When it comes to small and local or service area businesses there are no doubt many different approaches you can take to building an online presence. There are tons of different platforms, tools, strategies, agencies, freelancers, gurus, and everything in between and they’re all trying to sell you something, saying you must use them or their tool to have success.
The truth is that it doesn’t really matter what platform you use to build a website, for example, but the reason behind why you are doing it will be the driving factor behind your success and not the platform itself.
It’s always been my goal to help small businesses take back control of their online presence. To help them understand and then implement the right solutions for their business consistently over time. So, let’s get into the 5 main things a small business can utilize to have success using the internet to market their business on.
Should small business owners use the internet to market their business?
But first, there have no doubt been many people who have had tremendous results from marketing their business online.
More calls, sales, leads, growth, expansion, profits, higher ROI, and more money!
But the truth is that most small and local business owners still have not achieved great success to this extent with their digital marketing efforts.
Most still don’t even have a website and are so frustrated with it all they’ve just thrown in the towel when it comes to the internet.
In fact, when looking at the type of businesses that really have big returns online we see that the disconnected, quick turn over or online shopping businesses are the clear winners.
These are those that can easily capitalize on our weaknesses as humans by leading us down a funnel to a super easy to use purchase page followed by up-sell after up-sell that we can’t seem to resist. If we do resist, they just follow us around the internet with advertisements, tempting us until we break!
And of course, their market pool is huge because it’s usually a digital or shippable product with subscription and payment options so they can sell massive amounts in a short amount of time.
It’s all about the sale. How can you optimize every aspect of the sale for the most amount of profit?
And they’ve gotten really good at it.
The downside is that a lot of people have also gotten really good at marketing these very tactics to unbeknownst small business owners as irresistible eye candy that will be the secret to growing their business.
I mean who doesn’t want a thriving business.
But these types of tactics fall short with service-based and local small businesses and are hard or expensive to maintain without ongoing support.
Furthermore, when done incorrectly those tactics will actually do more to turn away local customers than attract them. No person likes to feel like their only a sale when hiring or partnering with a local company.
Even the platforms that make things easy and affordable, like ClickFunnels, ParkBench or many others, while they offer an extremely valuable tool, are only one of the many tools available to small business owners. But that doesn’t mean every small business owner needs or should use those tools, despite what their marketing tells you.
With all the spam, noise, and overwhelming barrage of advertising, new tips, tricks, tools, strategies, platforms, and more, is digital marketing for a small business even worth it?
Yes, digital marketing is still worth it for small businesses but only when they’re following the right approach to marketing their business online.
Because the internet is truly ingrained into our lives in so many ways, some type of managed online presence is going to be very beneficial to your business. The majority of people use it many times throughout the day to find local businesses, hire companies, perform research and do many other things.
The internet has truly just become a way of life for us and will only continue to become more ingrained into our everyday lives. It’s truly getting to the point where a business could easily be overlooked if they don’t have some type of online presence representing their business.
By looking at the age ranges of the people who are making the majority of purchases and hiring the majority of businesses, we just might be nearing the point(if we’re not already there) where it is absolutely necessary to have some type of online presence. That is because those same people making the majority of purchases grew up online in some capacity or another. Whereas the gen x and baby boomer generation and those even older really never got to experience or understand the value behind having so much information at our fingers. But I don’t say that to take away from them or dog them in any capacity because if it wasn’t for them and all their hard work, blood, sweat, and tears, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
The point is that having some type of managed online presence is just something that has to be done these days, similar to creating signage for your local storefront. But the reasons behind why you are doing it are more important than the tools you use to do it.
Are you coming to the internet for selfish reasons, or are you actually looking to provide value to your customer base throughout their entire customer journey, which often starts online these days? Ask yourself this question and then ask yourself how you can provide value through your online presence. Taking this approach will create an online presence that simultaneously serves and attracts customers or clients.
What Does Small Business Success Look Like Online?
Before I get into the 5 things a small business should use in order to have success online, I really should define what that success will look like. This is because there are so many misconceptions about what the internet is here for, what the search engines are here for, and what it all means in relation to a small business.
And because every business is going to define internet marketing success differently in the form of business goals, it is really just the understanding of the intersection of small business and the internet, including how the internet works in general, that will empower you to take back control of your online presence and make the right decisions for your business consistently over time.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; the internet for small business is first and foremost customer service in a digital world. It’s not about getting more calls, sales, leads, or making more money for doing less work. In fact, it’s the opposite as those are only potential outcomes of following the right approach to marketing your business online.
For consumers, the internet just works, but for business owners sleeves must be rolled up and work must be put in and for the right reasons. Just like with every other aspect of your business. It’s about providing the best customer experience throughout the entire buying or customer journey.
