At Fleximize, we understand that more often than not, small business owners don’t have the luxury of their own in-house marketing team or expert marketing consultant. For those of you who are working on a minimal to zero advertising budget, whether you run a café, hair salon or a pub and rely on local trade or desire a local presence, these hacks are relevant to you.
These hacks are straightforward, and although they may take up half a day, they’re well worth taking the time to tackle. I can’t promise they’ll bring new customers to your business in droves, but they’ll improve your site visibility for relevant local searches, and capture those customers in the future that are looking for a business likes yours, but can’t find you.
Hack 1: Get your business verified on Google My Business
Google+ isn't going to rival Facebook for personal users, however as the second largest social network and it’s positioning under the Google gable, it should be treated with some seriousness for small businesses and shouldn’t be ignored. Google+ is different to other social networks in the sense that it shouldn’t be used solely to boost your online presence, but as a priceless resource to maximize visibility on Google search pages.
The benefits include potentially ranking higher on search results, integration with relevant Google Your Business services and the ability to draw in prospects by providing them with contact information, location, directions and reviews – directly on search pages.
Recently, Google changed the structure of Google My Business and pulled all previously set up Google+ business pages under the Google My Business dashboard. So you can now approach them as one item on your list.
By having a Google My Business page, you can control the information Google has and presents to people searching about your business, including your opening hours, telephone number and web address, images and basic business information. With the removal of side bar adverts, Google now shows your listing on the top right hand side of all brand related searches if you’re Google my business listing is verified. Follow this guide to get your business verified, and complete as many details as possible as these details will be shown on the search results.
Hack 2: Get your business listed on free directories
These days there’s hundreds of reasons behind why your website does or doesn’t show on search listings, and there is research to support one theory in particular - that sites that have more citations or directory listings are likely to rank higher. Plus, from a searchers point of view, the more places your business is, the more reputable you’re likely to be, which is why getting your business listed on the main UK business directories makes sense.
Most directories offer a free listing option in addition to more prominent paid-for listings. As I promised these hacks would only take a few hours out of your day, I’ve put together a list of popular local directories to save you hunting down the best ones. Ensure you get your business listed or if it’s already there, ensure you ‘claim’ it:
- GooglePlaces (as mentioned in Hack 1)
- Free Index
- Thomson Local
Also, importantly, don’t forget sector specific directories – these are more targeted and are likely to yield more qualified prospects to your site. A great way to find these is by doing a local ‘generic’ search for your service. For example, if you offer services in the construction industry, search “local construction services” or “local building services” and a number of directory listings are likely to show up amongst local businesses. It’s worth exploring these sites and seeing if there’s an option of a free listing or a listing with a cost only on job assignment.
Hack 3: Optimize your website to reflect your services
You may or may not have a website, depending on where you find your customers and how you sell your service/products. However, I’d suggest that a website, even a branded one pager with contact details is better than having no website at all. Here’s a couple of small hacks that fall under the website optimisation umbrella:
- Incorporate your business’ name, address and contact information in not only the homepage or contact page, but each individual page of your website. I would suggest having contact details in the footer and header, depending on the length of most pages (whether you need to scroll).
- Ensure your meta titles and meta descriptions reflect your business well and what people are likely to be looking for when searching for services like yours. Ultimately, these are what people will see when your website appears in the search results and be the deciding factor between whether they click on to your site or click on your search listing competitors. Depending on what Content Management System (CMS) your website is built on, e.g. WordPress, you should be able to update all of these on there.
- As Google will be looking for clues of your site’s relevancy for local searches, it might be worth considering creating location-focused pages. This could be done through mentioning local landmarks, sports teams, locally relevant content or news stories through your web copy of existing pages or, if you have the time or resource, a local news section or dedicated pages to localised content may be worth investing in.
Hack 4: Build up your online reviews and ratings
This hack can be the most influential to your business, if you get it right. A recent study cited in entrepreneur.com carried out by Harvard School researcher Michael Luca, found that a 1-star improvement on Yelp translated to anywhere from 5 to 9 percent swing on revenues. It also highlighted the fact that local and independent restaurants were more affected by diner reviews and ratings than chain restaurants. Yes, this was a study focused on the US, but it rings true for consumers in the UK too. I’ve seen it for myself, it can sometimes be the difference between a business succeeding and failing.
So, a couple of ways to tackle this are:
- You can use Google My Business to collect customer reviews which will also show up on some of your local listings. Having reviews on your listings will make searchers click on your listing over your competitors.
- You can use other review sites to build up ratings and reviews and they’re likely to list on brand searches but not necessarily support your local efforts. Some of them are also paid, they include Trustpilot, TripAdvisor (if you’re in travel, hotel, airline, entertainment or restaurant industries) and Facebook.
Online reviews and ratings undoubtedly have a major impact on a business’ reputation. So start asking everyone for a review, not just your happiest customers, asking for a review should be something you do impulsively, without thinking. Work it in to your business processes so your staff carry the same mindset. Having advocates of your small business goes a long way.
Hack 5: Engage with your local customers on social media
If you want to attract local customers to your business, social media could be one of the most painless ways to achieve it. This hack does require a little more maintenance and creativity, but Facebook and other social platforms are progressively becoming great ways to acquire customers.
A great place to start is setting up a Facebook page to show that you’re a local business (this guide from Facebook shows you how). This gives your customers the chance to leave reviews but also acts as another free directory for your business. Facebook has, however, reduced the amount of free exposure for businesses and if you want to build your social following you’ll either need to pay for it or create ways to make your customers aware and get your customers to join your social network.
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