September 28, 2019// Category: Digital Marketing
Picture yourself in Midtown Atlanta. It’s 9 PM on a Tuesday night, you just flew in from SFO and drove your rented Honda Civic to your cute little AirBNB, and you’re STARVING. You’ve never been to Atlanta, but there must be a ton of food places around, and what’s more, at least most of them are likely open late on a Friday, right? And Chinese sounds amazing right now.
What do you do? Go hunt down the yellow pages? No, this isn’t 1985. You pull out your phone and tap on your trusty old friend, Google. Your search for “Chinese food” brings up a whole sea of tiny red balloons on your screen; confused and a little desperate, you begin swiping through the options and select the first one with at least four stars that’s still open. You idly notice that the results don’t seem to be ranked by distance, but your brain rejects that thought as less important than food, and off you go on your quest for fried rice and cream cheese wontons.
Now, consider this: the very best Chinese food restaurant in the great state of Georgia happens to be a block away from your AirBNB, is open until 2 AM on Friday nights, and serves cream cheese wontons that are literally to die for. However, this restaurant has zero online presence: no website, no Google Maps listing, not even a neglected Facebook page. Unless you happen to drive past this place in your Civic during your brief stay in Atlanta, you may live your whole life never having known of this restaurant, let alone experienced their phenomenal cream cheese wontons.
If a business isn’t online, does it even exist? I submit that for all intents and purposes (or at least ours), it does not.
We are part of an increasingly mobile global community. It isn’t nearly enough anymore that old Joe down the street raves about your business and has been a loyal customer for over forty years. Don’t get me wrong; that’s fantastic, and I’m sure Joe has excellent taste. But your town’s brand new residents and business travelers and social media influencers bopping from country to country like children playing hopscotch won’t have the first clue about old Joe and his brand loyalty; they’re looking for a business that suits their immediate needs, and they’re looking for it using the tool they all have at their fingertips: the Internet.
Creating any sort of online presence for your business is the essential first step. However, as we saw from our time in Atlanta above, most consumers aren’t willing to dig all that far into search results to find the one perfect Chinese restaurant. They search as quickly as possible for something that’s good enough, and will stop when they find it; the average Google search session lasts just under one minute. If your business doesn’t appear in that list of results above the point where most people stop looking, then your potential customers will end up choosing your competition every time.
Which begs the question: how do you, dear reader, ensure that your local business is seen?
How can you help it rise to the top of those map results, even potentially to the Holy Land of the Google 3-Pack, which for a location-based business is arguably even more valuable than attaining that magical first page of search results? How do you make sure the entire world knows about those cream cheese wontons?
Let us explore the following ten tips:
Go to Google My Business. Right now. (If you’ve already done this part, then good on you! Keep reading.) Sign in with your Google account. Follow the instructions. Boom – you’ve made it all official. This is the first step toward optimizing your listing.
Alternately, if your business is already showing up on Google Maps, find it there and tap on Claim This Business in the information panel. Easy!
For more help, here are some instructions straight from the horse’s mouth.
It may seem pretty obvious, but make sure your name, address, and phone number (NAP – get it?) are all accurate in your listing. Ever tried to navigate to a business only to find that it wasn’t where Google said it was? Yeah, me too. And if you’re anything like me, you gave up on finding that business purely out of spite.
I’ll cover this in more detail later, but also be sure to include your business address and phone number on your website. These should be a local address and phone number; while there isn’t necessarily any evidence that using a toll-free number can hurt your business ranking, Google does recommend using a local number when possible, and your Maps listing should appear as neighborhood-friendly as Mister Rogers.
And for the love of Karl, do yourself a favor and set aside some time to dig through the Internet. Go find that dusty online business webring, your ancient MySpace profile, and anywhere else you may have possibly listed your business contact information since the beginnings of the World Wide Web, and make sure it’s consistent everywhere. You may think, “No one even looks at MySpace anymore!”, but you know who does still look there? Google. When it’s not quietly chuckling to itself at your old frat photos, the search engine is cataloguing every single instance it can find of your business NAP info, and even slight variations will cause Google’s trust in you – and therefore its ranking of your business – to fall.
