The Australian small business sector is again facing some worrying statistics with the number of business failures rising significantly across the last two quarters of 2016, a trend that is set to continue throughout 2017 — and perhaps 2018 — with fledgeling startups the most likely to fail.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a rule of thumb for startups is that anywhere from 75 — 90% will fail, which means they won’t survive their first two to three years. And in the case of startups praying for a successful IPO (Initial Public Offering), many won’t last even that long.
Nevertheless, thousands of successful small businesses are established in Australia every year. Most of these are looking to stand on their own two feet right from day one by not hunting for angel investors or preparing for make-or-break IPOs, but rather by using digital marketing, among other advertising techniques, as a tool for gaining customers and turning a profit.
This involves, to take an often-repeated phrase from our Prime Minister, a degree of ‘agility and nimbleness’, as there are a number of pitfalls that many startups and small businesses must navigate if they’re to beat the odds. And with the number of Australian startups that fail in their first few years, it isn’t a stretch to say that the odds are stacked against many of them.
Starting with a solid business plan that enables your startup to put its best foot forward right from the get-go, here’s a short guide to navigating the pitfalls that local SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) presents.
What’s in a name?
There’s so much to be said for choosing the right name for your business. Before you rush off to register your new business, give some thought to the following all-important factors that affect how your business will appear in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
Avoid vague or indistinct names
A strong business name, one which isn’t going to be confused with something entirely different, is a must. Consumers interested in your business’s products and services must be able to find you in SERPs when they search for your business name. Should you name your café ‘The Coffee Mug’, expect Google, Bing and Yahoo to show users search results for coffee mugs.
While there are many businesses that appear to be exceptions to the rule, they haven’t suffered the same fate because they’ve built the kind of brand authority that lets search engines know exactly what users are looking for. Banana Republic is a good example here, as Google tends to realise that users are searching for clothing rather than politically unstable countries.
Avoid names that hold you back
It often makes sense to include references to the products and services your business will provide, but this can also have the effect of limiting your business as it expands and starts to offer other products and services or enters other geographical markets. For example, say you start a swimming pool cleaning business in Kedron and call it ‘Kedron Pool Cleaning’.
While that’s great for local SEO when servicing your local area, it could hold you back when you try to expand your service offering to other parts of Brisbane. This would also be the case if you were to offer other services, like pool fencing, for example. So, although it may seem wise to include keywords in your business name, make sure they won’t restrict you in the future.
The perfect location?
Location is key when it comes to local SEO as you will only rank in Google’s local search results for the suburb or city that you’re business is physically located in. That means virtual offices are no longer an option and PO boxes are definitely out, so if your fledgeling startup isn’t ready for a bricks-and-mortar office or workplace, use your home address until you’ve reached that stage.
And when you are ready to set yourself up in an office or a shop, be sure to choose the right location for your business. Here are a few things to consider when hunting for the ideal location:
- Google really does know where your business is located and where it isn’t. Trying to hide your business location, or trying to appear in another location, just isn’t going to work.
- The Possum update has resulted in many legitimate business listings being ‘filtered out’ if they share Google categories with other businesses located in the same building.
What this means for startups looking for ways to increase their visibility in local search results is that taking the time to source the most favourable location is essential. What’s more, you’re also likely to find that it’s advantageous to pay a little more for the right location rather than trying to save a few dollars on a bricks-and-mortar office or store in a location that is less than ideal.
As is always the case with location and any kind of property rentals or purchases, it’s so important it needs to be repeated not once, not twice, but thrice — location, location, location!
What do you expect?
Startups fail for many reasons, with their own expectations one of the most common reasons. While most Australian startups don’t have the same visions of grandeur as notable local startup failures, such as the music streaming service Guvera, startups that are drunk on big dreams, as well as those which seek to disrupt established business models, are especially at risk of failure.
[Image Credit: Total UAE]
However, while your startup business may follow an established business model and you’re not so drunk on dreams of success that you can’t recognise business risk when it’s staring you in the face, you should keep your expectations realistic when it comes to incoming revenue. And the same can also be said for local SEO — don’t expect to dominate your local market and supplant your already-established competitors, as SEO really doesn’t work that way.
SEO takes time, often a great deal of time, and as your established competitors will already have invested time, along with money and effort, in getting their SERP rankings, you shouldn’t expect to outrank them anytime soon. This means that you will need to plan how you will stay afloat financially until you start receiving a sufficient income from your online presence.
