Would you open a business without putting up a sign on the street and posting your hours on the front door? After all, why not let the hundreds of people who drive and walk by your front door know that you are open for business?
Likewise, don’t ignore the huge digital audience who are looking for your business online. Top online companies like Google, Apple, Tripadvisor and Yelp are currently posting (for free!) digital signposts that show your location, address, phone numbers, hours of operation and more.
However, (and this is important) they may not have all the correct details. By taking the simple step of claiming your business you can correct any inaccuracies, and you can often enhance your free listing by adding photos, a description of your services, hours of operation and comments from the owner (that’s you).
First step: Take an audit
If you have customers, you’ll already have an extensive digital footprint. That’s because your customers are expecting to find your name, location, contact information, hours of business, description and reviews online. There are a number of directory websites that provide that information. The first marketing step you can take is to find out who is listing that information and make sure they have your information correct.
Here are some steps you can take to do a basic audit of your online presence:
Type your business name into a Google with quotations like this:
“your business name” (The quotation marks tell Google to search the exact phrase.)
- The results are shown on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP)
- See how many time your business name appears. You may be surprised.
- Pay attention to the knowledge box along the right side of a Google search.
- Pay attention to the listings on the first two pages of a Google search.
- Claim your business wherever possible.
Make sure your business information is accurate. (Name, address, phone number, hours of operation and pins on any maps)
Which online directories should you update?
Go where your customers are. If your customers are using an online directory to find and review your business, then you should be there as well. This may seem overwhelming at first, but it doesn’t have to be. You can take smaller steps and start with one site at a time.
Here are four websites your customers are already referring to:
Google search and maps
Who should do this? This should be the first step taken by every business. I’m amazed at how many local businesses haven’t yet claimed their Google-my-business listing. Google loves local businesses and wants to serve up your information first and correctly anytime someone searches for your business name. Claiming your business listing with Google will enhance how your business appears across Google’s vast array of services, including Google search, Google Maps, and your Google+ page.
How? Google will ask you to verify your listing by sending a postcard to your physical address. The card will include a unique number, which you will need to fully claim your business listing.
Where to start: Google my business
Who should do this? Every business with a physical location. The traffic from iPhones alone is reason enough for your business to claim your spot on Apple Maps. As this is a relatively new feature, many businesses haven’t yet taken advantage of this huge opportunity to enhance how they appear on Apple Maps.
How? You will need an Apple ID. This is worth signing up for, even if you don’t own an Apple device.
Where to start: Apple Maps connect
Who should do this? Any business that caters to tourists and out-of-town traffic: hotels, bed and breakfast inns, accommodators, restaurants and attractions. This is especially important if your business already has TripAdvisor reviews. Successfully managing reviews is a topic for another blog post, but suffice it to say that responding to both positive and negative reviews is an important step you can take. (After all, your brand isn’t what you say about yourself, it’s what your customers say about you.)
Where to start: Find and claim your TripAdvisor listing
Further reading: Manage your TripAdvisor listing from Tourism eSchool
Who should do this? Every business with a physical location, especially if you have Yelp reviews about your business. it is important for another very good reason—Apple Maps. Apple currently uses data from Yelp to display local business information on its maps. The one big feature to update is your photos. Apple Maps currently pulls the images from Yelp. If you don’t have a photo—or worse, if the photo is a poor one—you can fix that by adding bright, new pictures of your business to Yelp and have those photos show up on Apple Maps. Yelp has similar arrangements with Yahoo and Bing, two other popular search engines.
Where to start: Claim your business page on Yelp
Further reading: Claim your business listing on Yelp from Search Engine Watch
What information to have at your fingertips before you start
Before you begin, you will want to have all the information you need organized and in an easy-to-find location. Here’s a list of what you should have before you begin claiming your business listings.
Address (It’s important that your address is consistent across all online and offline directories.)
Operating hours (This is a biggie—often the most-searched-for item about your business)
Contact e-mail (It’s preferable to use a general business email like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org)
Menu (for restaurants)
Delivery and take-out information
Your logo (a square version saved as a .gif, .jpg or .png file)
Business description (Short and long version)
Photos (3-6 minimum)
A few easy-to-remember passwords
Here’s your chance to tell your story in an appealing and engaging way. Don’t wait until you are staring at an empty box on a screen asking for your business description before writing your business story. Do it now. Have a short version (150 words) and long version (three paragraphs) at the ready, as different directories allow different description lengths. Share your written description with a few trusted colleagues or friends to get their opinion. At the minimum, have a word warrior check over the description for spelling and grammar errors.
Further reading: How to write an elevator pitch—your business story in 150 words.
Have an original version of your logo saved as as .gif or .jpg that is a minimum of 400 x 400 pixels. (If you aren’t sure what that means, ask your graphic designer to send you an original in those dimensions.) Most directories leave a square space for logos—so if you have a horizontal logo, consider having it designed to look its best in a square format.
Have between three and six good, clear, bright photos of your business in a file that is easy for you to find on your computer.
Remember that most people searching for your business have never been inside your store, so make them feel at home by giving them a taste of what they will see. Include the front of your business and what they will see when they first step in the door, as well as the main features they will experience once inside.
If you have a service company, include shots of the people working on projects. It’s much better to picture yourself and your staff than stock images of strangers.
Further reading: How important are photos? They are the single most important thing you can add to turn viewers into buyers.
Passwords are a pain. But until we have a viable alternative, they are a necessary pain. Here are simple password tips that can ease the pain.
If you have lots of passwords, it is worth it to purchase a password manager like 1Password. (This is my password manager of choice, as I have more than 300 passwords!)
You can also use a simple note-taking app or spreadsheet that is password protected and saved to your desktop. Both of these suggestions mean you only need to remember one password to access several.
Use pass phrases instead of passwords. A three word phrase is easier for humans to remember and harder for computers to hack. (Example: Horse-Tree-Sandwich is easier to remember than 83#!!_h45)
Most businesses are missing a huge marketing opportunity by not claiming their business profile on top online referrers.
I’ve given you simple instructions to claim your business on four essential online directories: Google, Apple maps, TripAdvisor and Yelp.
The basic first step is to make sure search engines have accurate information. Then you can go on to enhance your listing by adding photos and responding to comments.
Spending just a few hours auditing and updating will help your business rank higher in search engines.
Have you claimed your online business listing yet? Let me know about what you learned in the comments below.