As any small business owner knows, building customer trust is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to give excellent customer service, build personal relationships and deliver great products. But there are certain things you can do to give your business a head start on the credibility and legitimacy that your potential customers are looking for.
While this is a bit of an over-simplification, here is a good way to think about the difference; online search engines (like Google) help people find your website. Local search directories (like Yelp), help people find your business. Make sense?
If you’re saying to yourself that you’ve seen local search listings on Google as well, you’re right! Google returns both websites and local search listings, as do Bing and Yahoo. But being listed in website search results doesn’t necessarily mean that your business will be listed in local search listing results, and vice versa.
To have your website show up in search engine results, your site needs to be published and have good search engine optimization. For your business to show up in local search results, it needs to be listed in local search directories.
Which local search directories should you list your business in?
There are no hard and fast rules here, and some business types will lend themselves to specific local directories more than others. But there’s a core group of local search directories that customers will expect to find your business in, and if they don’t, it could affect your perceived credibility.
- Google My Business
- Bing Places for Business
- Yahoo Business Listings
- Better Business Bureau
You can use a local listing service to submit your business to several of these at once, or do them all one by one. Before you get started, check to see if customers have added any listings for your business already in places like Yelp or Facebook, because you should claim and update those listings instead of creating your own.
There are also some other business listing platforms that serve specific markets and may cost money to be listed on. Once you’re listed in the eight popular directories above and looking to branch out and find new customers, you might also consider:
- Angie’s List (home repair professionals)
- Thumbtack (creatives and other freelancers)
- TripAdvisor (travel and hospitality)
- OpenTable (restaurants)
- Foursquare (restaurants and hospitality)
Now that you have a sense of what a local search directory is, and which ones your customers will expect to see your business in, you might be asking yourself what to put in your local listings. We can help with that, too! The good news is, you can have an effective local search presence without creating extra work for yourself because the elements of your local search directory profiles should already be established elsewhere in your marketing materials.
What should you put in a local search listing?
- Business name
- Website address URL
- Physical address
- Phone number
- Images of the location and products
These are all important elements that you will be able to submit to local search directories yourself, which means you’re in control of how they appear. This is very important because it allows you to project a consistent brand image and accurate contact details across your online presence. Make sure you use the same logo, images and business name consistently. And if you make updates to your contact information or your logo over time, go back and refresh your details in the local search directories where your business is listed. Not only will this result in a better customer experience, but it also signals to search engines that your listing is up-to-date and should be ranked more highly than the old listings of your competitors.
One element of your small business’ local search listings that is not directly under your control is the ratings and reviews that customers can leave. Reviews can be hugely beneficial for your business; in a recent study, we found that a whopping 75% of small business consumers think it’s important to read reviews before visiting a business. The caveat here is that you really must keep up with the reviews your customers are leaving. Thank happy customers for sharing their experiences, and address the concerns of those who were less satisfied. Not only will this repair that relationship, but it will also show potential customers that your business is responsive and human.
Earlier this year, Google released filters which gave users the ability to sort local search results by “price”, “star rating” and “operating hours”. Now, the search engine has taken it a step further by understanding user search intent and automatically applying those filters on its own. For example, when a user searches for “best restaurant in Bethesda”, Google will automatically filter all the results to only include restaurants that have a four-star rating or higher. Alternatively, if the search is “cheapest restaurant in Bethesda”, it will filter the results to show those with a low-price rating first. Local search now represents 46% of all searches, and that number is only expected to rise. As local search increases in popularity, Google will continue to improve the speed, results relevancy and reliability it offers users.
A great local search listing presence is incredibly important for the success of a small business. After all, the ability to rank highly in local searches (like “best organic spa in Bethesda”) is your competitive advantage over big-box stores. You might not have their big advertising budget, but your position as a part of a local community is your small business’ secret weapon. Make the most of it by submitting your business to the local search listing directories you read about in this article, and get ready to greet your local customers!