This is the first part in a series of blogs around building local SEO for small businesses.
Read Part 2 of the series to find out how social media and SEO work together.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – i.e. how to be found more online by your target audience
Why should I use local online directories?
Realistically nowadays you can buy pretty much any product or service online, but people still like to use local businesses for lots of things. Nevertheless, the first instinct of many consumers is to go to Google, or to trusted networks online, to discover local businesses or ask questions about them.
Alternatively, people might come across your business in the street but still check online to see what reviews you have before coming in. The lines between the online world and the real world have never been more blurred.
This is why it is important that your local SEO is as good as possible so that local people can find you online. One element of this is taking control of your presence on online local directories.
You may have a great website, be very active on social media, or be nailing your Amazon store, but if you haven't ensured that you are in control of your business' profile on local-focused online networks or directories, you're missing a trick. This blog looks at some of the most common online directories and how to deal with them.
Which are the most common online local directories?
Your free Business Profile on Google My Business helps you drive customer engagement with local customers across Google Search and Maps.
If you don’t have a website, Google My Business also offers a basic website-building service.
It can be useful for businesses of all kinds, whether you’re offering products or services. Customers might already be leaving reviews if your business is ranked in Google Maps, so make sure you register properly.
We all know the business directory service and crowd-sourced review forum and your business may already be on it, put there by your customers. If you're not, you may add yourself. If there is already a listing for you, you should claim the profile, which will enable you to interact with customers and tell your story in your own words.
The world's largest travel platform is people's favorite place for reviewing restaurants and hotels. Here too, customers can start talking about you without you claiming a listing, so it's a good idea to do so in order to respond.
In order to cover all bases, once you have a Google My Business listing, you might as well have a Bing Places listing, which ensures you'll reach any Microsoft users. If you sign in using the same details with which you set up your Google My Business listing you'll be able to copy the information across automatically and set it up so that the profiles sync up on a regular basis.
How can I optimize my SEO by using online local directories?
Step 1 - Make sure your details are correct, everywhere
Local directory entries can work for or against your SEO. If your information is wrong, this will work against you in searches, and in the real world as customers become frustrated by the incorrect details and your reputation is impacted.
On the other hand, if your details are correct and consistent across the directories your company appears in, this will help improve the SEO of the website they link back to. This will help your website rank higher in search engines. This will also help your overall presence online as when users search for you, your details will appear across multiple platforms, making you easier to find.
Step 2 - Collect positive customer reviews
Once customers have found your brand, the next thing they're going to do is to check the reviews. For many customers, this is the deciding factor on engaging with your business, whether you're a restaurant, hairdresser or accountant.
Some of your customers will love your service so much that they proactively leave a review, but some need a little nudge and you should remind customers that they can leave a positive review. This could be as part of the confirmation email after a purchase or a note to them at the end of the project.
You can also use these positive reviews on your website to show off to prospective customers – nothing like adding a bit of credibility through love from a third party!
Step 3 - Address negative reviews
Occasionally a customer or client will be unhappy and will leave a negative review. To a small business owner, this can seem like a personal insult - your business is probably your baby! But, it is critical not to lash out. It is important to respond in a measured, professional tone. Moreover, you should respond quickly, within 24 hours if possible.
First of all, find out if the critique is justified, and if the incident really happened. Gather as much information as possible
When you do respond, remember that prospective customers will be looking at your response and that it is as much a reflection of your company as your website or physical shop (if you have one). In your response you should:
Be brief, but not short - you want to strike a professional tone
Own up and apologize (if the complaint is justified) - No-one expects you to be perfect, but they expect you to be authentic
Apologize (even if the complaint isn't justified) - You want to pacify the person after all
Often negative reviewers are just frustrated and want to be recognized by the company so don't panic! And if you're able to solve their problem you might even turn them into a more loyal customer.
Step 4 - Flag fake reviews
Of course, there is always the problem of fake reviews, such as from people who troll for fun. If you genuinely believe a review to be fake, you can report it to the platform it's on and ask for it to be removed. Each platform has its own process. Here are the help pages for the directories listed in this blog
Step 5 – Check in with them regularly
These directories aren’t a one-and-done, they will need checking in with on a regular basis to thank positive customers and address the concerns of negative reviews. They are a way for you to talk directly to your customers but don’t forget that they are a very public forum, and anyone could be watching.
If you are interested in other free digital tools to help improve your marketing, read about my favorite digital marketing tools for small businesses.