Local & Mobile Search for Small Businesses
If you don’t know what Google is in 2013, you've likely never visited our planet. Welcome.
To anyone over 6 years old with at least 14 seconds of their life spent on Earth, Google might be an acclaimed tech giant, a pocket companion, a source for shopping, or real-time on-the-spot information on anything we yearn to know instantaneously. Google is also just a cool word that we love to say and use as much as possible.
So what’s this "Google+" thing that seems to dominate headlines lately? Is it possible that the epitome of internet accordance, the pacesetter of the online world, has improved? Well, it’s grown and adapted is probably a better description – whether or not it’s an "improved Google" would depend on who you ask and how much of its muscle they've embraced.
At its core, Google+ (referred to as “G+” or “Google Plus”) is a social networking site. After eclipsing Twitter in January 2013, it actually became the world’s second largest social network with 500MM+ users (that means more than 500 million users, not “500 million Plus users”).
Its 2011 launch saw a mixed bag of reviews. Folks were curious but unsure, interested but then quickly dubious. However, after two years of Googleization, it’s become a must-be-present forum for both individuals and businesses large and small; businesses that aren’t participating are riding a bus to irrelevance. Leave it to Google to have the world drinking their primary-colored Kool-Aid.
Rather than specifically answer the question of “What is Google+?” (you can probably find that in Wikipedia), I’ll show some use cases for small businesses that point to the evolution of G+ because depending on where you’re sitting, the perspective will be different – much like the image below. Do you see the word ‘you’?
Or does it say ‘me’? (Awesome, I finally found somewhere to use this image!)
For small businesses, G+ is a wildly underutilized tool that can help generate tangible leads, traffic, and sales from the online world – and it’s free! It takes just a little bit of time and effort to get the gears spinning, but once established the maintenance and upkeep is negligible. The paradox is that when executed properly G+ can work toward your bottom line, but if neglected it can certainly hinder business performance. Remember about 20 years ago when literally all businesses had to be listed in the Yellow Pages in order to be found? Well, the web is essentially today’s phone book.
To illustrate, I ran the local search below for a car wash in the town of Elmsford, NY:
Julio’s is the only one that appeared to be around, but there is actually another car wash within 1 mile of Julio’s – Mr. Bubbles.’ Understanding that Mr. Bubbles’ has not optimized their Google+ page, and looking at their free and automatic maps page, it’s easy to see why they did not appear; here are five areas that can be improved upon:
Before getting into the 'cloud' details, it’s important to understand how Google+ Local (Maps) actually functions – it’s very much a SEO channel. Though businesses do have the ability to upload their information and data directly to Google, that will not ensure the information is displayed accurately; the local listing can only be influenced. The G+ Maps actually mine the web for other sources and citations containing information on the business, then algorithmically decide what information has the most authority - all to give the user a "glorious user experience" by means of the most accurate information, of course. So uploading the correct phone number can ultimately be displaced if other sources have that phone number listed differently (I’ll get into these other sources shortly).
So cloud 1 is pointing at what should be an image, but in this case is absent. The image, when implemented properly, can not only ensure your brand image is recognized but also act as a citation to Google – in other words, it can actually be a ranking factor. Smartphones today have an option in the photos menu to add a GPS tag to a photo (here’s how to do it on Android and this link for iPhone); so using a smartphone to snap a shot of a storefront will give that photo a recognizable address. If Google sees that the address on the listing page matches the GPS tag on the photo, the business will remain in their good graces (AKA rank higher, especially for unbranded searches).
The second cloud calls out an area where a business can be promoted through enticing photos. Clicking a photo in this area will open a slideshow of images, a great and free way to attract users to visit the establishment. The page also gets a much nicer look, feel and experience when there are images here. Aside from that, it’s a display of professionalism and shows potential customers that the business is making a public effort to differentiate from competitors.
Third is the business description space. Google allows room here to describe the business using keywords. In the case of a car wash, it might be important to add “auto parts” and “auto detailing”, etc. alongside “car wash” because the web crawlers spider this area and it’s an opportunity to rank for unbranded queries in those other categories. Wouldn't it be nice to have someone stop in just to pick up some floor mats rather than hit the Auto Zone down the street?
The description space can also list business operating hours. In the case of a car wash, it’s probably important to know what time it’s open and closed and if the hours vary on Saturday, Sunday, etc.
Getting further down the page, social reputation and user interaction take precedence. Google+, as primarily a social channel, opens up a forum for customers to share their experiences with the business. While there is no opportunity to erase or extirpate a negative review, it is a good chance to employ Online Reputation Management; customers appreciate honesty and when a small business takes the time to apologize or just respond to a situation, it’s greatly appreciated by potential customers.
Finally, and briefly, my fifth cloud alludes to the fact that this business has not been claimed with Google. Google gives all businesses the opportunity to claim the page as their own, but those who do not claim the listing actually leave themselves open – the information can actually be updated by anyone until the listing is claimed. Imagine if Julio’s Car Wash decided to make an attempt at influencing a different phone number for Mr. Bubbles’? I won’t get into legalities or even morals, but it’s certainly worth considering.
A notable issue to mention in this case is that Mr. Bubbles’ Car Wash does not have its own website, which means there is no URL on the G+ page for someone to click for further information. Aside from websites essentially being a necessity in today’s day and age, it gives Google another citation to reference when populating information into the maps page. It’s a win in Google’s eyes when the G+ Local page links to a profile page that mirrors phone number and address.
As I alluded to earlier, there are other sources that can influence the data displayed on the maps channel. There are several agencies, most of which used to be list agencies for direct mail and direct marketing, that now disperse business information online. The more of these agencies a business lists data with, the higher the propensity for the maps channel to display everything correctly. So its not only pertinent to ensure accurate information with Google, but Bing, Yahoo, Internet Yellow Pages, Superpages, Foursquare and a slew of others allow small businesses to upload information for accurate listings.
That about covers the approach to Google+ Maps for Small Business, but aside from being found by search engines for basic local web queries, the simple fact that over half of Americans own smartphones and analysts predict that over 50% of traffic will be mobile by the close of 2014 should support the need to be not only present, but strong and pervasive where your customers are looking for you! This information will also translate to mobile searches on the Maps. Think about someone who’s out shopping in Elmsford, NY and before going home they decide to see if there’s a car wash around; sorry Mr. Bubbles, Julio’s is taking that one to the bank.
Local businesses of all sizes are in competition with each other as well as vying for their share of market with national brands that maintain a local footprint. More and more, the winner is going to be the guy who shows up in search results. If you have questions on how to help your small business drive local web traffic by leveraging Google+ for Small Business, please don’t hesitate to contact me!