What Local Business Leaders Must Know About Search Engines And SEO
When I write about SEO and business success, I often realize that I’ve touched upon a point that merits a column of its own. This is one such column. It will focus on the fact that online and offline marketing have grown inextricably codependent — especially for local businesses.
How Businesses & Search Engines Have Evolved
As a business leader, you must be aware that the style and method of selling has changed in recent times. Just as the fax machine, cold calling and advertising flyers revolutionized selling in an earlier era, there’s a new kid on the block that has transformed the way customers are making purchase decisions today — and it’s called Google.
Pause for a minute to think about the way your customers are now shopping for your product, or deciding to order your service. Where do they begin?
Why, by researching your company and what you offer on the internet, of course!
Google has changed significantly since they first launched. Their search engine has become infinitely more powerful (and complex), with more than 500 algorithms driving the way it ranks trillions of webpages that exist in its humongous index. And this situation is not constant. They make adjustments to their ranking formula all the time — hundred of times every year!
Unless a business can adapt to such rapidly shifting circumstances online, it will not be able to seize all the advantages that will be available to nimbler and quicker-moving competitors. The problem with businesses that fail or don’t grow despite this opportunity-rich environment is that:
- They wait until they are forced to change, or
- They do the bare minimum, not doing all that is needed to bring great results
On the other hand, those businesses and brands that thrive under these conditions adapt early and tap into the all the advantages provided by this evolving ecosystem. And that brings us to the next point.
What Can You Do To Adapt?
The most important questions you must ask and answer as a business leader are these:
- Where do your potential buyers come from?
- How are they looking for information about you?
- What do they find when they search on Google?
This lies at the heart of the technological revolution in modern day e-commerce. And there are 2 factors driving it:
- The way your customers are evolving to adapt their buying behavior to the availability and accessibility of more and more information that guides them to make an informed decision, and
- The steps Google is taking to stay in the forefront of these developments, constantly improving and innovating to make their search results more relevant, timely and available to searchers right when and where they want it.
This is what drives Google’s forays into weaving local search, social signals, and mobile compatibility into the search results and rankings it delivers its users. You need to continue to stay on top of these search results, or it will drastically lower your sales and profit.
Online Marketing Is Not A Threat
In fact, online marketing can be your biggest opportunity, because many of your competitors are not leveraging it smartly, effectively or quickly enough. If you’ve been thinking of the emerging online marketplace as a threat to your offline store sales, it’s time to change that mindset — fast.
You must evolve and adapt to change. Google (and other search engines) are no longer an option in growing your business — they are a necessity if you are to ensure that your business will survive. Online search is now getting deeply integrated into people’s everyday lives, and therefore search engine optimization (SEO) can help connect you with “ready to buy” customers.
SEO is an excellent way to manage your online presence in search engines. You can take charge of:
- What your best prospects will read about you
- How they will feel about your business
- What they will think and believe about your service and quality
- How you are perceived by others like themselves in the marketplace
SEO can be the glue that binds together the different pieces of your business, bringing them together in a way that makes your marketing efforts synergistic and more effective at building trust and closing more sales… including offline sales.
Stop Creating Artificial Silos
I see some local businesses blaming the growth of online sales (Amazon, etc.) for their declining offline sales. That’s wrong. What is often a bigger problem is the inability of leaders to evolve and adapt to the changes sweeping the business marketplace.
In many cases, the issue stems from businesses trying to keep offline and online channels artificially separated into watertight compartments. Big mistake!
Online marketing can easily drive offline sales. Consider that Google has become the primary source of new prospects for many brick-and-mortar businesses around the world. Searches carried out on mobile devices are discovering locally available products and services, generating more business and leading to windfall profits for any company smart enough to take advantage of this opportunity.
You don’t even have to rank on Google nationally or internationally. Local search is attracting customers in your locality who are ready to buy. Additionally, Google is increasingly using personalized search to identify individual users and deliver the most relevant content to them based on various factors. These improved search engine results pages (SERPs) provide relevant information specifically tailored to users who are looking for solutions available within a narrow radius closest to where they are.
So, offline sales are driven by online marketing. They are co-dependent, not exclusive or competitive.
It’s A Generational Shift
This migration to portable electronic devices over the past ten years has spawned an entire generation of youngsters comfortable with their smart phones and tablets. This generation uses mobile devices for entertainment and information, executing searches instantly from wherever they are at the moment.
Mobile searchers want more “local” results. Businesses that once had great exposure nationally, dominating the front pages of search results, may now have to adapt and modify their strategy to stay on top of local search as well. If they continue to be like warships, which have difficulty changing course, they will lose market share to the more agile speed boats that swerve and turn with agility and ease.
Your key to being able to compete on that level is a revised search strategy. Google’s “shopping triangle” will always attempt to match local customers to those local businesses which help fulfill the user’s intent. As they grow better at predicting user intent, only strategic businesses will get ranked well.
It has never been more important to integrate mobile, social and local search strategy in order to deliver a great product or service. This helps dominate the conversation among prospective buyers in a socially connected world. What people say about you online (through testimonials, reviews and social media comments) will have a bearing on whether or not new customers will choose to walk into your online store to buy from you.
Direct and indirect ranking signals are now as important as having a good product, or designing a responsive website that is user-friendly and easy to navigate around. You don’t need to rank for all phrases, or across the country — just the best phrases, and only in the locality where your best prospects are searching for you.
Step up your SEO game, leaders. Make it easy for your customers to find you online.
Present yourself in the best light possible. Convince them that you are the most viable option and the best solution to their problem.
Then watch as they step into your offline store — and buy from you.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)
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