We are always looking for an edge over our competitors. In an effort to “get the word out there” we might try advertising, marketing, social media, blogging, and everything under the sun. Some of it works, some of it we’re not sure…amazingly, though, one of the most powerful marketing tools at our disposal often goes unnoticed.
That tool is good old fashioned search.
It’s been said before that Google is the new homepage. This means that what people find out about us on Google is often all they will ever know. We all want to be on the first page of search results, but rarely understand how to get there. The first step is to understand exactly what the first page of Google is all about. We must first take it apart. Later, we can figure out how to put it all back together.
The Terms Of Search
Let’s start with a basic search term that we know will bring a large number of results. Something like “restaurants in bismarck nd” will work perfectly. This search will give us a good variety of results with lots of activity. Plus, this word combination (business type plus location) is highly typical for local searches.
So, what can we take away from this highly typical Google search?
1) Results May Vary
The first thing that we have to realize is that not all results are equal. Google will prioritize its results based on the person doing the search. We can easily assume that Google knows our location and will make a best guess on our behalf.
In the above image, we can see the difference in search results when we include or exclude the words “bismarck nd.” The addition of these terms added very little value to my search. Google knows, and personalizes its results to the person doing the search. This adds another level of complexity to an already complex problem.
2) The More It Knows, The More It Cares
One of the second things that we notice is the way that it prioritizes recommendations.
There is no question that there is a direct correlation between the number of reviews that a restaurant has and the placement of that restaurant on the first page. The quality of the review also matters. Restaurants with several reviews that aren’t particularly favorable tend to find themselves lower on the list. In short, Google reviews matter a lot. The more Google knows about our business, the more it cares.
3) Lame Listing Sites Do Matter
It is worth noting that both the number one and number two results in my search were links to a few of the quasi-spam listing sites that are so favorable to the web. In the recent years, Google has done a lot to stomp these out, but many of them still lurk towards the top.
The takeaway? Don’t completely eliminate listing sites from our repertoire. Pay attention to which listing sites still carry weight in our industry, and make sure we’re listed.
4) The King Is Still The King
We may often hear about several of the new “up and coming” location based networks, and how important they are to your business. Yelp and Foursquare come to mind, but the long time king of this space is still TripAdvisor.
The site might appear to lack sizzle, but it makes it up with a lot of steak. Trip Advisor needs to be high on your priority list.
5) Search Really IS Social
Occasionally as we search, we might notice a strange grey icon next to key search results. This icon simply means that these results are being recommended to us because of the people that we follow on social networks. In particular, the people we follow on Google+.
We need to realize that search is social, and that especially applies to Google’s own social networking property. The bottom line – Google+ is a must for every business. Period.
6) The Suggested Term Goldmine
One of the things that we rarely notice on a typical search are the suggested terms and the end of the page. These are some of the most popular terms that are similar to the one that we started with. Many of us use these when we are doing our own searching for something important, but we often fail to realize the value that they provide from the viewpoint of the business being searched for.
If we are looking to understand the words and phrases that our customers use to find sites like ours, this is one easy place to do it. From this list we can see how our customers think and talk. Google makes these suggestions free for us to use, if we choose to take them.
7) There Are No Big Dogs On Top
One of my favorite observations of this Google search is the total lack of chain restaurants. There are at least two Applebee’s in Bismarck, and over five McDonald’s. Yet, none of them are on this list. What gives?
There are probably several reasons of this, but one the primary issue could be quality of their websites. Chain stores don’t usually maintain a specific site for each resturant, leaving many of them to lose relevance when it comes to search.
For the local small business, this is great news. Many times, we assume that our ads and promotions will get beat out by the big guys, but with Google you really do stand a chance. Local establishments tend to get more social traffic and generate more buzz online. This can pay off for the business that is paying attention.
The Leap To Page One
When we do a search in our own industry we tend to notice when our site isn’t listed, but we rarely stop to see what is. Understanding how others have reached the top can dramatically help us make our own leap to the first page.