There are no doubt many different approaches you can take to building an online presence for your small and local or service area business. There are tons of different platforms, tools, strategies, agencies, freelancers, gurus, and everything in between and they’re all trying to sell you something, saying you must use them or their tool to have success.
The truth is that it doesn’t really matter what platform you use to build a website, for example, but the reason behind why you are doing it will be the driving factor behind your success and not the platform itself.
It’s always been my goal to help small businesses take back control of their online presence. To help them understand and then implement the right solutions for their business consistently over time. So, let’s get into the 5 main things a small business can utilize to have success using the internet to market their business on.
The 5 tools small businesses can utilize to build and grow their online presence
The five tools to help small business obtain internet marketing success are:
- Verified Search Engine Business Listings
- Other Business Listings, Directories, or Citations
- Small Business Website
- Verified Online Reviews
- Social Media
1. Verified and Managed Search Engine Business Listings
Two of the biggest search engines, Google and Bing, will allow for a business to create, verify, and manage a business listing on their search engine.
Doing so correctly will instantly get your business found when a person searches for your business by name using that search engine. Chances are these listings will be the first online experience a potential customer or client has with your business.
These aren’t just simple business listings that list your name, address, and phone number either. These are starting to become really advanced tools that can even be used by consumers to directly communicate and get in touch with your business.
To learn more about and create your free listings you can visit their websites by following the links directly below.
Google: Google My Business
Bing: Bing Places for Business
Google even offers a free website created around the information you place into your free business listing. They will even let you purchase and use a custom domain name as well. This is a great option for brand new or really small businesses that don’t really want the overhead or maintenance of a website.
You might be asking yourself about the third largest search engine, Yahoo. Does Yahoo offer a free business listing like Google and Bing? The short answer is no, Yahoo does not offer a free business listing you can manage.
What they offer is more of an entire solution to manage a wide variety of your online business listings called Localworks. However, they are also dropping the Yahoo and going with Verizon. They also offer many other tools to small businesses as well. Of course, this all comes with some monthly costs.
They offer things like business plan makers, an online presence and website tools and hosting with the ability to purchase a custom domain name as well as business email, point of sale services, and some legal services as well.
2. Other Business Listings, Directories, or Citations
Much like Google My Business and Bing Places for Business, there are other websites that offer the ability to manage a free or paid business listing. These are often referred to as directory sites. A citation is basically any other website that lists your business name, address, and phone number, also known as your NAP.
Business listings or directory sites are pretty much just an information source for search engines and people, much like the physical phone books of the past. They are a place we can go online to find businesses that meet our needs and search engines use their data to verify business information and they’re also believed to be a ranking factor.
According to a leading SEO software and data provider, MOZ:
“The number of citations a business accrues, the accuracy of the data they feature, and the quality of the platforms they exist on all influence rankings. Search engines like Google amass data about each business. If what they encounter is accurate, the search engine trusts the validity of the data, which is believed to strengthen the business’ chance of ranking well. However, if the data search engines encounter is inconsistent, this trust is eroded, lessening ranking opportunities.” Source: Moz: Local Citations
To view a list of the major citation sites for your industry or city you can check out these sites listed below. I personally use and recommend BrightLocal to build and manage your small business citations because of the control you have over the citations created on your behalf and the one time cost associated with creating them. Moz offers a great service, but in my opinion, it’s similar to Yahoo’s (Verizon’s) Localworks offering more than just directory and listings management.
By Category: https://moz.com/learn/seo/citations-by-category
3. Small Business Website
The website for your small business is potentially the most valuable source of information for not only consumers(our current and potential customers or clients) but also for the search engines as well.
According to this survey performed in 2018 https://moz.com/local-search-ranking-factors, on-page factors like NAP consistency, keywords in titles, domain authority, etc. all play a role in how your website ranks in the search results.
So it is important to have a website but it’s also important how that website is set up and what is on that website.
I’m going to quickly list the 5 main aspects I believe your small business website should encompass or have. These five things will really set the foundation for a website that is focused on providing value and not exploiting or selling. To read more about these you can check out this post I wrote here: Small Business Website Must Haves
In addition to having accurate and nicely placed business information on your website your site must also be:
- Mobile ready which is called a responsive website.
- Fast so people don’t have to wait a long time to access it, even on slow mobile connections.
- Secure to protect your site visitors’ information and to protect the site itself.
- Conversion Optimized so people know how to reach out, hire, or buy from you.
- Search Engine Optimized so the search engines can understand and rank your website appropriately first for referral-based searches and second for the problem or solution-based searches.
You might be asking yourself at this point which platform is best to build your website on and honestly this is kind of a loaded question because like I mentioned at the start of this post there is no one solution that is best for every small business out there.
Figuring out what platform is best for you usually will come by answering these questions. If you need some help answering these questions and finding the right website platform for your business, like always just shoot me an email.
- Who’s going to be designing it?
- Who’s going to be building it?
- Who’s going to be making changes, updates, additions, and maintaining it?
- What’s the purpose or goal of the site?
- What’s my budget for building the site?
- What’s my timeline for building the site?
Below is a list of the top website platforms for small businesses.
- Google My Business Website
- GoDaddy Website Builder
Of course, if you perform a Google search for the best small business website builders you will find many others out there. I also do not have any affiliation with any of these platforms. I do however build websites using the open-source WordPress.org platform and the PRO Theme by Themeco.
