Why Local Businesses Will Need Websites More than Ever in 2019

Posted by MiriamEllis

64% of 1,411 surveyed local business marketers agree that Google is becoming the new “homepage” for local businesses. Via Moz State of Local SEO Industry Report

…but please don’t come away with the wrong storyline from this statistic.

As local brands and their marketers watch Google play Trojan horse, shifting from top benefactor to top competitor by replacing former “free” publicity with paid packs, Local Service Ads, zero-click SERPs, and related structures, it’s no surprise to see forum members asking, “Do I even need a website anymore?”

Our answer to this question is,“Yes, you’ve never needed a website more than you will in 2019.” In this post, we’ll examine:

  • Why it looks like local businesses don’t need websites
  • Statistical proofs of why local businesses need websites now more than ever
  • The current status of local business websites and most-needed improvements

How Google stopped bearing so many gifts

Within recent memory, a Google query with local intent brought up a big pack of ten nearby businesses, with each entry taking the user directly to these brands’ websites for all of their next steps. A modest amount of marketing effort was rewarded with a shower of Google gifts in the form of rankings, traffic, and conversions.

Then these generous SERPs shrank to seven spots, and then three, with the mobile sea change thrown into the bargain and consisting of layers and layers of Google-owned interfaces instead of direct-to-website links. In 2018, when we rustle through the wrapping paper, the presents we find from Google look cheaper, smaller, and less magnificent.

Consider these five key developments:

1) Zero-click mobile SERPs

This slide from a recent presentation by Rand Fishkin encapsulateshis findings regarding the growth of no-click SERPs between 2016–2018. Mobile users have experienced a 20% increase in delivery of search engine results that don’t require them to go any deeper than Google’s own interface.

2) The encroachment of paid ads into local packs

When Dr. Peter J. Myers surveyed 11,000 SERPs in 2018, he found that 35% of competitive local packs feature ads.

3) Google becoming a lead gen agency

At last count, Google’s Local Service Ads program via which they interposition themselves as the paid lead gen agent between businesses and consumers has taken over 23 business categories in 77 US cities.

4) Even your branded SERPs don’t belong to you

When a user specifically searches for your brand and your Google Knowledge Panel pops up, you can likely cope with the long-standing “People Also Search For” set of competitors at the bottom of it. But that’s not the same as Google allowing Groupon to advertise at the top of your KP, or putting lead gen from Doordash and GrubHub front and center to nickel and dime you on your own customers’ orders.

5) Google is being called the new “homepage” for local businesses

As highlighted at the beginning of this post, 64% of marketers agree that Google is becoming the new “homepage” for local businesses. This concept, coined by Mike Blumenthal, signifies that a user looking at a Google Knowledge Panel can get basic business info, make a phone call, get directions, book something, ask a question, take a virtual tour, read microblog posts, see hours of operation, thumb through photos, see busy times, read and leave reviews. Without ever having to click through to a brand’s domain, the user may be fully satisfied.

“Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.”
– Epicurus

There are many more examples we could gather, but they can all be summed up in one way: None of Google’s most recent local initiatives are about driving customers to brands’ own websites. Local SERPs have shrunk and have been re-engineered to keep users within Google’s platforms to generate maximum revenue for Google and their partners.

You may be as philosophical as Epicurus about this and say that Google has every right to be as profitable as they can with their own product, even if they don’t really need to siphon more revenue off local businesses. But if Google’s recent trajectory causes your brand or agency to conclude that websites have become obsolete in this heavily controlled environment, please keep reading.

Your website is your bedrock

“65% of 1,411 surveyed marketers observe strong correlation between organic and local rank.” – Via Moz State of Local SEO Industry Report

What this means is that businesses which rank highly organically are very likely to have high associated local pack rankings. In the following screenshot, if you take away the directory-type platforms, you will see how the brand websites ranking on page 1 for “deli athens ga” are also the two businesses that have made it into Google’s local pack:

How often do the top 3 Google local pack results also have a 1st page organic rankings?

In a small study, we looked at 15 head keywords across 7 US cities and towns. This yielded 315 possible entries in Google’s local pack. Of that 315, 235 of the businesses ranking in the local packs also had page 1 organic rankings. That’s a 75% correlation between organic website rankings and local pack presence.

*It’s worth noting that where local and organic results did not correlate, it was sometimes due the presence of spam GMB listings, or to mystery SERPs that did not make sense at first glance — perhaps as a result of Google testing, in some cases.

