I’ve owned my own business for over 25 years, and we serve clients around the globe, so didn’t give much thought to our own local search marketing. Yes, I know, we are a marketing company, but I’ve always focused on creating content and staying active on social channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. But this year I opened a local coworking space, The Village Workspace, on top of running our marketing company (because why not open a space where people gather right before a global pandemic!) and that changed my focus completely around local search marketing not just for local brick and mortar companies, but for any business. There is a lot to consider and a lot you can do to help your business be more findable…especially a local business.
Here are the 5 steps you need to take (yes, NEED to take) to grow your business:
1. CLAIM YOUR LOCAL BUSINESS
I am amazed at how many local businesses do not claim their accounts on Google, Yelp, Facebook or other local review sites. Perhaps it’s a lack of time or just a lack of knowledge. I often hear both from business owners who tell me they don’t have time to manage yet another social platform or they don’t want to get negative reviews so they don’t even go there.
Consumers are more tech-savvy than most businesses and they use the tools that business owners refuse to get on board with. This is just crazy! If you are running a business, you’d better learn to use the technology to connect with consumers or hire someone who knows how to do it for you.
I hear people say “I hate Yelp. People just buy fake reviews” or “I refuse to get on Facebook, it’s all political junk now.” Here’s the deal: It doesn’t matter what you like. It matters that your consumers are using these tools and talking about you whether you’re listening or not. If you are ignoring them, you will be missing opportunities or worse, you will miss out on the feedback people have to help you improve. Now, with that off my chest, let’s talk about how to do this.
To claim your business on most of these accounts, you can simply type your business name into the platform (example: Go to Google and type in your business name). If it asks, “Is this your business?” or if you don’t see a page or profile at all… Claim it! If it is claimed you will typically see a section on the right that opens up with reviews, photos, a map, and more information.
On Facebook, when you search for your business name, you may find other pages that customers have “created” when they “check-in” and didn’t find a page already. These become Place Pages and they stay there collecting comments and reviews until the business owner claims that business. Now you have to do clean-up work to merge or delete those pages. The price to pay for neglecting your social audience all these years.
If you haven’t claimed it, you will have to verify that it is indeed your business, with Google, Facebook, or the other sites by having an automated system call the number that is publicly listed for your business or mail you a postcard with a code on it. This postcard often gets tossed out with junk mail so be on the lookout for it. You have to follow the instructions on the postcard and enter the code to validate or verify the account. It’s kind of a pain, but it’s not rocket science. Get it done.
2. GET YOUR LOCAL BUSINESS ACCOUNT READY FOR ONLINE VISITORS
Now many companies that have done step one think that’s all there is to it. WRONG! You are just getting started. If you simply signed a lease or purchased a building but did nothing else to the space, you are not ready to invite customers in. The same holds true with your online accounts. You are now ready to build out the space to soon invite people in.
Be sure to fill out your profile on any social or review platform as completely as possible. Include lots of photos, videos (if they allow it), details like your contact information, your business hours, information about parking, or finding your entrance if it can be tricky to locate the door. Anything that you can do to make it easy for people to do business with you.
Photos are very important so don’t leave this to the few ugly photos you have with trashcans in the background or that are dark and creepy looking. (I’ve seen some photos on accounts –especially restaurants—that would keep me away for decades!) If you need to hire a photographer for a couple of hours, it’s worth it. Customers will often load photos of your business when leaving reviews and these will be added to your photo area on your profile. Be sure you are mixing in some nice, well-lit images on a regular basis.
3. MANAGE YOUR LOCAL BUSINESS ACCOUNT
Now that your place is looking sharp, it’s important to keep it that way. Don’t open the doors and then abandon the shop. Customers will likely post images to your Google account, along with their reviews. Be sure to check in on your accounts at least once a week, if not DAILY. Download the Google My Business App, the Yelp for Business App, or any of the sites you are using. They all most likely have an app to help make it easier for you to manage messages, reviews, and even upload new photos on the go and with ease.
If you are uploading regular images it will help to offset the occasional bad image of your business that gets loaded by customers. When I say “bad image” I mean those images of your business looking empty or with a dirty dish on the table. You can’t take them down, but you can help others see other images mixed in.
4. CONTINUE TO BUILD YOUR LOCAL BUSINESS ACCOUNT ON GOOGLE MY BUSINESS
Many don’t realize that Google My Business took the place of Google Plus, in the sense of allowing us to load a regular post and lots of information on our business pages to connect and inform our customers.
While you don’t have to post daily, it is ideal to update your posts at least every 7-10 days. Google keeps your post “in circulation” showing it prominently on your profile for about a week. Make a point to add a new post each week sharing events, promotions, or information that answers the questions of your customers.
Reviews are a huge part of your profiles on any of these sites…thus the reason they are called REVIEW SITES. Now you may think that if you build it they will come, but unlike Kevin Costner, we have to do a bit more work to get regular reviews flowing to our cornfields. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about here, Google field of dreams and add it to your list of must-watch movies this weekend!)
Google and other review sites want to see that you have reviews coming in regularly. If you get 10 reviews the week you open, and the people posting the review all have the same last name as you, it may seem a bit suspicious. Get those initial reviews but then make a point to ask for reviews monthly…or weekly! It’s never a great sign when you see a few great reviews all posted three years ago and nothing since.
When a customer compliments you on the service they’ve received, thank them and then ask if they would mind sharing that on Google, Yelp or Trip Advisor. Let them know where you’d love to have that review posted. Even better have cards printed up with a reminder to ‘Share the Love on ________.’ Send them a thank you email for telling you about the service they received and add a link directly to your review page on your favorite review sites.
Let people know that it is super helpful to your business and how much you appreciate it! If you do this on a regular basis, you will keep those reviews fresh and growing. This will definitely help new customers to not only find your business when they are searching, but they will see how incredible you are!
5. RESPOND TO ALL COMMENTS—GOOD, BAD OR INDIFFERENT
The last step is to manage your local search account and reply to every comment or question left for your brand. Yes, this means even the negative comments or complaints. It’s terrible when I see a business page and there are comments or great reviews and no one has bothered to respond to them.
The absolute worst thing you can do is delete a negative comment. The person will either come back and post again with even more fury or worst, they will post somewhere else where you have no control. On Google and Yelp, you can’t necessarily just remove a comment left by someone, but you can on Facebook or other review sites. DON’T DO IT! This will bring out every troll hiding under bridges and they’ll be wielding pitchforks. They can be relentless and ugly. Instead, use negative feedback as an opportunity to make things right in the public eye. Let people see how you step up and fix a problem. This will do more for your reputation than having 25 glowing 5-star reviews. Let people know how much you appreciate their positive reviews.
So when you sift through the many hats you wear as a business owner and you set that marketing hat on your head, take some time to show love to your review sites and they will in turn, show you love right back!