When someone needs your product or service, will they find you—or one of your competitors? Attracting the attention of prospective clients is the first goal of marketing and promotion, but many business people don’t understand how to best use the Internet to meet that goal.
It all boils down to this: To be found, your business must be where your customers are looking. For a large percentage of potential customers—Google says 97 percent—this means being found online by the top three search engines: Google (65 percent of searches), Yahoo (16 percent) and Bing (13 percent).
Suppose someone in San Rafael has a gushing, leaky pipe and you’re a plumber. They haven’t needed a plumber before, so they don’t know whom to call. They might ask a friend for a referral or go to the Yellow Pages, but chances are they’ll use their smartphone, tablet or computer to search for “plumber San Rafael.” If your competitor comes up near the top of the first page and you’re on page four, who do you think will soon be repairing the broken pipe?
It doesn’t take a lot of money or time to make yourself easier to find online. Google, Yahoo and Bing have each provided businesses with a free website. All you have to do is claim it, complete all the requested details, and your business will be listed in order of relevance to each particular search. Let’s concentrate on Google’s own version, called “Google Places.”
You want to be on the first page for your type of business, and the higher you are on the page, the better. Ranking near the top is often simply a matter of following through completely and not leaving any blanks on the form. It’s free, so why not take full advantage of it? Go to google.com/places. Start by entering your business phone number. Next, fill in all your business details in the form provided. Complete everything, 100 percent. Google lets you post up to 10 pictures, so post 10. It lets you post up to five videos, so post five. You get the idea.
When the form asks for description and category, use your keywords. These are the words people will be using to find you. Google has a free keyword tool at https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal. When you enter a word or phrase, the tool shows you how many monthly searches, both global and local, have been done on that combination, and it suggests other possible phrases. You’ve probably figured out some of them yourself, but you may be surprised by combinations you haven’t thought of.
After selecting your keyword phrases, use them in other media as well: on your LinkedIn profile and your Yelp page, for example. Be sure to keep the words in the phrases in the same order. “Repairing leaky pipes” will give different results from “leaky pipe repair,” for example. Your objective is to target the words that are actually getting results. Using the same phrases in different media will improve your results in all of them.
In the same way, be consistent when entering information on other online applications. If you sometimes list your phone number with parentheses around the area code and sometimes without them, computer algorithms may not recognize them as the same number, which will affect your ranking in a negative manner. Always start with http:// when listing your website so it will be a clickable, live link.
A few more suggestions: On the form, where it says “service location,” check the option that says all customers come to your business. Google Places is for brick and mortar businesses at specific locations. If you go to your customers, there’s an “additional details” section down at the bottom where you can say so.
Upload the maximum 10 photos showing your business, products, and services. Name the photos using your keywords.
Include five videos by posting your YouTube link. If you don’t have any, a free website called Animato.com lets you create them.
Under “additional details,” you can tie in Yelp and other review sites. Copy and paste the URL for your Yelp page or other directory sites such as SuperPages or DexKnows.
By posting all your information, including the links in the “additional details” section, you’re making Google’s job easier and giving validity to your listing, and you’re much more likely to receive a higher ranking—and, in turn, to be placed higher up on the page. To do it correctly takes about three hours (keyword research, writing out your business description, making and uploading videos/photos and so forth). After submitting, the last step is to validate. Google will either send a postcard or call your business phone number to provide you with an activation number. This is how it checks the legitimacy of your business’ physical address.
One last thing: Google has its own version of client feedback for businesses. Since many of us have a gmail account, it should be easy for any owner to ask existing clients to give an honest Google review of the product or service they received. These reviews will help those searching make a decision on who’s best qualified for the job.
At the beginning of this article, I used the hypothetical example of a local plumber. In a real situation, a local plumber I know received 700 impressions (views) over a six-month period. After he completed his local place page, he received 700 impressions in one month.
The Google Place Page is an important way for your business to take advantage of new media—and the price doesn’t get any better than free.
Gene Stygar is cofounder of Strategically Connected, an Internet marketing company dedicated to showing local business owners how to get found online.