Where should small and local business owners focus their digital marketing efforts?
Now more than ever, busy, small and local business owners are turning to the internet asking themselves: where should I focus my digital marketing efforts in order to receive the greatest return on my investment? After all, many business owners have wasted time and money in the past and most are sick of all the spam and hype out there surrounding digital marketing.
Start by Optimizing your Online Presence for Referral Based Searches
There is no denying that people, consumers looking to hire, partner with, or buy from a small and local business, prefer to start with some type of referral.
Referrals most obviously come from our friends and family members because they are who we trust the most. It’s also pretty likely that if one of our friends or family members used someone and is willing to refer to them to others then we will likely be taken care of and satisfied as well.
But these days referrals also come from online sources as well, such as social media and community websites like Facebook or Nextdoor and even online reviews.
And from a consumer standpoint, we would rather start with a referral because, let’s face it, finding the right company can actually be kind of a pain in the butt and at the very least a little time consuming and who’s got time for that these days! You first have to start searching online for a business type, product, or service you need and then actually spend the time doing research and speaking with different companies until you find the right one. Most often we just end up putting it off until something kind of forces our hand or we finally receive a referral from someone that we trust.
So as a small and local business owner—whether you’re new or seasoned and are just coming to the internet or perhaps are looking to grow and build upon what you already have—your digital marketing efforts should first and primarily be focused on optimizing your online presence for Referral Based Searches.
What is a Referral Based Search?
A Referral Based Search is simply when a person receives a referral to your business from some outside trusted source and then uses a search engine like Google, Yahoo, or Bing to perform a search for your business name. Searching for a business name online is the easiest way to find information about them. Information that the business puts out, like what is on their website, but also information that is non biased, like online reviews. All of which help us, as consumers, to make the right decision for our wants and needs.
So give it a try; type your business name into Google and see what you find. Did you like what you found? Do you think that what you found would help a person qualify and trust your business or does it seem like your business is non existent? Is there a clear way to get in touch with you? Is there accurate information? Would you hire or buy from you based on what you found?
However, chances are your bias made you answer yes to that question. So, to help you understand how your potential customers may feel, you can think about the last time you knew you were talking to someone who had ulterior motives for the conversation but wouldn’t admit it and even got defensive if you tried to bring it up. This is an accurate description of 99% of business owners regarding their online presence; they have ulterior motives for why they are approaching the internet. The vast majority of what exists online does not exist for TRUE CUSTOMER SERVICE, but as an exploitation of true customer service in order to get something else like more leads, grow profit, expand, scale, dominate, and win!! Woohoo! But, as I always discuss, this is not how the internet works; people do not like being told that you are here for one reason when you are really there for another. Sure, they’ve gone along with it, but they won’t forever. So you first better make sure you’re here for the right reasons first.
Customer Service in a Digital Age
The reality is that most small business owners don’t realize that optimizing their online presence for referral-based searches is
- Something they have to do
- Actually very easy to do
- The foundation for providing good customer service online
Furthermore, optimizing your online presence to be heard, once found(for referral based searches) consistently over time is actually how your business will start to be found more and more online, and not just when someone is searching for your business by name but also for searches related to your business type, categories, and products or services you sell and offer. These problem or solution based searches are usually the keywords business owners try to rank for from the start. So now you know that optimizing for referral based searches the right way, and being consistent, is actually how you begin do that. Two birds with one stone!
How to Optimize your Online Presence for Referral Based Searches
There are only 3 main tools or things a business owner needs to do in order to optimize their online presence for referral based searches and thus provide great customer service online and build a solid and reliable foundation to launch any targeted marketing effort from in the future.
- Consistently have accurate and complete business information listed in the right places online
- Consistently have a customer focused, mobile, fast, secure, conversion optimized, and search engine optimized website
- Have a consistent flow of online reviews for your business being left by real customers
You may have noticed the obvious use of the word consistent in those three items. This is because the internet doesn’t just jump at the flick of a switch. It truly takes consistency over time to build and grow an online presence the right way.
