Businesses are often surprised when they learn how many people in the local area search for their type of business online every month. Typically, in order to get in front of all those searchers, a business needs a website and they need to hire a search engine optimization (SEO) company. The dream of targeted traffic coming to your website, reading about your business and then picking up the phone and calling you can be very appealing. SEO is often too expensive for a small business and the big companies pay thousands per month to be ranked on the first page of Google. However, the landscape has changed, and it has changed in favor of your small business.
Google constantly adjusts its algorithm to provide the people using it with the most authoritative and the most relevant content possible. In the past year, there have been some large adjustments to the way Google indexes websites; they are now laser-focused on local.
Google has aggregated every business directory, yellow pages and business information source to create one massive business directory that is focused on local search results. They have created 52 million free business webpages and the vast majority of these pages remain unclaimed by the respective businesses. You have noticed these listings. When you search for a local restaurant or a movie theatre, there are listings associated with pins on a map in your area, guiding you exactly to the hot spots around town. Google has made this huge shift because that is the most relevant information for someone’s search.
Your business may be local. In fact, your business may not service customers outside of your local area. There is a way to be on the first page of Google without paying a professional and without much time. You do not even need to have a website to be on the first page of Google. All you need to do is go online and claim your Google Places page that has already been set up for you (do a search for “Google Places” and you will find what you need).
We have small businesses come to us all the time and tell us they have set up their Places page, but they are not showing up in the search results for their industry. The first thing you must do is take the time to complete your entire business profile on Google Places. Your page will rank higher on the search results if it is complete. There are other reasons why a page will not rank well, but typically there is one thing that separates the good listings from the poor ones: customer reviews.
A review is the result of someone going on to your Google Places page, writing about their experience with your company and selecting a rate from one to five stars. Search engines know that there is power in word of mouth. So if your listing is not showing on the first page of Google, and you have taken the time to fill out your information completely, it’s time to solicit your happy customers for reviews. These are not always easy to get, as satisfied customers do not typically take the time to find your page to write a review. Sometimes an incentive like a $10 gift card will motivate them, but more often than not, if you make it easy for them, they will do it on their own.
I encourage every business owner to not let this free marketing tool pass them by. Do not let your competition get all of the business that comes from local internet searches. Claim your Google Places page, ensure it is complete and get those customer reviews.
Matthew Janik is the Founder of Vancouver-based Fringe Local SEO, a local search engine optimization company serving small businesses nationally. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503.753.2061.