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reputation management

Running a small business can be particularly taxing and present business owners with many challenges that stretch both their budget and imagination. Finding ways to generate new business opportunities and foster growth without breaking the bank has always been a priority for owners of small- and medium-sized businesses.

In the past, the choices available were limited to printed media and broadcast. Nowadays, the unprecedented growth and penetration of the Web, in tandem with numerous websites whose economic model does not demand direct payment from the vendor, has resulted in increasingly democratized opportunities to market services and products, thus growing a business without having to boost marketing spend.

Because the Google search engine has basically monopolized search, using Google tools available to your business at no cost is not only smart but also indispensable to guarantee prominent presence when a potential customer conducts a search with keywords related to your business. Google My Business is potentially the most effective avenue to promote your business and engage with current and future customers at little or no cost to you.

(Check out: “Google My Business Launched to Streamline Management of Business Information on Google and Across the Web”)

As a small business, you probably hear numerous pitches from marketing agencies of various sizes, offering to help promote your business using paid tools such as Google advertising. Without a doubt, in certain situations there is merit in paying for a Google ads campaign; but generally speaking, mom-and-pop shops can gain the most marketing traction by first optimizing the no-cost options available to them. Let us walk you through a few simple moves, using Google My Business, that will drive traffic to your website and bring new customers through your doors.

Get Found by Activating Google My Places

One of the easiest and quickest ways to give your small business exposure to people who are searching using the Google search engine is to make sure your Google My Places feature is activated. By this, we mean that you have taken the necessary steps to create the association between your website and your physical address.

When Google My Places is properly set up, your business is likely to appear prioritized by location in two instances. The first instance is when a customer is searching for a service based on your categories, and Google identifies their proximity to your business based on their IP. For example, a searcher in San Francisco enters a search for “dry-cleaning services.” At this point, Google is likely to respond with a list of dry-cleaning services based on their proximity to the IP of the person conducting the search.

The second instance is a search where the user includes a city name. In this case, the search string might read: “dry-cleaning services San Francisco.” When someone runs this query in Google, the order of his or her location-based results will default to the listing in the category that is closest to the center of town. (Here is the how-to guide to claim your business address in Google.)

An important move when setting up your Google My Places is to make sure that you include yourself for extended geographical areas. For example, if your business is located in the Dallas Area, then there are several suburb cities that you normally service, but they may not show up in association with your website unless you intentionally categorize them in Google My Places as part of your geographical area.

This is incredibly important because it’s a great source of revenue for small businesses offering services such as home repair, carpet cleaning, pest control, or any other service where the service provider drives to the customer’s home. By simply maximizing your area of coverage, you can double or triple the traffic to your website originating from Google searches. Businesses that have carefully implemented an expanded area have reported tremendous revenue increases resulting from servicing neighboring markets.

Another advantage is the ability to provide potential customers with the “get directions” feature and one-click dial when they are on the go. These features alone make your Google My Places listing an absolute marketing asset for your business.

Shine like a Star by Encouraging Google Reviews

While Google frowns upon bulk-review solicitation, they do encourage small businesses to ask at a personal level, and face-to-face, for their customers to write reviews using Google reviews. Google reviews offer many advantages to small businesses, but principally, and of most value to small businesses, is the credibility that comes from search display enhanced by a high Google star rating.

In order for Google to show a star-based score for your business, you have to have several reviews with high-star ratings and generally be one of the businesses in your niche with the most reviews. Potential customers are three times more likely to click on a listing featuring a graphical representation of reviews via stars.

Dominate Search Results by Introducing Multimedia

If you have taken the time to enhance and complete your Google Plus profile with both images and videos, then you stand a great chance of having Google display your business with a multimedia screen at the right of the page, which takes up significant real estate on search results. The business listing will then show with a combo of images, Google Maps, videos, star ratings, contact information, and a preview of Google reviews. Talk about page domination!

Not taking the time to manage your Google My Business profile and optimize all the free tools available within it could be costing your business thousands of dollars in potential revenue. Google My Business is a win-win deal. No cost to small-business owners, and tremendous opportunity to bank on all its features and bring more customers through the door.

Set up Your Google Profile to Dominate Categories and Themes

A really valuable option available while setting up a Google profile for business is the ability to include categories and themes to help your business be responsive for specific searches. For example, if you own a transportation company in Napa, then you could include yourself in categories such as luxury transportation, wedding transportation, cars for hire, limo services, etc. By tagging your business with categories and themes, you increase the chance of being found for various searches that are relevant to your business.

Regardless of size or age all businesses can benefit from integrating a strong reputation management strategy that takes into account Google, as well as other important and highly searched review sites like Yelp, Foursquare and TripAdvisor. The secret to success is to have all your bases covered and maximize what is available to you in order to grow your customer base as well as your overall brand and business reputation.

(Image credit: Google My Business)

Chris Campbell

Chris is the CEO of ReviewTrackers. He has helped tens of thousands of businesses hear, manage, and respond to what their customers are saying online.