Contrary to what some corners of the internet like to share, that Google, Bing and all the other search engines are trying to steal you away, they really have no interest in keeping you on their search pages long term. They want you searching for answers and clicking on your chosen result, not hanging out on a blank page with a search box in it. But what does that do for a local business, maybe a little mom and pop store that only has one or two employees? Regardless of your size, you can still leverage the search engines to help grow your business, and believe it or not on the internet everyone has a shot at being number one.
One of the big changes in the last couple of months has been the drive towards semantic natural searching by the search engines. It is an approach and change designed to make searching a simpler affair for the user, the goal for example being “what is the best restaurant 6 blocks from here”. Smart phones and tablets are very good at what they do and with how convenient they are to carry and use this sort of search isn’t that far off in the future. You can already use a search like “best restaurant in winnipeg” and get a fairly decent set of results based on both consumer and editorialized reviews. So what can you do as a mom and pop to take advatage?
For starters if you have a website with a brick and mortar location then you should have your Google+ local listing filled out and attributed to you. Formerly known as Google Places, the local listings are the results you see that show up on the map with the lettered marker points directing you exactly where to go. It allows Google to verify your listing and location with you and tells the search engine that you’re a real business with doors and walls and everything! It’s a very simple step to take which only helps your visibility and actually leads into the next point – customer reviews.
Having an A+ rating is great where the local better business bureau is concerned, but even better for yourself is when you can encourage your customers to post a review to your local listings. Whether it’s Yelp, Urban Spoon, or even on your Google+ local profile it serves two fold for your business needs. First it lets visitors who find your site have a little bit of insight into how you conduct your business and how you might treat your customers. Even the negative reviews can be extremely helpful in this case, provided of course you can properly remedy the situation. And secondly it is like adding a notch on your belt for the search engines, just another way you’ve proven to them that you have an active visitor/customer base.
A final, and one of the more obvious steps that you’d be surprised to learn gets missed is to ensure you have your physical address on both your website, and your local profile. It’s a surprisingly often missed step where site owners are concerned which is sometimes lost with the addition of a contact form added to a website. It is assumed that a site visitor will automatically use a form or page to get a message or question into a site owner, but what if they would rather walk in your door and talk to a person? Or call and talk to someone to have their questions answered? You need to make sure your location and contact information is included in your website, your local profile listings and in doing so you’re likely to see increased foot traffic, as well as web traffic. The easier you are to find, the more likely you are to make a sale.
This is not a tribute to Steve Jobs directly. Although in the end it may be one of his greatest legacies.
I have been in the technology field for over 30 years. I have seen a number of radical changes that became metaphors for how things were supposed to be done. Many, but certainly not all, of these metaphors were created at the hands of Steve Jobs.
QWERTY defined the keyboard. The Apple II defined a generation of PCs. Sony defined what the home video recorder should be. The Mac defined what a Window and Window based programs should behave like. The iPhone defined how touch functions on a smartphone and what a smartphone is.
These defining products and the companies that produce them don’t always win the battle in the market place for various reasons but the idea sticks. The technology becomes iconic and lays the path for others to follow. Sometimes the followers overtake the creators, sometimes the creators win. The market is a brutal overseer.
Siri, the natural language interface for the new iPhone 4s, is one such product. It may not be the product that wins the battle in the market place, it may not be the specific product feature that everybody has to have in their pockets in 2015 but if it isn’t, whatever is there will be like Siri.
Imagine a world where you say to your phone: Find me the best Asian restaurant within 25 miles. Or: Text my wife to meet me at 21. Or: Schedule an appointment for me with Joe the PR Guy and send him a text. Or: Tell my friends on Facebook that our team won!
All of the sudden the only thing that matters is the answer. Nothing else. You won’t be looking at a search box, you won’t be landing on someone’s home page, you won’t be looking at an ad…In fact you won’t be looking at anything.
You won’t need to. Not all of your interaction will be voice driven but depending on your mobile needs a large portion of it could be. You no longer need to look at your phone to enter a query in a search box. You just ask for the answer and it will just give it to you.
The answer can come from a single source or a range of sources. The brand of search engine is no longer important, the brand of phone that you are asking the question on is. Your only relationship is with the phone. Either it works or it doesn’t. Search engines and web brands could potentially fade in importance.
The winner in this next interface battle gets to pick where and who it gets the answer from. If it needs three data sources, it uses three data sources. If it needs four, it looks at four. That complexity is all hidden and the user not only doesn’t need to visit multiple websites, the user doesn’t even need a special app. Siri, or something like it, becomes the great equalizer for data sources. An OS for voice as it were. It handles the complexities. You just need to ask it.
Will it do what Apple says it will? There was a time when you couldn’t trust what Apple or any technology firm said. You had to have it proven to you. Even though this is a new Apple, one molded by the demanding perfectionism of Steve Jobs, this is one of those times when you will need to know that the natural language interface works and it works seamlessly.
If it does, it becomes THE WAY that you want to interact with the device. The new QWERTY as it were. Maybe not all all the time but certainly with mobile search and more frequently than not with mobile local search.
It also become the great disintermediator in mobile. It may be the greatest disintermediator of all time. If it works.
The world absolutely cannot beat a proverbial path to your door if they can’t even find you. That’s where your smart local search marketing straegies comes into play. When it comes to “being found” ask yourself whether you want to be a dot or a pushpin on Google Maps? It makes a huge difference especially to the people who are in the buying mode.
Here are a few tips to get you started on the road to adding Google Maps local search to your marketing repertoire.
1. Let your fingers do the walking, as the Yellow Pages campaigns used to tout, and walk them right over to your keyboard and find your Google browser, using Firefox, of course. Find your Places page in Google Maps, and claim your listing.
This is your first step toward becoming a savvy local search marketer. You need an owner-verified listing. You will find a page already populated for you by Google. The information may be wrong. Sign in with your G-mail account.
2. Keyword research applies to your traditional search strategy for your website. The rules and parameters for local search are completely different and a traditional search engine optimization (SEO) consulting firm may not understand local search at all.
Think like a prospect looking for your business from their phone. How would you find yourself? Your company name, business address and primary phone should be correct. Referred to as NAP, this information must always be consistent across the Internet; in Web directories, on other sites and on your own website. If people come to your place of business, then do not use P.O. boxes in your listing.
3.Choose at least one business category from the list of choices offered by Google. This will help Google legitimize and properly list your business. You can add others, using smart keyword choices that describe your business offerings.
4. On your Google Places dashboard, add a couple of Internet coupons. I suggest unique offers so you can track results. Equally important, Google’s algorithm supposedly gives your listing a boost if you have coupons.
5. Citations and reviews from Web sources across the Internet will automatically feed into your Google Places page and give you a boost in landing in Google’s Lucky Seven listings, or in their blended listings in a Web search.
Want a real life example? Go to Google Maps and search for coffee shops in Marlborough. Starbucks has claimed their Places pages. Dunkin Donuts has not, and you can see the difference when you look at their pages. Some are marked as pushpins, others as dots on the map. Some well-known haunts such as Main Street Cafe or even Panera don’t even show up!
Unless you have been living under a rock like the guy in the Geico commercial, the value of “local search” to your business should be fairly obvious. While most baby boomers are still catching on to the new world of digital marketing (and many more are hopelessly lost) the Gen-Xs, Gen-Ys and the echo boomers certainly know how to find just about everything they need right from their smart phone.