Local businesses can no longer rely solely on word of mouth marketing – at least not for long. Modern local services businesses need an online foundation before beginning marketing initiatives. This involves having a website that is easy to navigate, a digital presence so your prospective clients can easily find you, business listings to expand your digital presence, and a plan in place to manage your online reputation. All of these pieces help inform your clients as well as help your clients refer others to your business, directly and indirectly.
Your website is often the first piece of your business prospects see. It is a hub of your business, connecting your prospects to your services as most prospects will search for and find your business online in this modern age. Because of that, it’s imperative that your website showcases your brand image, is easy to use, and is simple in structure for easy navigation. It should include your service details in a direct and focused manner to convey how easy it is to work with your business and how effective your team is at solving the problem or need they have that made them seek out your business to begin with.
Providing customers with convenient options on the go is vital to a growing business. Not only do your prospects want to learn about your business quickly and easily on your website, but they also want to perform a variety of actions quickly and easily on your website. The signup, purchase, or scheduling process should be extremely easy and basic contact information should be captured early in the process in case the process is not completed. The opportunity to pay a bill online or buy a gift card online may also benefit your business, depending on your services. They should also be able to sign up and receive notifications concerning their scheduled services and reminders for when they may need to schedule again.
Before you can update or create your website structure, you need to develop a customer journey. What do your customers experience on your website? What should they experience to bring them closer to contacting you? Use these details to develop a customer journey with a focus on their experience on your website. Focus on what they need to learn about your business and when, on what pages. Add call-to-action buttons on appropriate pages so they can contact you, schedule an appointment, or another preferred action. If you already have a website, go through it and create a list of content and buttons that need to be updated. Make it easy for prospects and return customers.
Each website is different, but you will likely need a contact page, a login or “pay your bill” option in the main menu, and a “schedule an appointment” page. Be sure to integrate your retail sales systems, email marketing systems, and other marketing details already in place. Don’t forget to test the website for the user experience after any changes to ensure it acts as you want it to for your customers.
Having a digital presence is just as important as having a physical presence in your community; however, having a digital presence is more than creating a profile or listing on every possible site available to your business and your industry. Instead, it’s important to use only the most relevant and essential social media and directory sites to showcase your business.
These listings must be established and maintained over time, which will help create and maintain a positive reputation online, which is extremely important for the well-being of your business. Be careful not to spread too wide on this, since the role of the digital presence is primarily to convey a positive reputation, core messaging, and that the business is active. Having too many social media pages and business listings makes it hard to manage over time, which can negatively impact your reputation if prospects presume an inactive or outdated page means an inactive business.
There are so many websites and printed mailers that contain business listings for local services businesses. The best business listings for your business will depend on your industry and location, but you will likely need a Google My Business listing and possibly social media pages with your business information (see Social Media in Lead Nurturing). Be sure to add as many details as you can to each business listing using your messaging guidelines. Don’t forget to include quality images that portray your business and align with your visual branding (see Visual Branding in Foundation).
The more specific, customer-focused details you add, the more likely a prospect will reach out to you over a competitor that does not provide so many helpful details. This also helps you receive more qualified prospects from a variety of avenues because they not only can find you, but they can understand your business through your thorough business listings.
Be sure to set your service area for each business listing. This option is available on Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, and others.
ONLINE REPUTATION STRATEGY
Customer stories, through online reviews, testimonials, and case studies can help establish trust and an emotional connection with your prospective customers. This customer-generated content can change the opinions of prospective customers because customers trust other customers the most. This is why local services businesses need to not only request testimonials and reviews, but they also need to manage their online reputation.
While anyone can review your business on most business listings or social media pages, most people only do so if they were really wowed by your services or were really upset with your services. Negative reviews happen to everyone, which is why it’s so important to develop a strategy to monitor and improve your online reputation. This strategy will involve two things:
- A way to ask your customers to review your business
- A plan on how to respond to negative and positive reviews appropriately
When asking your customers to review your business, you can do so in person, in an email sent after the sale, or in other ways. There are also platforms that automate this process for you, sending emails and texts on your behalf.
ONLINE REPUTATION MANAGEMENT
ORM generally starts with your Business Listings. You will send customers to your Business Listings (Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, and more) so they can leave you a review. Prospects will read these reviews, so you need to review them, too. When you do, respond to each one, whether it’s positive or negative. If it’s negative, try to take it off of that platform by encouraging them to email you (or you can email them first if you have their email). This way, even negative reviews can promote how customer-focused your business is by showing prospects how you resolve issues.
In addition to monitoring and responding to reviews on Business Listings, ORM involves managing your entire online reputation, which includes random posts and comments across the internet. There are many tools that can help you monitor your online reputation. One free tool that many small businesses use is Google Alerts; create an alert for your business name and services names, if applicable, to monitor your brand mentions on any platform.
When reviewing your brand’s online reputation, it’s beneficial to view your brand sentiment. This narrows down to positive, negative, or neutral. The sentiment is the overall view of your brand from all online mentions. The goal is to have a positive sentiment, which doesn’t mean all reviews, posts, and comments are positive, but instead that most are. This positive view or sentiment shows that your customers and community have a positive view of your business, which is critical to success.
If your sentiment is negative, then you need to resolve that with ORM, so start monitoring and responding to negative reviews, posts, and comments. If your sentiment is neutral, then your audience doesn’t really have an opinion on your business, which means not enough people know about it yet.
Your sentiment is heavily influenced by your social media program, so start there to improve it by sharing quality content that your audience cares about. To begin your sentiment analysis for free, use Social Buzz (you need to pay to enable monitoring, but you can do searches for free) or Social Mention.
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