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These days, an online presence is crucial for the success of local services businesses. The Kelsey Group reports that 97% consumers use online media to shop locally. This means that the first interaction many of your customers have with your business takes place online. So, building a strong and positive online presence can directly affect the health and growth of your business.
However, as a local business owner, your expertise lies in services you provide, and building your online reputation can feel like a daunting task. Where do you even begin?
First, let’s start by identifying the components that make up your brand. Simply put, your brand is all of the things that make up your identity, from your logo to your services and classes to the names of the products you sell. How you portray your brand and how customers react to their interactions with you and your staff, as well as the quality of your services and classes, defines your reputation.
Here are 5 ways to establish and build your online brand and reputation.
1. Create an Engaging Website.
Your business’s website should be appealing, informative, and convey your company culture. Your digital look and feel should mirror the experience a consumer will have in your physical location; make sure your logos and color schemes are consistent.
Let customers know who you are by building a comprehensive "about us" page. Talk about your business, how and why you started it, and the benefits it provides. Use photos liberally to show prospects what you offer.
Make sure you clearly outline your menu of services or classes on a page that is easy to get to from your homepage. If a consumer is searching for a service online, you want to make the path to that service as easy and clear as possible.
Your website should also provide online booking and payment options, allowing potential customers to either reserve or purchase services directly from your website.
2. Invest in Your Social Media Accounts.
It’s likely that the first online interaction a potential customer will have with your business will take place on social media, not your website. Research has shown that when people want to find out more about a local business, they turn to social media sites first, so you want to make sure you have a well-rounded presence across all the top social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google+.
However, simply having social media accounts is not enough. You have to invest some time into these channels every day. You should share helpful, interesting and informative content that your customers (both potential and existing) will enjoy. As a best practice, 80% of your posts should be interesting, entertaining and informative content that has nothing to do with your business, while the other 20% should be business-related content, such as special offers, event invites, and new service or class info.
3. List Your Business in Online Directories.
Online directories allow users to search for businesses by category (e.g., what type of services or items they offer). Sites like Yelp, YellowPages, and Citysearch are the first places many consumers go to discover local businesses. If your business is listed there, you’ll have a better chance of showing up in search results for local consumers. Having great listings pages can be just as important as having an engaging website, especially when it comes to winning over prospects.
4. Solicit Customer Reviews.
Reviews are incredibly important and can have a tremendous impact on your business’s success. Many potential customers will read online reviews before deciding to visit your business and directly compare you to similar businesses before ever visiting your website—certainly before stepping foot in your location. According to Etailing Group results published on Reputation.com, 92% of users read Internet reviews. And an incredible 89% of users (according to Cone, Inc.) trust online reviews. With stats like that, you should encourage happy customers to review your services and classes.
5. Develop a Strong Mobile Presence.
Today, 79% of mobile phone owners use those devices for local searches. Is your website built responsively to display on smartphones and tablets, or do you have a separate mobile site? If not, you run the risk of driving mobile viewers away with content that renders poorly on their device. All of the consumer buying patterns I’ve outlined above take place on a mobile device 79% of the time. At the very least, you should make sure your website is mobile-friendly.
If you find that your customers prefer to interact with your business from their phone, you might consider creating your own mobile app to provide them with a convenient way to make appointments or book classes.
The Bottom Line
In today’s digital world, consumers spend most of their time interacting with local businesses online. The first place they are likely to interact with your business is through social media. If you have made a strong first impression on social media, they will click through to your website. Before they decide to do business with you, a potential customer will likely read reviews of your business on sites like Yelp and compare you to similar businesses in your local area. As you can see, building your brand online is critical to the health and growth of your business.
For more helpful information about building and managing your business’ online reputation, check out our Online Reputation Guide.
About the Author
Deb began her career working on product public relations for large companies like Sony, Canon, and Samsung. She then migrated to the tech start-up world where she helped build Vimeo from a 12-person product to a thriving company. She's now Director of Brand & Reputation at Booker Software, where she's helping to build media visibility and grow their social media program. In her spare time, Deb is an avid yogi & martial artist.Follow on Google Plus Follow on Twitter More Content by Deb Szajngarten