A few years back, Google got smart. (Well, in truth, based on their current market valuation and general ubiquity, that's perhaps putting it mildly.)
Essentially, they decided that there were a few different categories for how people used their search functionality. Without getting technical, some searchers are looking for general info (how-to's, etc.), some are looking for trending news (celebrities, sports, politics), and there is a HUGE category of searches that you fall within:
So Google decided to localize their search algorithm for these kinds of searches. That's why if you search for one thing while you're in Los Angeles, it will pull completely different results than if you were to search for the very same thing while in Nebraska.
And suddenly, a brand new category of online marketing was birthed.
Local listings marketing is currently the most under-appreciated -- and yet perhaps most powerful -- new client acquisition tool for the local accounting firm.
It is a subset of your full online marketing strategy, but an increasingly-important one.
Essentially, it comprises all of the various online listings sites that provide consumers with information -- and they are the new yellow pages of the internet. Google My Business (GMB), Apple Maps, Yelp, and Bing Local are the BIG FOUR. But there are plenty of others out there for which you need those ducks lined up, row-like.
What's so important about these listings is that when a person searches for "accountant", something interesting happens under the hood of the Google (and Bing, etc.) algorithms...
They categorize the search as containing "localized intent" -- and it is handled differently.
So, for instance, in Google searches, you'll notice that when you do a search on your phone (which, by the way, now comprise the MAJORITY of Google searches), it typically pulls up the maps listings above the regular search results. These are the local results.
And getting ranked in those results is still like the wild, wild west for accounting and business advisory firms. (In other words, there is a LOT of opportunity -- as well as a fair amount of danger -- if you don't do it right.)
Optimizing and maintaining these listings offers a massive competitive edge for the local firm.
Why do I say that?
According to the Local Marketing Institute, only 44% of small businesses have claimed their Google My Business listing. So for the local tax or accounting professional seeking that "slight edge", this is a great place to start.
Google research also shows that businesses with detailed and complete online business listings are twice as likely to be considered reputable by consumers. If you’ve ever looked up a local business online and drove all the way across town to their location only to find that they’ve moved, you know how frustrating that can be from a consumer perspective. When that happens, do you think they blame Google? Nope. They blame the business. And that consumer has just lost trust in the business.
Google is becoming the new home page for local businesses.
Warning: as I mentioned, there are dangers ahead for the incautious accounting, bookkeeping or tax professional. There are many ways to screw up your local marketing. So I’d like to show you the right way to do it.
How to do it right
1) Claim and optimize GMB, the “big 4” and other second tier profiles.
For the accounting and business advisory industry, the primary ones we’re talking about are GMB, Apple Maps, Yelp, and Bing. The processes for claiming each of these profiles is unique -- so be prepared for that -- but the main point is that you do it. If you don’t verify your GMB profile, it’s basically worthless.
Once you’ve walked through the claiming process, you need to optimize your profiles. Specific and thorough optimization of your profile and other profile elements (i.e., photos, hours, links, reviews and correct service categories) will directly influence the rate of interaction with your profile. From direction requests to phone calls, you will notice the difference.
For example, adding regular photos to your GMB profile correlates with a 35% increase in website visits. An active review presence will give you a whopping 360% increase in website visits.
This is the kind of impact we’re seeing for one of our clients in California:
Those are the kind of results that are possible when you do this right. There are a host of other metrics available through Google Analytics, so you’ll be able to see the results yourself if you’re utilizing local listings properly.
2) Clean up the junk.
Believe it or not, it really matters what business name and address you put on each of these profiles. Just because your business shows up on one of these profiles does not mean you’re good to go.
Because if your listings on the profiles look like this:
… you’ve got some work to do.
Each listing needs to match exactly, down to the way you abbreviate suite and street. Pick a format, and be consistent. So do the tedious work of updating these profiles, or the rest of your efforts will fall short on long-term impact.
3) Pursue organic reviews and get a posting strategy.
I’ve talked about the importance of reviews recently, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time here, but here are a few statistics to convey the main point…
- 88% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
- 31% of consumers will visit a business’s website after reading a positive review.
- Only 48% of consumers will consider using a business with less than 4 stars.
- 86% of consumers only pay attention to reviews written in the last 3 months.
You’ll also need to respond to reviews, since 73% of consumers say they regularly read a businesses’ response to reviews when searching.
You need reviews. And you need posts.
You may not realize it, but you can post to GMB just like other social media platforms. The point is not to garner follower interaction there, but to signal to the search engines that you’re an active business. Again, the results will follow.
Like this client in Iowa:
Aside from your firm's main website, local listings sites are the most influential and powerful sources of new clients for service professionals.
Especially for accounting and advisory professionals, whose clients rely heavily upon "word of mouth".
This is the new "word of mouth."