For local business owners struggling to negotiate the labyrinth of online marketing, Google has come to the rescue. In a newly released video series called “Bring Your Local Business Online,” Google Webmaster Maile Ohye takes the viewer through the step by step process of getting found by local consumers, engaging them, and successfully turning them into customers via the creation of a holistic online identity for your business. At Signpost, our team and product share the same philosophy so we suggest watching the videos or reading the key takeaways below.

Having A Web Presence, Not Just A Website

In a world of increasingly mobile and connected consumers, online marketing has shifted dramatically over the last few years. Creating an online presence used to mean building a website, which even today is still often challenging, expensive, and too technical for most local business owners. Google de-emphasizes the need for a dedicated web page, as sites like Google+, Yelp, Facebook, and LinkedIn for certain categories, give business owners ample opportunity to connect with local consumers in intrinsically different ways. Your Google+ listing is what shows most often for local searches, Yelp is an excellent source of customer reviews, social media buffs look to Facebook for recommendations from friends, while LinkedIn is a page where consumers might look for qualifications and references. By leveraging and linking all of the different listing and review sites, a local business owner can create a holistic, well-defined presence that gives customers a deeper dive into their business than they might get from just a web page.

Differentiating your Business from the Competition

Further along in the video series, Google emphasizes the importance of differentiating your business from the competition. As you create your pages on the various listing sites, early on you need to determine your business’ value add, or what makes you special and why a customer might choose you over the competition. This information should be featured prominently in each of your business listings. Sometimes you might need to talk to your customers or read their comments on existing review sites to get an idea of what it is that they appreciate most about your services. You should think about the buying process from the customer’s perspective, a journey as you will, and how you can communicate and reinforce your value add through each of your customer interactions.

Managing A Customer Feedback Loop

While you should be updating your presence and promoting your business differentiators, new customers will listen even more to existing customers. It is therefore important for you to collect, manage and distribute customer feedback. You first want to learn from your customers how their experience was so you can learn and improve. And once they have a great experience, you want them to share this directly with their email connections, social network and through reviews on local listing websites. Each of the different listing sites offers visitors a chance to review your local business, giving you the chance to show potential customers how many satisfied clients you  have. You can repost some of the better reviews to your business web page, if you have one, or even use some of them in your listing content to emphasize your business’ unique value add. Just be careful not to use the same ones on different sites, as duplication can make customers suspicious.

Making the Shift from Offline to Online

The main takeaway of the video series is taking the things you do successfully offline, such as interacting with customers and communicating how you’re different, and bringing it to the online world in order to increase customer satisfaction, drive revenue, all while saving time. The digital world is now an essential part for offline, local businesses like yours. While word of mouth might still be your main source of new business, this is being influenced by your existing customer experience and feedback, how you show up on web and mobile search, and how you manage new customer interactions. So make sure you’re using all the tools at your disposal to help new customers decide on you before the competition does!