How brick and mortar businesses should market onlie

What's the secret sauce for small businesses to market online? Is SEO the answer?

I get asked a lot about how businesses can be found online by their customers. What SEO tactics or online marketing strategies should they undertake?

So-called brick and mortar businesses – those that have a store front or a physical location for people to engage with them need foot traffic. These types of businesses can include lots of different types, including stores, restaurants, locksmiths, hair salons, art galleries, and even non-profits like churches.

Most of these types of businesses have one thing that makes it very difficult to “SEO” their website: competition. In any given town or city, you’re typically going to have plenty of competitors around you that are trying just as hard as you are to rise above the noise and be seen in the crowd. How does one lawyer look different from the next lawyer around the corner, especially in the search engines’ eyes? It’s nearly impossible to get to the top of Google any more for anything but the most esoteric terms (which no one is searching for anyway).

So you must take a different tack. All of these are very low cost or NO cost – maybe just a little time.

1. Get Your Online House In Order

First of all, make sure you have a well-designed website that properly reflects your products and services. Read every single page of your website to make sure it’s current. Check the copyright date at the bottom – does it say “2007”? (That smells pretty stale.) Is your address and phone number at the TOP of every single page? Nothing drives me crazier than going to a restaurant site and I have to HUNT for their address and/or phone. Make it easy and give them a link to clickable map to easily locate you.

Is your website mobile-aware? If not get one. There are many great WordPress templates from StudioPress that will cost you under $100. Most of them are mobile-aware, and your customers will thank you. (I use the Executive theme on my own business blog at the Bay Area Search Engine Academy. Easy to install and easy to configure and customize.)

Ask your web person to look at all your page titles and descriptions. Do they say “Home Page” or “Welcome” or your company name over and over? Fix them. Do it once and walk away.

2. Get Your Online Business Listings Set Up and Claimed

There are a ton of free business listing websites. Take an afternoon or pay your teenager (or borrow someone else’s) to go through ALL of them and set up and claim your business listings. Make sure you have a good quality version of your logo file, some good photographs, and your business description. Most of the sites will allow you to upload all of this information into your listing.

The big ones to hit include:

  • Google Plus Business page (this has replaced Google Maps and Google Places, so you MUST get this set up)
  • Yelp – I’m not a fan of their paid listings, but you need to claim or set up your listing or someone else will
  • Yahoo! and Bing business listings

There are MANY more, including City Search, Urban Spoon, Merchant Circle, and so on. The easiest way to do it is to go to (it’s free) and search for your business. They’ll give you links to set up your listings on all the sites.

3. Get Your Online Reviews and Testimonials

Reviews on sites like Google+ and Yelp are hugely influential. Raise your hand if you study the reviews on before making a purchase. Yep, your customers are doing the same thing. Got no reviews? You need to start nurturing and encouraging it. Just don’t e-mail all your friends asking them to review you. If you get 50 reviews in a week when you had none before, that’s very suspicious, and they’ll probably suspend your account. Gently nudge your customers one at a time to “tell you how their experience was”. Some will, some won’t. That’s good enough, but get started now.

Don’t be afraid of negative reviews either. We all get one or two. But if you have no good reviews, those negative reviews stick out like a big old sore thumb. On the other hand, if you have 50 great reviews, and you get a bad one, people will discount the bad review. Respond to the bad review (politely) and tell the person that you want to make their bad experience right – offer them their money back, or something else to give you another chance. This goes a LONG way in diffusing a bad review. Even if it costs you some money, not doing so will cost you more in the long run.

4. Set Up Your Social Media Accounts

Don’t worry, you don’t have to do all of them, after all, there are so many. But at least set up a Facebook and Google+ account. Don’t use them to sell people. Use them to communicate with people. Tell them interesting bits of information about your business, your industry, something cool a competitor is doing (make it positive only – never trash someone else), and just engage with your community. I’ve said it many times: “People buy into you before they buy from you.” If your social media is current, has interesting bits of information, videos, articles, people will engage. If you haven’t posted to your page in three months, guess what? No one’s listening.

5. Make Your Business Unique

We all have competitors. We all look similar to the next guy or gal. Do something different to make your business stand out. One of the things I love doing is using video. You can buy a great quality HD camcorder for $200. If you’re a restaurant, record people having fun and upload it to YouTube. Then post the video on your website. Those people in the video will share it with their friends and tell them to go look at how much fun they’re having.

Tell your story with video. Ask people to do a short interview (60 to 90 seconds) and ask them why they came into your store, or what they were looking for, or what gem they found or a simple question like, “How has my business helped you?” Then let them talk. They’ll make make you a free “commercial” that others will watch and identify with. Pretend you’re a news reporter “on the scene” and make it fun or funny. Share those videos on your social media pages, and those people will tell their friends.

None of this is rocket science, and none of it is expensive. Every small business should be doing these things, and if you do it consistently, I guarantee you’ll have more customers than you know what to do with.

No nerdy SEO required here.