Additionally, many local businesses are not making it to the first page of Google anymore in some categories because the organic SERPs are inundated with best-of lists and directories. Often, local business websites were pushed down to the second page of the organic results. In other words, if spam, “best-ofs,” and mysteries were removed, the local-organic correlation would likely be much higher than 75%.

Further, one recent study found that even when Google’s Local Service Ads are present, 43.9% of clicks went to the organic SERPs. Obviously, if you can make it to the top of the organic SERPs, this puts you in very good CTR shape from a purely organic standpoint.

Your takeaway from this

The local businesses you market may not be able to stave off the onslaught of Google’s zero-click SERPs, paid SERPs, and lead gen features, but where “free” local 3-packs still exist, your very best bet for being included in them is to have the strongest possible website. Moreover, organic SERPs remain a substantial source of clicks.

Far from it being the case that websites have become obsolete, they are the firmest bedrock for maintaining free local SERP visibility amidst an increasing scarcity of opportunities.

This calls for an industry-wide doubling down on organic metrics that matter most.

Bridging the local-organic gap

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
– Aristotle

A 2017 CNBC survey found that 45% of small businesses have no website, and, while most large enterprises have websites, many local businesses qualify as “small.”

Moreover, a recent audit of 9,392 Google My Business listings found that 27% have no website link.

When asked which one task 1,411 marketers want clients to devote more resources to, it’s no coincidence that 66% listed a website-oriented asset. This includes local content development, on-site optimization, local link building, technical analysis of rankings/traffic/conversions, and website design as shown in the following Moz survey graphic:

In an environment in which websites are table stakes for competitive local pack rankings, virtually all local businesses not only need one, but they need it to be as strong as possible so that it achieves maximum organic rankings.

What makes a website strong?

The Moz Beginner’s Guide to SEO offers incredibly detailed guidelines for creating the best possible website. While we recommend that everyone marketing a local business read through this in-depth guide, we can sum up its contents here by stating that strong websites combine:

  • Technical basics
  • Excellent usability
  • On-site optimization
  • Relevant content publication
  • Publicity

For our present purpose, let’s take a special look at those last three elements.

On-site optimization and relevant content publication

There was a time when on-site SEO and content development were treated almost independently of one another. And while local businesses will need a make a little extra effort to put their basic contact information in prominent places on their websites (such as the footer and Contact Us page), publication and optimization should be viewed as a single topic. A modern strategy takes all of the following into account:

  • Keyword and real-world research tell a local business what consumers want
  • These consumer desires are then reflected in what the business publishes on its website, including its homepage, location landing pages, about page, blog and other components
  • Full reflection of consumer desires includes ensuring that human language (discovered via keyword and real-world research) is implemented in all elements of each page, including its tags, headings, descriptions, text, and in some cases, markup

What we’re describing here isn’t a set of disconnected efforts. It’s a single effort that’s integral to researching, writing, and publishing the website. Far from stuffing keywords into a tag or a page’s content, focus has shifted to building topical authority in the eyes of search engines like Google by building an authoritative resource for a particular consumer demographic. The more closely a business is able to reflect customers’ needs (including the language of their needs), in every possible component of its website, the more relevant it becomes.

A hypothetical example of this would be a large medical clinic in Dallas. Last year, their phone staff was inundated with basic questions about flu shots, like where and when to get them, what they cost, would they cause side effects, what about side effects on people with pre-existing health conditions, etc. This year, the medical center’s marketing team took a look at Moz Keyword Explorer and saw that there’s an enormous volume of questions surrounding flu shots:

This tiny segment of the findings of the free keyword research tool, Answer the Public, further illustrates how many questions people have about flu shots:

The medical clinic need not compete nationally for these topics, but at a local level, a page on the website can answer nearly every question a nearby patient could have about this subject. The page, created properly, will reflect human language in its tags, headings, descriptions, text, and markup. It will tell all patients where to come and when to come for this procedure. It has the potential to cut down on time-consuming phone calls.

And, finally, it will build topical authority in the eyes of Google to strengthen the clinic’s chances of ranking well organically… which can then translate to improved local rankings.

It’s important to note that keyword research tools typically do not reflect location very accurately, so research is typically done at a national level, and then adjusted to reflect regional or local language differences and geographic terms, after the fact. In other words, a keyword tool may not accurately reflect exactly how many local consumers in Dallas are asking “Where do I get a flu shot?”, but keyword and real-world research signals that this type of question is definitely being asked. The local business website can reflect this question while also adding in the necessary geographic terms.

