For small businesses that depend on local customers, advertising in all the right places is essential. The Yellow Pages alone just doesn't cut it at a time when more mobile shoppers are letting the iPhone guide Siri find stores for them. How do you ensure that mobile shoppers will see your business's name when doing a search on their smartphone or tablet?
It's a matter of being listed in essential places that smartphone apps use to present users with search results. I asked around and got the recommendations of several local business owners and experts about the places you need to make sure your store is listed.
For instance, if you have the latest iPhone, you might ask the phone system's guide, Siri, where to buy batteries. Siri responds by reading out loud a list of local retailers that it takes from Yelp reviews - a fact Yelp itself described in its official blog. Accordingly, Yelp is first in the list of indispensible resources you need to be on.
Tom O'Keefe, who Tweets about interesting restaurants, events and attractions in the Boston area under the Twitter handle @BostonTweet (Twitter.com/BostonTweet), knows a lot about finding businesses online. "I think Boloco does a great job creating a presence via social media," he said.
Boloco, a Boston burrito chain, not only has a website and presence on Facebook and Twitter, but also has a "venue" on the location-based resource Foursquare at Foursqure.com/Boloco; it offers "treats" to customers who visit its Foursquare venue. You'll find Foursquare on our list as well.
"We plan on using Foursquare and Yelp," says Mike LoCarto, web developer with Natural Body Inc., which has three brick-and-mortar stores as well as an ecommerce website (NaturalBodyInc.com). "We have a Google Places listing as well as Facebook and Twitter."
Phil Davies, a consultant to local businesses through the website BigNews.biz, adds two more sites to the mix: Yahoo Local and Patch.com.
"People are using smartphones to find local businesses and these new directories are replacing the Yellow Pages," he says. "The most important factor is getting people to review your site and, if there is a problems with a public review, to address it quickly and honestly. Reviews are going to become a key factor in how these directories rank in search results."
To sum up, here's the list of places where you need to be:
1) Yelp. Look up your own business on Yelp. Claim your existing page or create a new one. Fill in details about your products and services, and encourage others to write some initial reviews.
2) Foursquare. Shoppers who are dedicated users of this location-based social networking service regularly "check in" using their mobile devices to see "venues" near their current location. Your business needs to have its own "venue" so they can find you. Once you have a venue, you can interact with mobile customers in new ways - you can let them become "Mayor" of your establishment, for instance, or give out coupons or other rewards to regular visitors.
3) Google Places. If you have an Android smartphone, you've undoubtedly used Google Maps to find places in your immediate vicinity. To ensure your business is "on the map," make sure you add its name and address. You can even create a Google AdWords ad for it.
4) Yahoo Local. Yahoo Local is Yahoo's own local business directory. Make sure you're listed on it as well. "Note that Yahoo seems to be having a hard time updating their data after an edit is made," comments Phil Davies.
5) Patch.com. This local news and information site doesn't exist in all states. But if there's a Patch in your area, be sure you're listed in the Places section, which lists area businesses and attractions.
The amount of detail you can provide about your business varies with each directory. Phil Davies suggests you add what you sell, how long you have been in business, hours, contact information, photos of store, videos. "Include any information that will differentiate your business from competitors in your area, and solicit your customers to post (honest) reviews about your business."
Davies said Yelp is extremely strict about what reviews they will accept, and Google seems to be used by the largest audience and is free to list with. "Everyone should have a Google Places listing that includes photographs. For all of these directories, be sure to include photographs and update them at least once a month. If you have time to add a video, include that as well."
Lesley Tweedie, Roscoe Village Bikes co-owner and founder of the network of local brick-and-mortar stores called Little Independent, adds another to the list. Along with Yelp, she mentions an iPhone app called LookLocal, part of The 3/50 Project (found here). The app seeks to list "mom and pop" businesses all over the U.S.
Cinda Baxter, founder and President of The 3/50 Project, said one of the reasons she set out to launch the LookLocal app was because other directories have so many gaps. Independent brick-and-mortars who sign up as supporters on The350Project.net website are automatically listed in the app, complete with mapping capabilities, business descriptions, addresses and phone numbers. "Those who prefer more "oomph" have the option of upgrading to an Enhanced listing, which adds four photos, business hours, click-to-visit links to their website, plus links to their social media and review pages (Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, OpenTable, and TripAdvisor)," she said.
With mobile devices becoming a way of life for more and more consumers, there's no time to lose, says Phil Davies. "Local businesses need to get listed as soon as possible or risk losing market share to their competitors."