Every small business owner knows the challenge of growing their customer base - getting traffic through the doors or onto their website in order to drive an increase in sales. Many businesses rely heavily on local traffic - that is, on getting people through the doors of their establishment.
With the dawning of the age of mobile internet connections via smart phones, it is becoming increasingly important that you be searchable and reachable on multiple platforms that provide location-aware services to users of smart phones. When a person is using their mobile device and searching for a bite to eat, the restaurateur certainly wants her establishment showing up in those search results - be it on Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp or Google Local search results to name just a few (and there are dozens!)
It can't be overstated how important local search is for businesses that rely on foot traffic. Folks don't turn to the yellow pages as they did in years past and the small businesses that can leverage the power of local search results will fare much better than those that do not or cannot.
So how does the owner of a local business end up getting listed in local search engines and phone apps? Most establishments will find that they are already in the databases of most platforms and are therefore not in need of adding themselves. It is vitally important
to claim your listings and ensure that they are completely and accurately filled out. But that's not the end of it. It's just the beginning.
In fact, once a business has claimed its' listings and made certain that the information is complete and correct, it behooves them to begin looking at other factors that help those local listings find their way to the top of the heap. Three of those factors include:
- Reviews. Get customers to review your business. It's not unheard of to ask your loyal customers to write reviews on local search sites and via local apps on phones. It is important to understand that we're not talking about cooking up reviews - these should be legitimate and honest reviews. Having words you hope to rank for appear in reviews can be helpful. For example the local fish and chips place would be better off with a review which included "best fish & chips in [city name]" than one which said simply "great food".
- Ratings. This may come as a shock but 4 star ratings are better than 3 star ratings. You heard it here first.
- Local Everything. If you want to rank well for a particular city or town then it behooves you to actually have a physical location in that town. Make sure the mailing address and phone number are both in the geography you are targeting. If you do business in multiple areas, each location needs its' own presence on local search sites. Your Facebook business page and website can still serve multiple locations (and probably ought to), but your individual locations must be individually localized in order to rank well for each geography.
In addition to the search and listing services, there are a growing number of services which allow a user with a smart phone to check in at your location. The smart small business owner will engage these services and recognize their users. Users of these services offer the local business prime opportunities to expand their reach, as most of these services either have loyal followers of their own or intersect with Facebook and other important social networks. When a Foursquare user checks in at your location, takes a photo and adds a comment or recommendation, that information may be shared with her social network. This makes every user of these services a potential evangelist for your business to her social circles.
There are a multitude of avenues to go down to attract users of these apps. Most often they involve rewarding loyalty and having special offers handy for those who check in at your business. If you have already established a following on Facebook, be sure to alert your fans to the check-in specials you are running.
Examples of possible deals and incentives include:
- Donate a dollar to a local charity for every check-in
- Complimentary dessert
- Percentage off an order of $____ or more
- Special pricing on select items only for those who check-in
- Inviting those who check-in to a special event
- Buy one get one free
- Free ____ after 10 check-ins
- Free sample with check-in
- Extended stay with check-in
- Upgrade with check-in
The main goal is to reward the person who checks in to your business with something special. It doesn't have to be expensive or elaborate. It can be a goodwill gesture such as a donation to charity or a direct incentive for the customer.
Check-in marketing is as much a new frontier as the mobile web itself. For business owners with an eye toward staying connected to their loyal customers and creating incentives for additional new business, this is worthy of your consideration.