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Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Internet offers a wide array of tools to help businesses succeed—you just have to know how to use them. Here are some online tips for your small business.

1. Utilize Internet Listings

According to Google Places, 97% of consumers search for local businesses online. Don’t get left out of this search! Sign up for listing services and review sites like Google Places, Yelp, and the Yellow Pages, most of which are free. Google Places in particular is an especially powerful weapon to have in your arsenal, as Google is the most-used search engine on the web. Yelp is helpful too, especially if your business is a restaurant, bar, or hotel. Get your information (accurately) entered in to all of the different listing services on the web to ensure you’re reaching your maximum customer base.

2. Respond to Reviews (Both Positive and Negative)

There are many different business review sites online, including Yelp and Google Places. Keep up with the reviews of your business on these sites, and use the customer feedback to improve your business and keep customers coming back for more. You can also use these platforms to respond to reviews, creating a personal relationship with the customer. Did you get a nice review? Personally thank the reviewer for their business and ask them to come back again. Was the review not so nice? Apologize for their negative experience and ask if they’d consider giving your business a chance to make it up to them. Another way to engage with reviewers is to offer them incentives; for example, you could offer a free appetizer or 20% off to all reviewers. This makes fans of your business feel appreciated, and gives critics a reason to return.

3. Social Media Is Your Friend

Social media can be an incredibly powerful business tool—and it’s free! Create a Facebook page for your site and get your friends and acquaintances to “like” it in order to build up publicity. Post photos and other fun info on your page to keep people coming back for more. Make a Twitter account and use it to make announcements, share related content, and interact with your followers. A great way to keep people interested in your various social media outlets is by offering incentives exclusively for your fans or followers (i.e. coupons, specials etc.). Make sure to publicize your accounts in your store and on your website.

4. Have a Nice Website! 

Speaking of websites, make sure yours is decent. It needs to look nice, be easily navigable, and function well. You also need to make sure that, if you’re selling products online, your small business shopping cart and checkout process run smoothly and feel secure—people won’t enter their credit card information into something that doesn’t seem legitimate. If you want some help getting things started, many companies specialize in helping businesses set up an e-commerce platform and get their websites up and running.
Just remember: the Internet can be your ally if you let it be! Good luck!

About the Author:
Madeline Marshall is a freelance writer living in Santa Cruz, CA.

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