How to make sure your online presence reflects the changes in your offline business

No one went into this year planning to have a global pandemic upend, well, everything in life—but here we are. These past couple of months have necessitated some degree of changes for virtually every business worldwide.

One of the biggest changes: with stay-at-home orders, lockdowns, and the mandatory closure of “non-essential” brick-and-mortar stores, many primarily “offline” businesses are now operating entirely (or mostly) online. For some, this is their first foray online. For others that already had an eCommerce presence, they’ve found its role in their operation increasing.

The transition from being an offline, or mostly offline, business to being an online, or mostly online, business, certainly presents a whole host of challenges. Even as businesses start to open back up over the next few months, it is likely that operations will be modified or curtailed in some way, and you’ll need to communicate those changes to your customers. In this article, we’re going to cover some ways to make sure your online presence reflects the changes in your offline business. We’ll also cover some tips for adjusting and reshaping your advertising and marketing to serve your new business model during unprecedented times.

Update your key online listings

Odds are, the hours you’re open and the services you’re providing are somewhat different now than they were three months ago. So it’s crucial that when a customer searches for your business, they unambiguously see those changes in all your online listings across the board and don’t have to call to confirm your hours or services—or, worse, go to a competitor that’s made things clearer. If your business is open for pickup, for example, you need to make sure your customers can easily find out, otherwise, they may assume you’re closed.

We’re going to focus on three main areas you should update immediately:  Google My Business, Facebook, and your own website.

Google My Business

We’ll assume you have Google My Business set up already to display the fundamental information about your business (location, website, hours, etc.) when your business pops up in Google searches. (If not, you should set that up first.) Google is one of the top ways your customers will look for your updated hours and services—while not everyone uses Facebook, Yelp, Instagram, and the like, pretty much everyone except maybe the founder of Bing and their immediate family uses Google—so it’s crucial to get your changes posted there. Do this as soon as possible (like right now), because some businesses have experienced delays in their updates during the pandemic.

The things you should update are:

  • Hours. Or, if your physical location is completely closed, mark your business as “Temporarily closed.”
  • Services. If the nature of your services has changed, add attributes to your profile like “delivery” or “pick-up.”
  • Posts. Post a brief update that tells your customers about your changes. That serves the dual purpose of sharing the information, and signaling to your customers that you’re still actively working on day-to-day operations. 
A Google My Business post.

Facebook

Update your business’s Facebook page to reflect the changes in your hours and services as well. (Facebook has set up a “Temporary service changes” section to help guide you through the process, which you can find at Page settings > Page info > Temporary service changes.)

You may also want to write a short post about the changes to your business right now, and pin it at the top of your timeline.

This could also be a good time to post a little more frequently on Facebook—as it’s seeing “skyrocketing” usage. To that end, try to respond quickly to customers who ask questions on Facebook right now as a means of reassuring them that the quality of the service you provide hasn’t changed.

Your own website

Even if customers are most likely to look for information about your business on Google or social media, it’s important to update the channels you fully own and control as well. (That includes things like your website, your emails, your store’s voicemail message, and even the signage in your windows.) After all, if someone sees your new hours on Google but the old hours on your website, it can create confusion.

So make sure to update your own website, and all of your owned channels, with your new hours and any changes to the services you provide.

Other places to update

How do people find your business? If you get a lot of customers from Yelp, update your listing there. Likewise with other social media; if you have a popular Instagram account or Twitter feed, note your business’s changes in your bio. Craigslist? The online Yellow Pages? Local business directories? Keep customers updated on your business’s situation wherever you know they search for you. 

Optimize your website for local SEO

Search engine optimization is an $80 billion industry—so, obviously, we’re not going to be able to sum it up completely in a handful of bullet points. However, there are some relatively quick measures you can take to improve your local SEO that can potentially increase your business both now and in the future. And hey, this is a great project to take on during what may be a slower time right now that can pay real dividends. 

Optimize your Google My Business listing

Google has a 92 percent market share for search, so search engine optimization and Google optimization are basically overlapping circles in a Venn diagram. And when it comes to optimizing for local search on Google, the most important factor is your Google My Business listing.

Some of the most important things you should examine in your profile are:

  • Your service area. Google wants to provide the best possible search results. So when someone is looking for a specific type of business in their area, Google obviously aims to show businesses match both the type and the geographic area. If you provide too wide of a geographic service area, that can lead to fewer people who see your listing clicking through or engaging with it—and that, in turn, can signal to Google that other local competitors might be better. So make sure the area you say you cover truly matches the area you cover.
  • Primary category and categories. Make sure your primary category is the best fit for your business—but also use additional categories that hit on the smaller aspects of what you do. For instance, if you run a restaurant that’s now also selling groceries and produce boxes, add the “grocery store” and/or “grocery delivery service” categories.
  • Products. You may, depending on your primary category, have the option to manually add the products you sell to your listing. Take advantage of that feature if it’s available, as it can help customers find you when they search for those products.
  • Attributes. Take the time to add attributes for your business, like what you’re popular for and what you offer.
  • Photos. While photos won’t help your search rankings, they will help you convert when someone finds your profile. Google has found that businesses with photos get 35 percent more clicks through to their websites than businesses without.
  • Posts. Add posts about what you sell, share images, and offer deals. Posts expire in seven days, so keep them updated and timely. Use keywords in those posts that you think people would use when searching for your business.
  • Ask for reviews. Reviews are one of the top contributors to a Google My Business listing popping up in more searches. Encourage your best customers to leave you honest reviews and it will help you show up in search results more often.

