Thousands of small business owners are ready to try using the free online tools that they hear so much about, but are often overwhelmed with the plethora of possibilities. Over and over again, I read stories online about someone who is a bit nervous about dipping their foot into the ocean of social media, and even with my own clients, there are many who need extra assistance in getting started.
Here is a simple step to take to enter into the online world of social media: get found.
Before you can start communicating and interacting with your online community, your business needs to be able to get found. A well-optimized website can help you get found, but this is not enough any more. Just as we would begin to interact with our new neighbors and join local community groups when we open a storefront in a new town, joining an online community means getting yourself out there and getting found. Thankfully, there are free tools on most of the major search engines’ local listing services to give businesses an online presence.
In an an article by Melih Oztalay posted on the Search Engine Journal, Oztalay explains the evolution of online local business listings. ”Local business listings started with a basic business directory on the Internet going back over a decade,” he says. “The process has evolved and matured as social media and mobile devices allowed consumers to start using these interactive yellow pages to post their reviews as well as use them to locate a business, product or service in their local area. There are over 60 local business listing websites on the Internet in five different categories. They include the search engines, social communities, 411 websites (aka yellow page type websites), GPS websites and the age old business directory.”
In an article on Devcourt Media’s website, Mobile Marketing Watch reports that one-third of all google searches via the mobile web platform pertain to some aspect of the searcher’s local environment.
If I’ve convinced you that your first social media baby steps can be performed by making sure you can get found locally, here are some places to start.
Where to get found locally online:
- Google Places
Although your business may already appear in Google’s Places from being found by the search engine, it is wise to take control of your own Google place listing by first searching to see if you are there, and if not, claim your business. During the signup process, you provide your business phone number and a Google computer will call and give you a pin number to enter to verify that you are the owner of the business. Once you are signed up, you can see the number of times your business was clicked on with real-time results on the Places page.
Originally called Google’s “Local Business Center”, the Place Pages were renamed by Google in April of 2010 to reflect the trend of people connecting with their local businesses and finding places online. According to the Google website, the Places page will provide services to businesses such as “helping a company verify and supplement business information including hours of operation, photos, videos, coupons and product information; provide a way to communicate with customers; and give businesses new insights that enable it to make smart decisions.”
Google’s own statistics claim that one out of five searches on Google are related to a user’s location, and very often people are looking for local businesses. With such a high number of local searches taking place, claiming your business in Google Places is a smart move.
- Bing Local Listing Center
Bing is Microsoft’s search engine and the site has their own local listing service. If you visit Bing.com/local, you can see a directory of the local businesses that have already signed up. It appears that Bing is even more strict than Google when it comes to making sure that it is only the correct business contact that is signing up for a local listing. Their extra verification measures ensure that someone else cannot create a local listing in your name and use it to drive traffic to their own business site.
A June 14 article in the San Francisco Chronicle shows that after only one year, the Bing search engine is steadily gaining momentum. Bing is also reported to have used pricey product placement on television by paying for characters on the show “Gossip Girl” to say the words “Bing it,” to compete with the verb usage of the term “Google it.” With more people starting to use Bing, and with statistics that show it is popular with users 55 or older, it is a good place to make sure your business is listed online.
- Yahoo! Local
The main Yahoo! Local page has a nice directory listing, as well as a prominent page of reviews of local businesses. This is a good place to search for your own business first and see if there have been any reviews posted. At the bottom left of the main page, in tiny print, is a link to Add a Business. The Yahoo! Local form to add a business is the shortest and most concise of the three I have discussed and doesn’t seem to have any type of verification to confirm that the person creating the business listing is indeed the business owner.
Echoing the trend of entering into local markets with social media, a May, 2010 article at PaidContent.org talks about Yahoo’s efforts to partner with companies that can help them extend their local reach, such as a possible partnership with Nokia to utilize smartphone owners, a search engine collaboration with Microsoft’s Bing, and even direct mail services to local ad markets.
Lem Lloyd is Yahoo’s VP of chanel sales and explains, “All media companies are putting a focus on local ad spend, which still remains largely untapped.” Lloyd goes on to say that, “Local represents half of all the $250 billion marketing spend in the U.S., but only a fraction is online.
So there you have it – three places to get your business listed for free online. Once a listing is up and running, plan on checking in periodically to see if you are getting traffic or if customers have left reviews. Interacting and communicating with customers who took time to comment or rate your business is a good idea, especially if a review is negative. Business owners should make a practice of searching the web for mentions of their business to keep track of references and reviews. Google Alerts is a great tool for managing this.
Creating an online presence begins with getting found, and getting found locally is a good place to start.
Have you had a positive or negative experience with having your business listed in a search engine directory? I’d like to hear about it! Please feel free to comment.