Think about it, even if you do something the right way, if you just do something once, like going for a run, you will never reap the amazing rewards from doing that thing consistently over time.
This isn’t a new concept either, but for some reason, when it comes to digital marketing most business owners forget this rule. Consistency is key. Start with the fundamentals and consistently do them for the right reasons and over time you will have great success; you will get better, smarter, grow your online presence, gain a deeper understanding of your customers needs and overall yes, you will get more calls, emails, leads, customers, and maybe even a little more time and money.
1. Accurate Business Information Online
The information listed about your business online is the foundation of your online presence. This information includes things such as your business name, address, phone number, hours, business category(ies), services, business description, photos, and more. By accurately and consistently listing your business online you are not only ensuring that people can find something about you when they search for your business name but you’re also setting the foundation to be found by other types of online searches as well, such as a search for your business type or a service you offer.
Furthermore, providing accurate information about your business online is truly just good customer service which starts to build trust on a most basic level; if you aren’t listed online or have inaccurate or incomplete information listed about you online people are likely to lose trust or skip over you altogether. This also goes for the search engines; if you don’t have accurate and information listed about your business online they will not be able to understand your business and thus will not show you to searchers looking for you or what you offer.
A few of the main places to list your business online are Google My Business, Bing Places for Business, Yelp, Nextdoor, Facebook, MapQuest, SuperPages, BBB, Manta, Foursquare, Best of the Web, Yellow Pages, HotFrog, Neustar Localeze, Data Axle (was Infogroup), and Factual.
2. A Customer Focused Website
Your website is the place a potential customer will go to get the info straight from the horse’s mouth, so to say. Which means that in most cases, not having some type of website for your small business could really hurt you, even when someone is referred to you.
By looking at your website from the role of customer service you’ll understand that, like the accuracy of your information online, your website plays a vital role throughout the entire customer journey and doesn’t just exist to bring you more leads.
In today’s digital economy most are first concerned about how to get a person to their website instead of focusing on what’s on their website and how or where it’s placed on there. This can often lead to tunnel vision and oversight as far as customer service is concerned.
But by optimizing your website, and entire online presence, to be heard, once it is found you will be setting your business up for lasting success online. Optimizing your website to be heard once found simply means that you are focusing on making sure your website first meets the basic needs of your current and potential customers. Can they easily access the information they need about your business? Information that will help them in their decision-making process. Is it clear on how they can get in touch with you, come visit you, or buy from you?
Doing this means that your website looks and works great on all types of devices(phones, tablets, desktops). This is also known as a mobile-friendly or responsive website.
Your website should load fast on all connections, especially slower mobile network connections.
Your website should be secure to protect your site visitors as well as the site itself.
Beyond that, your website should have the right information in the right places and in the correct format. Of course, what is on your website truly depends on your business and your customers needs but for example, you should probably have a phone number, business hours, driving instructions, Google Maps embed, and a contact form on your contact page because that’s where people would expect to find it. This goes one step further when you make the phone number tappable so when someone is on your site using their phone they can just tap your phone number to call you.
And all of the information on your website must match the information listed about your business on other websites, business listings, directories, and social media sites.
But remember, all content on your website must serve a purpose. Ask yourself, how am I helping my customers by putting this piece of content in this place on my website. What do they want to see first? What are their problems? How can I help them? What questions are they asking themselves that need to be answered?
A well thought out website will do wonders in terms of your customer service and marketing efforts in general.
3. Positive and Consistent Online Reviews
LIke I mentioned at the very beginning, online reviews are often the last place we look to for some type of referral. The truth is we are social creatures, and most of the time if a business has consistent and positive online reviews then that business is likely to be able to handle our needs too.
This is especially true if someone was referred to your business and then went online and searched for your business name and then found a whole bunch of other positive online reviews being consistently left.
