A wise person once said, “The Internet never sleeps”. In this article we explore the what, why and how of creating an online presence for your local business. We will delve into both the reasons for needing an online presence (including some of the potential benefits you can reap) and how you can go about actually obtaining this. We touch on some of the options at your disposal for promoting your business online as well as some tools for getting a business discovered online. We also consider the importance and utility of “near me” searches and offer some tips to take advantage of these.
A local business is any business which has premises in a specific physical location, and which supplies its goods and/or services to a local populace.
Local businesses are distinct from Internet businesses, which do not have a physical store location. Local businesses generally respond to local demand for goods or services and may often supply a variety of commodities which fulfil that demand.
The term is often used to refer to businesses that have only one locally-owned ‘brick and mortar’ location, however, it may also apply to any business that services a local clientele, whether the business is incorporated and has multiple locations or not. Hence, a franchise store in a specific location (which may be one of many) is still considered a local business. Any ambiguity in the term likely stems from the word ‘local’, which in this instance refers to both the specific location of the business and the local customer base that the business serves.
Additionally, a local business may service clientele who are not understood to be ‘local’ in the ordinary sense; a business may service clients from the same city, or an even broader area (depending on the nature of the goods or services being traded) and still be considered a local business.
These days, there is no reason why every local business should not have an online presence. Any business not putting itself in a position to be found online is doing itself a significant disservice. Here are five reasons to do just that:
Since the emergence of the Internet, there have seen seismic changes in the way people search for, discover and purchase products and services. A huge majority of people now do these things online (not by searching phone books or local newspapers). Indeed one survey conducted in 2017 found that 97% of respondents had used the Internet that year to find a local business (while 3% had not). In other words, if a business does not have an online presence, then it is not putting itself in a position to be discovered. Consumers want to be able to find and interact with a local business effortlessly, and having an online presence facilitates this.
The fundamental purpose of marketing is to make the broadest possible audience aware of your product or service. If a business does not have an online presence, there is simply no way that you are maximising your reach. In turn, a business simply will not be making the most of its potential to attract new customers to its products or services.
Consumers want to be able to access the product they are looking for as effortlessly as possible, and an online presence facilitates this. A website, for example, allows potential customers to check quickly whether a business stocks a product they are looking for, or to browse products and prices, which they can compare with the competition. Information such as opening times or promotional sales can also be online. The more information a business makes available to potential customers, the better position the business is in to be chosen when it comes time to purchase.
Numerous online platforms, such as Facebook or Google, enable customers to review or make comments about a business’ product. Other potential customers can see when a business has received praise, which builds trust in the business’ products or services and enhances its reputation. Business owners can respond to queries or reviews, allowing them to have some control over what information is given to consumers. Even where an unfavourable review is received, these platforms facilitate the easy resolution of issues, which is infinitely better than having a disgruntled customer passing on their dissatisfaction to other potential customers.
An online presence allows a business to showcase its products for a fraction of the cost of print media (and often for free). Sharing photos of videos of products on social media is essentially free advertising, and can be done as often or as little as a business owner wishes. A website allows customers to browse products as their leisure and at all times, even when the business is closed. All of this serves to build and enhance a business’ brand using techniques that make economic sense.
Now that we have discussed the ‘what’ and the ‘why’, it’s time to move onto the how. What follows is a five-step process that any business can undertake to get discovered online.
A local business website is an online information space that represents the hub of a business’ online presence. There is, arguably, no other online space that can be as informative or useful to potential customers. A website will usually include the following:
There are many ways of creating a website, both personally or professionally.
When an Internet user enters a search term on a search engine, the search engine uses an algorithm to determine what results are the most relevant for that search. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) when applied to local businesses, refers to the process of increasing the likelihood that business will place highly in the results offered by a search engine, and will therefore be found by a user. Essentially, SEO is about helping search engines to find a business, and treat it more favourably than other results.
SEO is very important because it can mean the difference between a business being listed at the top of the results page (or within the top 5) where it will be found, or relegated to the second or third page of results where the likelihood it will be found exponentially decreases.
There are various factors that affect a website’s SEO. Let’s take a look at some of the factors to be considered for optimising the performance of a business’ online presence:
Keywords are words that are relevant to a business’ activity and which are likely to be used when searching for a business of that type. Words like the business location (the city or town) and the business type (eg ‘florist’) are important keywords that are likely to be used in a search. If a business website or listing description contains these keywords, then a search engine is more likely to find that business.
When deciding which websites to list in results first, search engines factor in the duration that users spend on a website. Accordingly, websites that are intuitive and user-friendly, and feature relevant, quality content, are much more likely to engage users for longer. Whether it’s compelling reading material on topical matters, or beautiful graphics and imagery, local businesses should aim for quality content that makes users want to stay on their website.
