Increasing Online Visibility

Web marketing experts share how to boost your website’s traffic from online search engines such as Google.
by Matt Kelly

SEO

Although there are many ways in which customers find flower shops, there’s no doubt that Google dominates online searches. Offering businesses opportunities to be found both on desktop and mobile devices, Google uses two separate indexes to answer both local searches and “organic” queries, which render results generally based on relevance  of webpages’ content.

To help you acquire new customers and allow existing customers to find you, it’s important that your website be visible in both local and organic queries through use of search engine optimization (SEO). Your shop should appear in not just the main search results on Google but also in Google Maps as well as various other search engines.

local searches  

According to Mike Blumenthal, co-founder of GetFiveStars.com, about 85 percent of search engine traffic comes to local sites from Google, making it the largest contributor of search traffic for  florists. Local searches should especially be a top priority for florists since customers primarily seek out shops based on their locations. The majority of local searches are now done on mobile devices.

“Most people probably search for florists by typing ‘florists,’ ‘florists in [city name]’ or ‘florist nearby,’” says Andrew Shotland, founder of Local SEO Guide. “‘Nearby’ is a very common query, as of late, because mobile devices all have that as the default search query.”

For all other types of desktop and mobile searches, Google determines on its own whether the search is local or not. When the search is identified by Google as being local, the proximity of the searcher to your business is critical in determining where you rank in the search results. In addition, Google also takes into account your business’s relevance to the query and the prominence of your business.

Apple Maps offers a critical component of local search, according to Andrew. Well over a third of all people in the U.S. use Apple Maps at some point to find local businesses. To increase your shop’s visibility from this platform, in addition to other local SEO practices mentioned in the article, you can update your Apple Maps listing at mapsconnect.apple.com.

name/address/phone number

Mike says one of the most important practices in local SEO is making sure your name/address/phone number (NAP) and the category in which your business functions are disseminated across the Internet consistently, evenly and widely.

“The way the Google local algorithm works is by looking at the primary industry-specific local sites and primary data suppliers,” Mike shares. “It combines the information it finds about you into an understanding of who you are. If that’s inconsistent, then Google’s going to get confused.”

One key way in which Google collects information about your business is through data aggregators — companies that sell business listing information to web publishers and other companies so that search engines can incorporate the data into their algorithms.

“These companies are always scanning phone books and checking new business records and things to add to the databases,” Andrew shares. “The four main companies that do this are Factual, AcxiomNeustar Localeze and Infogroup. You want to get into those databases and make sure your information is correct.”

Working with data aggregators can be challenging and time consuming, but several companies offer services for updating your company’s information with all the main aggregators. Moz Local, for example, offers this service for $84 per year.

According to Andrew, the importance of your business’ NAP accuracy throughout the web cannot be overstated. When Google misinterprets a company’s NAP, the results can be disastrous.

“One day, one of our client’s national customer service center started getting a huge amount of calls, and they had no idea why,” Andrew says. “It was because Google changed a large number of their locations to show their national customer service line as the correct phone number. (They have several thousand locations.) This cost them probably millions of dollars in customer support time.”

local citations

Andrew also recommends updating your information throughout what are called local citation sites. Too numerous to list in this article, these include local directory sites such as Yelp and Yellow Pages. For starters, make sure your shop’s profile on Yelp is up to date, you’re categorized as a florist and that there aren’t duplicate records or old addresses or phone numbers.

Many companies offer services to help automatically update your shop’s local citations listings as well, but the number of citations these companies update is limited.

Yext, for example, automatically updates many local citations, but in order to get the job done right, you might want to hire an SEO specialist for your shop. Andrew’s company, Local SEO Guide, for example, offers this as one of its services, specializing in ways to boost local busi-nesses’ ranks in search engine results.

google my business

Google My Business allows businesses to list their company information so that it’s accessible from its primary searches as well as Google Maps and Google Plus. Free and convenient, this service is a no-brainer for any local business’s website.

If you type the word “florist” into Google right now, you would probably see some ads by 1-800-Flowers.com, FTD and Teleflora, but you would also get a Google Map with florists in your city. According to Andrew, those results are called “the local pack,” which is powered by Google My Business.

Below that, using a separate algorithm, Google offers organic results, based on its best idea of what the searcher might be looking for.

organic searches

Rather than determining results based on your website’s NAP information and prominence, organic searches render results based on how usable the content  is to the searcher.

In the earlier days of SEO, Google looked for results based widely on “keyword phrases” that were entered into webpages’ metadata by the creators (or optimizers) of the pages. This led to issues when web developers would enter keywords that were only loosely related to the subject of the content.

Now, however, Google has become so sophisticated that it can determine quality, usability and relevance of content based on countless variables, with less dependence on keywords. When someone enters a query in search of specific information, Google tries to think like a human to render results.

Website pages should still be technically proficient, with correct title tags and links to other pages within your site to maximize the number of page views the content achieves, but these methods will increase the search engine visibility only of content that’s already being searched for. The most successful business websites tend to establish authority in areas of interest with meaningful content that’s worthy to be shared by consumers.

“You have to offer valuable content in the eyes of not just Google but the searchers as well,” Mike says. “So if you want to increase your visibility to those seeking information on wedding flowers, it would behoove you to have topical content on your site about that. The era  of writing keyword-laden pages is gone, but the idea of writing quality pages about floral arrangements and anything that creates a buzz around the local market is increasingly valuable.”

Andrew says, in both local and nonlocal queries, sites that regularly update their content tend to rank better, but that doesn’t necessarily require that you have a blog on your website — just be sure to have at least one page on your site that’s updated often.

