According to Google’s “Let’s Put Our Cities On the Map” program, 4 out of 5 consumers use search engines to find local business information. That may not be surprising news to you as a consumer. What is the first thing you do when you need to find something? Chances are, you pull out your cell phone or tablet or have a seat at your computer, and pound out a few keywords to find what you need.
As a business owner, you may be aware of this need, but also overwhelmed by the task or the possible expenses to get your business online. Perhaps you are in start-up mode and strapped for cash. Or maybe you have limped along for years, unsure about how to get started. Naturally you need a website, right? Maybe so, but there are a few other ways to get your business online, even if you do not have your own site (yet).
It is easy to think of the online world versus the brick-and-mortar world as an “us versus them” situation. But customer purchasing habits are more complex than that. There are certainly times where a customer is looking for the most convenient transaction, but that model does not have to mean a quick online purchase. In many cases, a customer is first looking for information. And where do they usually turn for information? (Hint – check the first sentence!).
- Online directory listings and maps. Multiple opportunities exist for directory listings based on your type of business, but there a few big directories to check out. Google, Yahoo!, and Bing all offer directory listings and maps at no cost. Depending on your market, you may find other useful local directories such as Chamber of Commerce listings. There are also a number of sites that operate like online “phone books,” such as Yellow Pages, White Pages, and Super Pages. While these won’t stand in for a flashy website, they will give customers your basic information such as location, contact information, and hours of operation.
- Online review sites. While online maps and listings typically offer the option of leaving a review, there are also sites dedicated to customer feedback. Similar to online directories, you can claim a business listing containing all of your basic info. Sites like Yelp! offer a way for customers to give feedback about their experience. For the service industry, Angie’s List and Kudzu offer opportunities to be featured. Opportunities abound in various places depending on your type of business. If the thought of customers being able to leave candid feedback makes you nervous, keep in mind that they are free to leave feedback about you whether you create a profile or not. You might as well join in and see what they have to say about you.
- Social Media. Most people consider social media a marketing tool, but you can take advantage of these tools to spread your business name online. Facebook is one of the biggest names, and it allows you to set up a business page with all of your info. In addition to allowing you a place to post your basic info and gather reviews, it allows gives you the opportunity to post photos and videos as well as communicate with your customers. Other popular social media and video sites include Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube. B2B business might consider a company page on LinkedIn.
I have had a handful of businesses tell me they do not need a site; perhaps they do other advertising or generate business through word-of-mouth. But let me provide an example: I recently needed a repair service for my home, mostly general handiwork, not really a specific trade. I had heard a name mentioned from a friend, but had no idea how to contact the business. A quick online search pulled up…nothing. A little more online digging turned up…well, still nothing. I finally saw the company vehicle parked one day and snapped a photo of the phone number on the side. While having your company info on your vehicle is a good idea for this type of business, forcing customers to driving around town and see the number is not the best way to get found by your target market. (Sidenote – In the time it took to get the phone number and contact the business, I learned how to do it myself! Good for me, but bad for this business.)
A website is a great idea for your small business, but these are some ways to get your business listed online before you are ready to take on a website. And when you are ready to launch your site, you can list your site on your directory postings to increase traffic to your site.
(Source: Heather Sharpe, Business Consultant, UGA SBDC in Albany, Google/Ipsos MediaCT/Purchased, Understanding Consumers’ Local Search Behavior, May 2014)