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Help Your Customers Find You on Google

In a shaded corner of an old strip mall, set away from the bustling Highway 55 in Apex, North Carolina, sits a nondescript storefront.

The door to the left is boarded up and padlocked, a stark reminder of the come-and-go lifecycle of strip mall businesses. To the right sits a dark print shop with a sign instructing visitors to use an adjacent door.

In the middle is another door, one with a quaint blue sign that reads “Apex Wings” next to some windows with shades drawn shut. If you had a hankering for some Buffalo-style wings—the house special—you’d need a compass and map to find the joint. Or just a simply-crafted Google search.

The small restaurant and pub in this bedroom community southwest of Raleigh is one of thousands of small businesses that turn to Google, the most powerful search tool in the world, to attract new customers. Inside Apex Wings is a frenzy of chatter coming from mouths covered in teriyaki sauce, Jamaican jerk sauce, and something called “sweet and spicy Thai chili sauce.”

The flurry of activity is at first surprising given the semi-remote location. Until, that is, you pull out your smartphone, tap in the words “Apex, NC wings” and hit “Search.” The first result is the restaurant’s home page. The second is a link to their menu with all those sinusenriching sauces. The third is a Yelp review with a rating of 3.5 out of 5. Next is a Facebook page touting nightly specials, some whimsical beer quotes and NFL pool signups. Rounding out the first page of search results are reviews from TripAdvisor, Urbanspoon, Manta and CitySearch.

Despite its out-of-the-way physical location, the restaurant’s online presence is towering. And business is abuzz.

“The legitimacy of having a corner lot on a busy highway I think has diminished, and now it’s about ‘What do people say about that company? Would they go back? What do the reviews look like?’” says Heather Lutze, CEO and Master Trainer at Findability University, a Colorado-based consulting and speaking company that helps businesses improve their online presence.

Unfortunately, simply creating a fancy website and waiting for customers to crash down the door isn’t enough anymore. You need to have “Googliness.” But what is Googliness and how do you get it?

The Bird Is The Word

The first step to being found online is making sure your website is SEO-friendly in order to capture some of those keywords that people are pounding into the search box. You’ll want to cast a wide net with a lot of content about who you are, what you do and why people should come to you.

“Outside of your name, how would you like customer to find you who don’t know you exist but should?” asks Lutze. “It’s about careful selection of keyword phrases and creating content that speaks to customer searches.”

Having a blog or a FAQ page are great ways of capturing keywords naturally. Quite often, people will conduct a search using the same question you might have on your FAQ page. That’s a fish on the hook. Adds Lutze, “I like to call it emotionally intelligent SEO. It’s about creating content around topics that people care about.”

Don’t Be Anti-Social

One way to be more visible online is through social media. Google searches will return results from sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and so on. And social media is a great way to interact with customers, promote daily specials or post photos of events, all of which can pop up on Google. Customers like a personal, friendly connection with a business and social media is the perfect way to let your company’s personality shine.

Tony Connochie and his wife, Maria, run Top Dog Pet Services, a mobile dog grooming business that serves the Raleigh suburbs. With no physical location to attract customers, the couple relies heavily on Google to generate business.

But their Facebook activity is their bread and butter. There you’ll find silly photos of dogs driving cars and funny quotes about pets, all things that engage the community in a warm and welcoming fashion—and show up on Google. Maria estimates about 80% of their business is a result of a Google search and acknowledges they would have a tough time surviving without their “Googliness.”

“It’s a necessity,” she says. “That’s what we all typically do — go online to see the services, who provides the best service, who’s available, who’s out there in your area, and figure out what you’re qualified for. That is the prime source of how people find us. People like to read about someone who’s used us. That’s the way we’re headed.”

It Could Cost You

Being on the first page of a Google search—and at the top of the first page—is the proverbial golden ticket. So much so that 33% of all organic clicks go to the first result listed,  according to Yahoo.

While it can be tough for small businesses to compete for paid keywords against the deep pockets of the corporate world, you might be surprised. Prior to her current role,  Lutze worked at Yahoo training pay-per-click advertisers.

“What I learned is that it wasn’t always the biggest bucks that won (the search results). It was the most strategic keywords,” she says. “Paid search can be very effective, especially when you match it organically. It can help increase your click rates if they see you twice on a page, and it increases your overall credibility with the searcher. There’s a perception value there. If I see you twice, I have a higher level of trust in your business.”

The Google Grapevine

Many small businesses were already well established long before the Internet and survived on word of mouth for decades. Why should they make the effort to establish a web presence?

Well, some small businesses may not have changed much over the years, but customers—and the way they shop— have.

Stacey Sears owns and operates Holland’s Jewelers in downtown Apex along with his wife, Ginny. The business opened in 1958 and was passed from one generation to the next.

Stacey has a friend who develops websites, and shared a crucial conversation they had in 2006. “We were out at supper one night and he said ‘You guys need a website.’ And I said ‘Okay!’” Sears has published a blog once a month ever since and has made every effort to drive Google traffic—and thereby foot traffic—to his store.

“We try to do different things,” Sears says. ”I’ve done Twitter, Facebook, I’ve got some YouTube videos that I’ve done about repairing and some other things. We have an Instagram account, we have a Yelp account, a little bit of everything. Whatever is current.”

The top three search results for “Jewelry Apex, NC?” You guessed it.

“People will tell you ‘Hey, I Googled for jewelers, and you guys came up, and you had great reviews,” Sears says. “Most people are happy to tell you.”

Now that’s Googliness.

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