Local link building must be brought to the fore of publicity efforts

Moz’s industry survey found that more than one-third of respondents had no local link building strategy in place. Meanwhile, link building was listed as one of the top three tasks to which marketers want their clients to devote more resources. There’s clearly a disconnect going on here. Given the fundamental role links play in building Domain Authority, organic rankings, and subsequent local rankings, building strong websites means bridging this gap.

First, it might help to examine old prejudices that could cause local business marketers and their clients to feel dubious about link building. These most likely stem from link spam which has gotten so out of hand in the general world of SEO that Google has had to penalize it and filter it to the best of their ability.

Not long ago, many digital-only businesses were having a heyday with paid links, link farms, reciprocal links, abusive link anchor text and the like. An online company might accrue thousands of links from completely irrelevant sources, all in hopes of escalating rank. Clearly, these practices aren’t ones an ethical business can feel good about investing in, but they do serve as an interesting object lesson, especially when a local marketer can point out to a client, that best local links are typically going to result from real-world relationship-building.

Local businesses are truly special because they serve a distinct, physical community made up of their own neighbors. The more involved a local business is in its own community, the more naturally link opportunities arise from things like local:

  • Sponsorships
  • Event participation and hosting
  • Online news
  • Blogs
  • Business associations
  • B2B cross-promotions

There are so many ways a local business can build genuine topical and domain authority in a given community by dint of the relationships it develops with neighbors.

An excellent way to get started on this effort is to look at high-ranking local businesses in the same or similar business categories to discover what work they’ve put in to achieve a supportive backlink profile. Moz Link Intersect is an extremely actionable resource for this, enabling a business to input its top competitors to find who is linking to them.

In the following example, a small B&B in Albuquerque looks up two luxurious Tribal resorts in its city:

Link Intersect then lists out a blueprint of opportunities, showing which links one or both competitors have earned. Drilling down, the B&B finds that Marriott.com is linking to both Tribal resorts on an Albuquerque things-to-do page:

The small B&B can then try to earn a spot on that same page, because it hosts lavish tea parties as a thing-to-do. Outreach could depend on the B&B owner knowing someone who works at the local Marriott personally. It could include meeting with them in person, or on the phone, or even via email. If this outreach succeeds, an excellent, relevant link will have been earned to boost organic rank, underpinning local rank.

Then, repeat the process. Aristotle might well have been speaking of link building when he said we are what we repeatedly do and that excellence is a habit. Good marketers can teach customers to have excellent habits in recognizing a good link opportunity when they see it.

Taken altogether

Without a website, a local business lacks the brand-controlled publishing and link-earning platform that so strongly influences organic rankings. In the absence of this, the chances of ranking well in competitive local packs will be significantly less. Taken altogether, the case is clear for local businesses investing substantially in their websites.

Acting now is actually a strategy for the future

“There is nothing permanent except change.”
– Heraclitus

You’ve now determined that strong websites are fundamental to local rankings in competitive markets. You’ve absorbed numerous reasons to encourage local businesses you market to prioritize care of their domains. But there’s one more thing you’ll need to be able to convey, and that’s a sense of urgency.

Right now, every single customer you can still earn from a free local pack listing is immensely valuable for the future.

This isn’t a customer you’ve had to pay Google for, as you very well might six months, a year, or five years from now. Yes, you’ve had to invest plenty in developing the strong website that contributed to the high local ranking, but you haven’t paid a penny directly to Google for this particular lead. Soon, you may be having to fork over commissions to Google for a large portion of your new customers, so acting now is like insurance against future spend.

For this to work out properly, local businesses must take the leads Google is sending them right now for free, and convert them into long-term, loyal customers, with an ultimate value of multiple future transactions without Google as a the middle man. And if these freely won customers can be inspired to act as word-of-mouth advocates for your brand, you will have done something substantial to develop a stream of non-Google-dependent revenue.

This offer may well expire as time goes by. When it comes to the capricious local SERPs, marketers resemble the Greek philosophers who knew that change is the only constant. The Trojan horse has rolled into every US city, and it’s a gift with a questionable shelf life. We can’t predict if or when free packs might become obsolete, but we share your concerns about the way the wind is blowing.

What we can see clearly right now is that websites will be anything but obsolete in 2019. Rather, they are the building blocks of local rankings, precious free leads, and loyal revenue, regardless of how SERPs may alter in future.