Focus on your SiLs (“Service in Locations”)

The main way people search for a local business is a combination of the city and the service. For example, if you live in Tulsa, Oklahoma and want to search for a plumber on Google, you’d probably type in “plumber in Tulsa” or “Tulsa plumber.”

Those search phrases are referred to as SiLs, which stands for service in location. You should make a list of the different ways people might search for your business using the SiLs format (e.g., “24-hour plumber in Tulsa,” “reliable plumber in Tulsa,” “Tulsa best plumber.”) For some advice on how to put together an exhaustive list of potential SiLs and identify the most important ones to target, check out this guide from Ahrefs.

Once you’ve decided which SiLs to target, the next step is making sure your site comes up when people make those searches. This process gets into traditional SEO work (backlinks, relevant content, and so on)—but a few of the most important things you can do include:

  • Setting up specific URLs. If you serve multiple areas, set up landing pages on your site with your services, and tailor the URLs to those areas. So you could have joesplumbing.com/tulsa, joesplumbing.com/bixby, joesplumbing.com/sandsprings, and so on.
  • Create local resource content. To continue the plumbing analogy (that I didn’t initially intend to take this far, but now I’m in way too deep to change hypothetical examples), put up a blog post about “Quick at home plumbing fixes (for Tulsa).” Give some tips and focus them locally (e.g., talk about what happens when food from a popular local restaurant in Tulsa gets stuck in the disposal). 
  • Try to get some quick backlinks. Contact other local businesses and offer to do a link swap. Have them link to your business using your key SiL as the text of the link; you’ll want the link to be plumber in Tulsa, not Joe’s Plumbing. You can also give a few plugs to other local businesses in your content, as that can generate goodwill—and maybe even get them linking to your content.

Make sure your Apple Maps listing is optimized

Apple Maps may not be the mapping app most people use regularly—Google Maps has a dominant market share—but Apple Maps is the mapping app that tons of people inadvertently use regularly. Whenever someone does a Siri or Spotlight search for a local business on an iOS device, they get the results in Apple Maps. The iPhone has a 33 percent market share in the U.S.—so that’s a lot of people on-the-go getting their local search results on Apple Maps.

You can add your business to Apple Maps or work on your profile at Apple Maps Connect. Make sure you’ve updated your current hours and services. Much like with your Google My Business account, confirm your business’s location and make sure your primary category is accurate. The changes should appear in about a week.

Plan your marketing strategically and appropriately

It’s difficult to market in a “business as usual” way right now (although 10 percent of brands say they haven’t made any tweaks to their marketing strategy). The overwhelming majority of companies have changed their marketing based on the pandemic. Here are some of the approaches you can take.

Demonstrate how your business fills an immediate need

People are, by and large, spending money on things for the present. As a result, your marketing strategy should focus around how whatever you’re selling fills an immediate need in your customers’ lives. That doesn’t mean you need to pivot from being a florist to manufacturing masks or gloves. What it does mean is you need to position your products properly. (A florist, for example, can promote how much nicer flowers make a house look, smell, and feel. Also, houseplant hoarding is hot right now, so there’s a marketing angle for florists there too.)

As you’ll see from this list of immediate needs, almost everything can be considered an immediate need if you frame it correctly (with the exception of maybe travel?):

  • Life staples. Food, both essential food and morale-boosting splurges and treats. Medical supplies, protective equipment, toiletries, clothing basics.
  • Keeping the kids occupied.  Activities, indoor playgrounds, puzzles, books, toys, educational toys.
  • Working from home. Computer equipment and upgrades, home office products, standing desks, lamps, sweatpants.
  • Entertainment and escape. Media, activities, video game products, home theater upgrades. This can even include things like jewelry or other luxury goods with the right marketing spin targeted at the right segment of customers.
  • Home improvement. Tools, DIY projects, plants, gardening products, mattresses, paint, lighting.
  • Comfort. Clothes, furniture, linens, massagers.
  • Self improvement. Home fitness, online courses, meditation products, vitamins and supplements, skin care products, musical instruments.

If there’s truly no way to frame what you sell as something essential or quasi-essential right now, focus on your brand and values instead. Position your marketing around what your brand is doing right now to try to pitch in, your continued commitment to and involvement in the local community, and what you’ll be doing for people once we’re on the other side of all this.

Keep the focus local

Your local customers are used to being able to go to your business to get what they need. That may not be the case anymore. It’s up to you to let your customers, and the people in the communities you serve, know about the changes to your business and what you can and can’t provide right now. 

