Annie Kile

Small Business SEO: Passing Go

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This is not an article about the end of SEO as we know it (or how you wish you didn’t need to pay other people to figure out for you.) Yes, Google has made changes. Yes, those changes have, in fact, changed things. But, if you’re a local small business owner, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The reality is the changes Google’s put into place are likely give local business owners more of a level playing field to throw the ‘ol SEO ball around.

But we digress. After all, that’s not what this article is about. What is this article about? It’s not about what might happen, or what Google’s changes could mean – it’s about what local small business owners can, and should, be doing right now to optimize their opportunity to get a first page hit when a local prospective customer hits the bricks and does a Google search looking for a local business who can meet their needs or solve their problems.

But first, just in case you have not yet become convinced as to why it is your corner florist or dentist office, or insurance agency, attorney’s office, beauty salon, mechanic’s garage – whatever business you happen to be running should be paying (close) attention to what’s happening with your business on the Internet, here’s it is in a nutshell:

Local customers find local businesses by doing an Internet (Google) search.

There is absolutely no getting around this fact. No longer is using a web search a “high tech” way for consumers to investigate who to buy from. It is as much of a part of everyday life as getting into that newfangled horseless carriage in order to get to work every morning.

If you want local customers to find you, you could be just around the corner from wherever that customer happens to live or work and yet lose business to a competitor across town that has their act together on the web. If you happen to be a bean counter analytical type consider a report put out by the Retail Bulletin in 2009 that indicated 84% of all consumers (including local) are likely to research online before making a purchase. You’ve got to know that number has only continued to increase in the last few years.

If all the above hasn’t convinced you to keep reading, let’s try an appeal to logic. Ask yourself this question, “If a consumer is looking for a local business to provide them with a good or service, what does that really mean?”

It means that consumer is ready and willing to make a purchase.

This may seem obvious, why else would a customer be looking for a business to buy from if they weren’t ready to buy? But sometimes the import of the obvious can escape us. If you’re a local business doesn’t it make sense to hang out with people ready to buy from you? Sure it does. And they are hanging out on the web.

Three Relatively Simple Things You Need to Do NOW

First and foremost, before you pass go, you’ve simply got to “make your claim” on local listing platforms such as Yahoo Local, Google Maps, Google +, Manta, and the ever present Facebook and Twitter. Every time your businesses’ contact info is listed Google considers this to be a “citation” for your business. The more citations, the more likely your business is to show up on that first page of search results.

Citations are great, but again, claiming your listings is important for the simple reason people looking for your business on the web aren’t going to find you if you’re not there. Additionally, you want your profile to be complete. Remember, customers aren’t just looking for your address and phone number. For instance, hours of operation are helpful. In addition, many consumers looking for local small businesses are in the investigation phase of their buying decision. This means finding a link to your business website on a local listing platform is just as important as your contact information and physical location data.

Second, you’ve got to do what it takes to make sure there are people out there reviewing (positively) your business. Google likes businesses who’ve got a lot of reviews – which means that your next step is claiming your business listings on local search and review sites such as DexKnows and Yelp. Remember that 84% of consumers conducting Internet searches looking for businesses? Another statistic you might be interested in comes from eMarketer (February 2010) that indicates the consumers conducting those searches trust the information they receive from consumer review 12 times more than the information provided to them by the business they’re researching.

Cautionary Note: Taking steps to make sure it is easy for consumers to provide reviews of your business means tracking and responding to those reviews – both good and bad. If you happen to get a negative review (and you will) be sure to respond quickly and resolve the issue as best you can. Even if you aren’t able to resolve an issue to the complete satisfaction of the consumer, research indicates that consumers are likely to continue to do business simply because they were listened to and an attempt was made to reconcile the issue. You’re going to want to have reviews on multiple sites – which means looking into online reputation tools is well worth the investment.

Last, but trust us not least, you need to make sure your business website is up to speed. Remember, Google favors local businesses who’ve garnered multiple citations. One way to up your citation ante is to make sure that your businesses contact info is on each and every page of your business website. You also want to make sure that you make it easy for Google to “read” the content on your website. This is done via optimizing your pages for “geo-targeted” (local) search. Easy ways to do that?

  • Use well-researched keywords in page titles, meta descriptions, H1 tags, and links

  • Sprinkle “local geo-modifiers” throughout your content. For instance, “Sacramento shoppers looking for the best value in commercial insurance…”

  • Again, be sure to include complete contact information (name of business, address, phone, email address) on each and every page. MOST IMPORTANT is to be sure to use the same exact contact info on every platform. For instance, if you use 1234 Fourth Street, don’t shorten that to 1234 4th St.
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