The Internet is like a Bridge
I like to think of the internet as a bridge. A really awesome bridge that connects people with problems, wants, and needs, to solutions, ideas, and things; to businesses that can help. But the issue is that we can’t actually cross this bridge alone. We need help from the search engines. It’s why they were born back in the early ’90s, to help people navigate through and use the internet to find websites.
So the search engines are the gatekeepers and our guides across this magical bridge of the internet. This means that everything a small business does online is to provide value to the search engines and consumers. Because if you don’t please the gatekeeper, he isn’t going to guide anyone across the bridge to you.
Because the majority of people prefer to hire or buy from a business based on some type of referral the first thing your online presence must accomplish is being able to be found when searching for your business by name.
When a person is referred to your business the first thing they will likely do is type your business name, or some half-remembered version of it, into a search engine like Google, Yahoo, or Bing. It goes without saying that they should easily be able to find your business online. Furthermore, your online presence should be optimized in a way that does not put up any barriers between them reaching out to you. It should break down those barriers and empower them to reach out to you.
The great news is that the majority of what is needed to accomplish this can be done by the business owner or employees and can be done for free or very little cost using the 5 things below. I call this optimizing your online presence to be heard, once found.
The even better news is that doing this correctly and consistently over time is what will bring your business the second type of success we can have online. The first type of success is success through referral-based searches. The second type of success is success through problem or solution based searches.
Problem or Solution Based Searches
A problem or solution based search is when a person searches for an “XYZ” Type of Company because they already know they need to hire or buy from a company or when a person searches to perform more research on what their problem is, why they’re having it, and what potential solutions exist for it.
This can be as simple as searching for “pizza near me” because I want to order pizza and am sick of ordering from the same pizza place all the time and want to see what else is out there. It can also be as advanced as searching for a certain symptom I’m having so I can research why I’m having it and how to fix it which could lead me to seek out a local chiropractor or something else similar.
The point is that as consumers we know we are more likely to find success online by starting with some type of referral-based search. But there are always going to be those times where we are kind of forced to start by doing research first.
When a small business optimizes their online presence to be heard once found they ensure that the search engines will be able to understand and show their business for the right searches. We’re first providing value to the search engines so they can do the same for their users, which just happen to be our current and potential customers and clients.
Now, let’s look at the 5 things a small and local or service area business can utilize in order to start to have these kinds of success online; first the referral and then the problem or solution-based.
The 5 things small businesses can utilize to build and grow their online presence
I just want to add one more quick side note regarding these 5 items. The most important thing is going to be the accuracy and consistency of the information you place into these tools. That is your business information; name, address, phone number, business hours, products & services, business categories, etc. It’s really important that everything is exactly the same.
I created a Business Information Google Form that you can fill out that will then email you a copy of your responses. I suggest you do this in some capacity so that you can be sure you are using the same information each time you create a new listing or when it comes to what you put on your website. You can find that form by clicking here. I promise to never use, sell, or exploit that information. In fact, I never even check to see who’s filled it out because I only created it as a free resource for you. So, I will never email you or reach out to you because you filled out this form.
The five tools to help small business obtain internet marketing success are:
- Verified Search Engine Business Listings
- Other Business Listings, Directories, or Citations
- Small Business Website
- Verified Online Reviews
- Social Media
1. Verified and Managed Search Engine Business Listings
Two of the biggest search engines, Google and Bing, will allow for a business to create, verify, and manage a business listing on their search engine.
Doing so correctly will instantly get your business found when a person searches for your business by name using that search engine. Chances are these listings will be the first online experience a potential customer or client has with your business.
These aren’t just simple business listings that list your name, address, and phone number either. These are starting to become really advanced tools that can even be used by consumers to directly communicate and get in touch with your business.
To learn more about and create your free listings you can visit their websites by following the links directly below.
Google: Google My Business
Bing: Bing Places for Business
Google even offers a free website created around the information you place into your free business listing. They will even let you purchase and use a custom domain name as well. This is a great option for brand new or really small businesses that don’t really want the overhead or maintenance of a website.
You might be asking yourself about the third largest search engine, Yahoo. Does Yahoo offer a free business listing like Google and Bing? The short answer is no, Yahoo does not offer a free business listing you can manage.
What they offer is more of an entire solution to manage a wide variety of your online business listings called Localworks. They also offer many other tools to small businesses as well. Of course, this all comes with some monthly costs.
They offer things like business plan makers, an online presence and website tools and hosting with the ability to purchase a custom domain name as well as business email, point of sale services, and some legal services as well. You can learn more about all they offer by following this link. https://smallbusiness.yahoo.com/
While I don’t have any direct experience or affiliation with Yahoo’s tools and services and if you are considering using them, I am happy to help you determine if they would be a good fit for your business. Just shoot me an email for more information on how to partner with me in that regard.
