If you are the owner of a local business and things are going well, there is a desire to continue in that way and improve as well. And one way of doing that is to promote your business to as many people as possible, so you can continue bringing new customers that will be amazed by your services or products.
But local businesses are not like the big guys. They often don’t have the time or resources to pay for TV ads or high-priced marketing, so heading into the world of digital marketing can be a better way, once they understand the basics of it.
If you type the products and services you offer into Google and see where you come up, local businesses will often find they are not at the top of the list. Moreover, sometimes when you type your business name in Google you don’t even show up? While this is not ideal, there is hope. A business can use online reputation management to turn various platforms such as Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Facebook into revenue generators.
Understanding Online Reputation Management
The following online reputation management tips can help a local business improve how it is perceived by potential customers. Online reputation management involves two things. The first is that it identifies online resources that potential customers may be using to discover what your business is all about. The second is that it allows a company to take steps to use those particular resources to build a good reputation for their business and brand image. A local company whose presence is high on a Google search comes across as trustworthy, so using an online reputation management strategy can be crucial.
The purpose of online reputation management is to increase a company’s potential customer base and grow revenue. This process does not have to be expensive and can be done with a few basic tools that include SEO (search engine optimization), Google My Business, Facebook, and Yelp.
This particular article looks at what smaller, local businesses can do rather than the huge corporations.
Tips for Local Businesses
Local businesses don’t have the same budget to spend on online reputation management as big corporations, so they need to come up with more efficient (and less expensive) marketing strategies. Here are some tips to make it work.
1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
When a person types in your business into a search engine such as Google, you want to see your business right on top of the results. The business should own the media. It’s an online property that you want to have. So a local business needs to own a website and social media accounts.
A website is going to be the foundation of a business’s online presence and reputation. It is central to your digital marketing strategy. A company needs to work with SEO to get that site to the top of search results online. Optimizing the website means it will be as visible as possible when it is searched for online. Tips for doing this are:
The website needs to be indexed. That means Google has it in its digital library. To make sure this exists, go to the Google Search Console and sign in with your business Google Account. This is something that will need to be created if you don’t have one.
How to do it: After you signed in with your business Google Account, choose “Add a property.” Select “Website” from the drop-down menu and put in the URL for the business website’s homepage. This must be an exact match. Google will want to verify who owns the website and this can be done through your domain provider. Once the business website is verified then the Search Console site can be used. Select “URL Inspection” that is on the left-hand side menu. Enter the URL for the company homepage in the search bar and you will see “URL is on Google” if the homepage is listed. However, if it is not there, then it can be requested through “Request Indexing.” It will take a day or so for this to be processed.
Getting your website indexed is a priority for local businesses. You want to own the top results when searched so you are the first company customers reach out to when they are looking for a particular good or service.
2. Google My Business (now Google Business Profile)
This is a free business tool that will connect a local business with potential customers through Google search results as well as on Google maps. A company just needs to have a profile (which is free). A quick visit to Google My Business website and a click on “Manage Now” will get the business on its way. Enter the business information, make sure it is all accurate, and the company is ready to go. Make sure to enter as much information as possible, not just the bare minimum. The more information that is available, the more leads will come your way and fewer missed opportunities.
In reality, with Google My Business, there will never be too much information you can provide. The goal is to have potential customers see the business as a complete and positive business presence. Make sure to include:
- Hours of Operation – Emergency after hour availability if applicable
- Products and services available
- A description of the business that is clear and succinct
- Category of business – this could be more than one
- Attributes of the business
- Photos and videos that highlight the business, its team and happy customers
- A link to online appointment booking if needed
- Links to all media profiles, especially social media
- List emergency contact information if the business is a trade such as plumbers or electricians
Google My Business includes an important feature: customer reviews. This section can have a significant impact on how your business is perceived. Customers who land on your profile always have the ability to write a review and score the business on a 5-star scale.
