Digital Basics- What Every Business Should Be Doing Online

Group of diverse people having a business meeting

by Steven Ludwig, Executive Chairman of EmpowerLocal

Whether you’re selling B2B or B2C, your prospective customers have higher and higher expectations of what you make available to them on-line.  And getting found by those prospects here in the digital age often comes down how “findable” you’ve made your business on-line.  Years ago I coined the term “Digital Footprint” to describe the sum total of what can be found about your business on-line.  In this issue, we’re discussing the basics of Digital Footprint, and why it’s so important.
If you’ve been around long enough, you can think of the on-line basics as the modern version of the yellow pages.  Thirty years ago when my career as a professional marketer was just getting started, every business spent between a few hundred and several tens of thousands of dollars every month in the yellow pages.  Some of you may not even be old enough to remember the yellow pages.  But there was a time when it was the PRIMARY way people found businesses when they needed products and services.  Today, that’s obviously Google and the like.  So how do you make sure you get found?
Q:  Why is Digital Footprint so Important?
A:  I’m often surprised how much push back we get from potential clients about Digital Footprint.  Because it’s the foundation on which all successful marketing plans are built anymore.  People initiate a purchase of goods or services over 1 billion times a day on Google; and they expect just as frictionless and transparent an experience from you as they’d get from Amazon or anyone else.
Major Directories
    • Google My Business
    • Microsoft Bing Places
    • Apple Maps Connect
    • Yelp!

To have a healthy digital footprint, these directories (and potentially others, depending on your industry) have to be claimed, owned by you, and well-managed to make sure the search engines, maps, and local search apps know you and feel highly-confident in the accuracy of the information they have.

Local Search & SEO
One of the most common questions posed to our experts at Source Local Media is, “How come when I type [what we do] into Google, it doesn’t even list us?”  The answer is both simple and complex. Google (or any search engine, for that matter) only shows what it knows and feels strongly is accurate.  In other words, if Google knows you, and feels confident what it knows is accurate, it’ll show you — a lot.  In fact, it’ll show you far more than you ever imagined. Search engines want to get searchers to the best, most relevant information the fastest.  So your mission is to be that best, most relevant result.
This ranks right up there as one of the biggest mistakes anyone can make when it comes to search engine visibility. And as a business owner, it would be perfectly reasonable to assume that all the money you paid that web developer included making sure Google and other search engines know your website exists.  But it rarely happens.  It’s like building a race car and leaving out the engine.
Just like you only see 10% of an ice berg sticking up out of the water, visitors only see a small fraction of what search engines are looking at when they index your website and decide whether or not they want to show it in search results for keywords and phrases.  Yet, most web developers skip that step.  And since you can’t necessarily see it just by looking at the website, it’s easy to get fooled.
E-Mail & Social Media
In the early days of social media when algorithms weren’t stacked against businesses, social media was a great way to go prospecting for new business.  Today, for a host of reasons social media should be considered strictly a “pay for play” channel for all but the top 5% of content creators.  It takes such creativity and even luck to “go viral” anymore, we no longer consider social media much more than an advertising medium.  That said, it can be a great advertising vehicle. We see social media primarily as a tool to communicate your brand story with customers between purchases.
People don’t follow a business on social media unless they’re interested in the brand and want to keep up with it.  So use that to your advantage.  We see social media as the place where you tell your brand story, often with more emotion than you can in typical advertisements.  For example, you can showcase your people, products, services, and tell the story of your brand in far more meaningful and personal ways. Followers on social media can also help you learn about what your customers want from you.  It can be surprising to see how their opinions differ from your expectations, and that often creates an opportunity for growth. And making sure you have social media posts that relate to the keywords and phrases you’ve prioritized for Search Engine Optimization is one more important tool to out-ranking the competition.
People don’t give you your e-mail unless they have an expectation that you’re going to use it.  So having a solid strategy for what to say and how often to say it becomes an important part of how you curate the relationship with prospects and customers between purchases. Your e-mail newsletters are a chance to tell your brand story in deeper and more meaningful ways.  They’re also a chance to provide prospects and customers with a “users guide” to get the most out of doing business with you.
Reviews & Reputation
It’s important to realize that on-line reviews and reputation can become a real rabbit hole if you’re not careful; and in some cases a real time suck that isn’t worth the allocation of so many resources.  Yes, in some industries they’re critical, but for the vast majority of businesses, we tend to place too much emphasis on it.

