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April 10, 2012

6 Online Marketing Problems Local Business Owners Face and How to Fix Them

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If you own or manage a store or business that depends on customers coming in the door, you’ve probably wondered the best way to use the Internet to drive more foot traffic. Regardless of your place in the spectrum of web-savviness, there are things you can do to establish a web presence that can be found online and leveraged into new customers.

If you’ve considered how investing in a website, social media profiles or even daily deals like Groupon might help your business, there’s a good chance you’ve faced one of the following questions of local business owners making a name for themselves online. Here are six common problems local businesses find online along with the info and resources you need to solve them.

Does my business need a website?

While it’s certainly possible to create and maintain a strong online presence without a website, a word of warning. In an ideal world, you’d prefer to own your property rather than rent, right? You can have a successful business but if the landlord decides to double rent, you may find you’re forced to move and your business may be upended along with it.

Think of your website as the property you own online. Sometimes referred to as digital sharecropping, your Facebook page and your Google Maps listing are the places you rent and fix up nice so they remind you of home, but they’ll never be yours to control. While it’s recommended that a business be present wherever customers visit or hang out on the web (see the social media section below), there are many reasons why it’s prudent to have a website that acts as the online hub for your business:

  • It’s another opportunity for your business to show up in search results.
  • It’s a trust signal to users.
  • It’s the only place online you have full control over.

A website doesn’t have to be a high-cost investment. Simply include all the info a customer would need to find your business and answer any questions they might have. That includes:

  • Address: Very important it’s consistent across the web.
  • Phone number: Also very important to be consistent. Local area codes are believed to be a better signal than 800 numbers.
  • Hours of operation
  • Popular brands or product lines: Helps for ranking if people are searching for what you sell.

It’s best if the site is easy to navigate, and depending on the business a single page might due. You may also consider including a map and directions to your store. An easy way to do this is to use Google’s maps and directions widget. Our Localware offering is an elegant solution for a local business looking to create an effective website.

How do I get customers to leave my business reviews on Yelp and Google Places?

According to a 2010 consumer study on local search behavior, at least 6 to 10 reviews are required for a searcher to trust a business. Nearly three-fourths of respondents consult local reviews at least occasionally, and more than half say they trust a business more after reading positive reviews online. Now, it’s not only important to get good reviews, because bad reviews play a role in gaining credibility, too. A recent study suggests that consumers trust reviews when they see both good and bad scores, and when a shopper goes out of the way to read bad reviews, he converts 67% more than average. So how can you encourage customers to review your business online?

Ask them. I’ve seen and heard of many creative ways to go about this, but it starts by letting customers know. Post a Yelp icon next to the register or a place a QR code that links to your Google Places reviews by the door. Google has said that businesses shouldn’t pay customers for leaving reviews, and you can see all of Google Places guidelines for reviews here. But don’t be afraid to ask, perhaps after a particularly stellar effort to give a customer what they want. For those online, make it easy by including links on your website to your business profile on review sites. Again:

  • Give good service.
  • Ask for reviews.
  • Make it easy to review your business online.

Realize that bad reviews can be an opportunity. If you find someone has published a negative review, if you can convert them to a happy customer you may find yourself a lifetime brand enthusiast. Find them and fix their problem, then ask them to update their review.

I interviewed a local SEO specialist to get his pointers on soliciting reviews online.

There’s a lot of ways that we’ve been able to incorporate for customers and we find that our clients’ customers have responded well to. One of which is having, on a local website, usually in the sidebar or in the footer space, links to about four review portals. So generally we’ll look at a place like Yelp; I think Yelp is an extremely important review portal. Other ones, like CitySearch, of course Google Places, and then maybe an industry specific one, just depending on what industry you’re in.

We’ll have some kind of phrase like “read our reviews” or “leave us a review” and you can generally, over the course of natural site traffic, people will go, they’ll read a few reviews. Chances are if they enjoy your service they’ll leave one. If you do a bad job, they’ll leave one as well.

A few other things we’ve seen work extremely well. [...] Let’s say you have a customer e-mail list, identifying everybody that uses a Gmail account, identifying everybody that uses any other service. Maybe if you have them on Facebook then you push them toward CitySearch since you can log in to CitySearch with Facebook. Start trying to get your users and push them toward the place that they’re most likely to leave reviews. It works great. I mean, Gmail account users, if you send them a link to Google Places, they’re already logged in. You can send them a direct link to the review spot and it’s fairly easy to pick up quick reviews like that.

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest… How do I know what social media networks my business should be on?

