If it's been a long time since you last logged into your Google My Business account, take note: Google may soon start de-listing businesses that show few signs of active management. Google says it will first try to contact owners of neglected listings before cutting the cord, so you won't be caught completely by surprise (unless you never open your e-mails from Google).
Your Google My Business listing is a tremendous online asset for generating new business. If you've been neglecting it, start getting into the habit of posting business updates, or uploading new photos. Sales promotions with expiration dates are great for making the phone ring or getting new customers in the door. While you're logged in, you can also view key metrics for your listing like number of impressions, and actions taken by viewers (clicks to website, calls, clicks on map for directions) to remind you of what you could potentially miss by neglecting your Google listing.
Online reviews remain an important ranking factor for local businesses, so it's not a bad idea to invest some time each month managing them. Here are 3 tips for managing them:
1. Never ignore negative reviews. Some negative reviews can be totally unreasonable, even a bit wacky. You may not even recall the bad experience that the reviewer is describing. In the case of review response, you need to keep in mind the golden rule of business: the customer is always right. That means your response should incorporate in some way a polite apology, before professionally addressing individual grievances. This type of response gives others a chance to see you in a different light and not judge you so critically. One star reviews unaccompanied by owner responses leads potential new customers to think one thing: guilty as charged!
2. Contest Yelp reviews that you believe are unfair. Yelp provides a channel for owners to contest reviews. Yelp will move the review to the "not recommend" page (where it does not contribute to your overall ranking) if you can prove that the review violates one of its Content Guidelines. Foul language used? Easy dismissal. To do this, log-in to your Yelp business account and click on the "Flag this Review" button found underneath and the review. You'll select from a list of reasons and a chance to present your argument (see below). Good luck!
3. Encourage customers to write reviews. Your best customers with whom you've established a good rapport will naturally want to help and be motivated to take the time to write a review. For this group, don't be afraid to ask directly. For others, send ongoing reminders in emails, invoices and other communication.
Facebook's biggest non-paid advertising asset is its "viralability" --the potential for friends of your business page to share your business' 50% off sale posts with their friends, who can, in turn, share with their friends, exponentially expanding the post's audience. So, if you're going to tap into Facebook's full potential for getting new business, you need a critical mass of friends on your business page.
If you're an actively engaged user of Facebook, you're at a distinct advantage over those who either don't understand it or think it's a big waste of time. The biggest advantage for an engaged user is the ability to immediately enlist friends to "like" your business page linked to your personal account. This can represent a big initial boost for someone who has hundreds of friends. On the other hand, owners with no Facebook page need to start from scratch.
So what can you do to jumpstart friend generation? Here are some ideas to get started:
1. Encourage existing customers to like your page. Create awareness via email and in-store communication. Sweeten the deal by offering those who friend a xx% discount on their next purchase. Better yet, create a sense of urgency by setting a deadline for friending you--offer discount ends Apr 15th.
2. Embed a Facebook Like widget on your website and email communications. This makes it quick and easy for visitors to like your page.
3. Create unique, value-added content in posts that customers will share with others. This requires some creativity in continually coming up with fresh ideas that customers will find compelling. For example, let's say you have a dry cleaning business. You might consider having a regularly scheduled post on garment care. Or, if you're a dentist, develop a top 10 list of ways to get children to brush their teeth. Create each post as one in series, so if someone is interested, they will want to like your page to receive the remaining posts. You just need to make this clear on your post headline or somewhere in your post--If you're not already a fan, be sure to like us to receive the 5 remaining top 10 ways to..
4. Pay for those friends! Create a Facebook ad campaign for your local area. You know your target audience--target potential new customers by what they like, demographics, proximity to your business and a host of other factors. A strong defined offer like "mention this ad and receive 20% your next in-store purchase" works best in getting the results you want. You can also pay to boost your posts to non-fans. To make this work and stand a greater chance of being virally shared, your post on the topic you choose needs be uniquely interesting. Be creative! Now's the time to share all of the unique insights that your local business has accumulated over the years.
