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How Can I Get My Local Business to Rank Higher in Search?

Friday is “Question of the Week” day here at Duct Tape Marketing. Each Friday I’ll tackle a specific question I received via readers or in places where I’m speaking. Submit your question here and if we use it we’ll highlight you and send you a signed copy of Duct Tape Marketing.

For today’s answer I wish I could say there was some magic pixie dust, but the fact is getting your local business to show up high in the search results takes some work.

For the local business the goal must be to move into what is referred to as the Google Local Pack – those 6-8 listing that show up for a local search. This is particularly important on mobile devices that are often pinpointing local only.

The Google Local Pack

There are many factors and of course a great deal has to do with the competitive nature of your particular industry.

However, there are several tried and true steps that you should take in order to give your business the best chance possible

Clean up your NAP

NAP is the directory acronym for Name, Address and Phone. This data clearly tells that a business is local and guess what – if you’ve been around for a while there’s a good chance some data source has this wrong.

Here’s how to assure you have an accurate NAP listing in as many places as possible.

Go the USPS site and get the correct address format for your business

Check with these major data providers to ensure your listing is complete and accurate.

Get listed

Now that your listing is accurate with the data folks, make sure that you listing in some of the more popular online business directories. Claim enhance these profiles.

One of the best tools for doing this is getlisted.org – this free tool will find your listing or lack of in some of the major directories and lead you to the place where you can edit and add.

Brightlocal is another very powerful paid tool for improving your local presence.

Get reviewed

Reviews carry a lot of weight, both with search engines and would be customers. You must get serious about this aspect of local search. Note the image above – the site that ranks #1 in Google has the best review profile.

The three most important place to focus your review work are

  • Google+Local – Google want your business on Google+ so they’ve moved the local pages there. Start building your local page and focus on getting more reviews.
  • Yelp – On top of being the biggest review site Yelp provides Bing Local results.
  • Foursquare – this location based check in site is working hard on becoming a local directory and should not be ignored.

Bing local listings

Localize your pages

One of the most overlooking opportunities is the local nature of the content on your site. Make sure you:

  • Add your NAP in Schema.org format to every page
  • Add local terms such as suburbs, neighborhoods, places and events in your titles and subtitles.
  • Create localized happenings and news pages
  • Create site sections or landing pages dedicated to local phrases.

For WordPress users one of the best things you can invest in is the Local SEO for WordPress plugin from Yoast. This plug in will handle a great deal of the techie stuff for you and let you do some nice things with maps and directions.

Customer Reviews the Hidden Local SEO Gem

Free ebook – Marketer’s Guide to Customer Reviews

Content, content, content – that’s the message that marketers have been sending over the last few years and with good reason – customers expect to find it and search engines look to serve the best of it up.

Social media participation has certainly made its way onto the SEO road map as an integral element of the optimization puzzle as well.

The area in my view that doesn’t get enough talk however is reviews – particularly when it comes to local businesses.

Reviews are one of the more important ranking factors for local businesses because they are a) content (customer generated no less, even better!), b) often social and c) a trust and authority signal for both search engines and readers alike.

Customer reviewsLike most things SEO related, people have tried to game the review system, but also like most things related to SEO, there’s a perfectly natural way to build links, reviews and authority.

I teamed up with the folks at Grade.us to bring you The Marketer’s Guide to Customer Reviews – a free eBook that teaches you how to turn How to turn Google+, Yelp and other review sites into a new marketing channel.

Download the free ebook here

Grade.us is also a great tool for automating the review generation process and making it as easy as possible to add this source of content and SEO to the mix. You can see a Duct Tape Marketing review page in action here.

How to Give Stuff Away to Generate Referrals

I write about the power of building a network of strategic marketing partners a lot. I truly believe it’s an underutilized small business strategies.

Gift boxGetting a group of like-minded business to market each others products and services adds exposure, creates new demand and builds on some already established trust.

I think people get the idea, but the challenge is often in finding ways to logically work together and promote each other. I shared a number of ideas on sharing content for referrals last week, but in this post I would like to offer another great way to work with your partners – give their stuff away.

