A while back, our company president slammed three phone books that someone left at our doorstep down on my desk and said, “Write about this!” After I composed myself from the shock of it all, I took a moment to flip through the phone book, which called itself “Local Search.”
This struck me as at least a little absurd since 54 percent of people have replaced the phone book with online local searches.
Still, I found the yellow pages full of advertisements.
Can you guess what happened when I searched Google for a few of those companies? They were nowhere to be found in the local search results.
That means that those businesses were paying for ads with no way to track the success of their investment but weren’t taking a little time to build at least a basic online presence.
So, I put down the phone book and started to research.
Did you know that only half of small businesses survive longer than five years?
We don't want your business to fall victim to this fate, so we've put together a list of mistakes you should avoid in order to survive in today's digital world.
Mistake #1: You Don’t Have a Website
Only half of small businesses have a website, which is baffling. Here’s the process I use when looking for a local business.
- Search in my phone
- Click/tap the first business (or the one with the best reviews)
- Check out the business’s website
- If they don’t have a website, check out the next business in the search results
- Look at that business’s website, followed by social media
I’m not the only one. Consumers are researching your products and services online before making a purchase, but 85 percent of consumers prefer to purchase from a store, rather than online.
That sets brick-and-mortar businesses up for success.
All you have to do is make sure consumers can find enough information about your business online. Part of this involves having a website.
While paying someone to build a website for you is an investment, you need an online presence to survive today. Don’t be the business in town people didn’t know existed because you think you can’t afford to (or don’t need to) have a website built.
The fix: Hire a web designer/developer to build your website. Be careful, though. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a web designer or a developer:
- Ask to see a recent portfolio. Any decent designer or developer should have a diverse, attractive portfolio. Make sure to visit a website they have built as well. Browse the site to make sure it works properly and the user experience is up to par. If their past work is shoddy, you don’t want them working for you.
- Ask for references. Ask to speak to the designer’s former clients so you can find out what it’s like to work with them. Ask the references how easy the designer was to work with, what the process was like, how often the developer or designer was in contact with them, if they’re happy with the end result, etc.
- Make sure you are on the same page. Go in with an idea of what you want your site to do and how you’d like it to look. Once you’ve communicated your idea for your business’s website clearly, you can ask the designer to create a mock-up to make sure you’re on the same page. If they can’t seem to give you what you want, then you don’t want to work with them.
- Ask about mobile optimization. Websites need to be optimized for mobile devices since so much of our Internet usage comes from mobile. Ask them if your website will be optimized for mobile as well as desktop devices. If not, find someone who will do that for you. Mobile-optimization is not optional, and if you’re paying someone to build your site, mobile optimization should be a standard part of the package.
Mistake #2: You Neglect Your Business's Digital Marketing
This goes back to the phone book problem.
If you’re advertising in the phone book, but you haven’t taken the time to create an online presence for your local business, you should rethink your strategy. Local search marketing is the way to make sure local consumers can find you, and while it’s difficult, it’s worth the time and effort to establish yourself online.
What Is Local Search Marketing, Anyway?
Local search marketing is telling search engines exactly where your business is located and what you do (as well as other information like business hours and service area) so that it knows what to display in searches for people in the area who are looking for businesses like yours.
Here’s the thing:
Your customers (probably) aren’t flipping through a phone book that’s chained to a pay phone to find you. And, they aren’t talking to neighbors over backyard fences to get recommendations for local businesses.
Phone Book Advertising vs. Local Search Marketing
Local businesses don’t always have big marketing budgets, but that doesn’t mean you have to rely on word-of-mouth or the phone book to do all your advertising.
There are some serious problems with advertising in the phone book:
- It’s expensive (often more expensive than paying for Google search ads)
- It’s difficult to track ROI for your phone book ads
- You have to commit to a full year of advertising, whereas online you can usually stop your ads any time you want
The fix: Instead, follow these steps to kick-start your digital marketing and build an online presence for your business today:
- If you have a local storefront, set up a Google My Business page. Google My Business signals account for about 19 percent of how Google decides where to rank your business in local searches. And Google is the biggest search engine in the world.
- Manage your local citation information (name, address, and phone number) across directories. Citations account for around 13 percent of how search engines decide to rank your business, so make sure those are correct and consistent.
- Set up a Yelp business page and social media profiles. At the very least, make sure your business is on Facebook and Twitter.
- Be active and engaged online. Answer messages and reply to comments on social media. Your customers and your competitors use social media, probably daily. And seven out of 10 consumers are likely to use brands with business information in their social media profiles. It’s pretty easy to take advantage of that. All you have to do is be present on social media and have a social marketing strategy.
- Ask customers to leave online reviews of your business. Reviews are extremely important for local businesses. Eighty-eight percent of consumers trust reviews as much as they trust recommendations from friends and family, and reviews can help you get found online. Customer reviews tell search engines they can trust your business, and they also can cause consumers to spend 31 percent more on your business.
- Try paid (online) advertising. If you have the budget and you don’t want to wait for your business to show up in local search results, you can pay to show up higher in local searches. Make sure your business’s hours, category and name are correct in Google My Business. Once you’re sure those are correct, you can link your Google My Business account to the location extensions in AdWords and your ads can appear in Google Maps for local searches.
Mistake #3: You’re Trying to Do It All Yourself
That brings us to our final mistake. You’re trying to do everything yourself.
Going digital is not an option. And if you haven’t at least started creating a digital marketing plan for your business, you are well behind the competition. It’s time to change that.
But, as a small business owner, you have a lot of responsibilities.
It isn’t always possible to do your own digital marketing while keeping your business running. There’s no shame in not being able to do it all yourself.
The fix: Instead, find someone with the time and expertise to help with your marketing.
It's important to know what you're getting into when you look into a digital marketing agency. Here are a few things to keep in mind when looking at agencies:
- Ask to see case studies. Digital marketing agencies should have some proof that they've had success with other local businesses. Whether this is in the form of case studies or client referrals, they should be able to show you what they can do for your business.
- Watch out for outlandish promises. If a company promises to get you to the top of the local (or organic) search results overnight, they are lying. Climbing to the top of the search results is like climbing to the top of the corporate ladder. You can't do it overnight. You need to prove you are trustworthy and able to do the job you say you can do. So, if an agency makes these kinds of unrealistic promises, you should take your business elsewhere.
- Find out who your point of contact will be. If the agency doesn't have a dedicated contact for their clients, who will you speak to when a problem arises? And if you do have a contact, how often will you speak to them? Will they specifically make time for you?
- Ask about analytics. Will you have access to your marketing analytics? If the agency refuses to give you access to your analytics, think twice about using them. Analytics shouldn't be a secret.