If you do nothing else…

Things are moving fast, we all see that. Sometimes businesses are nearly frozen with fear that they won’t do all the right things. Well, the truth is you will not have time to do everything. But, with the right priorities, you should be able to take care of the most import things. So, if you do nothing else, you should at least…

Get informed…

“Search” is no longer the domain of Google, Yahoo & Bing. Sure, if someone wants to know an obscure fact, these are great places to look. But, for commerce, the field is so much broader than just these, or even search engines in general. While there are sites like Yelp, that have reviews for a just about any product or service (they just past 11 million reviews), there are also niche site and services, like UrbanSpoon, or directional media such as internet yellow pages sites. The point is, take a look at your industry and see where consumers will be looking for you. Then, see how people search on these site. Does the site have a listing service, or forums, or other venues for you to participate? Get to know the general sites and any niche sites for your industry. 

Get social

Facebook is a massive word-of-mouth search engine. Twitter is often used to find out about and follow companies. Being part of these networks increases your chances of coming up when people are looking for your product or service. Creating a Facebook page, or twitter account, and being active with them, creates a relationship with customers so when their friends ask for ideas or advice, you can be part of that conversation. With Facebook searches topping 650MM / month (Comscore), it is still nascent, but growing as an origination of search. Though many are name search, commercial related searches are growing as well.  Additionally, Many industry niche site have community sections such as forums and Q&A areas. These are perfect areas to use your expertise to help customers and prospects. Remember, search is not just about product, name, address and phone number. It is also about opinions, likes and dislikes. Your participation in these networks improves your likelihood of be mentioned in a positive way.

Get Mobile

America is a busy place, with people on the move. We are using the mobile device more than we ever have, but less than we will. According to CITA, smart phone use increased 22.9% from June 2009 to December 2009. When people search for a business or service, it will often be on a mobile device. So, claim your business listing on Google to ensure it is right and has a better chance of appearing on the Google map searches. Check sites like Foursquare and Gowalla to be sure your location is listed properly, and run promotions. Look for niche mobile sites, like roundtable or urban spoon to ensure you’re represented there.

Encourage patrons to use their mobile device to create reviews on sites like yelp, suggest “to do’s” on FourSquare, or give them a reason to take a picture and do a mobile upload on Facebook or Twitter. For your most loyal patrons – those who “like” you on facebook, follow you on Twitter or have Check-ins on Foursquare, provide a little extra – discounts or give-a-aways…(dessert, wash with a hair cut, oil change, etc). Using their mobile, they can show you that they qualify.

Check Your Name, Address & Phone Number

Search engines are funny things… they can pick up information from almost anywhere. And then they show that information to people, whether it’s right or wrong. So, double check your site, ensuring that it has the latest location information (is the number still valid, are the landmarks still relevant?) Check local sites like the chamber of commerce, better business bureau, IYPs (Yellowpages.com, Yellowbook.com, Superpages.com, Dexknows.com), and be sure they are right. Check the local listings in the search engines, and claim them. This information, if not correct can wind up spreading across the internet, and even ending up in places like GPS navigation devices. Once it is wrong, getting it fixed can be a real problem.

Update your website

Above I referred to your address on your website. But, the engines can pick up a lot more that just that. So, be sure your site explicitly talks about your products and services, keeping them logically organized. If you have product lists with SKU, product number, and descriptions, put them on the site, even if they cannot be ordered online. Be sure your phone number and address are prominent on your pages… don’t make users work in order to contact you. By doing these simple things, you can improve the likelihood of being picked up for products or services at the local level. If your are not sure how to do this, it is worth engaging a reputable professional (avoid the ‘too-good-to-be-true’ promises of first position listing on Google… guaranteed). 
I often tell people that search is not rocket science, but it is hard work. There are many ways to engage the active searcher, and if you have the time and resources to tackle them it is worthwhile, but sticking to some foundational elements can go a long way. As a colleague often says, “don’t try to boil the ocean.” Tackle one of these things at a time and you will start to see results.