Being a local business owner is tough work. Your livelihood depends on your ability to attract foot traffic into your storefront, and more often than not, there’s a big chain with a multimillion dollar marketing budget right down the street. When your marketing “team” consists of one person (i.e. you), and when you have to split your day between sales, customer service, inventory management, and accounting, it can be hard to keep up.
To help make your business stand out from the crowd without becoming sleep deprived or having to resort to robbing a bank (don’t do that), I put together seven super-actionable and low-cost Internet marketing tips. Let’s get right to them:
Seek Out Consistent Citations in Local Directories
Citations are online “references” to your business, usually found in local directories like YP.com, Superpages, Merchant Circle, etc. The more references there are with consistent information (i.e. the same name, phone number, and address), the more certain search engines like Google can be that your business is legitimate, helping propel your rankings in search results.
I’ve covered the importance of citations and how to get them elsewhere, so go ahead and read the following posts for details:
Develop and Deploy a Mobile-Friendly Website
61 percent of smartphone owners search for local information, according to a Localeze study released at the end of last year, and of all the mobile searches for local businesses, 52 percent result in calls. That’s a lot of potential customers browsing the Internet using their phone; is your website designed to convert these mobile viewers into storefront traffic?
Smartphones provide a unique Internet browsing experience. The screen is much smaller, often only three to four inches, the connection is slower (at least for now), and the user is usually in much more of a hurry. There is no time to zoom in and wade through paragraphs of text with miniscule font just to find out what days you’re open.
A mobile-friendly website is specifically designed to be viewed on a smartphone. It contains only the essential information that a prospective customer is likely to look for while on the go (e.g. contact information and location), does not include images that would take too long to load over a 3G connection, and may incorporate native smartphone features such as click-to-calls buttons.
Below is an example of a website that’s optimized for mobile viewing:
In terms of actually developing the website, there are a couple of different options that I’ll cover in detail in a follow-up article, so for now, check out my preferred platform: dudamobile.
Manage Reviews on Yelp, Google Places, TripAdvisor, etc.
More than 1 in 4 consumers regularly use online reviews to determine which local business to use (up 5 percent from 2010), and 52 percent are more likely to use a local business if it has positive reviews, according to the 2012 Local Consumer Review Survey.
In short, customers are actively utilizing the Internet to research businesses they’re thinking of visiting. If you want to stand out, testimonials and positive reviews from past and current customers are a must!
It’s important to frequently review popular directories like Yelp, Google Places, Yahoo! Local, and TripAdvisor to see what people are saying about your business, and to respond accordingly. Take the time to thank customers who left a positive testimonial, and offer to remedy any problems that come up.
For optimal results, aim to perform a review audit at least once a week; in most cases, it’ll take only a few minutes.
Follow Best Business Website Practices
Is your website designed to convert visitors into traffic? Does it contain information that potential customers are looking for?
I already wrote a pretty lengthy post outlining the features of successful SMB websites, but here are the highlights:
- Make sure your contact information is prominently displayed on every page
- Maintain an active business blog
- Use actual photos of your staff and products (i.e. no stocks and generics)
- Monitor your website usage with Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools
- Include links to your social media profiles (e.g. Facebook)
- Install a lead capture form
- Follow best on-page SEO practices
Utilize Foursquare to Attract New Business and Reward Loyal Customers
Foursquare may have started out as a fun game where users win points and virtual badges by “checking in” at local venues, but since launching in 2009, it has become a versatile promotional tool for business owners.
This location-based social sharing network allows businesses to attract new customers as well as reward existing ones through an array of newbie and loyalty “check in deals”. At St. Pete Bagel, for example, we offer a free donut or bagel to everyone who checks in for the first time, and a free 16 oz. Frappucino for every 10th check-in.
Moreover, when a customer checks in at a venue, he/she has the option of sharing the check-in via Facebook and/or Twitter. This makes it easy to connect with your most loyal brand advocates, and helps spread the word about your business among the customers’ friends and peers.
To get started, create a merchant account and start exploring the check-in deals interface.
Monitor What People Are Saying About Your Business
In addition to responding to customer reviews, it’s also important to monitor what people are saying about your business more generally via online channels like Twitter, Facebook, and local blogs.
Google Alerts sends you a notification whenever Google finds and indexes web content with your specified keywords; Twilert does the same, but it’s specifically designed for Twitter.
For St. Pete Bagel Co., we configured Google Alerts to receive a daily notification with a list of all the websites that Google has in its index and which mention the term “Pete Bagel”. We didn’t choose to include the prefix “St.” or the suffix “Co.” since sometimes people leave out the suffix entirely and more often than not don’t include the period after the “St.” It’s important to think about how your customers refer to your business (regardless of its actual name), and to choose your keywords accordingly.
The same general process applies to Twilert; just choose your primary keywords, designate when you’d like to receive the notification emails, and you’re good to go.
If you need more guidance on setting up Alerts or Twilert, just leave a note in the comments!
Connect with Customers and Network Using Social Media
Did you know? “Facebook fans are much more likely to purchase from, consider, and recommend the brands that they engage with on Facebook than non-fans,” according to recent study from Forrester.
Moreover, when Constant Contact analyzed the behavior of U.S. consumers ages 18 and older, it found that “60% of brand followers are more likely to recommend a brand to a friend after following the brand on Twitter,” and “50% of brand followers are more likely to buy from that brand.”
If you do it right, social media can help create an army of loyal brand advocates, drive traffic to your website, and generate buzz around your business that translates into increased sales, but it takes time, patience, and consistency.
The best advice I can give here is to be strategic about which social channels you choose to engage with your customers, to be authentic, and to think long and hard about whether you have the resources to manage an active Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/Google+/LinkedIn profile. Once you start, it’s very hard to stop.
All that said, remember that social media isn’t just an opportunity to connect with your customers; it’s also the perfect platform for cultivating long-term relationships with people who might be able to help you down the line, e.g. journalists and industry leaders.
It was on Twitter, after all, that I first learned about LocalShops1, a local business networking organization in Tampa Bay that’s been instrumental in helping promote St. Pete Bagel to local consumers.
All righty, that wraps it up for today. As I mentioned, if you have questions or comments about any of these recommendations, drop me a line on Twitter or in the comments section below.
I am a senior at The University of Chicago, where I study political science. I am also a proud pug owner, and a technology, marketing, personal finance, and productivity junkie.
I started this blog to share my passions with others, and to document general lessons learned from living as a 20-something.