PPC (Pay Per Click) marketing is a good option here as it’s the best choice for instant web traffic gratification, but chances are you’ll also need to look at other ways to shore up your financial footing until your SEO efforts start bearing fruit and you’re getting ample organic traffic. Along with waiting for SEO to deliver results, you also need to consider local consumer demand for your products and services, and how you communicate your business’s value proposition.
Does your website cut it?
Your business website is easily the most valuable of all your online resource, an asset that all of your digital marketing efforts will revolve around. Fail to get your website right, and you could find that you need to give it a complete overhaul, which isn’t only expensive but would also have the effect of putting your digital marketing endeavours on hiatus until the project is complete.
Choose the right domain name for your site
As with your business name, it’s crucial to get the right domain name for your business, one which sums up what your business is about but won’t have the effect of limiting your future options. To choose a domain name that will serve you well both now and in the future:
- Select the right .com extension. In Australia, this is www.yourwebsite.com.au. Having a local URL is important because it shows people searching for businesses like yours that you’re a local business which helps to convey a sense of security, and that builds trust.
- Consider the length of the domain name/URL. The longer your domain name, the more difficult it is to share, speak out loud and type. It will also get shortened on social media. Take note of keyword search volumes, consider how your domain name will affect your brand, and keep it as succinct as possible.
As you don’t want to change your domain name at any time in the future, getting your domain name right the first time around is an absolute must. Before choosing a domain name to register, run it by a few friends and business peers to find out what they think.
Select a suitable website platform
You have many options when it comes to choosing a platform for your business website, but not every option you’re presented with is a suitable choice. Take the very popular, easy-to-use drag and drop websites for example. These websites appeal to many small business owners since they’re super-simple to use and you can create a professional-looking website with no coding experience whatsoever.
However, while they’re easy to use, come with some great themes, and new products and services can easily be added or removed (this makes drag and drop websites popular among small ecommerce businesses), they’re not without some serious limitations. This means that they’re not a great choice as a business website. Here are a few reasons why:
- Google Analytics can’t be added to drag and drop websites, which means that you won’t be able to track conversions with a Squarespace or Wix website. Generally speaking, these websites are not conducive to SEO as bots have trouble crawling them.
- There are only so many apps and extensions that can be added to a drag and drop site. While there are sure to be improvements made in the future, at present this is quite a limitation. Many business owners find these limitations hinder their marketing efforts.
- Data export simply isn’t an option with most of these platforms. This means that if you want to move your data to another platform in the future, it won’t be an easy task. Drag and drop websites are notorious for making it very difficult to leave.
One of the best options available is WordPress which currently powers about 25% of all sites, including the sites of some of the world’s biggest brands like Sony, BBC America, Bloomberg Professional, Variety and MTV News. Perhaps the biggest benefit to using WordPress as a small business owner isn’t that it’s open-source, which is great, but that it’s so easy to use. Just about anyone can create an aesthetically appealing website using WordPress and keep it up to date with new content. It’s a great choice as a business website platform for small businesses.
While WordPress is a great option, it isn’t the only one. As you don’t want to transfer your data to another platform anytime soon, choosing a website platform that will serve your current and future needs is crucially important, so look into your options and don’t rush your decision!
Create quality content that appeals to your audience
Having a content strategy in place is important and it’s something you may need assistance with if you don’t feel comfortable with this aspect of your digital presence. At a bare minimum, your website needs a homepage, about us page, contact page and pages for each main service or product that you offer, and each page needs to be populated with quality, well-written content. There are plenty of articles about content strategies for small businesses and local SEO, not to mention how to create actionable CTAs (see below), so be sure to make the most of these.
Actionable calls to action (CTAs)
Every page on your website should have a strong call to action that tells your audience in no uncertain terms the action that you want them to take, whether that’s to call you, complete an enquiry form or purchase a product right there and then. Pages that don’t have strong CTAs, or even worse, no call to action at all, won’t deliver results which means the page might as well not exist in the first place.
Common mistakes with calls to action include making them too pushy, not strong enough, or, in the case of CTA buttons, placing multiple buttons in a small space and placing the button below the fold. Here are a few more common mistakes made with CTAs:
- Using different language in the CTA and the landing page. This causes a disconnect between the CTA on the ad and the CTA on the landing page.
