Can your customers find your business online?More and more people are turning to the internet as their first port of call when looking for a business operating locally.

Pubs, restaurants, solicitors, estate agents, specialist shops (cycling, fishing, computers), venue hire are all typical examples.

Think about your own searching habits and what you Google when you need the services of local business such as an estate agent.

You might start with the phrase “estate agent”, but very quickly, when the results don’t relate to your locality, you will add a further identifier such as the name of your village, town or city.

Everyone else does the same.

And these days they are also doing it from their phones, iPads and other mobile devices, which makes it important for small businesses to ensure they are found online when people search for the services on offer.

Further proof that people use the internet for finding local facilities is evident in the size of the latest edition of the Thomson Local Directory. It’s now down to size A5 and probably only a couple of hundred pages in length.

(I threw the latest edition into the bin within days of receiving it.)

What can a small business owner do?

1. Get a Website

In my opinion, every small business should have a website. Bells and whistles are not required, just a few simple pages that enable customers to find out what the business is about, the services offered, opening times, contact details and an online form for those who prefer to email rather than call.

I recently spotted this post on the UK Business Forums website, and I think it perfectly sums up how a local business benefits from having a website:

something to share…I went to get my haircut the other day and got chatting, as you do, to the owner. After we discused ‘the usual’ about where I’m off to on holiday this year and how horrible the weather is, I happened to ask how her business was going? I live in a small town in Essex, yet there are 9 hairdressers /barbers and it always amazes me how they all stay in business. She said that she was doing fine, but she new of a few others that were very quiet. She’s obviously busy because the salon is bright , welcoming and they do a reasonably priced cut, but she is the only one of the nine with a website. I said I found this amazing in this day and age, and casually replied something like “hairdressers don’t need websites I suppose , as everyone knows that you’re here anyway”. She enlightened me that in actual fact she gets a lot from her site….customers making online bookings, finding her address, just checking out the number to call the salon. etc etc.
So even a hairdresser, with a very local presence and not directly in need of a website to ‘sell’ her service still finds value in having a website.

Something else to take away from this snippet, is that people expect local businesses to have a website.

They’re are used interacting with a website and often prefer that to any other type of listing such as Google Local/Maps/Places (see below), Yell or 192.com.

A lack of a website could, rightly or wrongly, give the impression that a business is behind the times or perhaps even closed.

2. Make sure your business is listed on Google

If a website really isn’t for you, at least make sure Google knows about your business.

Google Local has recently become Google Places, to get listed, all you have to do is visit this page, login to your Google account (or create one) and complete the online form, which asks for details of your services, contact information, opening times and location.

In order to verify your business, Google sends out a letter to your business address. Inside the letter is a PIN number and verification instructions. Follow the instructions and your listing is activated. The whole process usually takes a couple of weeks.

Now, when people search for your services in your area, your business listing should appear, but it will still be competing with all the other listings.

Here is a typical example of Google’s local/places search results, these are for the phrase “estate agents failsworth”

Estate Agents Failsworth Search Results

Notice that most of the listings have a website and the address is included in the results, however, the business that’s highlighted doesn’t have a website and so the searcher is directed to the Google Places page (for the business). Whilst the Google listing contains all the relevant information to contact the business, there is no branding, message or imagery – something which could tip the scales for a potential customer/client.

If a website existed, the listing in these results would point to it, thus enabling the business owner to convey the message he/she wants, and build brand awareness.

That’s a whole load of neglected marketing power.

Read more: Online Businesses – Can Google, Your Customers Still Find You?