I bought a pair of running shoes a while back from an online seller and when I opened the box I found a note from the owner along with a pair of socks and some energy bars and snacks. First off, I loved the surprise element, but being a nosy marketer I contacted the owner and found that these were gifts from a couple of his closest strategic partners. Of course there was also information about how I could order more of these items as well.

Think about how you might use this idea with existing or future strategic partners.

Do you have a trial or small product that your partners would love to give as a gift? Are there partners you work with currently that would have something you could give away?

By building gifts into your products you create extra buzz with your customers and gain extra exposure both for and from your strategic referral partners – all of these elements can create even more referrals.

And you don’t have to limit your thinking to free products. One way to get a potential or current strategic partner’s attention is to buy some of their products or gift cards for their products to use as thank you gifts.

As a matter of fact, you don’t have to limit your thinking to products at all. I received a subscription pitch from a business publication that included a free offer from a partner to evaluate my pay-per-click advertising efforts.

Any consultant could offer a valuable 30 minute audit of sort. (My consultant network uses something we call a Signature Brand Audit to offer a very useful marketing analysis by way of a questionnaire and one on one meeting – this kind of tool could be a great gift to a customer base.)

There are a number of service cropping up that can help organization make gifts to clients by finding local businesses. For example, a service called Yiftee allows a business to find something unique right in the community where a client or prospect may live. Yelp allows local businesses to feature gift certificates as well making it easy to find good products and services locally. I think this approach adds a nice personal touch.

Along this same line of thinking, check out this free eBook from HelpScout – 25 Ways to Thank Your Customers for some additional ideas on gifting for referrals.

This is such a simple, powerful and elegant idea that any business with a little creativity can employ.

So, what will you give away today?

Big Changes to 5 Important Online Tools

Some of my favorite tools and services have gone through some pretty big changes recently – enough so that felt it warranted a post just to point the changes out.

The first three, Gmail, Evernote and TweetDeck, are tools I use every day to run my business. The last two, Yelp and Foursquare, are familiar rating and location tools that have morphed a bit to go after the lucrative local search market and deserve a good hard look from local small businesses.

1) User interface changes for Gmail – This is a pretty big change as far as I’m concerned and addresses a number of needed enhancements for handling mail. You can switch back and forth from the new view to the old by clicking on the new view link in the compose window.

  • Composing Messages: One thing you may notice about the new interface is the way you compose a new message. It looks similar to a Gmail chat window but a little bigger. This makes things simpler by allowing you to check old emails and saved drafts because you don’t have to leave the current page you are on to write a new email.
  • Profile Pictures: It is now much easier to keep up with who is saying what within your email threads. Your contact profile pictures now show up within a conversation.
  • Themes: New HD themes are now provided by iStockphoto. Simply choose the theme that suits you in preferences.
  • Labels and Chat: These are constantly shown in the navigation panel on the left side. You can now customize that by size as well as completely hide your chat area.
  • Search Box: Gmail’s new interface has incorporated a better search function allowing a drop-down advanced search box, which makes things much easier to locate.
  • More here

2) Evernote 5 brings new look – probably the biggest news here is the totally overhauled and more visually appealing look of Evernote.

  • Sidebar: The new Evernote 5 has implemented a left hand sidebar. With this sidebar comes a section for shortcuts that enable you to use a customized variety of notes, previous searches, tags and notebooks. Along with this you have the ability to view your tags, notebooks and latest notes.
  • Notebooks: With the new changes you can now integrate your notebooks with shared notebooks that other people have allowed you to access.
  • Note Editor: You will be able to see how many people have access to the same note you are viewing. You will see that at the very top of the note. There is also a function to shared notes updates, as they are integrated with Mountain Lion’s Notification Center. This is helpful so it won’t overwhelm you as they come in.
  • Atlas Function: Simple way to view and access your notes is using this function. It allows people to search for entries geographically.
  • Card View: This will show you text notes and images in a thumbnail preview.
  • Type-Ahead: This is a search field that finishes your inquiry with ideas from previous entries, to include saved searches, keywords, and related notebooks. You are also able to improve your searches in more detail with advanced options.
  • More here

TweetDeck

3) Tweetdeck get a long overdo facelift – Now that Twitter owns TweetDeck it has finally ushered in some enhancements.