Reacting to the growing migration of search traffic from desktop to mobile devices, Google recently announced that "mobile friendliness" will be a more important ranking factor starting April 21. Quoting from the Google Webmaster Blog:
Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.
Serving the same format as desktop versions with much bigger screens, non-mobile friendly websites make it cumbersome for the user to navigate. Responsive design, on the other hand, adapts the website layout to make it uniformly navigable across all devices. Local businesses that do not upgrade their websites soon will almost certainly see a drop in local rankings, leading to a drop in in-store traffic and phone-in leads. Get in touch with your LocalBizNYC representative about creating a mobile friendly site.
Over the past 4 weeks, I've received over 5 phone calls from a mysterious telemarketing firm masquerading as Google urging me to claim my Google business listing. It starts as an automated message from "Unknown," then "press 1, if you would like to speak to one of our telephone representatives." The first time I was connected to a sales person, I asked if he was from Google, whereupon the representative immediately hung up. The second time, I played along and got information on their $100 per month SEO services which "guarantee top 3 ranking for 3 search terms" (6 month minimum). Yea, sure. "Guaranteed" results in SEO services raises an immediate red flag.
I called a representative from Google My Business. I was glad to hear that they are on to this telemarketing scam targeting small business owners. In the meantime, if you ever receive one of these, don't waste your time. Just hang up.
In the latter half of 2014, Google made some pretty significant changes to its local search algorithm, upending the factors that influence local rankings. Business owners need to pay attention to three areas in particular if they want to generate new customers from online search:
1. Maintain Your Yelp Account! Yelp review listings will be appearing more prominently in Google’s local search results, particularly for searches containing “Yelp”, like “yelp delis in soho.” If you have not claimed your business on Yelp, now more than ever it is important to do so, or risk not being aware of negative reviews that will appear prominently in search results. Make sure you respond quickly to one-star reviews, politely addressing the specifics behind customers’ disappointments. In some cases, an apology may be in order to salvage customer trust.
2. Optimize Location Identifiers. Include informal and formal neighborhood names on your website and in business listings. Google’s knowledge of local neighborhood names has expanded, so having these in your content will ensure that your business shows up for these hyper-local searches. New York city has lots of informal neighborhoods within wider established neighborhood names. Harlem, for example, can be divided up into 6 geo-distinct neighborhoods: Sugar Hill, Strivers' Row, Astor Row, Marcus Garvey Park, East Harlem and Le Petit Senegal.
3. Maintain Directory Listings. NAP (name, address, phone) consistency is being weighted more heavily. Identify inconsistencies and duplicates across general and specialized directories (there are a lot of them) and search engines. Inconsistencies can be identified quickly using LocalBizNYC's Biz Listing Scan.
Just getting started to get your business online? Here's the LocalBizNYC.com quick and easy to do list to get your started to show up online:
1. Claim your business on Google My Business. (Note: If you do not have a Gmail account, you will first need to create one before you can claim or verify ownership of your business.) The process takes no more than 10 minutes. Google verifies ownership by sending you a code through regular mail (this can take up to 2 weeks). Once you enter the code online, your business is verified.
2. Create a Google+ listing for your business and optimize it with detailed information on your services, store hours and photos. Encourage your customers to provide reviews on Google +. Google rewards relevant, good quality content, so providing more is better than less.
3. Claim your business on Yelp. The process is similar to Google, except Yelp verifies ownership by telephoning you with a code that you enter online. Once this happens, you optimize your free listing in a similar fashion as Google. Yelp listings rank well in local search results, so the more presentable your business is, the more likely you will show up in results. The Yelp Business account also alerts you when someone reviews your business and allows you to directly respond to negative reviews. So, prospective customers can read your side of the story.
4. Claim your business on Bing Places for Business. With 30% of the search market, Bing generates relevant local search traffic. It also covers you for local searches on Yahoo's search engine.
All of these are quick, easy and, best of all, free things you can do to jump start your business' online presence.
William Manny is the Founder of LocalBiz.NYC.