2. Other Business Listings, Directories, or Citations
Much like Google My Business and Bing Places for Business, there are other websites that offer the ability to manage a free or paid business listing. These are often referred to as directory sites. A citation is basically any other website that lists your business name, address, and phone number, also known as your NAP.
Business listings or directory sites are pretty much just an information source for search engines and people, much like the physical phone books of the past. They are a place we can go online to find businesses that meet our needs and search engines use their data to verify business information and they’re also believed to be a ranking factor.
According to a leading SEO software and data provider, MOZ:
“The number of citations a business accrues, the accuracy of the data they feature, and the quality of the platforms they exist on all influence rankings. Search engines like Google amass data about each business. If what they encounter is accurate, the search engine trusts the validity of the data, which is believed to strengthen the business’ chance of ranking well. However, if the data search engines encounter is inconsistent, this trust is eroded, lessening ranking opportunities.” Source: Moz: Local Citations
To view a list of the major citation sites for your industry or city you can check out these sites listed below. I personally use and recommend BrightLocal to build and manage your small business citations because of the control you have over the citations created on your behalf and the one time cost associated with creating them. Moz offers a great service, but in my opinion, it’s similar to Yahoo’s Localworks offering more than just directory and listings management.
Again, if you’re not sure which is best for your business, send me an email to start a relaxed conversation about the intersection of your business and the internet.
By Category: https://moz.com/learn/seo/citations-by-category
3. Small Business Website
The website for your small business is potentially the most valuable source of information for not only consumers(our current and potential customers or clients) but also for the search engines as well.
According to this survey performed in 2018 https://moz.com/local-search-ranking-factors, on-page factors like NAP consistency, keywords in titles, domain authority, etc. all play a role in how your website ranks in the search results.
So it is important to have a website but it’s also important how that website is set up and what is on that website.
I’m going to quickly list the 5 main aspects I believe your small business website should encompass or have. These five things will really set the foundation for a website that is focused on providing value and not exploiting or selling. To read more about these you can check out this post I wrote here: https://garyjohnsondesign.com/small-business-website-must-haves/
In addition to having accurate and nicely placed business information on your website your site must also be:
- Mobile ready which is called a responsive website.
- Fast so people don’t have to wait a long time to access it, even on slow mobile connections.
- Secure to protect your site visitors’ information and to protect the site itself.
- Conversion Optimized so people know how to reach out, hire, or buy from you.
- Search Engine Optimized so the search engines can understand and rank your website appropriately first for referral-based searches and second for the problem or solution-based searches.
You might be asking yourself at this point which platform is best to build your website on and honestly this is kind of a loaded question because like I mentioned at the start of this post there is no one solution that is best for every small business out there.
Figuring out what platform is best for you usually will come by answering these questions. If you need some help answering these questions and finding the right website platform for your business, like always just shoot me an email.
- Who’s going to be building it
- Who’s going to be managing and maintaining it
- What’s the purpose or goal of the site
- What’s my budget for building the site
- What’s my timeline for building the site
Below is a list of the top website platforms for small businesses.
- Google My Business Website
- GoDaddy Website Builder
Of course, if you perform a Google search for the best small business website builders you will find many others out there. I also do not have any affiliation with any of these platforms. I do however build websites for small business owners using the open-source WordPress.org platform and the PRO Theme by Themeco.
In addition to those, there is also the route of hiring someone like myself or an agency to design and build your website as well. The benefits of going this route are having a professional to guide you through the process and reach your goals more efficiently. This is most likely going to be the best route if you have an established online presence as well so that you don’t end up doing more harm than good to your online presence.
The main thing with your website, just like everything else your business does is that it needs to provide value. Websites mainly provide value through the content that is on them.
There are four main types of content we need on our small business websites.
- Informational Content
- Educational Content
- Conversational Content
- Transactional Content
If you’re interested in learning more about content and the role content plays on your website you can check out this post I wrote detailing the types of content and also diving into the mediums of content a little bit as well. https://garyjohnsondesign.com/why-content-on-small-business-website-is-needed/
Verified Online Reviews
Roughly 82% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, with 52% of 18-54-year-olds saying they ‘always’ read reviews. Not only that, but reviews play a pretty big role in how you rank in the search results as well, there’s no denying that online reviews are important for small business.
Furthermore, there are business directories that show the top businesses for a certain location and service. Oftentimes these directories are what show up at the top of the search results pages. Just perform a search for Centennial Website Designers and scroll past the Ads and Maps results and the first two you’ll see will be a couple of these directories. One of the ways they rank a company is by the number of positive reviews they have online on verified review websites like Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, other review sites, and the like.
