Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down to lunch at Steve's Deli, one of my favorite spots in Downtown Jackson with one of my favorite Jacksonians, Todd Stauffer. If you don't know Todd personally, you may recognize the name. He's kind of a big deal. Todd currently serves as the publisher and co-founder of the Jackson Free Press and BOOM Magazine. He also wrote one of the earliest books on blogging, so I am hoping he will consider this as my official plea to serve as my full-time, blog consultant pro bono. He's been a media personality and marketer for a long time, helping small and large businesses grow. And I had the honor of serving on the TeamJXN Board of Directors with Todd before I moved to Laurel, and while he's one I wish I was able to see more often, when we do get together, we pick right back up where we left off, then exchange witty (and sometimes snarky) emails until we meet again.
Of the many areas Todd is an expert, Google is one of them. He's done talks specifically about Google and why businesses need to prioritize it. So, as one of my first few blog posts, I felt it was important to interview Todd specifically on why Google is so important for small business.
Google ranks far higher than any social media platform as far as important first steps. Everything else supports what you do on Google. And if you set things up correctly in the beginning, you can take months or years off the guess work for Google to figure your business out by just giving them the information and photos. Most small businesses either don't even consider investing time into Google, or they dismiss it as a complicated and unnecessary step, when it's actually one of the most critical steps to make. So, I asked Todd to tell me what the first thing an entrepreneur or small business should do to get in the Google game. So, if you have a new business or haven't explored Google whatsoever, this one is for YOU.
FIRST THING'S FIRST
Claim your Google My Business (GMB) listing and then, once you've got control of it (which may take a week or two unless you work with some Google-authorized consultants) customize it. Make sure all of the settings and details are accurate. Add high-quality photos. Post offers, products, and promotions in Google Posts. Fill out the Q&A section about your store or service. Link to your well-designed website—not your Facebook page.
I've seen local businesses immediately impacted by claiming and then filling out their Google My Business page. It's the quickest way I've seen to get on the Google Map, for instance, when people search for your type of business or service in their area. It can give almost instant credibility to your business on the "Google Home Page"—meaning, the page that people see when they type your business name into Google and search. GMB offers tons of benefits—and it's Google's own "thing" so it's smart to do because Google is clearly going to prioritize their own tools over third-party tools.
If you haven’t already, you need to start working on your website. Facebook and other social media are important, but you should think of them primarily as tools for driving traffic to your website; driving traffic to your Facebook page is only so useful—it benefits Facebook more than you. (I like to point out that you own any audience you have on your website and in an e-mail database; you rent your own followers from Facebook.)
Late at night on Day One (it's been a busy day!) get that e-mail newsletter sign-up form on your professional-looking website and start thinking about how to sign people up in-store and online.
The ultimately goal of your website is going to be a conversion—traffic starts in social, search or earned media, and then comes to your website. That traffic ideally rsesults in either a sale if you’re in e-commerce, or an e-mail address so you can follow up with interested customers via e-mail newsletter or personal e-mail.
My next question for Todd was what I get from a lot of my peers in small business when we start the Google conversation - is all this work worth it? Google is an ongoing investment of time, but the bulk of the work is in the beginning. Granted, keeping your information current everywhere is important in general (to Google and beyond). So, my question to Todd:
WHY DOES GOOGLE MATTER?
Google matters for two reasons.
First, and most obvious, is that people use Google to find things. As far as local businesses and service providers are concerned, it's what the yellow pages used to be. Need a plumber in Laurel? You're likely to go to Google and type in "plumber Laurel" or "best plumber Laurel" or "plumber Laurel reviews." This is not only why SEO is important (so that you show up in those results), but it's one reason that Google My Business is so important to local businesses—it's almost literally like a free yellow pages listing with a ton of cool options for making your business stand out.
**Laura here with a side note: I, in fact, did this very thing a few weeks ago. Googled "plumber Laurel open Saturdays." No lie. Ok...back to Todd.
Second—and this one some local businesses don't think as much about— these days almost everyone will go to the Web in order to research a purchase before making it—even if they plan to go to a local store.
In fact, even if they know WHERE they plan to go—like they got a word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend or saw an advertisement in local media—they'll often Google it. I call this your business' "Google Home Page." If people type the name of your business into Google, what comes up? Does it look good? Good reviews and 4.5 or 5 stars all over the page? Is there a complete Google My Business profile? Does your website come up at the top of the results? Do you show up on the map?
WITH SO MUCH COMPETITION GLOBALLY, IS IT EVEN WORTH TRYING TO DO THE WORK TO GET A BETTER GOOGLE RANKING?
Google is actually a very local tool—particularly with mobile devices. It generally knows where you are and works to give you results that are relevant to you in your city or town. Having a strategy for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is really important, because of what I mentioned before—Google is, for all intents and purposes, the modern yellow pages.
That said, understanding how popular e-commerce is should make a local business consider their options in that space, too. Moving your website to Shopify or adding e-commerce to an existing site can be an important way to "fight back" against Amazon and ilk in order to get your share of revenue from customers who want to make their purchases online. Of course that means some logistics—packaging, mailing, accepting returns.
AND FINALLY, SINCE WE'RE ALL ABOUT BEING ECONOMICAL HERE AT THE SMALL TOWN CREATIVE, HERE ARE TODD'S THOUGHTS ON HOW TO GET A HIGHER GOOGLE RANKING ON A LIMITED BUDGET.
We've already discussed Google My Business—claim your listing and start customizing. One other thing I could mention about Google My Business is that you should do what you can to encourage good reviews from your customers—high reviews not only look good when you're searching, but having a higher number of good reviews in GMB can improve other parts of your listings—such as getting star ratings on your website's result listing itself.
Your website needs to be plugged into the Google Search Console and you should use a website platform or content management system (CMS) that creates a Sitemap. That will help Google know what pages you have available for "crawling" and Google can report errors or even some malware situations to you through Search Console.
Content is king—your website needs fresh content to stay interesting to Google and to help you come up in competitive listings searches. Have a blog or news section on your site and write about your products, your customers or your industry. Update the sales, products, promotions and other offerings on your website.
I know Facebook is easier and more fun for some business owners, and everyone absolutely needs to use Facebook, Twitter and depending on the business, Instagram, Pinterest and in some cases, Snapchat. But those channels are best for having conversations or relationships with your customers and then driving them to your website.
Never neglect your own website. Every single social media outlet has the goal of monetizing its traffic, and it will generally do that through the businesses on their network, not their individual users. Those social media all, on some level, want to "rent" you access to your own followers through ads, boosting, etc.
Getting your customers used to coming to your website and/or reading your e-mail newsletter offers the highest return on investment of anything you can do online to build loyalty and create recurring sales.
Major thanks to Todd for sharing his wealth of knowledge. To contact Todd, you can go to the Jackson Free Press digital services website. I know this post was jam packed of good content, so please leave comments or questions below and, if you have a specific follow-up request, let me know. If there is enough interest, I can definitely dig deeper into some of this.