“Some businesses do really well by asking their customers to write reviews for them, and they feed those reviews onto their websites,” Andrew says. “That’s one relatively inexpensive and easy way to keep your website up to date.”

Sadie Quagliotto, marketing director for Blumz by JR Design, Detroit, Mich., encourages her fellow florists to take SEO seriously because the national order gatherers are buying paid advertisements on Google.

“Your best way to compete with them is to, at least, be the first real search result,” Sadie says. “If people can’t find you, they can’t be your customers, and if you’re the first flower shop they find online, they are more likely to buy from you.”

positive feedback

Reviews from customers should be an ongoing part of your business, and Mike believes a slow steady rate of reviews is indication to Google of your prominence in the marketplace.

“Consumers like to see recent feedback,” Mike says. “They want to know that you’re as good this year as you were last year. There’s evidence indicating that customers expect to find reviews about businesses from the last six months.”

Compiling email addresses can play a vital role in your ability to become independent from Google after the customers have found your website, according to Mike. You’ll want to find a way to capture your customers’ email addresses on your site so that you can use them to ask for feedback and reviews online to prove your business to prospective customers.

Ideally, florists should get noticed both offline and online, according to Mike. In the floral industry, specifically, you should probably follow up with customers within a few days of each sale. This gives you a chance to address any complaints the customers may have. If the shoppers were satisfied with your services, this may offer opportunities to get feedback from them while they’re still feeling happy about their experiences.

Mike says only 25 percent of Americans write reviews, usually when they feel that the experience was above average. The business only has to exceed customers’ expectations to achieve good reviews, in most cases.

“The time of being a not-great business and hiding is over; everyone will know,” Mike says. “Given that you can’t hide — reviews are everywhere — you might as well embrace them and become really exceptional.”

Web publishers such as local newspapers can do wonders for how Google perceives your site’s importance to searchers, according to Mike. Even if they don’t include a link to your business, Google interprets these external mentions as your shop being active in your local market.

“That’s the goal of online marketing, to be recognized both online and offline so that Google sees you as being more prominent than the next person,” Mike shares. “Once a month, you should think of a promotional activity that will get you mentioned online.”

Mike believes the purpose of your presence on Facebook or other social media platforms should be about maintaining a relationship with your customers after the sale.

“At some point, Facebook will play a bigger role in helping its users discover local businesses,” Mikes says. “But at this point, it’s mostly about post-sale interactions with them where you can engage them as you would in any post-sale environment to hopefully get referrals after the fact.”

A lot of businesses don’t do a great job of monitoring how they’re doing when it comes to online reviews, and sometimes reputations are immeasurably damaged by one-star reviews. Some sites allow you to respond to bad reviews, if you’d like. If that’s the case, William O’Shea, co-founder of Floranext, suggests posting a simple message such as, “We offer a 100-percent satisfaction guarantee.”

“That tends to build confidence,” William says. “You also have to make sure that the number of great reviews outweighs the number of bad reviews.”

According to William, there have been studies that suggest the best rating to have is actually not five stars. When the ratings are five stars, people assume they were posted by friends. William says the sweet spot is somewhere between 4.2 and 4.5 stars because it seems more like real people offering their feedback.

William also recommends offering incentives for in-store shoppers to give you good reviews, such as a free rose to customers who show that they gave you a great review on Yelp. “That is so worth it,” says William. “You’re paying a 50-cent rose for a review that’s going to pay you dividends over time.”

measuring success

Google Analytics is a great free tool to observe traffic on your website. It can be easily set up on your website today, if  it isn’t already. “You can spend half a day and come up with some really easy things to do in Google Analytics, or you can hire a consultant to set up reporting for you and help you decide what’s important to track,” Andrew says. “People track phone numbers, set ways to track how each of their pages is performing, etc. I don’t know why you wouldn’t use Google Analytics.”

If you want to get more in-depth, Andrew says you can do what’s called “conversion tracking,” which identifies what customers do after clicking on your site. It’s usually not very expensive, and it shows what people do on your site so you can test what happens when you make alterations.

Don’t hesitate to make an investment up front in analyzing the success of marketing techniques on your site. According to Andrew, this will pay off over time.

“We have a client that’s a chain of indoor trampoline parks, and they were reluctant to jump into this, so I asked them, ‘How long did it take you to figure out how to effectively buy cable TV ads?’ I guarantee they blew a ton of money trying to figure out which ads made sense for them. Because it’s the Internet, and it’s still relatively new, people are reluctant to spend money because they don’t understand it.”

Andrew believes SEO is like any other marketing program: There’s no guarantee you’re doing things perfectly or that what was effective in the past will be again in the future. It’s a constant process of learning.

 

WEB MARKETING ADVICE FROM MIKE BLUMENTHAL

“I would think in terms of human optimization rather than search engine optimization. My wife traveled a lot, and every time she did, I would send flowers to her hotel room. I can tell you by looking at florists’ sites that they are relying way too much on national shopping-cart sites and not enough on their creative instincts to develop sites that are truly attractive.

“I mean, the flower business needs to appeal to the gut emotions of humanity. It isn’t just a transaction; it’s a transaction that embraces romance, artistry and love. Florists need to look at everything that way and make sure that their online presence imbues everything they do so the customers and Google both understand that.

“When I was looking for florists, I could look at 10 websites, and I would be lucky if one of them wasn’t some templated floral industry website. I think florists need to try to stand above that crowd. Take that direction, and build it in a way that Google can read and clearly understand.”

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