Last week I might have scared more than a few of you with a short explanation on how our personal data is used and how, at this moment, our laws do not give us control over our data as it’s stored in private databases (e.g. Facebook). However, all this integrated data doesn’t have to be entirely scary or bad news. Just like with any other evolution in business and life, some people will use their computing powers for “good” and others for “bad.” Those of us on the receiving end of these technologies must do our best to make sure we keep learning about how things work in order to protect ourselves, as well as take advantage of the new opportunities that technology can provide.
This week, let’s look at one of the more helpful uses of data technologies – especially for small businesses in small towns. Many of you will remember the gigantic printed phone books that used to show up on our doorsteps once a year. You might also remember that the “Yellow Pages” were one of the few ways to find a business you didn’t already know about in order to solve a problem. And many small businesses depended entirely on their ad in the Yellow Pages to find customers.
In today’s culture, “the Yellow Pages” to put it simply, is Google Maps. If you want customers to find you, make sure your business (whether it has a physical location or not) is “claimed” (Google jargon for letting Google’s database know you own the business at a particular location) and listed correctly in Google Maps. Much like the Yellow Pages used to be, you can simply list your business, with basic information, free of charge. However, Google Maps make it fairly easy to claim your business location, and then type in a few key updates in “Google My Business” to help people find your business and discover what you sell, all without cost.
How does Google Maps/Business work? When neighbors (or vacationers) search for things like “shopping” or “repairs” or “restaurants,” “near me” on Google Maps, it will typically return results of those places closest to their current location, ranked primarily by two things: relevance to what they searched for, and proximity to the searcher’s location. The problem is – if Google doesn’t know your business exists, nor has a little bit of information about what you sell (keywords), it won’t show your business to new customers searching for a solution to their problem even if they’re standing a block from where you do business.
Why doesn’t Google charge for a listing like the Yellow Pages used to?
Google makes their money when businesses start advertising. When you go to “Google My Business” and set up your account, you’ll notice a significant chunk of screen real estate is dedicated to telling you how easy it is to turn your free listing into an advertisement. That doesn’t sound so different from how the Yellow Pages used to work, right?
It’s free to establish your business on Google Maps. Once you “claim” your business, you can also spend a few more minutes adding key information that makes it even easier for new customers to discover things such as your business hours, contact information, your website address, and key products or services you sell. If you don’t have a website, you can quickly establish a free site containing basic information, book appointments, take phone messages, and even sell a handful of products directly through the website.