A key to on-line reviews is always be asking.  Whenever a customer shares a positive story, ask them to share it via whatever review platform they prefer.  Anyone willing to do it will likely ask you where you want it posted.  If you ask 10 times, you’ll get 1.  So always be asking, and be OK with the idea that most people will not do it. Your goal should be to add a few new reviews every week to each major platform.  Which platforms matter:

    • Facebook
    • Google
    • Yelp! (because these reviews are also used by Apple & Microsoft)
    • TripAdvisor (for travel-related businesses)
    • HealthGrades (for medical professionals)

Depending on your industry, there are potentially others.  Most of us have a natural reaction to act quickly and decisively whenever a bad review is posted.  It’s inevitable, no matter how careful you are, that a bad review will show up.  Obviously, if you’re seeing a lot of them, that’s an entirely different issue.  But if you generally feel great about your customer service, don’t let one stray bad review “wag the dog.” In fact, our advice on bad reviews is pretty counter-intuitive.  We recommend identifying the customer and then handling the issue off-line.  When the issue is resolved to the best of your ability, ask the customer to update the review. Why? Because part of how reviews get featured on these platforms is the amount of engagement they get from other people and your business.  So when you rush to respond, you’re giving that negative review a lot of weight — making it more likely to be featured.  If you can resolve the customer’s issue and they update the review, that’s also going to carry a lot of weight. We encourage clients to focus a lot of energy on the positive reviews so those get featured instead.

In our cynical society, it’s actually a bad thing to have too high a score.  That perfect five stars sounds great to you as the business owner, but no one believes that’s really been earned.  Consumers don’t trust a perfect score. The sweet spot for reputation is in the mid-to-upper 4’s.  4.6-4.8 is ideal.  But if you’re not there right now, don’t fret.  Anything above a 3.5 is sufficient for the vast majority of people who consider reputation as a factor in making a purchasing decision.

Q:  What if I Don’t Manage My Digital Footprint?
A:  If you don’t manage your Digital Footprint, the Internet will crowd source it FOR you.  And the Internet’s not good at ANYTHING!
You don’t want to trust the Internet.  Yet, every potential customer can see what’s out there about you.

A good general rule of thumb is that the more expensive and/or personal a purchase is, the more likely customers will scrutinize your digital footprint for clues that either build confidence in you or ruin it.

In other words, if you sell cheap widgets with a simple decision tree and not a lot of risk then consumers will spend less time in consideration.

On the other hand, if you’re providing a service where a technician comes inside someone’s home, you’ll probably be researched more carefully.  If you’re going to cut, color, and style a woman’s hair for $350, she’ll pay a lot more attention to your digital footprint before making an appointment.  Her balding husband, on the other hand, may just take the first available stylist at a much cheaper salon.

Q:  What’s the Best Way to Think About Digital Footprint?
A:  Develop an easy system for knowing the health of your digital footprint and a checklist to build and maintain it.

The same way just about every business in America spent money every month in the yellow pages, modern businesses must invest a reasonable amount of money in ongoing “care and feeding” of digital footprint.

Being “findable,” and making sure potential customers feel confident doing business with you based on what they find is a solid investment in growing your business organically.

Yet, many times we find clients don’t really have a good handle on digital footprint.

Not sure where you stand?  We offer a free audit of your digital footprint.  It’s a no-obligation, zero-risk way to get some good information.  We will show you where you stand and offer some practical ideas for improvement.