Guest Column: Can your customers find your business?
Guest Column by Dean Swanson
In my last column, I stated that when CEOs were asked where most of their business comes from today, what would you say? Many small businesses tell us “word of mouth.” I also suggested that “online” has become today’s “word of mouth.”
When done correctly, online marketing provides more opportunities to extend the word of mouth that’s already so important to your business. As you know, business is built on relationships. Online marketing also allows you to strengthen existing relationships with current customers and build new ones. Because of this business marketing shift, I will devote a few columns on this topic.
People are talking up their favorite businesses directly; they’re consuming and sharing content they find useful or entertaining from those businesses; and they’re asking connections for recommendations. Your business has an opportunity to be part of more of these conversations.
Therefore, the more you can do to keep your business top of mind and make it easy for others to talk about you, the more you increase the chances of people recommending or seeking you out when they need what you offer. Beyond being part of the conversation, you must understand what people may find when they go looking for your business specifically by name, or by something your business offers.
And, of course, be aware that if people don’t find your business when they go looking online, it begs the question, “Does your business even exist?” So I ask business CEOs: “What do people find when they go looking online for your business?”
It’s no secret that people turn to search engines like Google to get more information about the businesses they’re investigating.
Let’s take a look at some of the things that may show up on a search engine results page when someone searches for a business by name. They may get:
• Paid ads
• Organic (non-paid) search results
• Google My Business listing
• Social media accounts
• Info from other sites
As an example, do a search for your business by name as the search term. What comes up on the page? You may see examples of some of the items in the list above.
Now, let’s try another example. What if people are looking for something your business offers? In the previous example, we searched for a specific business — your business — by name. But, people don’t always search by name. Sometimes they know they want to buy a product or a service, but they don’t know who offers it. Then they type in a more generic search term, like “restaurants near me” or “tax preparers.” Try this for your business and search by one of your products or services. What do you get?
Now, let’s take a look at another example. Imagine you were throwing a dinner party and you want to impress your friends with a selection of cheeses not found at the grocery store. So you go to your computer or mobile device and search “cheese shops near me.” What did you get? Certainly, results will differ. However, in this example, you may see that it brings up the listings in Google Maps first. This information comes from Google My Business profiles (I will mention more on that later).
If we apply these results to what may show up for your business, your customers may find:
• Your website
• Social media accounts
• Review sites
• Business listings
• Competitor listings
What information shows up? Is it what you were expecting? Is there anything there that surprises you? Is there something missing? Expand this example and search for generic terms for your business. Is your business there in either an organic or paid perspective?
Make a list of results that show up on the first page in both scenarios. Here’s the reality: If you’re not online, prospects can’t find you. Whether people search for your business by name or something related to your business, your customers and prospects should be able to find you. Your job is to make sure your business can be found, the information is accurate and that you’re answering the questions your potential customers may have.
As people visit your website and click through from various search results, they’re starting to form opinions about your business. Ultimately, they’re asking themselves, “Is this the right business for me?”
If your business is present, engaging and interacting, and providing resources, you’ll increase the chances of people finding your business and choosing you.
The question is, “What tools should you use to build a strong foundation for your online marketing efforts?” In my next columns we will take a look at how to set your business up for success using the new “word of mouth” marketing. Contact a SCORE mentor for help.
Dean Swanson is a volunteer certified SCORE mentor and former SCORE chapter chairman, district director and regional vice president for the northwest region.