Furthermore, if social proof isn’t enough of a reason to start asking your customers to leave you an online review, the search engines also take into consideration online reviews when determining who they are going to show up at the top of their search results.
But online reviews are not just for the flattery of your business or to earn top rankings, they are a part of providing excellent customer service if done right. Asking clients and customers for feedback and to leave online reviews for your business is a great way to complete the customer journey while also helping it begin for another person. It truly shows that you are doing this not just to make money or earn a living but because you actually care about helping others and providing a high-quality all-around service. And in order to do that we have to accept feedback and be willing to change.
Online reviews are also a great way for people to learn about the products or services you provide. Perhaps they are considering your business for one certain service but when reading through online reviews saw that you actually provide a whole slew of other services they need too.
No matter how you look at it, having a consistent flow of positive online reviews for your business is great customer service and an even better way to earn new customers.
What should Business Owners Focus on in Regards to their Digital Marketing Efforts?
Business owners should focus first and foremost on their customers; their wants and needs. You should keep in mind that people are busy and these days the search for a trusted business often starts online. So learn about and use the tools that are out there to provide the best all around service to your customers.
Be customer focused.
Embrace the internet.
I promise that if you focus on these three things consistently over time you will watch your online presence grow along with your business. Not only will people easily be able to find information about your business when they search for your business name, but you will be empowering the search engines to show you for more and more searches related to your business and what you offer.
Nothing looks better to someone who was just referred to your business than when they search for you on Google and find the entire page full of profiles and listings that all have positive reviews on them; an active online presence builds trust, it lets them know that you are a legitimate and trustworthy business.
Just like the signage and business licenses you procured helped to paint you as such too. But none of that matters if YOU don’t actually back that up. Marketing is just a representation of YOU. You’re doing it whether you think so or not.
The Right Partner & Approach
If you are a small business owner that is looking to create or grow your online presence, finding the right website and digital marketing partner will be crucial to your success. But it’s also not always easy to do, especially with all of the noise and spam out there.
I believe that no single digital marketing platform, tool, product, strategy, service, or guru, is the solution that small and local business owners need to successfully market their business online.
As I talked about above, I believe that it truly is about having the right approach; a customer-focused approach.
Second to the right approach is having the right partner, which is the real solution(not a tool or strategy) for small and local business owners looking to market their business online. That partner is first and foremost YOU, the one whose desires fueled and still supports this business.
The right website and digital marketing partner is one that will be a true leader and not someone just looking to sell you on their product or service. They will:
- Listen – with the goal of learning
- Educate – to bring you clarity
- Align – efforts toward the desired outcome
- Deliver – without compromise
- Empower – to perform and make the right decisions
- Report – on the results and rinse and repeat!
Most importantly, they will be someone you can count on to be there for you, your business, and your customers consistently over time!
The Right Partner:
- Is not here to sell you on products or services.
- Focuses on education to bring you true clarity, which will empower you to consistently make the right decisions with regards to how you market your business online.
- Has the ability and reach to problem solve dynamically as every business is different.
- Can actually deliver high-quality services with speed and precision.
- Backs it up with clear and consistent reporting, maintenance, and ongoing strategy, education, empowerment, and just seriously really great customer service; they are your partner not someone there to hit a sales quota.
The Right Approach:
- Is not focused solely on how you can get more calls, sales, or leads from the internet.
- Is focused on providing value to your current and potential customers before, during, and after the sale through the internet and its tools and strategies, which in turn equals more leads for your business.
- Is done consistently over time.
- Reports on the results.
- Reflects & strategizes continually.
With the right partner and approach, marketing your business online no longer feels wasted and never-ending, impossible to track returns, daunting, draining, tedious, and something you would just rather not deal with.
With the Right Partner & Approach, Your Online Presence is one that:
- Serves your current customers or clients
- Attracts potential new customers or clients
- Removes stress from your life
- Is solid and yet adaptable
- Scales with your business
- And much, much more!
But make no mistake, digital marketing success will only come by design, so why wait, start today!