For more insights into where local businesses should focus in 2019, be sure to explore the Moz State of Local SEO industry report:

Read the State of Local SEO industry report

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 4 days ago from tracking.feedpress.it

The State of Local SEO: Industry Insights for a Successful 2019

Posted by MiriamEllis

A thousand thanks to the 1,411 respondents who gave of their time and knowledge in contributing to this major survey! You’ve created a vivid image of what real-life, everyday local search marketers and local business owners are observing on a day-to-day basis, what strategies are working for them right now, and where some frankly stunning opportunities for improvement reside. Now, we’re ready to share your insights into:

  • Google Updates
  • Citations
  • Reviews
  • Company infrastructure
  • Tool usage
  • And a great deal more…

This survey pooled the observations of everyone from people working to market a single small business, to agency marketers with large local business clients:

Respondents who self-selected as not marketing a local business were filtered from further survey results.

Thanks to you, this free report is a window into the industry. Bring these statistics to teammates and clients to earn the buy-in you need to effectively reach local consumers in 2019.

Get the full report

There are so many stories here worthy of your time

Let’s pick just one, to give a sense of the industry intelligence you’ll access in this report. Likely you’ve now seen the Local Search Ranking Factors 2018 Survey, undertaken by Whitespark in conjunction with Moz. In that poll of experts, we saw Google My Business signals being cited as the most influential local ranking component. But what was #2? Link building.

You might come away from that excellent survey believing that, since link building is so important, all local businesses must be doing it. But not so. The State of the Local SEO Industry Report reveals that:

When asked what’s working best for them as a method for earning links, 35% of local businesses and their marketers admitted to having no link building strategy in place at all:

And that, Moz friends, is what opportunity looks like. Get your meaningful local link building strategy in place in the new year, and prepare to leave ⅓ of your competitors behind, wondering how you surpassed them in the local and organic results.

The full report contains 30+ findings like this one. Rivet the attention of decision-makers at your agency, quote persuasive statistics to hesitant clients, and share this report with teammates who need to be brought up to industry speed. When read in tandem with the Local Search Ranking Factors survey, this report will help your business or agency understand both what experts are saying and what practitioners are experiencing.

Sometimes, local search marketing can be a lonely road to travel. You may find yourself wondering, “Does anyone understand what I do? Is anyone else struggling with this task? How do I benchmark myself?” You’ll find both confirmation and affirmation today, and Moz’s best hope is that you’ll come away a better, bolder, more effective local marketer. Let’s begin!

Download the report

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 2 weeks ago from tracking.feedpress.it

3 Empowering Small Business Tips for Today, 2019, and a Better Future

Posted by MiriamEllis

“American business is overwhelmingly small business.” – SBE Council

Small businesses have created 61.8% of net new jobs in the US since the early 1990s. Local business is big business. Let’s celebrate this in honor of Small Business Saturday with 3 strategies that will support independent business owners this week, and in the better future that can be attained with the right efforts.

What’s Small Business Saturday?

It’s an annual shopping event sponsored by American Express on the Saturday following Thanksgiving with the primary goal of encouraging residents to patronize local merchants. The program was launched in 2010 in response to the Great Recession. By 2017, Small Business Saturday jumped to 7,200 Neighborhood Champions (individuals and groups that organize towns for the event), with 108 million reported participating consumers spending $12 billion across the country.

Those numbers are impressive, and more than that, they hold the acorn of strategy for the spreading oak of a nation in which independently grown communities set standards of living, set policy, and set us on course for a sustainable future.

Tips for small businesses today

If your community is already participating in Small Business Saturday, try these techniques to enhance your success on the big day:

1. Give an extra reason to shop with you

This can be as simple as giving customers a small discount or a small free gift with their purchase, or as far-reaching as donating part of the proceeds of the day’s sales to a worthy local cause. Give customers a reason to feel extra good that they shopped with you, especially if you can demonstrate how their purchase supports their own community. Check out our Local Business Holiday Checklist for further tips.

2. Give local media something to report

Creativity is your best asset in deciding how to make your place of business a top destination on Small Business Saturday, worthy of mentions in the local news. Live music? A treasure hunt? The best store window in town? Reach out to reporters if you’re doing something extra special to build up publicity.

3. Give a reason to come back year-round

Turn a shopping moment into a teaching moment. Print up some flyers from the American Independent Business Alliance and pass them out to customers to teach them how local purchasing increases local wealth, health, and security. Take a minute or two to talk with customers who express interest. Sometimes, all it takes is a little education and kindness to shift habits. First, take a few minutes to boost your own education by reading How to Win Some Customer Back from Amazon this Holiday Season.