In addition to those, there is also the route of hiring someone like myself or an agency to design and build your website as well. The benefits of going this route are having a professional to guide you through the process and reach your goals more efficiently. This is most likely going to be the best route if you have an established online presence as well so that you don’t end up doing more harm than good to your online presence.
The main thing with your website, just like everything else your business does is that it needs to provide value. Websites mainly provide value through the content that is on them.
There are four main types of content we need on our small business websites.
- Informational Content
- Educational Content
- Conversational Content
- Transactional Content
If you’re interested in learning more about content and the role content plays on your website you can check out this post I wrote detailing the types of content and also diving into the mediums of content a little bit as well. Why Having Great Content on your Website is a must!
Verified Online Reviews
Roughly 82% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, with 52% of 18-54-year-olds saying they ‘always’ read reviews. Not only that, but reviews play a pretty big role in how you rank in the search results as well, there’s no denying that online reviews are important for small business.
Furthermore, there are business directories that show the top businesses for a certain location and service. Oftentimes these directories are what show up at the top of the search results pages. Just perform a search for Centennial Website Designers and scroll past the Ads and Maps results and the first two you’ll see will be a couple of these directories. One of the ways they rank a company is by the number of positive reviews they have online on verified review websites like Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, other review sites, and the like.
How do you ensure that you get your customers to provide positive reviews?
Make it quick, easy, and painless by gathering all your review links and sending them an email, first thanking them for their business and then asking them to leave you a review online by clicking on one of the links provided. It’s that easy. People love leaving reviews when they have a horrible experience but if you truly provide a good experience they also love leaving positive reviews as well.
Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the power of online reviews, for both the people searching and the gatekeepers(search engines) that decide whether or not to show your business to those searchers. You can think of good reviews almost like a referral to your business!
When it comes to people performing a referral-based search for your business on Google, nothing looks better than a full page of search results with multiple online reviews, on multiple different platforms. Tons of positive online reviews paired with complete accuracy of information online is usually all a person needs to see before realizing that their friend or family referred them to a business they can trust, resulting in them reaching out to you.
Just remember that you don’t want to create any fake reviews or ask friends and family to do so; this is completely unethical in every regard and the search engines have ways to uncover this. Reviews need to be left on a verified review site for the search engines to really give you credit for them. Otherwise, they have no way of knowing if they are legit or not.
Social Media for Small Business
Are social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Nextdoor something that consumers use? Yes, definitely.
Are social media sites used to find small businesses? Perhaps, depending on the type of business you have and how you operate it and who you serve.
For example, I have an elderly neighbor who had me over to help with some electrical issues she was having. I wasn’t able to diagnose the problem with my limited electrical knowledge and recommended that she have an electrician out to troubleshoot the problem.
She instantly said she had already found a guy through Nextdoor. She said everyone was raving about how professional and good he was. He was certified and did great work.
I did a quick search for his business and found that his business really only existed on a few websites. The BBB, Nextdoor, and Facebook. He had created a personal Nextdoor account to respond to people looking for electrical help on Nextdoor and obviously delivered amazing service to anyone that hired him because he had a whole lot of great reviews, referrals, and an A rating on the BBB.
From that point on he really didn’t even have to respond to Nextdoor posts himself because the people in his local communities were happy to refer to him themselves.
When going to the website URL listed on his Nextdoor Business Page, it redirected me to his Facebook Business page that had more great reviews and some pictures posted by him of the work he was doing. But, in general, the page wasn’t very active.
We called him up and he delivered as promised. Showed up, was professional, polite and courteous, respectful, and diagnosed and fixed the problem in less than an hour. Social Media and Nextdoor for the win!
The reason I explained all of this is because Social Media websites can be a great way for a small business to:
- Gain another trustworthy business listing & citation
- Have another trustworthy platform to receive reviews on
- Have a platform to reach out and interact with the local community
- Have a platform where people can easily refer you and get in touch with you
When it comes to Social Media the point is, that like everything else a small business does online, it’s how and why you go about doing it that matters and then finding the right platform(s), tools, and strategies for your specific business.
Could it be that Social Media is truly going to be best for local storefront or home service businesses?
The bottom line is that if you’re coming to social media or the internet just because you think you’re going to automatically grow your business, then you will reach a point where you fail. But if you truly care about helping people and actually provide a great service then taking to social media consistently over time can be a great aspect to your online presence as a whole.
One of the most important things is going to be the accuracy and consistency of the information you place into these tools. That is your business information; name, address, phone number, business hours, products & services, business categories, etc. It’s really important that everything is exactly the same. You have to help the search engines understand your business before you get the opportunity to serve your current and potential customers or clients online.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post, and more importantly thank you for caring about and helping the people in the communities we all live in and love. The internet truly can be a great place to market your business on, provide value, and interact with your current and potential customers. But if you approach the internet with the wrong intentions the only thing I can guarantee you is that you will waste your life; your time, your money, and do more harm to the people you should be selflessly serving. Read this article I wrote about the Wrong Approach to Marketing Your Business Online.
Do great work and go the extra mile, your customers will thank you and when you follow the right approach to marketing your business online you will literally watch your online presence grow with your business.