A strong online presence is every Small and Medium Enterprise’s necessity to stay ahead of the curve. You can read entire eBooks on how to improve your SEO (search engine optimisation), and still have more to learn! It’s a broad and constantly changing rulebook, written in what seems like a completely new language. However, there are still lots of simple (and free) things you can do as a business owner to make sure that your business is searchable, and instantly recognisable, online. No need to pay for an expert, or for online ads.
Why is this important?
The latest studies show that customers are not only turning to the website to research businesses and help make purchase decisions, of course we know this by now, but they also expect to find you on social media, be able to ask you a direct question, and expect to receive a response within one hour as a measure of ‘good’ customer service (source: Milward Brown Digital).
67% of customers have used a company’s social media channels to ask questions or communicate an issue (Source: J.D. Power Associates). And 1 in 3 customers prefer to contact companies via social media, rather than phoning a customer service number (Source: Nielsen). According to Twitter, customer service interactions in their platform have increased 250% in the last two years.
Ultimately, whether through search engines or social media platforms, in today’s market you not only need to be easily searchable online, you need to be responsive. Or you risk your customers going elsewhere.
To help you, here is our checklist of simple-to-follow practical tasks that will each bring you that step closer to your customers:
- Google yourself
It’s as simple as it sounds. Type your business name into Google for a list of everywhere your business is listed. This should include your own website, social media platforms and other websites and online business directories.
Is your business name, phone number and address consistent everywhere?
Check! And if you find any outdated information or discrepancies, either update them yourself, or get in touch with the owner of the site and provide them with the correct information.
The key here is consistency. Make sure your business name is written in exactly the same way, everywhere.
For example: Your business is called ‘Smith and Co Printers’ on your website, on Yelp, it’s listed as ‘Smith & Co Printing’ on Yelp, and your Facebook page says ‘Smith and Company Printers’.
This is both confusing for potential customers researching you online, but also, Google and other search engines might not recognise the different listings as the same company.
Search engines look for consistency to see if you are a reliable and trustworthy website.
- Optimise your logo
Your logo is one of the first elements a search engine checks when it is scanning your website, looking for cues that will match you with search results.
Follow these very simple steps and don’t miss out on this opportunity to tell search engines exactly what you’re about from the get-go:
- Name your logo file something descriptive of your business. For example, instead of naming it ‘logo.png’. it’s better to include both your business name, and the type of business into the file name: ‘Smith_and_Co_Printing_Logo.png’
- When you upload your logo to your website, don’t forget to update the ‘ALT text’. (This is the line of text that will show up when a customer scrolls over your logo, and this text is also read by search engines.)
- You can also use this opportunity to add a little bit more detail on your business, for example, if you’re a local business, include this location onto your ALT text. For example: ‘Smith and Co Printing, Cape Town’ as the ALT text. But be careful not to try and stuff too much information here, just one extra snippet of information is fine.
- Use this same logo file and ‘ALT text’ in every listing where your logo is shown. I.e. your website, Facebook page, ‘Google My Business’ listing, business directories.
- Sign up to Google My Business
As found by Moz in their recent survey, having a ‘Google My Business’ account is the most important factor to help you rank in local search. To get your free business listing on Google, you can complete your profile at Google My Business. Once your business profile is approved by Google, your business will start appearing in local Google search results, including Google Maps and Google+.
Customers searching for you will be able see all the details you have included in your profile, so make sure you complete it as fully as possible, including some attractive image to show off your product/services. Also business hours and customer reviews.
The 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey Results
- Claim Your Vanity URL’s
Claiming your business name as your unique URL on social platforms will increase the likelihood that your business will show up in search results. On some platforms, it also allows your customers to tag you in comments: Hi @smithandcoprinting – check this out!
As a priority, claim your business name as your unique URL on the social platforms you are active. But it is also a good idea to set up basic profiles on all the big social platforms, and claim vanity URL’s for your business as a way of protecting them. Once you own them, at least you always have the option to start using those platforms in the future, and safeguard from other businesses taking the URLs. You may think your business name is unique, but the world is a big place!
TOP TIP: First, before you decide on your custom URL for your business, search each major social platform for your top choice to make sure it isn’t already claimed. You want to be able to sue the same custom URL on all social platforms!