  • Twitter Cards: You can now embed a photo or other media into a tweet with the 2.1.0 version. This makes your twitter stream appealing and attractive.
  • Font: From your settings pane, you can now change your font size. There are only three options: 13 pt.-Small, 14 pt.-Medium or 15 pt.-Large.
  • Color Scheme: You now have a choice to change your colors to the white background which has dark gray text. The links, URLs, hash tags and twitter addresses are blue, making them much easier to see.
  • Columns: You are able to add a new column and check your twitter lists from the Tweetdeck toolbar. You can decide what you would like to incorporate into your columns, like a specific tweet stream from a particular group or person, or from one of your lists, or from a search. When adding a new column Tweetdeck will come up with suggestions for that particular subject, interactions, mentions and timeline.
  • Shortcuts: The toolbar has many shortcuts to make things easier and simpler. For example, it has buttons that control the columns that will enable you to move through it seamlessly. You can also conduct a Twitter search and start a new tweet. When creating a new tweet you can add pictures and schedule that tweet for when you would like for it to go out or you can email that specific tweet. If you press ‘N’ on your keyboard you can instantly create a tweet. To send it, simply press “command” and “return” at the same time.
  • More here

4) Foursquare Business Pages

The new business pages feature allows business owners to provide status updates, post deals, special promotions, photos, message and tips to the activity feeds of loyal or repeat customers who may be in the same vicinity. It automatically updates for those customers who are where the business is located.

Additionally, when a customer searches for places in the Foursquare app or through the web, these important updates will show up in search results.

The merchant dashboard has been redesigned to where merchants can manage updates more efficiently. This also allows SEO services, social media marketers and business owners to see data on businesses with numerous locations with improved analytics.

More here

yelp

5) Yelp keeps enhancing its Local Directory

In 2012 Yelp and Bing partnered to bring Yelp’s local business content to the local search pages of Bing. With this partnership, Yelp is able to bring its photos, business qualities and reviews to Bing’s search engine with hopes of strengthening Microsoft’s attempts to be competitive with Google+ Local.

Yelp listings are used in Apple’s Siri iPhone assistant, Yext listings and in the navigation systems in BMW, Mercedes and Lexus.

Local small businesses have plenty of reasons to get more active with Yelp and other location based tools. Facebook recently revamped it’s “nearby” feature that allows people to discover businesses based on location.

More here

One thing is certain – we live in a rapidly changing world of business and technology that calls for staying on top of a never-ending stream of new and emerging tools. But, hey, that’s what I’m here for!

Foursquare Turns Into Powerful Local Search Engine

Between you and me I had become a little bored with Foursquare. I think it has application for many small businesses and certainly know some businesses that use it quite well.

As a consumer user however, it never really offered up enough value.

I think that’s changed with the introduction of what Foursquare is calling the Explore function.

Explore has been on the mobile app for some time, but now it’s been added to the newly designed Foursquare website and it gives Foursquare a unique opportunity to compete with Yelp and Google Maps.

explore foursquare

The way Explore works is that it allows you to search for businesses that your friends and the other hundreds of millions of Foursquare users have found and commented on.

You can use your current location or put in the location of your next vacation to start finding a place to eat lunch today or get a drink near your hotel.

When you find a place it will tell you if any of your friends have checked in there in the past.

Find by tips

One of my favorite features (and one that should get the attention of business owners) is that Foursquare also searches through the tips notes that users leave. So, if you want to find the “best biscuits and gravy” at a great breakfast place you simply add that to your search and Foursquare will go to work.

Filter by your history

You can also filter your searches to places you’ve been, have not been, your friends have been, or Foursquare recommended places. (Not sure what the criteria for that last one is, but should probably find out.)

My favorite though is that you can filter your searches to only places with specials. This effectively gives the user a great special finding engine and the business a great additional reason to run specials.

Claim and participate

duct tape marketing on Foursquare

To me that adds another great reason to add your business to Foursquare and start enhancing your business presence there. If your business is already in Foursquare, find it and claim the profile so you can information to it.

