The term “online visibility” usually refers to the visibility of sites on the web. This column will discuss the online visibility of small and medium businesses (SMBs) and why it is harder to define, identify and measure SMB presence than web site visibility.
Web site visibility consists of several relatively easy to measure features such as how well the site appears in search results on search engines or how many external links lead back to the website
The online visibility of an SMB is more complex. For one thing, the way a website appears online is very conclusive: the site has an explicit, unique URL. An SMB, on the other hand, can have various, sometimes very different, online appearances. The main attributes that comprise the appearance of an SMB are its name, address and phone number, and these can appear differently on different sites. For instance, an SMB’s address can be “1241 Main St., LA” on a vertical site and “serving the greater LA area” on an IYP site. The same SMB can also have its real phone number in its IYP listing and a tracking number on a local directory.
But online visibility is not just about being listed in many places. What is important is how many consumers see the SMB when searching online, or put slightly differently, how much traffic the different sites and directories have. However, general traffic figures are not enough. For SMBs, it is important to know which sites and directories are more suited for their prospective customers. For example, it would be fairly safe to assume that when a consumer searches for an attorney, she will turn to one of the vertical sites specializing in attorneys, such as Lawyers.com or FindLaw, rather than to one of the local directories, where she would usually go to find a restaurant.
Furthermore, an SMB’s online visibility is affected by the way it is listed. Advertising on a directory or even claiming your listing significantly improves an SMB’s visibility. If you are a Realtor who advertises on a local directory and you appear in the first three results, you’re a lot more visible than another Realtor who has a free listing and appears on page 37.
To complicate things further, an SMB’s online visibility should not be calculated in objective terms, but rather relative to other businesses in its market and vertical. For example, even if a Wyoming plumber is much less visible than your average New York lawyer, he may still rank high if he is more visible than other plumbers in Wyoming. SMB online visibility, on top of everything else, is a relative term.
In other words, online visibility for SMBs involves a broad array of parameters, on all forms of local search sites. It should also take into consideration the SMB’s own website – a roofer with a highly optimized site can still have good visibility even if he is not listed well on the leading directories.
Since we already collect information about the appearance of SMBs on leading search engines, IYPs, local and vertical sites, dealing with the complex merge issues described above, we decided to compile an online visibility measurement in some categories. The chart below shows the online visibility figures for contractors in Georgia:
Understanding the online visibility of an SMB is very important for companies that sell online marketing services to SMBs. This knowledge can help them improve their offering to existing customers and improve sales conversion rates. For SMB owners, knowing what their real online visibility is, especially compared to their competitors, will let them know where they stand and how they can improve their online presence and reach more customers.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.