2020 will be a year not many of us will ever forget. In my entire lifetime, it has been the most challenging environment for businesses, especially locally owned businesses, that I’ve ever seen. With that being said, we’ve seen so many businesses show resilience and strength, being able to get through this time and help support their local communities. There’s also been a lot of trends that have emerged and huge changes in how you have to market your company in order to attract customers. One of the number one trends we’ve seen is that businesses that used to rely on word-of-mouth advertising have really struggled during this pandemic. However, businesses that have a great digital presence have thrived. And this makes sense. People aren’t conversing like they used to. There are no big parties and events going on where people can share their knowledge around what businesses are the best. So people are turning online.
The amount of ecommerce that went through online this year was 10x more than the last ten years combined. That alone shows you how much more business is being done online now than ever before. One of the big reasons that having a great digital presence is causing companies to thrive is because so few businesses do. It doesn’t matter how big or small - so few businesses have really spent the time to understand how they are showing up online and how they can use Local SEO, Google Maps, Google My Business, Yelp, Trip Advisor, and so many other platforms to drive consistent customers to their business. Not only that, but these major online platforms like Google Maps and Yelp have added a ton of new features in this last year to really help businesses be able to fully communicate with their customers on what their offerings are and how you can take advantage of those offerings. Let’s take a quick look now at some of these platforms and the features they’ve added that have really made a huge difference in being able to market yourself to your local community online.
Google My Business - Google Maps
This is one of the most powerful platforms on the web for driving local customers to your business. In my 10+ years of marketing, I’ve never seen a platform deliver as high, and as consistent, ROI as what Google My Business can do for your business. So what is Google My Business? It’s a platform where you can put all of your information online about your business, and then Google takes it, and pushes it out in a variety of applications. The best known of these applications is Google Maps. Once you’ve established your Google My Business profile, your business will actually show up on Google Maps. But not only that, Google has put a huge amount of emphasis and priority on local search results. And the ‘Near Me’ keyword has increased about 200% almost every single year for the last four years. So now, Google shows the Google Snack Pack - before even websites - if you search something like “restaurants near me” or “best plumber [city name],” it will actually show the Google My Business listings in the map pack above the websites. This is huge. That map pack gets 45% of all the clicks from a normal Google search, whereas the first website gets 12%. Why this is so important for businesses to understand is that it is far more advantageous to be able to rank yourself in the map pack than it is to rank your website number one. Not only that, but you get way more clicks by getting into the map pack.
Google My Business has added a ton of new features this year that you can use to communicate with your customers about your COVID-19 safety procedures, what your offerings are, and what specials you have going on. Once you get into the Google My Business platform, you can go in and update an entire COVID section, telling people if they’re required to wear masks in your location, if you’re socially distancing, if you’re cleaning tables between. There are a lot of options you can add that really give your customers confidence in understanding what safety procedures your business is taking. Not only that, but posting on Google My Business has become huge. You can post specials, events, sales, and updates that really help your customers know that you are open and in business, and you can communicate very quickly on how they can do business with you.
Google My Businesses has offered a ton of other features like being able to list products and services right from your Google My Business listing. They’ve even started rolling out appointments and purchasing directly through your Google My Business platform. If you want to learn more about Google My Business, I suggest that you watch one of the webinars I did in conjunction with Local First Arizona and the Arizona Commerce Authority to really learn how you can start using Google My Business to help drive customers to your business today.
While I consider Yelp to be one of the biggest bullies for small businesses out there, it is still a good platform for consumers, and a lot of consumers still use it. Because of that, we still use Yelp for a lot of our clients because it does drive about 20% of their traffic online. Yelp has also added a lot of new features that let you highlight the safety procedures that you’re taking at your businesses right now. If you haven’t gone onto your Yelp in awhile, make sure that you go and update those safety procedures, because that just really helps add a lot of confidence to your consumers, knowing that they will be safe utilizing the services and products and offerings that you have.
There are a few main things you can do on your homepage to really help customers understand that you are in business and still offering your products and services, and again to instill confidence in using your business during this challenging time. The number one most underused thing I see on a website is the top banner bar. On almost all websites, you can add a top banner that pops up, and it’s here that you can update your customers letting them know that you are open, and letting them know that you have implemented new COVID-19 safety procedures.
What we do for most of our clients is put a button on that top bar that links to a new page on their site that talks about what precautions are taken. Again, this just helps build confidence with your customers to know that you are still in business, because a lot of people aren’t sure which businesses are open and doing business right now, and it shows people that you care about their well being, and that you have been proactive and have taken action to look out for their safety during this pandemic.
Online reviews have become one of the most important things for any business in terms of attracting new customers. In fact, during this time, the first thing I look at if I’m going to a new restaurant or store that I haven’t been to, is the most recent reviews. Those reviews give me a lot of information about whether the business is open, and whether they’re taking precautions. How am I able to utilize their services and products during this time? It is extremely important that you continue to collect online reviews in the right places.
The number one most important place is Google My Business or Google Maps. 90% of people now trust Google Maps reviews as much as their best friends or family telling them about a place. Not only that, but Google Maps reviews are highly trusted by consumers. Facebook is another great place to be able to collect reviews if you have a Facebook page for your business. Facebook reviews are also highly trusted. Yelp is a great place to collect reviews and actually a lot of other local business finders like Apple Maps source their reviews from Yelp and show the Yelp reviews on their platforms. The challenge with Yelp reviews is that Yelp decides to show some, and not to show others, and gives no explanation on why they block certain reviews from being visible. So just know that collecting reviews on Yelp can be a challenging and frustrating process when they remove your legitimate five-star reviews.
So why are online reviews so important? Well think about this: The average person, when they really like something, will tell 3 people about it. However, if they leave a review on Google Maps, they’re telling thousands of people about it, every single month. Reviews are essentially online word-of-mouth advertising. And at this time, when people are turning more and more to online to find where to do business, this word-of-mouth advertising has become essential to business success.
The Changing Climate
This pandemic has changed the way businesses communicate with their customers. What we’ve clearly seen is that if your business relied on word-of-mouth advertising, you’re probably struggling pretty hard right now. But if your business has a great online digital presence, and has utilized the power of word-of-mouth advertising online, then you could be busier than ever. If you’d like to learn more about how to use these platforms, you can check out a webinar we did about Local SEO or book a discovery session with one of our LocalFi Advocates so we can do an audit to show you how you’re showing up online, and show you your opportunities to put yourself out there in 2021.