Google looooves a verified business. Back in your Google My Business account, click on Verify Now; Google will send you a postcard at your local address to prove that you and that address really do belong together, like peas and carrots. Once you receive the postcard, sign back into Google My Business and enter the code on the card to seal the deal. It may take a bit for that postcard to reach you, so be patient. And while you’re waiting, no touchy. Futzing about with your info in the interim can delay the verification process.
When you were in Atlanta searching for Chinese food at 9 PM, one of your primary search factors was whether the restaurant was still open, yes? Of course it was! Now imagine if you had pulled up in your rented Civic only to find the place dark with the doors locked. If you get hangry like me, you’d have immediately whipped your phone back out to leave a scathing one-star review just because they weren’t open as promised. (Not that I’ve ever done that…)
Conversely (Inversely? Contrapositively? My college logic professor would be ashamed), imagine if one of the restaurants you had skipped over just because they were listed as being closed for the night really were still open! That’s money they lost all because of a single incorrect digit or two on the Interwebs. A costly mistake and a simple fix, folks.
Let’s talk categories! Basically: use them. Make sure your primary category is the most appropriate for your business, and if you have multiple locations, make sure you use the same category for all of them. For your additional categories, be diligent and do your research on local keywords.
There’s some conflicting wisdom in the SEO world on how many categories to use. As for me, I’m gonna stick with Google’s official recommendation and suggest that you don’t commit category stuffing. Here’s some more information about choosing local business categories.
As I recall (which I should, because I wrote it), another of your search factors earlier was whether the restaurant had at least four stars. We humans put a TON of stock in customer reviews: 97% of us say that reviews affect our buying decisions, and 88% of us trust strangers on the Internet as much as our friends and family when it comes to recommendations. Invite and even incentivize your customers to leave Google reviews for you.
And once you have those reviews, engage with them. If someone left you a glowing five-star review, take a few seconds to thank them publicly! If you received a terrible review, take a few more seconds to compose a thoughtful and professional response. Consumers looking for a place where they will feel comfortable spending their hard-earned money will scrutinize not only the reviews but your responses to them, and will be more inclined to leave reviews themselves if they see positive feedback.
If that’s not enough reason for you to do it, listen to Google. A 2018 local search ranking factors survey showed that reviews contribute over 15% to Google’s rankings of local businesses.
60% of consumers report that they pay more attention to local business listings with images, and 23% say that images in a listing make them more likely to contact a business. Take that fancy smartphone camera of yours and capture some nice pics, or better yet, have a professional photographer do it. (Especially if it’s food, because appealing photos of food are surprisingly difficult to capture.)
Here are some guidelines from Google on business listing photos.
Believe it or not, your website itself can affect your Google Maps ranking. This is where you put that good old fundamental SEO to work, such as:
Besides the usual, though, you’ll want to make your site attractive for local searches in particular. Use appropriate local keywords, wrap your contact information in schema language, keep your NAP info consistent, and see if you can’t get some nice citations from local sources (covered more in the next section).
(You have no idea how long it took me to come up with this section heading.)
Citations, or mentions of your business info on sites other than your own, are an effective tool in your Craftsman belt for increasing your local business rankings. The more places Google can find you, and the more ways it can verify your information, the more confidence it’ll have in your brand. According to a 2018 study, the local businesses that ranked in the top three spots had an average of 85 citations each.
Not only does quantity matter, but quality makes a difference also. Find high-authority sites such as web directories, newspapers, or government sites that are targeted to your local area.
The Internet is one big spaghetti bowl of interconnectivity, and social media is an increasingly important ingredient. If links are the noodles, social media is kinda like the parmesan cheese on top; you could eat your spaghetti without it, but would you really want to?
Social signals contribute to overall SEO, which in turn – as we’ve already discussed – contributes to your local rankings. Likes, follows, shares, and retweets will all build Google’s trust in your brand, as will including consistent information for your business on all of the social platforms (remember what I said about MySpace?).
I’ve given you a lot to chew on, but even taking baby steps will help you move up in the rankings; you don’t need to tackle everything at once. And be patient; you won’t see improvement overnight, but it will happen.
Now go attain that 3-Pack and let the world know about your cream cheese wontons! Good luck!