Inbound links are links which bring incoming traffic towards a business’ webpage. These might be listed on a business directory (more on these later) for example. Outbound links, on the other hand are links on a local business’ website to other pages. While it might seem counterintuitive to include links to other websites, these can be useful for SEO. For example, a webpage that features written content can include reference links to further reading material, improving the user experience. Outbound links such as these send signals to search engines that the website it trustworthy.
Many search engines (including Google and Bing) take into account the load speed of a page in their ranking algorithm. As with point 3 above, the website should be easy to use, and if users find themselves having to wait too long for the page to load, then they are far less likely to remain on the page. Optimising image sizes, minimising plug-ins and reducing re-directs are some of the things to consider to ensure a page isn’t sluggish.
As we discuss further below, it really is essential for local business websites to be optimised for mobile phones. As far as the webpage’s SEO performance is concerned, mobile optimisation goes to the quality of the user experience. A user will not spend much time on your page if they cannot read the information on their phone screen, making your page less amenable to a good search engine ranking.
These are just some of the factors which determine the SEO performance of a website, and there are many more. Contact us to discuss how we can assist you to get the most out of your online presence through SEO.
Read our article here for a detailed examination of the what, why and how of Google My Business. With Google being the first port of call for the majority of Internet users searching for local businesses, listing a business here is a must.
Read our article here here for everything you need to know about local business directories. We discuss the pros and cons of big directories as well as various lesser-known options, all of which can enhance your local business’ online presence.
Social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.) are a great, free way of getting your business discovered online. Much like websites, a local business Facebook page, for example, can contain all the basic information a potential customer needs to find a business.
Unlike most websites however, social media accounts tend to offer much better functionality for interacting with customers directly, whether through instant messaging, or comments on posts. Social media posts can be made as regularly as a business wishes, in a way maintains hype and keeps customers (or ‘followers’) engaged. Posts can include things like photos of the business premises or products, videos, promotions, polls, ideas or links to other interesting, relevant materials, to name but a few.
Not only that, but social media accounts make it easy for users to share their experiences with friends or their own followers, exponentially increasing a business’ exposure. In short, having a social media account (or many) is a relatively easy and cheap way of getting a business to be discovered online.
Promoting a local business online ranges from simple and quick to more long-term techniques. As with most things, there are numerous options available to business owners. Here we will discuss the two broad categories of online promotion and consider some of the options.
Paid channel promotion refers to paid advertisements that can be bought on various online platforms and which are targeted directly to an audience. Rather than hoping a customer will find a website ‘organically’, paid advertising materials are strategically placed to attract consumers directly. Paid marketing is generally a faster way to engage and convert an audience, but comes with the obvious downside of cost.
Refer to our guide to local advertising here here for a more detailed explanation of how local business can use and take advantage of the following platforms:
Standing in opposition to paid marketing is organic channel promotion, also known as inbound marketing. Rather than direct, targeted advertisements, organic marketing attempts to appeal to consumers through high-quality, authentic and natural content, such as blog posts or articles. Organic marketing content is values-based and works to build a relationship between the consumer over a longer period of time.
It is increasingly common for consumers to make online searches using the words “local business near me” when searching for a local business/product. Google categorises these searches as an “I-want-to-buy” micro-moment – when a customer is ready to make a purchase and needs help with how and where to do so.
Here are five tips to improve a business’ performance in “near me” search results:
Keeping information up to date is one of the best ways to ensure that a business will be discovered online for “near me” searches. It is important to make sure that information is correct and current, particularly unique information such as operating hours, address and contact details. Additionally, it can be helpful to upload original custom photos rather than stock images.
Customer reviews are one of the most influential factors impacting “near me” searches. A search for a particular business on Google, for example, will list higher if there are more positive reviews for that business on Google. Being active by responding to reviews can also improve a search ranking for a local business.
If a local business has multiple physical locations, having a separate website for each can improve the business location-based search ranking. Each website should list the address details clearly. Adding specific photos of each location can also enhance search performance.
Most “near me” searches are made on a mobile device and often while the person conducting the search is out of their home. It is therefore essential that local business websites be optimised for mobile phone screens, not only for the user experience, but also for search engine performance.
Search engines perform better when the information online about a business is consistently correct. If a business is listed on multiple directories, it is important to ensure that each listing contains identical NAP information so that search engines do not become ‘confused’.
We hope this article has shown that not only is an online presence absolutely crucial for local small businesses, but also quite easily achievable. While all options require time and effort, many can be done relatively cheaply, if not for free. In all cases, we hope you are convinced that the return far outweighs the outlay. Please get in touch with us if for more information or if you need assistance to take your business into the 21st century.