Here are some helpful links and instructions to help you setup Vanity URLs on the biggest players. Note, for some, you will need to meet some basic criteria first:
- This is a good guide to setup a custom URL for your Facebook page, just keep in mind you need a minimum of 25 fans liking your page first
- Google + (you will need to sign up for ‘Google My Business’ first – see item 4 on this checklist, and also have 10 followers, and have opened your account for at least 30 days)
- Twitter – Sign into your Twitter account, go to “Settings”, update your username. NOTE: Twitter has a 15 character limit for usernames, so you may need to get creative with this one
- Instagram – login to your Instagram account, go to “Settings”, select “Change username”
- Pinterest – login to your Pinterest account, go to “Settings”, select “Change username”
- LinkedIn – for LinkedIn company pages, you cannot yet manually update your custom URL. Instead, you can submit a request to their customer services team here who will then create your custom URL for you. Make sure you submit the request when you are logged into an individual account with admin rights to the company page, tell them the existing URL of the company page you wish to update, and provide them with your preferred URL. It should take a few business days, but at most, 2 weeks depending on how busy they are.
- Increase your citations through business directories
‘Citations’ are mentions of your business and address that appear on websites, other than your own. The core components that make up your ‘citation’, are your Name, Address and Phone number, (NAP). Your NAP is essentially how Google knows that a website is mentioning your business, over any other.
The more Google sees your NAP on reputable websites, the more confidence it will have that your business is reputable, and will place your website higher in search.
As with our earlier advice, consistency is key for your NAP information, so you should keep check on where, and how, your business is being listed on other websites.
To further benefit from citations, you can also actively grow the number of citations for your business, through creating your own listings on good quality online business directories.
As with all good SEO practice, it is the quality of the websites in your network, not the quantity that is more important. So start your search by ‘Googling’ your closest competitors, and see what directories they are listed on. Make sure you have a citation on all of these.
Then a simple Google search: ‘Best local citation sites in [your location]’ should generate many blog posts with lists of good quality business directories in your area.
For example: This list of free business directories from Advertising Solutions Web Design includes good quality sites with both local (South Africa), hyperlocal (Johannesburg) and global coverage.
When setting up new business citations, follow this advice to make sure you’re presenting your business in the best way possible:
- Write detailed and unique business descriptions that simply explains your products, services, and why you are better than your competition
- Upload at least 5 relevant, high-quality images
- Select up to 5 relevant business categories with the first 3 being the most important – try and use the same business categories on all business directories
- Delete any duplicates you find. You only need one citation per directory
- In a niche? Build a community
Have a hunt around online and see if you can find active forums, chat rooms, Facebook groups, or LinkedIn communities that are relevant to your industry. If you offer a service, where are customers asking for recommendations or advice? If you find active communities, then set up a profile for your business and respond to questions your potential customers are asking. This doesn’t need to be a hard sell, if the community start to trust your advice, they will naturally want to check out your business when they are closer to that purchase decision.
If you don’t find any communities online, then why not start your own?
- Learn the basics of ‘meta’
With all this great work you’re doing to get your business showing in Google search, now you need to have great title tags and meta descriptions to help your business shine on the search page. This is what will get browsers clicking on your website above all others on the page.
Let’s break this down for you:
A ‘title tag’ is the page title for each page on your website. It has a character limit of only 65 characters, and will be visible in 3 places (see below for visual examples):
- the title for the page showing on Google search
- at the top of the browser when the website is open on a tab
- the title for the website when being shared in a social platform
Your title tag for each page should be a headline to promote exactly what is on that page.
The ‘meta description’ is the more detailed summary that you see underneath the page title in a Google search listing. This is your opportunity to describe what content is on that page in more detail, and give the browser more incentive to click and visit your website.
Both of these are very important for you to update, to promote what is on your website, and encourage browsers to click on your search listing. If you haven’t set your own title tags and meta descriptions for each page of your website, Google will automatically generate these for you, based on the first line of text on that page, the content in general. Best to take control of these than leave it up to Google to guess.
Use this free online tool to test different title tags and meta descriptions for each page of your website. The tool will automatically count the characters, letting you know when you’ve reached the limit of what will show up on a Google search results page. This free tool will also show you exactly what your title and description will look like in Google.
For more specific instructions on how to update your own title tags and meta descriptions for your website, here are links to specific guides depending on what type of website you have:
How to update title tags and meta descriptions in:
If your website is built in another platform, simply run a Google search for how to update your title tags and meta titles on your platform. There will be a step by step guide available.
- Use Social CRM to respond to social customer service enquiries FAST
So now you have all your custom business URLs, your website and all other social platforms look consistent, your logo file is named correctly, you’re engaging in conversations in relevant forums, and your customers can find you online in a click.
The next job is to be able to respond quickly when they contact you via one of these channels.
Hootsuite’s free social CRM plan allows you to manage up to 3 separate social media channels all in one place, from one dashboard. Reducing the number of apps you need to monitor to keep up with customer enquiries and conversations.
For more advanced CRM Software that you can integrate with your customer database, smart employers use Sage CRM Solutions