Here’s an interesting stat: 63 percent of social networkers are more likely to use a local business if the business has information available on a social networking site. From the same study:

With the rise of social networks and daily deal providers introducing location-based services, consumers are becoming savvier about accessing local business information. In fact, social network local business search usage has increased 67 percent since 2010 and 35 percent of individuals that primarily use social networking sites for local search do so on a daily basis, according to the study. Also, local business searchers are heavily engaged with social local content through consumer reviews, with 45 percent of social network local business users submitting reviews online for local business.

Social networks and user review communities have direct ties to the brick-and-mortar world. Consumers today expect a business to be engaged with customers online. It’s a minimum standard that must be met to gain trust and credibility as it shows that the business’s leadership understands customers needs and behaviors. Consumers expect that a business that’s easy to work with and can be counted on for good customer service will be available through the communication channels they use and are familiar with. Of course, even if you understand that you must be present on social networks, the decision of which to be active on may pose a challenge.
Your first step may be to create a social media playbook ━ an outline of the goals you expect to meet through social media engagement, the platforms on which you plan to participate, and rules of engagement for anyone representing the brand online. Make sure the plan starts with the goals and everything can be drawn back to the goals from there. It’s your goals for your social media efforts that will help you decide which networks or channels to participate in.

A social media guide from marketing firm Eloqua (pdf) covers the major platforms, Twitter and Facebook, and key platforms like blogs, LinkedIn, YouTube, as well as geosocial networks like Foursquare and Gowalla. You’ll find best practices for each platform and how to link your engagement on each platform to your specific goals. The guide is from 2009, and as evidence of just how quickly technology progresses, Google Buzz is included instead of Google+. Also consider that new services are popping up all the time. Like, what’s the deal with Pinterest?

Not to fret. Dig in for platform-targeted guidance straight from the source:

  • Twitter for Small Business outlines ways to use the service to benefit your business, including best practices like responding in real time and rewarding followers with deals, widgets and resources for integrating Twitter on your site, and case studies to learn from.
  • Facebook Marketing Solutions offers resources and news about features and a classroom where you can watch videos about Facebook ads, building a community of fans, Sponsored Stories and more.
  • Google+ for Business gives businesses a way to interact with customers through multiple mediums, makes it easy for customers to share with friends and comes with valuable measurement tools with which to improve your online communications.
  • Foursquare for Business has the info you need to claim your business or brand and star using the service to increase foot traffic and encourage customer loyalty.

There are multiple or incorrect listings for my business in Google. How do I claim and clean up my listing?

Search is a very important channel for businesses to be aware of. Think of how you navigate the web. Chances are search plays an important role in how you find things you’re looking for in the physical world. The same is true for your customers.

Google is the most popular search engine in the U.S., followed by Bing. When a search engine delivers local results to a searcher, they present them in a unique format, listing businesses that meet the searchers criteria along with a map of where those businesses can be found. A business’s listing must be accurate and complete for the business to have the best chance of being deemed the top result by the search engine and human user alike. Therefore you want to claim your business listing and complete the profile as thoroughly as possible:

Here are some things to keep in mind when creating your business profile in Google Places and Bing Business Portal, as shared in our Small Biz Discovery Contest last year.

Once you’ve claimed your listing and are able to edit it, the next step is to make sure that your listing is accurate and complete. Pay close attention to each field and enter accurate details for each. Be sure to fill in your business description with unique information; do not copy and paste your description text from your website or anywhere else. Also, if you have a toll-free phone number, enter your local number as your main phone number and the toll-free number as the alternate.

Select your business description categories carefully, as it is extremely important to choose the categories that match your business’s products and services that you want to be found for. Don’t attempt to stuff keywords into your business name, listing details or categories – Google knows very well how to detect keyword spam and will penalize you for it.

Categories work essentially the same as keywords that you may be found by, which is why selecting highly relevant categories is very important.

A few more tips for Google Places optimization from SMX West earlier this year:

  • URL: Single location, point to your home page
  • Select up to 5 categories: Build web pages for each category. This is the only way to get 2 listings in blended search results – one in organic, one in blended
  • Multiple location pages: Build landing pages for each location in your site and use that in Google Places.

What’s a citation and if they’re so important how can I get them?

Obviously the return on investment on any online marketing tactic will weigh heavily in your decision making process when it comes to choosing what to do online. So, you should familiarize yourself with the most important local search ranking factors so you can focus your efforts on tactics that deliver the highest return. An annual study of local search ranking factors lists and describes the top 10 as reported by industry experts. In the top half of the list (after the business’s address in the city, an owner-verified Google Places page, and proper category selection) is the volume of citations.

