It was common just a few years ago for business owners to insist that they want to be ranked #1 in Google search. And just a few years ago that was both more critical. And it was actually possible to achieve relatively easily.
Nowadays, not so much.
With all the changes in the world of internet search, updates to search engines (remember the cutely named, but not so cute in results Panda and Penguin?) this has become more of a challenge.
Especially for local businesses, we have seen the search results change dramatically month to month as the search engines change the way they deliver results to the customer.
So what should you do?
First, keep in mind that searching on the internet is organic–meaning that it changes and evolves.
Second, recognize that the search engines underlying goal is to make money. Sure this includes taking in money (a lot of money) in advertising. But if that is all they did they would lose the end user–the people who are actually using their service. For free. That means they will keep changing and tweaking their systems in an effort to give the best results for the person conducting the search.
Third, face the fact that people are placing more and more faith in on-line reviews and ratings.
What does this mean for the local business owner?
Be willing to keep learning about local search, or be willing to pay someone to do it for you. The old days of placing the same old ad in the phone book or newspaper are gone. Not that you can not or should not advertise there. For some businesses print media is still a very valuable marketing tool.
Know what works for you–know how your customers are finding you right now. We’re finding that this varies by region as well as by business type. And of course, it changes over time. You need to keep asking your customers or clients how they found you. Don’t assume that just because last year most of them found you on Yelp* that next year they will too, any more than you would assume that because the phone book worked for you in 1990 it is still the best bang for the buck today.
Ask your best customers if they will give you a review online. Don’t offer them a free service or a discount in exchange for a positive review. That violates most terms of service. Simply ask them if they are happy with your work if they would do you the courtesy, or a favor, by writing a review.
Don’t worry if you are not in the #1 position on Google. Look to see who else is in the results with you. Take your business owner hat off and try to look at the results like a potential customer would. Which listings stand out the most? Is it the #1 listing? Maybe not.
Current studies indicate that listings with more reviews and especially lots of positive reviews with stars get clicked on more often–even if they are lower in the search ranks.
Focus on making your current customers happy. Ask for reviews.
And if you need more help, call in a professional–just don’t let them tell you they will “guarantee” that you will be #1 in Google. Now you know they can’t and that isn’t the bottom line anyway.