I don’t know about you, but I haven’t used a phonebook in over two years. I feel a slight twinge of guilt when the new one shows up on my doorstep, because I know it’s making a short trip from my front porch to the recycling bin. I started performing my searches for local goods and services online ages ago, and I haven’t looked back since.
It seems I’m not the only one. Recent studies indicate that print Yellow Pages will be all but defunct in the next four years. The myriad of local business information available on the Internet and the bevy of options you can use to find that information have made it easier, faster, and more convenient than flipping through that bulky yellow book.
What does this mean to you as a local business owner? Well, if you haven’t taken the time to list your business online, your competitors may be leaving you in the dust.
Whether you run a restaurant, auto body shop, pet grooming service, or landscaping company, taking the steps below to position your business in front of local customers will make a big difference to your bottom line.
The Anatomy of a Local Business Listing
There are certain elements of your online listing that will be similar across the board – in a local search engine, Internet Yellow Pages site, or customer review site. Not just limited to your company name, address, and phone number, online local business listings allow you to display a ton of information about your business – for free! I’m always amazed when I see bare bones listings that aren’t taking full advantage of this opportunity for free advertising, but it happens fairly often. Below is just a sample of the information you are usually allowed to display:
- Company Name
- Phone Number
- Fax Number
- E-Mail Address
- Short Description of Business
- Services, Products, and Brands Offered
- Specialties and Amenities
- Payment Options
- Hours of Operation
- User Reviews
Right about now you might be saying, “But my local business listing only has my name, address, and phone number. What do I do? “The more information you can include with your listing, the more likely it is that you’ll attract a targeted customer. So let me show you the sites you need to visit to include more information.
Internet Yellow Pages
The most logical places for many people to start looking for local goods and services are the Internet Yellow Pages sites. If you are brand-new to updating and optimizing your company’s local listings, begin with these.
Just like the print Yellow Pages, the Internet Yellow Pages will automatically have a basic listing for your company. (It’s up to you to make the listing pop and really work to drive customers from their computer screens to your storefront.) And in addition to your free listing, many Internet Yellow Pages sites offer advertising and fee-based enhanced feature options.
Some of the most popular Internet Yellow Pages sites for you to start with are:
Upon locating your listing, you may be surprised to find that it contains information that you didn’t provide. This is because customers, too, are allowed to update and add to the listings – all the more reason to take action to make sure your information is correct.
Local Search Engines
It didn’t take long for the major search engines to get in on the local scene. Each of them has a local version. Google has Google Maps, Yahoo has Yahoo Local, and Ask has AskCity.
They all have impressive features. But because of my unhealthy obsession with all things Google, and to give you a head start on the most market share, I’ll talk about Google Maps here.
As with the Internet Yellow Pages, your business will likely already have a listing in Google Maps. You can spice up that listing from Google’s Local Business Center. To edit your listing, Google requires you to “claim” your business first. So they send a postcard to the mailing address listed with a special PIN (personal identification number) that you will use. Naturally, this takes a few days. Once claimed, however, you can edit your listing to your heart’s content.
Your local business listing on Google allows for all the information listed above. Google also pulls a lot of user reviews from customer review sites (which I’ll explain in a moment). Additionally, Google offers a couple of really cool features that you simply must take advantage of:
1. Coupons. You can create a special offer coupon right alongside your listing and update it as often as you want. This is a great way to encourage people to visit your store.
2. Video (a feature that has been added fairly recently). That’s right. You can add a video that you’ve posted on YouTube to your Google Maps listing. How cool is that? Think of the possibilities! You could shoot a short commercial, record testimonials from happy customers, or even shoot footage of your clean restaurant teeming with enthusiastic diners.
Once you’ve perfected your listing on Google Maps, you can promote it through Google AdWords and target a particular region, city, or even neighborhood. For more information, and to get started, go to Maps.Google.com or Google.com/local/add.
Customer Review Websites
Customer review sites are arguably the most important of the three local search areas, because the content is user-generated. And, like I mentioned above, Google (and other local search engines) pulls customer reviews from these websites to display on your listing. So it’s important to be aware of what people are saying about your business.
Get a little PR for your business by encouraging your happy customers to post positive reviews of your company and its services. You can also benefit from monitoring any unfavorable reviews about you on these sites to see where you can make improvements.
Popular customer review sites include:
There are even specialized customer review sites like AngiesList.com for home improvement and MenuPages.com for restaurants.
A Quick Word About Mobile Search
Mobile search is usually mentioned in tandem with local search. After all, people are usually on the road when they are looking for things like food, gas, lodging, or the nearest pet store. The good news is that if you do the work to enhance your listings on all the sites mentioned in this article, you will be more than covered in the mobile search arena. Most, if not all, of the local search engines and Internet Yellow Pages have special mobile versions that are readable on mobile phones and other handhelds – including the ever-popular iPhone.
So get to work on your listings on Internet Yellow Pages sites, local search engines, and customer review sites. You’ll soon see a big improvement in your business – whether you run a one-person dog walking service or a local pizza franchise. And when delivery of that big, bulky print phonebook finally comes to a grinding halt, your business won’t miss a beat.