AMIBA has a great list of tips for Small Business Saturday success and American Express has thebest examples of how whole communities have created memorable events surrounding these campaigns. I’ve seen everything from community breakfast kickoffs in Michigan, to jazz bands in Louisiana, to Santa Claus coming to town on a riverboat in California. Working closely with participating neighboring businesses can transform your town or city into a holiday wonderland on this special day, and if your community isn’t involved yet, research this year can prepare you to rally support for an application to next year’s program.

Tips for small businesses for the new year

Unless your town is truly so small that all residents are already aware of every business located there, make 2019 the year you put the Internet to work for you and your community. Even small town businesses have news and promotions they’d like to share on the web, and don’t forget the arrival of new neighbors and travelers who need to be guided to find you. In larger cities, every resident and visitor needs help navigating the local commercial scene.

Try these tips for growth in the new year:

  1. Dig deeply into the Buy Local movement by reading The Local SEO’s Guide to the Buy Local Phenomenon. Even if you see yourself as a merchant today, you can re-envision your role as a community advocate, improving the quality of life for your entire town.
  2. Expand your vision of excellent customer service to include the reality that your neighbors are almost all on the Internet part of every day looking for solutions to their problems. A combination of on-and-offline customer service is your key to becoming the problem-solver that wins lucrative, loyal patrons. Read What the Local Customer Service Ecosystem Looks Like in 2019.
  3. Not sure where to begin learning about local search marketing on the web? First, check out Moz’s free Local SEO Learning Center with articles written for the beginner to familiarize yourself with the basic concepts. Then, start following the recognized leaders in this form of marketingto keep pace with new developments and opportunities as they arise. Make a new year’s resolution to devote just 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week, to learning more about marketing your small local business. By the end of a single year, you will have become a serious force for promotion of your company and the community it serves.

Tips for an independent business future: The time is right

I’ve been working in local business marketing for about 15 years, watching not just the development of technologies, but the ebb and flow of brand and consumer habits and attitudes. What I’m observing with most interest as we close out the present year is a rising tide of localistic leanings.

On the one hand, we have some of the largest brands (Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc.) losing the trust of the public in serious scandals surrounding privacy, human rights violations, and even war. On the other hand, we have small business owners uniting to revitalize their communities in wounded cities like Detroit and tiny towns like Bozeman, in the wake of the Great Recession, itself cited as a big brand product.

Where your company does business may influence your customers’ take on economics, but overall, the engrossing trend I’m seeing is towards more trust in smaller, independently owned companies. In fact, communities across the US are starting to map out futures for themselves that are as self-sustaining as possible. Earlier, I referenced small business owners undergoing a mental shift from lone merchant to community advocate, and here, I’ve mapped out a basic model for towns and cities to shift toward independence.

What most communities can’t access locally are branded products: imported big label clothing, packaged foods, electronics, cars, branded cosmetics, books. Similarly, most communities don’t have direct local access to the manufacture or mining of plastics, metals, and gases. And, very often, towns and cities lack access to agroforestry for raw lumber, fuel, natural fibers and free food. So, let’s say for now that the typical community leaves these things up to big brands so that they can still buy computers, books and stainless steel cookware from major manufacturers.

But beyond this, with the right planning, the majority of the components for a high standard of living can be created and owned locally. For example:

There are certainly some things we may rely on big brands and federal resources for, but it isn’t Amazon or the IRS who give us a friendly wave as we take our morning hike through town, making us feel acknowledged as people and improving our sense of community. For that, we have to rely on our neighbor. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s up to towns and cities to determine whether neighbors are experiencing a decent standard of living.

Reading the mood of the economy, I am seeing more and more Americans becoming open to the messages that the percentage of small businesses in a community correlates with residents’ health, that quality social interactions lessen the chances of premature death by 50%, that independent businesses recirculate almost 4x as much community wealth, and that Main Street-style city planning massively reduces pollution vs. big box stores on the outskirts of town.

Small Business Saturday doesn’t have to be a once-a-year phenomenon. Small business owners, by joining together as community advocates, have the power to make it a way of life where they live. And they have one significant advantage over most corporations, the value of which shouldn’t be underestimated: They can begin the most important conversations face-to-face with their neighbors, asking, “Who do we want to be? Where do want to live? What’s our best vision for how life could be here?”

Don’t be afraid to talk beyond transactions with your favorite customers. Listening closely, I believe you’ll discover that there’s a longing for change and that the time is right.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 3 weeks ago from tracking.feedpress.it

What the Local Customer Service Ecosystem Looks Like in 2019

Posted by MiriamEllis

Everything your brand does in the new year should support just one goal: better local customer service.