A citation is an online mention of your business name, address and phone number (NAP) and it’s crucial that the NAP for a business is consistent across the web. Having a high number of citations on the web is a signal to Google that a business is trustworthy and worthy of ranking. Individual citations also vary in value, which depends on:

  • PageRank of sub-domain of citation
  • Content and keyword density on the page
  • Backlinks to the page
  • Frequency of crawl on the sub-URL where citation exists

If a link to the business being cited is also included, that’s a high-value signal. Traditional sources of citations include online directories, local newspapers that have business directories, and directories for certain industries or verticals. For other ideas of where to obtain citations, go to competitors’ Place page to see what citations they have that you could get too. A long list of more unorthodox citation sources were shared at an SMX West session on advanced local SEO tactics.
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Web Equity by Mike Blumenthal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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To Groupon or not to Groupon… Are daily deals and offers right for my business?

You’ve heard of Groupon, Living Social, Google Offers. You’ve probably purchased one or 20 yourself. Daily deals sites blew up overnight! But how do you know if your business is a good fit for the daily deals shopper? Beyond the hype and popularity, is it profitable? The sustainability of business driven by online offers remains to be seen:

Yes, Groupon promises a heavy flow of traffic, but the business ends up holding the bag because of long-term deep discounting. In addition, there seems to be trouble turning one-time customers into repeat business. According to Rice University, only 20 percent of Groupon patrons are returning to the businesses[...]

When it comes to daily deals, understand that it works better for some types of businesses than others. Last year at an SMX East conference session called Doing Offers Right, experts weighed in on who daily deals are working for and laid out the shifting landscape.

Deal or no deal?

  • Determine true business needs and program goals.
  • Consider product/brand fit.
  • Talk to multiple deal originators.
  • Be prepared to treat deal customers like gold.

The offers industry leader board:

  1. Groupon
  2. LivingSocial
  3. Travelzoo
  4. WagJag
  5. Gilt City
  6. BuyWithMe
  7. Lifebooker
  8. DealFind
  9. BloomSpot
  10. Amazon Local

Cost and benefit for merchants:

  • Average order value is a key factor of determining the deal value to go to market with.
  • Cost per order – what’s the goal when leveraging a group buying site.
  • New vs. existing – customer loyalty and long term value.

Merchant cost is calculated:

  • Total Cost = Groupon revenue for fulfilled orders + Discount size fulfilled orders – Merchant deal revenue (from breakage)
  • Breakage = bought voucher without consumer using it = money in your pocket
  • Breakage rate last year was about 20%.

The following business categories tend to perform best:

  • Apparel
  • Travel, hospitality, tours
  • Auto
  • Arts and entertainment
  • Subscriptions
  • Photo
  • Floral
  • Sporting events
  • Beauty, spa and massage
  • Fitness and nutrition
  • Fun and adventure
  • Sports and recreation
  • Health, medical and dental
  • Personal assistance
  • Food and drink
  • Kids
  • Museums
  • Classes, workshops and training

While I started this post hoping to tie a neat little bow around the challenge that is online marketing for local business, nearly 3000 words later it’s obvious it’s not easy. There are many resources available to a local business owner engaged in online marketing, still it’s helpful to have an expert to turn to and we’re always here to help. Beyond that, if you want an expert to guide and manage your online presence, consider our local SEO services. Check out Localware and if you’re interested in what we can do to build your web presence, give us a call.





5 responses to “6 Online Marketing Problems Local Business Owners Face and How to Fix Them”

  1. MicroSourcing writes:

    It’s better to open only as many social media accounts that you can realistically manage. A single account would require updates and content uploads on a daily basis.

  2. Adam Humphreys writes:

    This article on consumer trust may well reinforce that http://marketingland.com/nielsen-consumer-trust-in-traditional-media-ads-fall-while-confidence-in-mobile-social-and-online-rise-9712

  3. Aaron Eden writes:

    I love the landlord-property analogy that makes it easier for starters to understand. Having your own site means you control everything in it and you won’t have to fear losing your content. I think that the best way to strike a balance when it comes to bad reviews is to simply address the issue and come up with a permanent fix. By the way, thanks for this comprehensive post – very useful!

  4. Kent writes:

    I agree with the review/testimonials. That’s the reason why each time I finish my customer projects. I am sure request their testimonials and it helps.

    Amazon.com is another great example in book reviewing, each time before I buy books, I will go to Amazon.com and read the reviews and ratings.

    Anyway, Virginia, good article! :)

  5. Om media writes:

    Extremely useful article. Thanks for the social media guide, been looking for that. Hope you won’t mind if i translate this article and post it on our Croatian internet marketing blog?



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