Is Your Business Being Found Online?

I was reading an article this morning that got me thinking about the proverbial needle in a haystack. The article stated that there are over 350 million web sites in existence today and the growth continues. I started thinking about the small to medium size business owners who have to compete in that world. What a daunting task. At the same time it is becoming more important to be found online as printed directories are used less and less.

Being found online isn’t as critical for some businesses as it is for others. Some are well established with a local clientele that provides them with the ongoing revenue stream of repeat business they need. Word of mouth supplemented with some signage is about all the advertising they need to attract some new customers along the way. But, I’m willing to bet that this doesn’t describe the majority of businesses.

This makes me think of two old marketing adages that I believe have taken on new meanings in our online, web based, digital world. The first is what I mentioned above, “Word of Mouth” advertising and the second is “Location, Location, Location”.

So, how has “Word of Mouth” advertising changed? First, people post online reviews, especially those people that aren’t happy about something. My sister-in-law has a hair replacement business and someone placed a very bad review of her online which she didn’t discover for a couple of months. The potential for this to be seen by many customers and prospects is far greater than the old method of one person telling another. And now there are social sites like Yelp that provide an easy forum for customers to relate their experiences.

And what about the importance of location? Well, physical location is certainly still an important marketing factor for local businesses. But, it’s not the only factor. More and more, we search online to find businesses that offer what we are looking for. Just this week my seventeen year old daughter was using her laptop to search online for local stores selling prom gowns. She wasn’t out driving around from store to store as we would have in the past. So, the new meaning that location has taken on is where your business appears in the results being displayed by the search engines. All three major search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing) now detect when a search is relevant to business and will display local businesses that meet the criteria of the search. It’s critical that your business appear near the top of those search results.

So, what can you do about all of this? Let’s start with location. It’s important for local business owners to understand the importance of the search rankings and how to influence them. The search engines mentioned above maintain profiles of businesses but the information is incomplete. Business owners need to ensure that complete and accurate information is entered into these profiles and then go through the process of claiming the profile so they control future modifications. This process needs to be followed for numerous online directories such as YP, Kudzu, Yellowbot, Manta and others in order to provide the best ranking possible.

And, with regard to the word of mouth advertising, be proactive. Know where reviews can be placed online and periodically read the reviews that have been posted. If you find that someone has posted a negative review address it with them and do what you can to turn it into a positive experience. Encourage your customers to write supportive reviews if they are happy with your products and services.

In addition, Social Media sites such as Facebook provide an environment where a business owner can build relationships with customers that can facilitate online purchases as well as drawing them into your business. It’s important to learn how to interact with others and how to advertise on Facebook.

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