Does this sound too simple? Doesn’t marketing brim with a thousand different tasks? Of course — but if the goal of each initiative isn’t to serve the customer better, it’s time for a change of business heart. By putting customers, and their problems, at the absolute center of your brand’s strategy, your enterprise will continuously return to this heart of the matter, this heart of commerce.

What is local customer service in 2019?

It’s so much more than the face-to-face interactions of one staffer with one shopper. Rather, it’s a commitment to becoming an always-on resource that is accessible to people whenever, wherever and however they need it. A Google rep was recently quoted as saying that 46% of searches have a local intent. Mobile search, combined with desktop and various forms of ambient search, have established the local web as man’s other best friend, the constant companion that’s ever ready to serve.

Let’s position your brand to become that faithful helper by establishing the local customer service ecosystem:

Your Key to the Local Customer Service Ecosystem

At the heart sits the local customer, who wants to know:

  • Who can help them, who likes or dislikes a business, who’s behind a brand, who’s the best, cheapest, fastest, closest, etc.
  • What the answer is to their question, what product/service solves their problems, what businesses are nearby, what it’s like there, what policies protect them, what’s the phone number, the website URL, the email address, etc.
  • Where a business is located, where to find parking, where something is manufactured or grown, etc.
  • When a business is open, when sales or events are, when busiest times are, when to purchase specific products/services or book an appointment, etc.
  • Why a business is the best choice based on specific factors, why a business was founded, why people like/dislike a business, etc.
  • How to get to the business by car/bike/on foot, how to learn/do/buy something, how to contact the right person or department, how to make a complaint or leave feedback, how the business supports the community, etc.

Your always-on customer service solves all of these problems with a combination of all of the following:

In-store

Good customer service looks like:

  • A publicly accessible brand policy that protects the rights and defends the dignity of both employees and consumers.
  • Well-trained phone staff with good language skills, equipped to answer FAQs and escalate problems they can’t solve. Sufficient staff to minimize hold-times.
  • Well-trained consumer-facing staff, well-versed in policy, products and services. Sufficient staff to be easily-accessible by customers.
  • In-store signage (including after-hours messaging) that guides consumers towards voicing complaints in person, reducing negative reviews.
  • In-store signage/messaging that promotes aspects of the business that are most beneficial to the community. (philanthropy, environmental stewardship, etc.) to promote loyalty and word-of-mouth.
  • Cleanliness, orderliness and fast resolution of broken fixtures and related issues.
  • Equal access to all facilities with an emphasis on maximum consumer comfort and convenience.
  • Support of payment forms most popular with local customers (cash, check, digital, etc.), security of payment processes, and minimization of billing mistakes/hassles.
  • Correctly posted, consistent hours of operation, reducing inconvenience. Clear messaging regarding special hours/closures.
  • A brand culture that rewards employees who wisely use their own initiative to solve customers’ problems.

Website

Good customer service looks like:

  • Content that solves people’s problems as conveniently and thoroughly as possible in language that they speak. Everything you publish (home, about, contact, local landing pages, etc.) should pass the test of consumer usefulness.
  • Equal access to content, regardless of device.
  • Easily accessible contact information, including name, address, phone number, fax, email, text, driving directions, maps and hours of operation.
  • Signals of trustworthiness, such as reviews, licenses, accreditations, affiliations, and basic website security.
  • Signals of benefit, including community involvement, philanthropy, environmental protections, etc.
  • Click-to-call phone numbers.
  • Clear policies that outline the rights of the consumer and the brand.

Organic SERPs

Good customer service looks like:

  • Management of the first few pages of the organic SERPs to ensure that basic information on them is accurate. This includes structured citations on local business directories, unstructured citations on blog posts, news sites, top 10 lists, review sites, etc. It can also include featured snippets.
  • Management also includes monitoring of the SERPs for highly-ranked content that cites problems others are having with the brand. If these problems can be addressed and resolved, the next step is outreach to the publisher to demonstrate that the problem has been addressed.

Email

Good customer service looks like:

  • Accessible email addresses for customers seeking support and fast responses to queries.
  • Opt-in email marketing in the form of newsletters and special offers.

