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You may not be aware of this, but here in the U.K., we are currently half way through Local Business Week – an event that stretches from May 13 to 19. It’s a worthy initiative aimed at encouraging Britons to buy from local traders rather than large companies. The problem is that small companies are not always easy to find – especially if the customer’s first port of call is a search engine.
At least that’s the key finding of a survey of 2,000 small businesses carried out by British/Ukrainian website building company Ueni. And if the results of the poll reflect the wider experience of the SME community, then small, locally-focused companies are finding it hard to compete online with their larger counterparts.
It’s a question of visibility. When asked if they had struggled to appear in search results, 76 percent of the businesses taking part in the survey said yes. And there was a definite feeling that the digital playing field was less than level. For instance, when asked whether Google tended to favor big brands, 46 percent said yes, with only 14 percent answering in the negative.
Now it’s debatable whether Google actively favors large brands over their smaller competitors. But what is certainly true is that the majority of local business don’t have the resources to compete with big companies when it comes to getting a good position on the search engine rankings.
A Customer Problem
And this feeds through to a problem for potential customers. We’ve probably all had the experience of searching for, say, a local electrician only to find that when the results appear on the screen, the results are dominated by national companies that subcontract to local members of staff, or (more likely) freelance contractors. Equally, search for a hairdresser or computer store and top positions on the page are likely to be taken by national chains. Shopping local isn’t easy.
“We all want local hairdressers, plumbers and dentists but it can be surprisingly tough to find them on the first page of search engine results. It would be in everyone’s interests if this was easier to do,” says Ueni founder, Christine Telyan.
All this matters because, as customers and consumers, we tend to be a bit lazy when it comes to scrolling through search results. Most of us probably don’t look beyond the first or second pages to find a suitable shop or supplier. And if those pages are dominated by big brands – including those in the sponsored results sections – we may well choose to spend our money with a major player, even if we initially intended to shop local.
So the question is, what can small businesses do – assuming they don’t have access to deep wells of cash and expertise – to improve their search positioning?
Telyan acknowledges that it can be extremely tough for small businesses – and particularly microbusinesses – to claw their way to the top of the rankings, she says there are certain things that must be done.
“You need to register with Google My Business and you should also be on Google Maps,” she says. “In addition, small companies should also register with relevant online business directories.”
Those steps will certainly help with visibility. For instance, we’re all familiar with the company profiles that pop up when we search for certain types of business on Google. To take advantage of this aspect of the Google engine, it’s necessary to sign up with My Business. Similarly, Google will show the location of businesses that are registered with its Maps service. “And you really need to have a pink pin showing where your business is,” says Telyan.
But that’s only part of the picture. As Telyan explains, to be successful online, a business needs to demonstrate that it has credibility. For instance, Telyan says it is important to have a facility to capture customer reviews and a presence on social media is equally essential.
Then there is the technical side of things. “The website should render well on all devices, including phones,” says Telyan. “That’s important because the majority of searches for local services are made on smartphones.” The site itself should not only contain details about the products and offers but also key – and sometimes forgotten – essential information, such as opening and closing times. And while small businesses can’t be expected to compete with their bigger counterparts when it comes to the dark arts of search engine optimization (SEO), a site should, at the very least, be laced with keywords.
It has to be said that Euni has skin in the game. As a company focused on getting very small businesses online (starting with a free offer) it builds sites that cover off many of the web marketing basics, such as registration with Maps and My Business. To make it as simple as possible, Euni asks users to fill in a questionnaire about their businesses and this – along with any supplied visuals, such as logos – is used to create the site.
But there is a wider point here. An online presence isn’t a silver bullet that will enable a local business to compete with national brands, but for most businesses, it is an essential point of contact. And the more effort you put in, the better your search engine performance will be. Something to think about in Local Business Week.
May 15, 2019 at 07:23PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs