors on Yahoo!, Google and Bing, more potential customers will see you. When faced with that fact, the solution is clear: If you are the most visible business in your local category, you stand a very good chance of getting customers through the door.
How Do You Rank Up?
Before we jump in to the local search tips, I wanted to point out the differences between local and regular search results. Ranking respectably for a keyword like “health food store” on a national or worldwide basis takes a lot of effort, quite a bit of money and some spectacular luck. But ranking for the same kind of keyword on a local basis is relatively easy to do. This is the big advantage of having a brick-and-mortar establishment in an increasingly digital world: You have access to some unique tools.
The biggest benefit of using Google Places to market your business is that people use it. Google may no longer have the geek-tech crowd worshipping at its mighty feet, but it has all but monopolized the average Internet user’s experience. Google Places lets you list your local business, ensuring that those who use the search engine giant or browse Google Maps can find your company. Even if your business already comes up on a relevant local search, you can claim it and gain control over the details. Oh, and while you’re on Google, go ahead and update your Google+ business profile. Don’t assume that your social media obligations are covered just because you’re already on Twitter and Facebook. Plenty of people are using Google+, and it’s better to be ahead of the crowd than to play catch-up later on.
Business owners have their share of complaints about the world’s largest review site, but there’s no question that people are using Yelp to help them make purchasing decisions. Even if this is a case of “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality, there are good arguments to be made for claiming your business on Yelp. Once you’ve done this, optimize your listing by adding as much information as possible, putting up attractive photos of your establishment and by responding to reviews when prudent.
Even the most established SEO strategists don’t understand everything behind a search engine’s algorithms, but it is known that Google and others are putting more weight than ever on citations. What are citations? They are mentions of your business on blogs, smaller search engines, directories and other applicable websites. You can get creative when it comes to improving your citation index. For example, joining the local chamber of commerce or being written about in the local paper can demonstrate how you are an active member of the community and improve your relevance in the eyes of the search engines.
Some SEO experts claim that the days of meta tags are behind us. While it’s true that these tags are no longer the shortcut to a spot on the first page of Google that they once were, they take almost no time to create and may still prove beneficial for a number of reasons. Any time you write an article for your site or create a blog post (you are doing these things, right?), take another five minutes and write up some meta tags. At the very least, this gives you control over what search engine users see.
Don’t Feel Overwhelmed, You Can Do This!
No one said getting to the top of Google would be easy, but it doesn’t have to cost a fortune either. With these tips you can build a foundation upon which your business can reach more Internet users and improve sales. You may never be able to drive your local Walmart out of business, but with some time and effort, you can definitely hold your own.