If it’s not yet listed download the Foursquare app and check in at your business and make sure you add accurate address information. Then you can go to the Foursquare website and claim your venue.

5 Ways to Use Social Media and Your Online Presence to Drive People Offline

No matter what your business sells, how it sells it or how and where people buy you it, people are going online to find it, pure and simple. That’s as true for those one of kind hand made earrings as it is for the spa and auto repair shop in their neighborhood.

Explore The Bruce via Flickr

And, it’s increasingly true for the local insurance provider, landscaper, plumber, attorney and tax professional.

So, what does this mean for the local small business? You’ve got to start thinking about your online presence as a central tool for driving people offline and into your store, sales presentation, meeting, demonstration, appointment or evaluation.

Below are five ways to think about your online activity as an offline opportunity generator.

1) Online calls to action

When people do find and visit your site make it easy for them to use your website to get a free pass, coupon or trial product.

Enable tools like click to call or chat from Olark, so they can get in touch right now and get their burning questions asked

Put a tool like GenBook on your site they can find a time and schedule appointment without needing to call.

Make sure that you have turn by turn directions and links to maps so they can find your business and even send the directions to their smart phone.

2) O2O advertising

Most people run ads to get people buy, what if you thought about your online advertising as a way to simple drive people offline – O2O?

Create local campaigns using Google Adwords that drive people to your website to take advantage of the calls to action, such a the free pass or coupon, that I discussed in the previous point.

Make sure that your Google Places page is complete and compelling and consider the coupon and advertising options available for this tool.

Look into Facebook targeted ads for your calls to action. You can target local Facebook folks all the way down to targeting fans of your competitors.

To make your O2O advertising even more effective create local landing pages for each campaign or even neighborhood you are targeting.

3) Networked networking

Offline networking is still a great way to create and build potential relationships, but you can really amplify this tactic when you add some simple online tactics to your networking efforts.

When you connect offline with a prospect at say a Chamber event, move to also connect online and watch how much faster you can build a relationship.

Employ Social CRM tools like Rapportive or Nimble so you can easily connect the social profiles of anyone you meet to their record. This will make it much easier to learn how to connect.

Look at tools like MeetUp that make it easy to create offline events and gatherings using an online marketing system.

4) Local social groups

Most social networks give you the ability to create groups. Some organizations have had tremendous success by creating and facilitating local, special interest groups on networks like LinkedIn.

The key here is to think “interest group” and not something that’s clearly a promotional tool for your business. If you can create an industry group or some other niche topic that allows your customers to explore and expand an interest they have, you’ve hit on a formula that’s very potent.

5) Online and on the go

Increasingly, our prospects are not only online they are mobile while doing so. There are some very creative ways to take advantage of this fact and drive people with great buying intent offline.

First off make sure you claim your location on sites like Yelp, Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter. This way you can enhance the details and make sure people using geo location services can check in at the right place.

Create and test an offer on a service like Foursquare that can help highlight your business when someone checks in at another nearby business.

Look into the group coupon tools like Groupon, Google Offers or Living Social, but make sure you’re ready to capture the leads these programs produce in a way that allows you to turn a low profit sale into a long term customer.

Think about ways to create check-in games that you could use as part of a promotion. Get a group of strategic partners to participate and offers special deals for people that have checked in at a number of your partners on Foursquare of that take a photo of their purchases at a number of partners and posted it to Twitter or Instagram.

As you can see, the way you can employ this kind of thinking is limited only to your imagination, but there’s no denying the importance and effectiveness of this strategy.

Google Finally Weaving Local Strategy

Google has the money, resources and clout to compete in any market they enter fully. Problem is they also seem to suffer from a focus problem. They tend (or at least it appears to me) to release features without strategy.

Of late, however, it looks like they just might be getting their local strategy together and marshaling a suite new features combined with existing assets to put themselves in position to take a giant leap in the local reviews, local offers, and local social games to go with their strong local search position.

Google City Pages and Offers

Two barely noticeable moves in the last couple weeks give hint to the this focus strategy. I took note of both and wrote quick updates – The first was the addition of optimized reviews in Places Pages and the second was the addition of reputation management features in Profile Pages. Both of these moved signal a renewed focus on making both Profiles and Places pages more important in their ecosystem and perhaps ultimately in a social network of some sort.

