How to Mine Google's Gold Mine for Local Businesses
Join us at Entrepreneur magazine's Growth Conference, Dec. 15 in Long Beach, Calif. for a day of fresh ideas, business mentoring and networking. Register here for exclusive pricing, available only for a limited time.
In their book, The Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords, 3rd Edition, authors Perry Marshall and Bryan Todd lay out the fundamentals of Google's pay-per-click advertising system and detail how businesses can build campaigns to increase search engine visibility, capture clicks and increase sales. In this edited excerpt, Marshall and Todd discuss how Google AdWords and Place Pages can be a gold mine for local businesses.
Ninety-seven percent of consumers use the Internet to research local products and services. Most brick-and-mortar businesses don't realize the opportunity available to them for free by combining the power of local search marketing and online reviews.
Google has processed so many searches that it has an excellent idea of how people make buying decisions and where an individual searcher is in the buying process. It can figure out whether a searcher is likely looking for information or to buy something locally.
With just a few pieces of information and a little bit of work, your local business can compete with the large corporations for targeted customers. You can also dominate your in-town competition and gather the lion's share of local customers.
A few years ago, Google started dedicating a portion of search results to local businesses, and people have using Google like a phone book. In 2011, approximately 25 percent of all searches on Google had local intent, and that number is growing dramatically as more people buy smartphones with Internet access.
Based on a searcher's IP address, Google knows your geographic location, so it can easily provide local solutions to your query. Looking for a Chinese restaurant, mountain bike or a plumber? Your first page results will show you the businesses nearest you that may have what you're searching for.
This is great news because now your local business is only competing against immediate local competitors for these searches. When the search is clearly of local intent, you no longer have to worry about national companies hogging the first page of the search results. All you have to do is know how to get on the first page.
Google's response to all of the searches with local intent was to create what's called a "Place Page." Chances are Google has already given you one. You just have to optimize it to turn it into a Google goldmine.
Most Place Pages are automatically generated based on information Google finds from multiple sources across the Internet. Every local business needs to find and claim its Google Place Page and make sure all the information is correct and up-to-date.
If you are unable to find your Google Place Page, you can create one if your local business meets Google's guidelines for local search. Then you need to integrate your Place Page with your website and optimize it to rank highly for local search.
Your Place Page contains all sorts of information designed to help the searcher choose you over other businesses. You can list details like hours, directions, payment accepted, etc., and add photos, videos and coupons.
A steady stream of customer reviews is crucial to optimizing your Place Page to appear on page one. People make choices based on the recommendations of others; studies show that as many as 70 percent of us will trust what a perfect stranger says about a company.
Marketing experts cite the importance of word-of-mouth marketing and referrals, and a review is permanent word-of-mouth. A review on Google has maximum value because it's available to searchers when they're closest to the end of the purchasing decision. They are using it to affirm their decision.
Once you start getting reviews on your Google Place Page, you will start earning star ratings. Ideally, you want a five-star rating with consistent fresh reviews. Five stars are natural click-magnets, and Google now shows your five-star rating within your AdWords listing.
Having the five-star rating as part of your AdWords campaign can increase your click-through rate substantially, give your marketing campaign greater impact and reduce your cost-per-click.
Star ratings can fluctuate depending on how many reviews you have, how fresh they are, how positive they are and how well your competitors are keeping up with you.
Just because you have five stars now doesn't mean you'll keep them forever. So you need to integrate some sort of system into your daily operations that will generate consistent reviews from your customers.
It also means you should monitor the reviews on your Place Pages on a weekly basis. Just one negative review can mean an 80 percent drop in new business you might otherwise receive from local search. Anyone can say anything about your business on the Internet and get away with it, so customer service and conflict resolution are more important than ever.
If you receive a negative review online, it's almost impossible to get it removed. The best thing you can do to minimize its effects is to have a constant flow of fresh good reviews. For most businesses, this means that the most recent review should never be more than seven days old.
If you're using Google AdWords, a properly optimized Google Place Page and a process for collecting ongoing fresh five-star reviews, you will have created an online marketing weapon -- an effective way to boost your business with Google local search.
This article is an excerpt from The Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords, 3rd Edition available from Entrepreneur Press.