- Not making CTAs stand out. If your call to action blends in with the other elements on the page and doesn’t provide a visual contrast, chances are it won’t get noticed.
- Failing to convey value. Offers that don’t convey value by explaining why the visitor should click the button get overlooked. Let visitors know why they should click your CTA.
Include a strong call to action on every page of your website and make them as obvious as you can. The more obvious and the more value they convey, the more actionable they will be.
Local Business Listings
Local business listings are a great way to attract the attention of local consumers — when they’re done right. This isn’t at all that difficult it must be said, you just need to ensure that they’re complete, correct and consistent. Here are a few things to look out for.
Is your listing compliant with the directory’s guidelines?
Directories impose rules and guidelines for a reason, not to make your life difficult, though it may seem that way at times. Depending on the directory, violations may be detected either by an algorithm or manually by the owner or an employee. Guideline violations can result in a suspension or something far worse, being called out and publicly shamed, as was the case with a number of businesses listed on Yelp that were caught attempting to buy reviews.
You need to be especially careful with your Google My Business page, which is by far the most important of all the business listings you create. Not only will it get your business the greatest amount of exposure, but try to upload a fake review, or even worse, attempt to list your business somewhere it isn’t, and you could find your business penalised by the Big G. And that’s where many businesses have run into trouble — the kind of trouble that only a heavyweight like Google can bring.
Are your listings consistent across all platforms?
Consistency is key as it increases consumer confidence and trust, as well as the trust of search engines, which is very, very important. To ensure consistency, it’s not a bad idea to make a document with all your contacts details, especially NAP (Name, Address and Phone number) details, so that every time you list your business in a local directory the information you provide is complete, correct and consistent. If you’ve already listed your business on a number of local directories, you can use a free tool (Moz offers a great tool that’s free and easy to use) to check for any inconsistencies or incorrect information.
Another thing to note about local directories is that not all are created equal and that some are more advantageous to list on than others. List your business on all the major sites and avoid listing on too many low-level directories unless you know for sure that customers in your local area are actually using them to search for businesses like yours.
The reason for this is to save yourself time as you’ll need to monitor all these directories on an ongoing basis, which can be very time-consuming, to say the least. What’s more, low-level directories generally won’t help your business to rank more favourably, plus if few people actually use them, chances are you won’t get much in the way of sales and your time could be much better spent.
Make your business easy to find
While Google has been known to make mistakes with its maps, most errors are due to errors on the part of businesses. Ensure your map marker location is correct and if it isn’t, seek assistance in resolving the issue. There are a number of forums you can use to get help (especially the Official Google My Business Community forum) and it really is worthwhile fixing the problem ASAP, after all, you could be sending prospective customers to the wrong address.
Another thing to check with Google Maps is the driving directions it gives customers. It’s not a bad idea to test the driving directions to make sure Google is indeed providing customers with the best route to your business, especially if you’re located on a one-way street or finding your business involves a complicated route. If you find there’s a problem with the directions Google is giving, seek assistance straight away. All it takes is one frustrated potential customer who’s had a negative experience to write a poor review and the effects of that review could snowball.
Garner more attention with great photos
As with all the photos and images that represent your business online, the photos on your local listings, especially your GMB page, must be high-quality. Research shows that GMB pages with quality photos attract the most clicks, and as user actions are now known to influence local rankings, the knock-on effect of having quality images on your page are too good to overlook.
Businesses that offer mobile services, like gardeners, plumbers and electricians, needn’t bother hiring a photographer to take professional photos of their business locations. However, start-ups and businesses that are doing their best to showcase their establishments and appeal to potential customers, like restaurants, florists and boutique retail stores, will generally find that having professional photographs taken to provide an immersive, virtual experience won’t only boost their visibility, but will also inspire greater confidence among potential customers.
Local SEO isn’t straightforward for non-marketers but as it has become an absolutely essential aspect of business marketing, it’s something that all start-ups and small business owners need to dedicate time and energy to. So keep at it, the journey may be long and at times difficult, but your patience and perseverance will ultimately be rewarded with a steady flow of web traffic that drives sales and increases revenue.
Need help with local search? Look no further than Bambrick Media in Brisbane. SEO is one of our core service offerings, along with Google AdWords and Social Media Marketing, and we’re more than happy to chat with you about your Search Engine Optimisation goals at a convenient time. You can contact us here or by calling (07) 3216 1151.
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