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April 15th, 2020

Keeping Small Business Customers Informed During COVID-19

For small businesses, being found online is all-important. More than half of small businesses invest in improving their company’s website performance and searchability through things like keywords and search engine optimization (SEO). But with advances in internet search capabilities, customers looking for a local business may not even have to go to its website. The last time I ordered takeout, I searched for “Indian restaurant near me,” found the closest place with the best reviews, and called the number listed on Google without ever looking at the restaurant’s website. Online search was the only tool I used—and millions of people take a similar approach every time they interact with small businesses.

What does this have to do with COVID-19?

If you’re a small business owner in the midst of statewide lockdowns, it’s likely that the way you do business has changed dramatically. You may have changed your operating hours or created special times for seniors only. You may be offering curbside pickup options, or you may even be temporarily closed. But with all these changes, how do you keep customers updated?

Even if you update your company website, these changes won’t immediately propagate to search sites, apps, and navigation systems without the help of a service provider. This means customers aren’t getting the most up-to-date information, which can lead to frustrated customers and lost revenue. To combat this problem, companies need to invest in more advanced ways to update their search results—otherwise, you’ll end up losing business during an already precarious time.

What happens when search engines provide outdated information?

While most businesses have and maintain some form of local search platform presence, these aren’t ordinary times. For example, a business with multiple locations, all listed on Apple Maps, has closed all but one of its locations to save on costs. If Apple Maps doesn’t update fast enough to reflect this, then a lot of customers will end up driving to shuttered locations. Pretty soon, they’ll give up trying at all.

The way that search platforms display your business listings can create additional problems. If customers search by category of service ( “grocery store near me,” for example), they typically get three listings of local grocery stores with each store tagged on a map. Each listing contains a business rating, the location, and a short summary of what services are provided. Clicking on each listing provides a little more information—the specific address, the phone number, the link to its website, and so on. Almost 80 percent of users find businesses “near me” in this manner.

By virtue of its dominant market share, Google has become synonymous with online search. Yet other search engines also have significant reach, so it’s important to address these as well to ensure that your updates reach all, not just most, consumers. Further, consumer habits have changed: Some use navigation apps to search for, and get directions to, different businesses or restaurants in a single step. And quarantined families looking for insights from neighbors might use as a more locally focused search engine, such as Nextdoor, as an alternate means to find stores with toilet paper inventory or grocery providers offering delivery.

If you’ve changed your hours, location, or services before the search platforms can catch up, you’re going to end up with a lot of confused customers—but this is only the surface of the problem. If the information isn’t correct, customers tend not to take the time to look for other sources that can make things right.

Website updates alone aren’t good enough.

Most people assume the results from internet search engines and mobile applications are infallible, and they typically don’t take the time to click through to your website to ensure your listing information is accurate. They also don’t remember the email you sent two weeks ago about new hours and locations, and they don’t call your phone number for an explanation.

Are consumers lazy? Yes, we are. We want to get information instantly in the easiest way possible, and that’s typically through search engines and mobile applications. Chances are, we will look online just long enough until we find another nearby Indian restaurant. If you want to communicate new information reliably, you’re going to have to go directly to the source.

Neustar Localeze keeps business information up to date.

Business websites don’t include a magic button that allows you to directly edit your listing information across the breadth of local search platforms, apps, and navigation systems—so Neustar made one instead. With Localeze from Neustar, small businesses can instantly update their local listing information across applications like Google, Apple, Bing, Yahoo, and TomTom—plus 90 other search platforms, applications, navigations, and directories—all from a single dashboard.

With a Localeze subscription, you can make unlimited updates to your business listing information, keeping search engines up to date every time you make a change. Localeze even provides helpful tips for making your listing more interesting and noticeable.

COVID-19 has forced many companies to make changes to the way they do business—but those changes don’t have to force you into obscurity. Get started today and help your customers find you—no matter what.

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