The numbers don’t lie: there were 16.6 billion searches performed in the U.S. alone in October of 2010. A recent consumer study found that 70% of people have used the internet to find a local business in the last 12 months. More importantly, there are real life small businesses here in Massachusetts that are taking advantage of local search and driving customers.
John Salines of Aaron Plumbing in Burlington, MA recently told me that 40% of his new business is driven by organic search, searches where his website shows up on Google (or Yahoo! or Bing, etc.) that aren’t paid results. These include Google Places results, review sites and site searches for specific keywords. Aaron Plumbing is a two-man operation, a father and son tandem that has been in business for over 25 years. But what once worked in bringing in business - including the Yellow Pages - now has given way to more “electronic” marketing practices.
Salines said a further 35% of his business comes in through targeted paid search ads which he dedicates budget to each month. But because organic search is free, it’s something that any business can take advantage of immediately. Salines has spent years refining and reworking his online search strategy to best fit his business needs, but there are a few things that any local business can do right now to best “optimize” for search.
List your site everywhere: There are dozens of places that small businesses can list its website. Google Places, Yahoo! Local, CitySearch and Yelp are a few of the most popular that businesses should go and claim. This takes some work in that one has to identify all the places to have a site listed and then manually navigate to them, but it’s worth the effort. There are also services that can list a site a number of places for a fee, but research them well before signing up. Make sure you're getting what you paid for.
Make sure your site pages are friendly (to users and search engines): It’s important that any business site delivers relevant information quickly and simply. For example, when sending people to a page about shed construction, make sure they’ll find information on what that involves, how to do it or who to call if they want it done. “Consumers do not want to spend time looking for info or a product, so it is imperative to have them land on a page where the information is,” says Salines.
Update your content, consider keywords: The common misperception about search is that if you build a website and launch it, you’ll start showing up on the first page of Google results immediately. That’s absolutely not true. Google constantly crawls for updated content on a page as well as relevant keywords. If a page stays the same for weeks, it will never move up the rankings. So update your page with relevant information and even think about posting helpful information your customers can use. These pieces can include keywords relevant to your business that are indexed by search engines. They then boost a ranking on a relevant topic or term. A company blog is another great way to accomplish this.
Beware of the salesmen: Because search marketing is now a huge industry, there are hundreds of companies and consultants available to help with search marketing, both paid and organic, for a price. The trouble is some can actually deliver while others can’t. Make sure you rely heavily on referrals or do research before hiring anyone to help with search strategies. They could do more harm than good in the long run.
“There are a lot of people who promise the world but do not deliver,” said Salines, who worked with a vendor initially but now handles all of his search efforts personally.
Jason Keith has been working for and with small businesses in the New England area for more than 10 years, specifically small, micro businesses. Born and raised in Massachusetts and a former journalist, he provides a unique perspective on the issues facing small businesses locally and nationally.To reach him directly email email@example.com.
This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.