This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.
It’s difficult for most of us today to imagine a world without Google. Questions that would have been resolved only through the hands-on research skills of librarians pre-internet can now be answered independently in moments with a brief Google search.
Beyond its value as an information resource, Google has also created permanent changes to the business world, including the way that SMBs must market themselves, maintain their reputations, and advertise their products and services to customers. In the Information Age, it’s crucial for small business owners to be aware of the golden rule: if you’re not in Google, you don’t exist. In addition, beyond simply not existing, a company that lacks a presence in Google puts itself at risk of having bad press, frustrated customers, or poor reviews establish its online reputation for it.
Google is how the modern consumer finds your products and services
In spite of this reality, research from GoDaddy indicates that as many as 60% of SMBs do not maintain a website—a choice that can have a severely negative impact on the company’s ability to stay in business long term. Several decades ago, a person looking for a specific product or service may have turned to the Yellow Pages for help, but the advent of the search engine has turned such services into antiques (today, even the Yellow Pages has taken its services online).
According to surveys conducted for the Local Search Association (LSA), 80% of internet users indicated that they had employed the use of a search engine to locate a product within the past week; that number was closer to 90% when the survey asked if a person had used a search engine for the same purpose within the past month.
Though Google is not the only search engine available for consumer use, research collected by the firm Net MarketShare shows that Google represents almost 75% of all searches conducted via search engines. When it comes to searches performed on mobile platforms, Google represented a full 90% of the market share.
There are two main reasons that creating a strong Google presence for your business is an important part of operating a modern business. The first is that many of your potential clients are likely to use Google when searching locally for products and services or when looking for your company online by name, and it’s important that they are able to find you. The second is that by neglecting to create a strong Google presence, you leave your company open for any negative information to shoot straight to the top of the search results when potential clients Google your business.
To take control of your company’s first page of search results and avoid leaving yourself vulnerable to the damage of a negative online reputation, make sure that the following elements are in place.
1. Your company’s website actually appears on the first page
Don’t worry about trying to dominate generic local searches like “best bakery in Orlando.” It can take a lot of time and effort to make your company rank for these competitive terms, and that’s not usually the main point of your business website. Creating a well-developed website will let you rank on the first page of Google results when customers specifically search for your business by name. That both builds trust and lets you control the message customers see.
If you lack a professional website—or if your site’s absence in Google results prevents customers from finding it—you may risk losing a large number of prospective customers.
Data published by Search Engine Land indicate that a company without a website—even one that has an active Facebook page and Yelp profile instead—will not be considered by around 30% of prospective customers.
Today’s consumers want to trust the companies they’re buying from, and a website is one major component of presenting yourself as a reliable business capable of meeting modern customers’ needs. As 70% of a company’s online business comes from internet searches, having your website show up at the top of the first page of your business’s search results will go a long way toward its growth.
2. You’ve claimed your Google Business Profile listing
Aside from your website, one of the most useful ways to make sure that customers are able to find you is to claim your Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business) listing. Through GBP, Google provides a free tool for business owners to maintain accurate information about the company’s phone number, physical address, and official web address. Claiming your business on GBP also organically promotes your company when people are searching for your products and services nearby, increasing the likelihood that your firm will be featured in the search engine’s “local three-pack” listings.
3. Your search results show positive Google reviews from customers
In addition to your company’s contact information, your Google business listing also incorporates a star average for your firm based on reviews left by customers. Research shows that around 63% of people looking to buy products or services from a company will check the business’s Google reviews prior to visiting their storefront.
While companies of all sizes benefit from positive customer reviews, they are especially important to SMBs, whose business can flourish or be shuttered based on local opinion. Data presented by Bright Local suggests that customers will purchase a product or service from a company for a 30% higher price than average if the business has an online rating of “excellent,” the equivalent of five stars. The same data posits that high reviews increase your company’s perceived trustworthiness, which is important to the development of a positive online reputation.