Reviews

Good customer service looks like:

  • Accuracy of basic business information on major review platforms.
  • Professional and fast responses to both positive and negative reviews, with the core goal of helping and retaining customers by acknowledging their voices and solving their problems.
  • Sentiment analysis of reviews by location to identify emerging problems at specific branches for troubleshooting and resolution.
  • Monitoring of reviews for spam and reporting it where possible.
  • Avoidance of any form of review spam on the part of the brand.
  • Where allowed, guiding valued customers to leave reviews to let the greater community know about the existence and quality of your brand.

Links

Good customer service looks like:

  • Linking out to third-party resources of genuine use to customers.
  • Pursuit of inbound links from relevant sites that expand customers’ picture of what’s available in the place they live, enriching their experience.

Tech

Good customer service looks like:

  • Website usability and accessibility for users of all abilities and on all browsers and devices (ADA compliance, mobile-friendliness, load speed, architecture, etc.)
  • Apps, tools and widgets that improve customers’ experience.
  • Brand accessibility on social platforms most favored by customers.
  • Analytics that provide insight without trespassing on customers’ comfort or right to privacy.

Social

Good customer service looks like:

  • Brand accessibility on social platforms most favored by customers.
  • Social monitoring of the brand name to identify and resolve complaints, as well as to acknowledge praise.
  • Participation for the sake of community involvement as opposed to exploitation. Sharing instead of selling.
  • Advocacy for social platforms to improve their standards of transparency and their commitment to protections for consumers and brands.

Google My Business

Good customer service looks like:

  • Embrace of all elements of Google’s local features (Google My Business listings, Knowledge Panels, Maps, etc.) that create convenience and accessibility for consumers.
  • Ongoing monitoring for accuracy of basic information.
  • Brand avoidance of spam, and also, reporting of spam to protect consumers.
  • Advocacy for Google to improve its standards as a source of community information, including accountability for misinformation on their platform, and basic protections for both brands and consumers.

Customers’ Problems are Yours to Solve

“$41 billion is lost each year by US companies following a bad customer experience.”
New Voice Media

When customers don’t know where something is, how something works, when they can do something, who or what can help them, or why they should choose one option over another, your brand can recognize that they are having a problem. It could be as small a problem as where to buy a gift or as large a problem as seeking legal assistance after their home has been damaged in a disaster.

With the Internet never farther away than fingertips or voices, people have become habituated to turning to it with most of their problems, hour by hour, year by year. Recognition of quests for help may have been simpler just a few decades ago when customers were limited to writing letters, picking up phones, or walking into stores to say, “I have a need.” Now, competitive local enterprises have to expand their view to include customer problems that play out all over the web with new expectations of immediacy.

Unfortunately, brands are struggling with this, and we can sum up common barriers to modern customer service in 3 ways:

1) Brand Self-Absorption

“I’ve gotta have my Pops,” frets a boy in an extreme (and, frankly, off-putting) example in which people behave as though addicted to products. TV ads are rife with the wishfulness of marketers pretending that consumers sing and dance at the mere idea of possessing cars, soda, and soap. Meanwhile, real people stand at a distance watching the song and dance, perhaps amused sometimes, but aware that what’s on-screen isn’t them.

“We’re awesome,” reads too much content on the web, with a brand-centric, self-congratulatory focus. At the other end of the spectrum, web pages sit stuffed with meaningless keywords or almost no text as all, as though there aren’t human beings trying to communicate on either side of the screen.

“Who cares?” is the message untrained employees, neglected shopping environments, and disregarded requests for assistance send when real-world locations open doors but appear to put customer experience as their lowest priority. I’ve catalogued some of my most disheartening customer service interludes and I know you’ve had them, too.

Sometimes, brands get so lost in boardrooms, it’s all they can think of to put in their million-dollar ad campaigns, forgetting that most of their customers don’t live in that world.

One of the first lightbulb moments in the history of online content marketing was the we-you shift. Instead of writing, “We’re here, isn’t that great?”, we began writing, “You’re here and your problem can be solved.” This is the simple but elegant evolution that brands, on the whole, need to experience.

2) Ethical Deficits

Sometimes, customers aren’t lost because a brand is too inwardly focused, but rather, because its executives lack the vision to sustain an ethical business model. Every brand is tasked with succeeding, but it takes civic-minded, customer-centric leadership to avoid the abuses we are seeing at the highest echelons of the business world right now. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, and similar majors have repeatedly failed to put people over profits, resulting in:

  • Scandals
  • Lawsuits
  • Fines
  • Boycotts
  • Loss of consumer trust
  • Employee loss of pride in company culture

At a local business level, and in a grand understatement, it isn’t good customer service when a company deceives or harms the public. Brands, large and small, want to earn the right of integration into the lives of their customers as chosen resources. Large enterprises seeking local customers need leadership that can envision itself in the setting of a single small community, where dishonest practices impact real lives and could lead to permanent closure. Loss of trust should never be an acceptable part of economies of scale.