These reviews are important, and businesses need to encourage customers to write them. In this day and age of increased online sales, more and more people trust online reviews and use them when making buying decisions. A few positive reviews can do wonders to boost sales and increase both site and foot traffic. These same customers will also read comments from companies on those reviews whether they are good, bad or average so responding to comments is critical as well. A good customer service response to a poor review can turn that negativity around.
Google is going to play a key role in online reputation management so companies can’t afford to ignore them. Getting your media to the top of the search list and optimizing your Google My Business profile will help get the company in a place to succeed.
3. Facebook and Messenger
While Google is a primary resource for a local company to find potential customers, the social media platform of Facebook is a good one as well. There are many people who find new businesses on this social media site. If a business puts effort into their Facebook page it can be extremely beneficial. Page creation is easy through the page creation center where all the basic information is entered. Choosing a cover and profile photo is important as it’s the first thing potential customers will see. A company wants to make an impression and be noticed so business branding should be at the forefront. Once these things are completed then you are set to add content as needed.
Local businesses need to make sure there is lots of info available. A brief outline of the business that talks about the brand’s products or services rather than its history. There are only 255 characters allowed so they have to count, and you want people to know what you do. Also, make sure the business is properly categorized so it will target relevant customers. Multiple categories mean you can target various demographics. The business needs to link to its website and have an accessible email address as well.
Even the basics of a local business are important. Areas served, hours open, prices, and all contact info. Anything to let customers know about the brand. Make sure there are lots of photos and/or videos uploaded so people get a good idea of what you have and also get customers to leave recommendations.
The goal is to put the business in a positive light which can include using a thing called Facebook Messenger chatbot. It is software that will chat with users when you can’t. It is not perfect and obviously can’t do everything a human does, but it can help since you can’t be online 24/7. It’s a quick and simple way to answer questions or give direction on getting answers. It will show the company is interested in connecting as well as being trustworthy and reliable.
Once a local business has worked to get to the top of Google search results, created their Google My Business profile, and then built their Facebook page with all their relevant information, the next step is to head onto the Yelp platform.
Yelp is a platform that functions online to connect customers with local businesses. It works similar to Facebook and Google My Business. It has a business offer their basic information and intent and then allows those same customers to offer their opinion and feedback on that business. While Yelp is similar to Facebook and Google My Business, it should be included when it comes to online reputation management. It has over 175 million users each month. Those are users who you don’t want to find your competitor first. The listing you get is free and easy to create. Do the same as with other online platforms, the more information the better. Offer as much info as you can and focus on your products more than your story.
Yelp is a place where people will look for reviews. Local businesses need to be on it and interact with those reviews. Encourage customers to leave their thoughts and reviews by dropping a link to Yelp whenever it is possible. Email signatures, websites, social media should all have this link. That way, potential customers will read what is being said and add their opinion as well. Local businesses just need to direct customers and let them speak for themselves.
While the number of reviews grows, so will the need to respond to them. This is especially important when dealing with ones that are negative or average. Responding to negativity shows the company cares about whatever the issue is and is willing to attempt to address it. It can turn a negative experience into a positive one.
Online reputation management is extremely important. As the name says, it is all about management, but that’s not something expensive or complicated. While there are certain companies that can take this on, not all local businesses have the ability to hire an outside firm or internal hire. So, these basic online reputation management tips for local businesses are straightforward and can boost both customer visits and final sales numbers.
The first tip is that businesses need to identify the online platforms that potential customers will use to research their brand and its goods or services. Those main platforms should be Google, Google My Business, Facebook, and Yelp to begin with and then any additional ones that pertain directly to the business itself.
Once this is done, ensure that the platforms being used put the business in a good light. Online reputation management means managing reviews and opinions to make sure the local business is seen as personable and of high quality. It isn’t about perfect reviews and 5 stars each time (although that would be nice). It’s about tackling those negative moments and turning them into a positive with a helpful response and tackling the problem. Keeping a local business’s reputation positive is what it is all about. That gains customer trust, brings in new customers, and increases sales.