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Leveraging Free Online Assets to Grow Your Business

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Have you ever wondered how a store with the same name as yours is at the top of a search engine’s results page while yours isn’t? How did they manage that?

Our company has maintained a national database of pet related businesses for some years now, making us somewhat of an expert on things relating to pet online presence. Over the past several years we have seen modest growth in industry online visibility, but many pet retailers could do so much more. You don’t have to actually sell online to make it worth your while to increase your Internet visibility. It’s easy to do.

According to GE Capital Retail Bank* and BIA/Kelsey and ConStat*  no less than 81-97 percent of all consumers these days look at products online before making a purchase in a store. With numbers like that it is essential to be easily found online.

Try an Internet search of your business and note where you rank on the results page. The higher your position, the more likely it is that potential customers will find your business. If your business doesn’t show up, or there is no contact information under your business name, then you are risking customer growth potential.

Google Business is a very powerful tool and it stands to reason that in the future, their services like Google Maps, Google+, Google Places, etc., would offer your business more visibility than most other providers.  And it’s free. Your business is probably already listed on Google+ and Google/Business, all you need to do is claim it and add content such as your store hours, phone number, services and images of your store and merchandise.

Also, consider registering your business with other free providers, such as Merchant Circle, Inside Pages, Local Yahoo, Foursquare, Yelp and Bing. There are many more platforms that are free, that if claimed, will bump your search visibility up and help potential customers find you.

Once you claim and add content to as many free providers as you can find, you won’t need to revisit them again unless you make major changes such as store hours or moving to a new location. These sites will continue to add to your search ranking with no more effort on your part.

Consider spending a little time beefing up your social network presence. Whether you have a personal Facebook page or not, it will help significantly to open a business Facebook page and post updates at least once a week. These can be announcements about new products, sales or events. There are 500 million Facebook users, probably a lot in your hometown, so why ignore it. If you build a following you can keep them informed as well as add to your search visibility.

Your website can be an excellent search tool. If you don’t have a business website, you should. Even if you build your own, there are simple tricks that will give you more visibility online. Consider listing some of the major, more popular lines you carry. Anything that sells well would offer an enhanced search ranking. The real trick is to “cross link” to those manufacturer’s websites. Outgoing and incoming links add to your search rank even more than meta tags and keywords. Even better, take advantage of your manufacturer’s store locator; get listed wherever it makes sense.

Today SEO, search engine optimization, is big business, but you don’t have to hire someone to optimize your website. Try using “check my SEO” as a search perimeter and you’ll find a bunch of SEO companies that will allow you to test your website’s SEO compliance for free and provide suggestions to increase your search ranking and grade what you already have online.

Brick and Mortar Retail is changing and although no one really knows what will happen in the future, I think it’s safe to say  the Internet and mobile devices are here to stay. So why not do all you can, for free, and use the Internet to your advantage.

*Capital Retail Bank: http://goo.gl/lZZBVw
*BIA/Kelsey and ConStat: http://goo.gl/ed9rRt

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