The internet has put customers, staffers, and media all on the same channels. Ethical leadership is the key ingredient to building a sustainable business model in which all stakeholders take pride.

3) Lack of Strategy

Happily, many brands genuinely do want to face outward and possess the ethics to treat people well. They may simply lack a complete strategy for covering all the bases that make up a satisfying experience. Small local businesses may find lack of time or resources a bar to the necessary education, and structure at enterprises may make it difficult to get buy-in for the fine details of customer service initiatives. Priorities and budgets may get skewed away from customers instead of toward them.

The TL;DR of this entire post is that modern customer service means solving customers’ problems by being wherever they are when they seek solutions. Beyond that, a combination of sufficient, well-trained staff (both online and off) and the type of automation provided by tools that manage local business listings, reviews and social listening are success factors most brands can implement.

Reach Out…

We’ve talked about some negative patterns that can either distance brands from customers, or cause customers to distance themselves due to loss of trust. What’s the good news?

Every single employee of every local brand in the US already knows what good customer service feels like, because all of us are customers.

There’s no mystery or magic here. Your CEO, your devs, sales team, and everyone else in your organization already know by experience what it feels like to be treated well or poorly.

And they already know what it’s like when they see themselves reflected in a store location or on a screen.

Earlier, I cited an old TV spot in which actors were paid to act out the fantasy of a brand. Let’s reach back in time again and watch a similar-era commercial in which actors are paid to role play genuine consumer problems – in this case, a family that wants to keep in touch with a member who is away from home:

The TV family may not look identical to yours, but their featured problem – wanting to keep close to a distant loved one – is one most people can relate to. This 5-year ad campaign won every award in sight, and the key to it is that consumers could recognize themselves on the screen and this act of recognition engaged their emotions.

Yes, a service is being sold (long distance calling), but the selling is being done by putting customers in the starring roles and solving their problems. That’s what good customer service does, and in 2019, if your brand can parlay this mindset into all of the mediums via which people now seek help, your own “reach out and touch someone” goals are well on their way to success.

Loyal Service Sparks Consumer Loyalty

“Acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to twenty times more expensive than retaining an existing one.”
Harvard Business Review

“Loyal customers are worth up to ten times as much as their first purchase.”
White House Office of Consumer Affairs

I want to close here with a note on loyalty. With a single customer representing up to 10x the value of their first purchase, earning a devoted clientele is the very best inspiration for dedication to improving customer service.

Trader Joe’s is a large chain that earns consistent mentions for its high standards of customer service. Being a local SEO, I turned to its Google reviews, looking at 5 locations in Northern California. I counted 225 instances of people exuberantly praising staff at just these 5 locations, using words like “Awesome, incredible, helpful, friendly, and fun!”. Moreover, reviewers continuously mentioned the brand as the only place they want to shop for groceries because they love it so much. It’s as close as you can get to a “gotta have my Pops” scenario, but it’s real.

How does Trader Joe’s pull this off? A study conducted by Temkin Group found that, “A customer’s emotional experience is the most significant driver of loyalty, especially when it comes to consumers recommending firms to their friends.” The cited article lists emotional connection and content, motivated employees who are empowered to go the extra mile as keys to why this chain was ranked second-highest in emotion ratings (a concept similar to Net Promoter Score). In a word, the Trader Joe’s customer service experience creates the right feelings, as this quick sentiment cloud of Google review analysis illustrates:

This brand has absolutely perfected the thrilling and lucrative art of creating loyal customers, making their review corpus read like a volume of love letters. The next move for this company – and for the local brands you market – is to “spread the love” across all points where a customer might seek to connect, both online and off.

It’s a kind of love when you ensure a customer isn’t misdirected by a wrong address on a local business listing or when you answer a negative review with the will to make things right. It’s a kind of love when a company blog is so helpful that its comments say, “You must be psychic! This is the exact problem I was trying to solve.” It’s a kind of love when a staff member is empowered to create such a good experience that a customer tells their mother, their son, their best friend to trust you brand.

Love, emotions, feelings — are we still talking about business here? Yes, because when you subtract the medium, the device, the screen, it’s two very human people on either side of every transaction.

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Reblogged 1 month ago from tracking.feedpress.it