Creating content online is one of the best things a business can do to advance their position to boost sales and quickly spread the word about your business. This goes for all businesses, both e-commerce or brick and mortar. Just because your business doesn’t sell online does not mean that you shouldn’t have an online presence. Building online content is one of the best ways that small, local businesses can even the playing field and increase exposure. Consumers search online for everything and anything they need and not necessarily with the intent of purchasing it online. Your business will be losing out if consumers cannot find you online, and your competition will have the edge. A combination of your own website, social media channels, and consumer review sites will give your sales a boost and make sure that you are the one with the edge over your competition while establishing a positive reputation for your business.
Consumers Search on PC and Mobile Devices before Making in Store Purchases
A recent study from comScore, NeustarLocaleze and 15 Miles researched the search habits of consumers. (Source.) The most staggering statistic from the study is that 78% of local-mobile searches result in offline purchases in a store or other type of local business such as a restaurant, doctor’s office, or beauty salon. The top reason prompting a local search was to find a specific business. The second most common reason for a local search was to find a business with the product or service they were looking for. ComScore reported that “Nearly half of all service, restaurant, and travel searchers were looking for a business they have never made a purchase from before.” These statistics should tell you that you need to have a web presence that is optimized to show up in searches for your name and the products or services that you sell too. What are the next steps? There are three areas that can help you cultivate your online presence so that you can capitalize on local consumers searching for your business and establish your business’ online reputation: a website, social media channels, and other directory websites including online consumer review sites.
Developing a Website to Drive Traffic to Your Offline Store
Developing a website may seem like a daunting task, but today there are many free tools and options available in addition to professionals that can help get you started. A small business can easily maintain a site built on WordPress or a similar free platform. Make sure to gear your website so that it caters to local people looking for your business. Consumers are beginning to show a trend of looking for a business on social media before making a purchase and putting more trust into companies that are on social media. Your own website also dictates the tone and information that consumers read about your business. Here is a checklist of things to make sure your website includes:
- Your local phone number. Local area codes reinforce to consumers that you are located nearby. Believe it or not a 2012 study by BIA Kelsey showed that 60% of businesses omitted their phone number on their website.
- Directions to your business. Integrate Google Maps or Bing’s mapping feature so that they can easily GPS directions to get to you.
- Your store hours.
- List your products or services.
- Have a strong call to action. What should visitors to your website do next?
- Make sure that your website has a mobile friendly responsive design. Nearly 80% of local searches are done on mobile devices result in purchases. 90% of those purchases are done in a physical store. If your website is not visible to those shoppers, they will move on and find your competition’s mobile friendly website instead.
An example of a local shop taking full advantage of the local listings in Google with a website is Wick’s Surf shop in Sydney, Australia.
Photo Credit: Google
As you can see, their website appears under results for a search for “Sydney surf shop” in the organic and the local listings. The local listings open up to show a preview when you mouse over them.
Social Media Campaigns Help Promote Your Business and Control the Conversation
Social media might seem like a buzz word or even a bad word to some small business owners. However, if done correctly, social media can help increase your audience as well as sales. Social media allows your business to interact and engage consumers and the community to gain more exposure. Consumers are likely going to be online talking about your company whether you have a social presence or not. When you do have your own social channels, you can monitor and then steer the conversation. You can respond and interact with your customers making it a two way conversation. That is what social media was intended to do. When your current customers become your social media fans and followers, they are likely to tell their friends and their social network contacts about your business. This type of reference carries even more weight than your advertising would. If you aren’t ready for a website yet, social media is a great way to still capture some of those searching for your type of business online. Here are a few tips for getting your business started in social media.
- Only set up the social channels that you are prepared to handle. Responding and engaging with fans and followers is part of the deal with social media, so do not set up more channels than you are able to engage on, in a timely manner.
- Top social sites to consider include Google Plus (important for establishing your listing with Google), Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. The best channels to choose will depend on your type of business.
- Social media is about being social, not just selling. Interact, respond, and engage.
- Your posting on social media should be based on content and also should be share worthy to get the attention of current and potential new followers.
- Always consider your customer service principles and practices when interacting with people on social media.
- Take any negative complaints as an opportunity to correct the problem. Other customers will see that your company cares, and they will be more likely to patronize your business because they know you fix problems if they come up.
If you were looking for information on surf shops in Sydney, to use our example from above, and wanted more information about Wick’s Surf Shop, a quick search reveals their Facebook page and a local listing with 4.2 out of 5 stars average reviews.
Photo Credit: Google
You immediately know that they are social, you can see their Facebook page, their address, and a good review rating. Immediately, before even clicking on any of these links, you can see that this is a reputable company with integrity and authenticity.
Gaining Exposure through Online Directories and Consumer Review Sites
Online directories such as the Yellow Pages Online, Yahoo! pages, and other business or consumer pages are great to be listed on because they are usually on the first page of local search results. Many of those websites have online reviews. Cultivating online reviews on these sites, other review sites such as Yelp, will help you gain credibility and the trust of consumers. Consumer reviews are largely trusted over advertising or company product descriptions; consumers will believe reviews even if they do not know the person who left the online review. Here are some tips for getting the most out of online reviews:
- Don’t fear negative reviews, 100% positive reviews are usually deemed unbelievable by consumers.
- Encourage your customers to leave reviews and share their experience. Most reviews will be positive.
- Negative reviews are an opportunity to show that you are listening and that you care by resolving the issue. Address them immediately.
- Adopt a policy for delivering excellent customer service and negative reviews will not be a big problem for you.
Sticking with our earlier example of Wick’s Surf Shop, if a consumer is looking to see what others say about Wick’s, adding the word “reviews” to the end of the search query returns yet a another different set of results that includes the Google reviews over to the right and a Yellow Pages listing, in addition to their own Facebook and also Instagram social media channel pages.
Photo Credit: Google
Conclusion and Takeaways for Your Business
Once you dip into the online arena whether it is your own website, social media, or directory and review sites, monitoring your online reputation becomes a must. However, it is also important to understand that consumers will be talking about your business online whether you are there or not. Developing your own channels makes it easier to monitor and respond to comments and complaints, especially when it is in a forum that you control. Media monitoring tools are available to help you keep track of online mentions. Take advantage of the services of companies like iSentia, who offer not only media monitoring tools so that you know what the public is saying about you online and in the media, but they also offer a wide range of reporting options so that you can keep on top of trending topics and public opinion. Being online is necessary to build your brand, monitoring what people are saying is necessary to protect the investment.