While many of the steps we detailed earlier in this article will help, like updating your Google presence, social media, and website, we also recommend spreading the message in other ways. 

If you have an email list, use it to keep your customers updated and to promote any offers you’re running right now. (If you don’t have an email list, please let us know at Jilt—we’ll help you get everything set up and you can try everything out for 30 days for free as you get started.)

If you have room in the budget, you could also see strong results by advertising locally right now. Advertising spending is way down across the board, which potentially means cheaper rates and less competition for you. Use location-based filters on social media to target the right customers in your area to keep them apprised on what you’re selling at the moment.

Make sure you emphasize things people care about right now in your marketing like no-contact deliveries and pickups, how you’re keeping your customers and employees safe, and your role in the community and local ecosystem. People want to support local businesses right now—so when you provide excellent products and services and genuinely demonstrate how your values match your customers’ and communities’ values, that makes it easy for someone to make the decision to shop with you.

And finally, think about teaming up with a complementary local business to help each other out. For instance, here’s how five small businesses in Providence, Rhode Island got together to make a breakfast box. It’s a smart marketing move all around. The promotion introduces each of those businesses’ customers to other local businesses they might not know. It’s socially conscious, which makes it easy to support regardless of the price—$10 from every purchase goes toward the local food bank. And it preemptively addresses a major concern of the present:  people won’t have to line up or face any potential health risk “as orders will be ready to hand out.” (Also—”french toast donuts”?!)

A collaboration of local breakfast spots.

Use empathy

It’s important to find the right tone with your marketing right now. Promotions that have a “used car sales” tone—too sales-y, too aggressive, too disingenuous, too untrustworthy—feel especially disconnected from reality or the general mood of the zeitgeist right now. 

Marketing right now needs to walk a fine line. There needs to be a sense of empathy and sympathizing with your customers and the difficulty and gravity of the current situation—without going so far overboard that your marketing becomes depressing. 

Here are two good rules-of-thumb to follow with your marketing right now.

One, try to market toward the greater good—position your products to help people, show empathy, and demonstrate caring about your customers, community, and the entire world. Remember to keep the focus on your customers and how your business is serving their immediate needs right now.

And two, whenever you post something on social media or send an email, think of how it would look right next to very bad news. Avoid making light of the current situation. Keep perspective—you wouldn’t want to say people are “trapped” inside when the ability to stay inside is really a privilege. And don’t tell people how to spend any stimulus or unemployment checks they might receive from the government, when many will use it just to make ends meet or to cover some of their bills after losing a job.

A stimulus-oriented ad.
An ad like this could play wrong to some people.

Offer gift cards

One way that customers are supporting their favorite businesses right now is by buying gift cards. So if you don’t have gift cards for sale… put them on sale. You can quickly put together a physical gift certificate using a free template on a site like Canva. For a more robust solution that works for physical and digital gift cards, here’s a how-to guide we recently wrote up for our WooCommerce plugin PDF Product Vouchers. And if you want a very quick email solution for eCommerce gift cards, here’s a how-to guide we wrote up for selling gift cards using nothing but Jilt.

Key takeaways

In a world of social distancing and temporary business closures, many offline (or primarily offline) businesses are now leaning on their online presence both for sales and to keep customers informed. 

It’s important to update your online listings with your new hours and services so your customers know exactly what you’re providing and when and how they can get it.

  • Google My Business. Make sure to update the crucial information in your Google My Business listing, and add a post with a brief update on your changes.
  • Facebook. Update your business’s Facebook page and post frequently to let your customers know you’re available for them.
  • Your own website. Don’t neglect your own website. Make sure it reflects your new hours, services, and business info as well.
  • Other listings. If you get customers from Yelp, Craigslist, other social media sites, or anywhere else online, make sure to update your profile there too.

This is also a good time to focus on your local search engine optimization, which can pay off in both the short term and long term.

  • Optimize your Google listing. Focus on your business categories, products, attributes, and posts.
  • Figure out your SiLs. Lots of people will discover your business by searching for “service in location.” Determine the most common SiLs people will use to find you, and take steps to improve your search engine rankings for those terms.
  • Optimize your Apple Maps listing. Siri and Spotlight searches utilize Apple Maps—and the iPhone has a large market share. Make sure everything in your profile on Apple Maps is complete and accurate to show up in more results.

Finally, tweak your marketing to match what people need right now and the sensitivities of this time.

  • Demonstrate how you fill an immediate need. Frame your marketing around how your products or services can fill one of the most pressing needs in your customers’ lives.
  • Keep the focus local. Advertise locally, emphasize socially-conscious processes like no-contact deliveries, and try to team up with other area businesses for joint sales.
  • Use empathy. Stay within your brand’s voice as channel the empathy needed for this moment—without crossing over the fine line into being too depressing.
  • Offer gift cards. Customers want to buy gift cards to support their favorite local businesses. Make sure you have gift cards available, whether they’re physical gift cards, digital, or both.

One last piece of advice: Be sure to keep track of all the things you update, so you can switch them back or alter them as necessary when circumstances change again in the future.

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