If customers can't find you on the Internet, they'll find your competitors instead. To stand out online, SMBs should focus on mobile-friendly sites, social platforms and online reviews.
The days of David and Goliath having an equal opportunity at driving web traffic are long gone. It is especially hard for small business owners. For these entrepreneurs, time is at a premium and marketing budgets are tight. Desperate to compete, they often fall victim to SEO scammers. Instead of a traffic boost, many wind up in worse shape, dealing with a manual penalty or an algorithmic setback.
Good SEO providers never spam your contact forms or inboxes offering to provide awesome SEO services for cheap prices. Delete these messages immediately. You do not want to place your business or reputation in the hands of some anonymous Gmail spammer. So how can a small business owner navigate the tangled web of SEO, social media and off-page marketing? The good news is that you don’t need to do everything. Focus on the basics and you can be successful – even in 2015.
Internet marketing doesn’t need to be overwhelming; follow the steps below and you will establish a solid foundation. After the initial setup, spending just 20-30 minutes a day on your marketing efforts is certain to boost web traffic and footsteps through your door.
1. Claim Local Listings
Start with the big two. For many, if not most, businesses, nothing else is needed.
Google My Business: Claiming and optimizing this profile should be your top priority. Do it today. Prospective customers can access driving directions to your business in Maps, find your business hours in Search, and have a click-to-call feature on their mobile phones. Perhaps the most powerful feature is ability to read and respond to reviews from customers. As an added bonus, it is widely believed that Google reviews influence local search rankings.
Yelp: According to Yelp, the platform averages 142 million users per month. Once you claim a Yelp Business Page, you can add photos, link to your website, and ensure that important information like your business hours and phone number are correct and current. Of course, Yelp is primarily known for reviews and offers business owners the opportunity to interact with reviewers via private message or public comment.
2. Generate Online Reviews
After claiming your Google and Yelp listings, you should be proactive in generating reviews. Many business owners are uneasy about client reviews and for good reason. Between one and three bad online reviews would be enough to deter 67 percent of shoppers from purchasing a product or service, according to a Lightspeed Research study. Keep in mind that even if you don’t claim a listing, customers can and will leave a review.
That means that managing reviews – in other words, getting reviews from happy customers – is extremely important. One way to do this is to utilize the Whitespark Review Handout Generator. This free tool creates printable instructions explaining how to leave a Google review, on both desktop and mobile.
Yelp discourages business owners from asking for reviews and suggests “reminding” customers that you are on Yelp by using review badges on websites, in-store signage, and QR codes.
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3. Have or Build a Mobile-Friendly Website
Local search is mobile search. According to Google, mobile searches now outnumber desktop searches in 10 countries, including the U.S. The Google Mobilegeddon algorithm punishes websites that are not mobile friendly by displacing them from top search results on mobile devices.
Having a Facebook page alone doesn’t cut it. Countless business owners have had their Facebook pages shut down with no recourse; why take that risk? The lack of ownership and limited control represent a danger to your business. Fortunately, building a website doesn’t require a technical background in web design. There are literally thousands of WordPress templates, or Themes, built for every niche and many are free. Remember to look for one with a responsive design, which means it is mobile-friendly.
4. Build Local Citations
A citation is any mention of your business on the web. It can come in many forms and not just links. A citation may include a link, in addition to the company’s name, address and phone number (NAP). Consistency in reporting NAP is the cornerstone of a successful citation-building campaign. For example, 123 Main Street is not the same as 123 Main St., in the eyes of Google.
It has been reported that citation-related factors account for at least 15 percent of the overall ranking factors in local search. A Google search for Local Citation Finder will turn up helpful tools that make this a relatively easy task. At a minimum, you should submit your NAP to the major data aggregators. If pressed for time, there are reputable companies that will do this for you.
5. Master one or two social media platforms
Social media marketing can be confusing and time-consuming. The number of platforms can be overwhelming, but in my experience, the top performing social networks for most small businesses are:
- Facebook. By far the most popular platform, Facebook is used by 57 percent of all American adults and 71 percent of those ages 12-17, according to Pew Research Center. Because of its broad appeal, Facebook is a good fit for any business. If you only have time to master one social media channel, this is it.
- Instagram. Instagram is the fastest growing platform, used by 26 percent of adults online. Even more impressive, 53 percent of young adults ages 18-29 now use the service. If you are in a niche where people tend to share images – food, fashion, technology – this is the place to be. It’s also a no-brainer for companies targeting a younger demographic.
- Pinterest. Pinterest is used by 28 percent of all adults and 42 percent of all females online. The platform also boasts a user base with 64 percent of users having an average household income of $50,000 or more. Like Instagram, visually-appealing goods and services will perform best here. In my experience, Pinterest is the best direct sale channel among all social media platforms. If you’re marketing to women, you need to consider Pinterest.
This is not, by any means, a comprehensive list of everything a website owner can or should do. Instead, these are the tasks that I would consider to be the priority items for every business owner looking to achieve online success. Customers expect to find you on the Internet; if you aren’t there, they will find your competitors instead.