Though choosing not to actively attempt to earn positive Google reviews may not hinder your business directly, it does pose a problem if unhappy customers feel the need to evaluate your business in this way. A business without any Google reviews leaves itself open to the possibility of a single dissatisfied customer dictating your company’s entire rating online, which can do significant damage to your online reputation as well as your ability to attract new customers.
Your Google results are a key part of promoting your brand management strategy
Apart from making your company more discoverable to new customers, there are other reasons why your business may as well not exist in the mind of the modern consumer if it lacks a strong Google presence. For example, Google is the best tool you have for exposing your customer base to your online brand management strategy, and branding plays an important role in the propagation of customer loyalty and interest. If your company isn’t on Google, you’re missing your best opportunity to connect with the people who would become repeat customers and create a consistent stream of revenue.
The first page of your company’s Google search results should display a collection of links directing them to content that promotes your branding strategy, including the types of content listed below.
1. Thoughtful, relevant blogs
According to the firm Demand Metric, companies that produce blog posts earn 67% more leads in one month than those that don’t. High-quality blogs written on topics that are relevant to your industry are an excellent way to boost your search engine results while also giving your customers an element of your brand to connect with.
This, in turn, can help create brand loyalty among consumers—Newscred Insights indicates that 62% of buyers in the millennial generation feel that a company’s online content influences the loyalty they feel toward that brand. This information can be especially useful information for SMB owners to use when developing their online brand management strategy, as research from Fundera notes that return customers make up as much as 65% of the modern company’s business.
In addition to having the potential to drive up customer opinion, the development of strong blog content also acts as a protective measure against any negative online content that may appear against the interests of your company. Curating a strong online presence with blogs and other forms of strategic content, like those provided by ReputationDefender, lowers the likelihood that bad press or negative reviews are able to dominate your company’s Google search results.
2. Professional responses to both positive and negative customer reviews
As mentioned above, the customer reviews present within your Google search results can have a significant impact on how many prospective customers are willing to give you their business, so how you interact with the people who leave these reviews is crucial. It can be difficult to remain neutral in your responses, especially in cases where you feel that a disgruntled customer is unfairly evaluating an experience with your company, but it’s important to formulate a positive response that aims to resolve the customer’s issue.
Likewise, you should take the time to respond to positive reviews, using them as an opportunity to thank customers for their feedback. Ultimately, both the existing customers reviewing your business and the potential customer reading through your company’s feedback hope to see a sincere response that adheres to your company’s brand and demonstrates genuineness. Google’s review section is your best chance to make a good impression on a large portion of potential customers.
3. An active social media presence
Social media marketing is an important tool for modern businesses. Not only does it allow customers to get a better sense of your company, but it also drives customers to your website and indirectly enhances your SEO strategy. When executed correctly, this approach can help your company earn a higher ranking in Google’s search results for keywords outside of your business’s name, allowing your company to appear in local search results made by high-interest buyers.
Indexing your company’s website and social media accounts for Google can help you gain some control over what your customers learn about your company online by directing them to your branded platforms.
The biggest threat that being absent from Google poses is the possibility of negative information dominating your company’s web presence
As harmful as it can be for your company to be missing from Google search results, there is one thing that every business owner should fear more—a negative web presence. It’s important to remember that as much as positive search engine results can motivate new customers to bring their business to you, poor results are sure to drive business away. Having a weak online presence makes it that much easier for negative information to gain traction and dominate your search results.
According to data presented by Bright Local, a single negative review may discourage more than 20% of potential customers from using your company, while more than three negative reviews discourages almost 60% of consumers from working with your business. If you have not put effort into strengthening your firm’s online presence, the likelihood that your customers will see newly posted negative reviews increases significantly, and unfortunately, research shows that customers are more likely to share the bad experiences they have had with a company than the positive ones.
If your business is struggling with reputation damage due to negative online search results, there is a silver lining: companies like ReputationDefender have the tools you need to take control of your company’s online image and mitigate the effects of past mistakes in an efficient, timely manner. To find out what ReputationDefender can do for your business, schedule a consultation with one of our specialists today.