How do you ensure that you get your customers to provide positive reviews?
Make it quick, easy, and painless by gathering all your review links and sending them an email, first thanking them for their business and then asking them to leave you a review online by clicking on one of the links provided. It’s that easy. People love leaving reviews when they have a horrible experience but if you truly provide a good experience they also love leaving positive reviews as well.
Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the power of online reviews, for both the people searching and the gatekeepers(search engines) that decide whether or not to show your business to those searchers. You can think of good reviews almost like a referral to your business!
When it comes to people performing a referral-based search for your business on Google, nothing looks better than a full page of search results with multiple online reviews, on multiple different platforms. Tons of positive online reviews paired with complete accuracy of information online is usually all a person needs to see before realizing that their friend or family referred them to a business they can trust, resulting in them reaching out to you.
Just remember that you don’t want to create any fake reviews or ask friends and family to do so; this is completely unethical in every regard and the search engines have ways to uncover this. Reviews need to be left on a verified review site for the search engines to really give you credit for them. Otherwise, they have no way of knowing if they are legit or not.
Social Media for Small Business
Are social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Nextdoor something that consumers use? Yes, definitely.
Are social media sites used to find small businesses? Perhaps, depending on the type of business you have and how you operate it and who you serve.
For example, I have an elderly neighbor who had me over to help with some electrical issues she was having. I wasn’t able to diagnose the problem with my limited electrical knowledge and recommended that she have an electrician out to troubleshoot the problem.
She instantly said she had already found a guy through Nextdoor. She said everyone was raving about how professional and good he was. He was certified and did great work.
I did a quick search for his business and found that his business really only existed on a few websites. The BBB, Nextdoor, and Facebook. He had created a personal Nextdoor account to respond to people looking for electrical help on Nextdoor and obviously delivered amazing service to anyone that hired him because he had a whole lot of great reviews, referrals, and an A rating on the BBB.
From that point on he really didn’t even have to respond to Nextdoor posts himself because the people in his local communities were happy to refer to him themselves.
When going to the website URL listed on his Nextdoor Business Page, it redirected me to his Facebook Business page that had more great reviews and some pictures posted by him of the work he was doing. But, in general, the page wasn’t very active.
We called him up and he delivered as promised. Showed up, was professional, polite and courteous, respectful, and diagnosed and fixed the problem in less than an hour. Social Media and Nextdoor for the win!
The reason I explained all of this is because Social Media websites can be a great way for a small business to:
- Gain another trustworthy business listing & citation
- Have another trustworthy platform to receive reviews on
- Have a platform to reach out and interact with the local community
- Have a platform where people can easily refer you and get in touch with you
When it comes to Social Media the point is, that like everything else a small business does online, it’s how and why you go about doing it that matters and then finding the right platform(s), tools, and strategies for your specific business.
Could it be that Social Media is truly going to be best for local storefront or home service businesses?
The bottom line is that if you’re coming to social media or the internet just because you think you’re going to automatically grow your business, then you will reach a point where you fail. But if you truly care about helping people and actually provide a great service then taking to social media consistently over time can be a great aspect to your online presence as a whole.
Potential Start-Up Costs For A Managed Online Presence
There will usually be some one-time costs and then there are recurring costs. On top of that, there is the upfront and recurring time it takes to learn a little bit about the internet and how to best use it for your business’ marketing needs – do not skip over this step. There is so much information out there about how you should market your business online, but it is the understanding of all of that information in relation to your specific business that empowers you to consistently make the right decisions surrounding your digital marketing efforts.
Most business owners should be looking to invest at least $0 to $5000+ in one-time costs and at least $10/month in recurring costs in order to have a managed online presence to help them serve and attract their customer base in today’s digital economy.
The one-time costs are to cover the business listings, directories, and citations creation and for potential website costs to include planning, content, design, and development.
The recurring costs are for web hosting(cheap hosting is around $10/month), domain registrations(roughly $30/year) and maintenance costs for your website.
The point of this little section isn’t to try and pin down your exact costs, but let you know that you can do it all for free or utilize partners or platforms to help as well.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post, and more importantly thank you for caring about and helping the people in the communities we all live in and love. The internet truly can be a great place to market your business on, provide value, and interact with your current and potential customers.
Do great work and go the extra mile, your customers will thank you and when you follow the right approach to marketing your business online you will literally watch your online presence grow with your business.
If you have any questions about the intersection of your small business and the internet, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
I follow a customer-focused consistency over time approach to serving and attracting customers online; marketing your business using the internet.
I am not here to just sell you on some platform or website but to help you understand and implement the right internet marketing solutions for your business consistently over time, whether you partner with me, do it yourself, or hire another person or agency to help you!
Your Honest & Ethical Small Business Internet Marketing Partner,