Your online identity is intertwined with your identity "on the streets", especially when it comes to local businesses.
The Internet has transformed marketing to be both easier and more difficult in a lot of different ways.
It’s all well and good to have a website, but with the hundreds of millions of other sites currently living alongside you, there’s fierce competition to stand out enough to drive the traffic you desire. You can, of course, up your SEO game to ensure your business rises above the rest (on those search results pages anyway).
But here’s the thing: your online identity is intertwined with your on-the-street identity, especially when it comes to local businesses. Focusing on SEO may bring in more online traffic, but it’s not the only way to get local customers through the door.
But First, Embrace Local SEO
Update your listings. If you haven’t already, claim your Google listing.
Review the information, which should include your address and phone number, and make any necessary corrections. When you create this listing, the address should appear exactly as you want it to show everywhere. For example, don’t mix “Street” and “St.” or “Suite No. 5” with “Suite #5”. Once you’ve completed your listing, use a service like Yext to correct them across the very many different directories and sites. You can also do this manually, though this can take quite a while.
Take some NAPs. No, we’re not telling you to go lay down. NAP means “name, address, phone number” and it refers to how other websites reference you. In the local SEO sense, a citation is a mention of your NAP anywhere on a website other than your own.
One of the most common ways to build citations is through various business directories, such as Google, Yellow Pages, and InsiderPages, which we’ve covered. But there are many other ways to build citations, provided your NAP is visible somewhere:
- Send out press releases
- Update your social media profiles
- Guest post on popular blogs and sites
- Comment on industry-related forums
Mention your city and state. Besides the regular old keywords that describe your business, add the city and state in which your business operates in the copy on your website. It should sound natural—don’t repeat that you’re the “best dry cleaner in Denver CO” five times on every page! If you're looking for a more complete guide on how to scale this, check out this helpful guide for maximizing your local SEO and content.
Related Article: Get Your Rank Up: The Essential Guide to SEO
1. Get Reviewed, and Reply to the Haters
Online. A positive online review is worth its weight in gold and negative reviews can ruin your business. Despite the inherent risk in putting your business up on a review site like Yelp, monitoring and, yes, replying to negative reviews can be more positive than ignoring them (in fact, ignoring them may even be a worse choice).
A Harris Interactive study commissioned by RightNow said that of the customers who received a response from a retailer after posting a negative review, 34% deleted their original negative review, 33% posted an updated positive review, and 18% ended up buying more from the store. That means that unhappy customers spreading vitriol can eventually be appeased.
While we're on the topic of online reviews, make sure you're following the proper guidelines when soliciting reviews or you may accidentally get your listing temporarily suspended or even banned if you abuse it too much.
In person. Online review sites are the only place to get feedback from your customers. After a customer purchases from you or uses your service, send them a customer satisfaction survey, either through snail mail or email.
Not only will you gain valuable insight into your customers’ experiences, you can use any positive testimonials on your website—though ensure that you protect your customers’ privacy by not using identifiable information. To encourage survey participation, offer a discount upon completion.
2. Get Your Name in the Paper
You may have heard a lot of hullabaloo over the “death of the newspaper.” And while it’s true that many community newspapers have ceased publication, “two-thirds of residents in small towns across America depend upon their local newspaper for news and information,” according to a study conducted by The Reynolds Journalism Institute on behalf of the National Newspaper Association.
Not only is that a lot of eyeballs, it’s a lot of trust. So build up a rapport with your local newspaper reporter, eventually checking if the newspaper would feature your business in a news story. You could also go the official route and inquire about their advertising rates.
Related Article: Telling Your Story: DIY Public Relations for Small Businesses
3. Host a Class to Share Your Knowledge
Every business owner has a specialized skill set. If you’re a retailer, you can share your knowledge on opening your own business; if you make your own products, you know the ins and outs of the manufacturing process. A service provider like a tax preparer can offer guidance through the tax season, all while promoting his or her business. Providing “free” knowledge can show the community that you not only want to be a part of the community, you want to help it.
Whatever your niche, there are customers looking to learn. Invite your local community to a class or workshop (free or requiring a small fee) in which you teach them skills related to your business. Don’t give away all your secrets, though—provide incentive for them to come back and make a purchase from you later. Psst…if you’re worried about people showing up, advertise free food. Everyone loves free food!
4. Say “Thank You”
Your mom was right. “Please” and “thank you” do go a long way. After your client does business with you, send a thank you note. Unlike the customer satisfaction survey, this note is just a simple acknowledgement that you appreciate your customer’s business. To make the customer feel that he or she really matters to you, include something useful, like a special offer, a discount or a free item from your business.
Marketing your local business with unique, tailored events and tactics can help you stand out in your local community as well as online. If there is one thing to keep in mind, however, it’s this: friendliness and courtesy go a long way with customers. After all, they’re the ones that keep you alive in the community.