Local Search and Small Businesses Face New Challenges and Opportunities in Marketing

Many small business owners think that having a Website and getting search engine optimization (SEO) consulting is not important for small business. Indeed in years past it used to be mostly important for large businesses to be found on the Web. Small businesses were still found in the Yellow Pages and through newspaper ads and circulars. Small businesses were very focused on advertising methods which had served them well for a century. Those marketing methods served small businesses well because their marketing efforts were spent where consumers and other small businesses were looking: telephone directories and newspapers. Today’s consumers and businesses are looking for small businesses in a completely new way: the Internet. Most are looking on Google on their PC’s. Some search on Yahoo and Bing. Holdouts for the Yellow Pages are finding that the Yellow Pages and White Pages are also online. Occasionally, consumers are finding businesses to serve them using social networks they post in every day. If that is not enough of a shift in the way people find businesses to patronize, some people are searching with their mobile phones and their I-Pads.

Even search engines are not the same as they were since Google changed the way people look for things. Search engines originally produced one set of results. A search for supermarkets in the original Google would produce websites for the major chains of supermarkets in the Country. These sites were, in the early stages, geared towards their stockholders and potential stockholders as well as the news media. The fundamental problem with this kind of search is that it is useless to type “supermarket” into a search engine if you are looking for a supermarket. Google shifted focus to make this more useful by completely changing the way results are delivered. Most searches are consumer searches, and most people make their buying decisions based on what they find in the first page or two. The nature of most of these searches when it comes to local brick-and-mortar small businesses is that they are near to the people who are using the search engines. Google can determine to within an average accuracy of 20 miles automatically, and they found an important way to put it to use. When Google introduced Local Search, users found most of the first search page was devoted to local results. Businesses do not need to have a Website to be in this listing, but a lot of businesses are not listed. The listing is easily added by small businesses either on their own or through a consultant. To add to the complexity, Google is not the only source for local listings on the Internet. In the world of search engines, many prefer Bing or Yahoo. Each of these search engines require your business to be manually listed in order to give you proper representation. Even if your business has been automatically listed, you should verify ownership and gain editing privileges. Again many businesses find that this is best done by a consultant. If you are comparing the marketing of the 20th century to marketing today, these search engine listings correspond in use and importance to the Yellow Page listings which used to be of prime importance. The people who used to use the Yellow Pages are mostly using these three search engines or 120 others worldwide. The best way to be listed is to communicate updates regularly to all search engines as well as other sources of search. Other sources of search can be social networks, news sites, blogs, video sites, and bookmark sharing sites. Increasingly, people are finding businesses through Facebook and to a lesser extent, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn. Search engines also add importance to your business when mentions of your business and links back to your site are present in these other online venues. This is what is known as social buzz, and it can really provide an outstanding marketing opportunity for small businesses who are early adopters. As people start to rate their experience with businesses online, it can also present a peril for the unprepared business. The search engines and all of the other Internet venues present opportunities for consumers to give reviews. The popularity of these reviews is increasing, as consumers are using all of these venues as a way to record their positive or negative impressions of the businesses they have used. Businesses that may not know of a negative rating on one site or more risk lost business. Professionals and dedicated do-it-yourselfers can ameliorate the effects of bad reviews and increase good reviews by offering incentives. We recommend that incentives for good reviews come in the form of a one-time rebate for services or products from one’s company. In most business models this serves to increase loyalty, raise online good reviews from people who regularly patronize your business and increase repeat business by tying it in to the incentive. Reputation management becomes a great tool for businesses that are familiar with current marketing realities.

For more in-depth information on this topic, read about five marketing strategies that will help you compete effectively in today’s market.

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