Many small business owners hope Google will bring in more customers.
Some try to advertise using Google Ads. Others wade into the mysterious world of search engine optimization (SEO). The latter often involves hiring an internet marketing wizard who makes strange suggestions for your website.
There's another way Google can help you bring in more customers. It's easy and it's free. Let me show you how this works.
I'll be arriving in Watertown, South Dakota tonight to speak at a Watertown Convention and Visitors Bureau luncheon tomorrow.
Naturally, I need to find a place for dinner, so I Google "restaurant watertown sd." Here are the search results:
Wouldn't you like your business to be one of those top choices when a customer searches for something relevant?
Notice Google prioritizes three options. It shows each one on a map. At the bottom is a link labeled "More places" where I can search for additional restaurants.
All of the additional search results, including TripAdvisor and Yelp's "Best 10" lists appear in the search results below this box.
That's pretty good visibility to a prospective customer. I'll see even more choices if I click on "More places" or click directly on the map. This also reveals a larger map that shows where each business is located.
The good news is these restaurants did not pay for advertising to get listed there! These search results come from Google My Business.
Companies can claim a free listing by providing some basic information such as your business name, address, phone number, business category (restaurant, etc.), and website. It's also a good idea to include your hours of operation.
One word of caution—make sure you keep this information up-to-date. You want your customers to know if you change your hours of operation, update your restaurant menu, or move to a new location.
Customers can see more information when you click on an individual business listing. Here's what I see when I click on the listing for Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant.
Notice the photos at the bottom. You can upload photos of your business to your Google My Business listing and Google will display them alongside photos contributed by customers.
This is an excellent way to visually entice people to pay a visit!
Improve Your Ranking
Google uses an algorithm to decide which order to display businesses when customers search for particular terms. There are three primary factors that contribute:
Relevance refers to how closely your business matches what a person is searching for. The best way to improve your results is to make sure your Google My Business listing is complete and accurate.
Distance is Google's attempt to provide the closest options to the person who is searching. Not much you can do about that one aside from opening a ton of locations all over the place. That may not be feasible, so...
Prominence is Google's estimate of the business's popularity. There are several factors that contribute to this. A big one is the number and quality of Google reviews.
Reviews, my friend, can be used to your advantage because they are often overlooked by big businesses!
Maximizing Review Power
There are two ways to think of reviews. One is how Google uses them and the other is how customers view them. Let's start with Google's own description:
Google review count and score are factored into local search ranking: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business's local ranking.
OK, so it's great to have lots of five-star reviews. No surprise there.
Some businesses go to great lengths to get good reviews. They provide incentives. Employees are implicitly encouraged to engage in survey begging.
Do yourself a favor and skip those gimmicks. Pressuring customers for good reviews can hurt service quality. There's another way to improve your reputation that customers will appreciate.
Let's look at the first few reviews for Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant in Watertown:
This restaurant has a terrific overall rating of 4.4 stars (out of five).
Now, some business owners might freak out because there are a few bad reviews. The first review shown is only three stars and is somewhat critical.
This is actually a plus!
That's because a few negative reviews can make a business more trustworthy. Customers are wary of any business that has all positive reviews since it raises suspicions that the reviews may be fake.
There's another plus here as well. Notice the response from Carlos Vega, the manager. Vega responded quickly, apologized without getting defensive, and invited the customer to return.
This tells customers that management is listening to feedback. Presumably, the restaurant is using this feedback to continuously improve.
These Google My Business listings are for individual locations. Most large businesses I see fail to respond to customer reviews. That's because social media is typically handled at the corporate level.
Here's where the personal touch of a small business can really shine.
Here are a few resources to get you started.
- Get your Google My Business listing and make sure it's up-to-date.
- Learn how Google determines business rankings.
Of course, there are other places a customer like me might search for a business. The big ones are Yelp and TripAdvisor and your business should have a presence there, too. Each offers a free business listing.
My online training course, How to Serve Customers Using Social Media, can help you make sense of them all. You'll need a Lynda.com account to access it, so here's a 30-day trial if you're not already a subscriber.