Of course the Google Offers play – their answer to Groupon’s success – has been unfolding for a few weeks, and I had my doubts they would do what it would take to slow Groupon, but hey, it’s Google and you never know.

This week they slyly unleashed what could only be called City Pages – hat tip to the always informative David Mihm for tracking this down – City Pages, like this example for Portland, are a necessary piece in the puzzle if they are to compete with Groupon, but they also further the importance of claiming and optimizing a Place Page, appear to show in the Index and really put the spot light on the reviews. (Only a handful of cities are currently live.)

Business owners are invited to claim their pages, create special offers and try out ad products such as Boost right from the city home page. There’s also an interesting integration of acquisition TalkBin, a tool that makes it very easy for people send SMS messages to any registered business.

The cities chosen for the City Page beta test closely align with the first Google Offers beta tests and can be supported by the local Google sales and support staff. With Google’s ability marry advertising with offers and a local portal this could prove very disruptive to Groupon, but also to many local portals services such as Yelp! and CityPages.

Making Local Reviews Part of the Content Strategy

Reviews from customers must be seen as an important part of the overall content strategy for any business, particularly local businesses. The fact that prospects have begun to expect to find reviews and rely heavily on those reviews when making buying decisions combined with the data that suggests search engines seem to be using reviews as a major component in local rankings, requires a major mind shift when it comes to addressing the category of reviews.

It’s no longer enough to sit back and hope you get some nice reviews from all those happy customers. In today’s increasingly competitive local search environment, you’ve got to make reviews a significant piece of your content strategy and build processes to make sure your business is focused on leveraging every review you can acquire.

It may seem like I’m being a bit overly dramatic here, but the reason I believe this is going to take a mind shift is that it’s also going to take some work, but right now the organizations that are working this angle hard are winning.

Here’s a mini case study to help illustrate this point: (This story is courtesy of Postling)

Park Slope Eye has a very fully developed Yelp business page

Dr. Justin Bazan of Park Slope Eye in Brooklyn has embraced social media and review sites with enthusiasm and it appears to be paying off. Park Slope Eye has over 100 positive reviews on Yelp and is approaching that number on Google Maps as well. Do a Google search for Brooklyn Optometrist and Park Slope Eye come up number one in the local listing.

An emphasis on reviews and social media is paying off for this local business

According to Bazan reviews are so important that they justify the extra work that may come with embracing the tactic. For example, Yelp has a review filter that holds reviews from people that don’t appear to be very active or have a level of credibility on Yelp. This filter is one of Yelp’s tools to keep people from gaming the system with fabricated reviews or reviews generated though campaigns. (The filter isn’t perfect, but it’s there.)

Credibility, in Yelp’s definition, evolves from the level of activity from the Yelper (ie. the level of engagement of the review, and a few other factors like how complete their profile is)

Since Park Slope was putting so much emphasis on reviews on Yelp, they were receiving them, but many were getting stuck in Yelp’s review filter and, while Buzan could see them in his account, they were not available publicly, so he added this step to his process.

“To get reviews out of the filter I went into my filtered reviews and pulled up the reviewer’s individual review of Park Slope Eye. I began to engage that review and reviewer. I sent the reviewer a compliment, a message, and voted the review as useful, funny, or cool depending on the context. I did that for all of the reviews. Lastly, I added them as a friend, which you can do as a business owner. After doing all of this the review was taken out of the filter and is publicly accessible.”

Okay, now understand that in order to get the kinds of reviews they get, they’re doing a few other things right, but this is a great example of how a local business, doing great things, can get great results for very little money using a customer content strategy and social media tools.

In fact, their own website is totally downplayed and somewhat ineffective (except I dig the Dave Brubeck music), but it doesn’t really matter because in their particular case, the reviews from Yelp and Google rise to the top when someone does a search, local or otherwise. (They even point to their Yelp page as their website in their Google Place page and on Facebook)

This kind of engagement around reviews and taking their creation on as a content strategy is the kind of grass roots marketing that every local business must embrace.