ABOVE: Sophia Ganosis and Jacqueline Donado of the Queens Chamber of Commerce with Google presenter Randi Penfil (center).
BY BENJAMIN FANG
Dozens of small business owners and leaders attended a seminar on how to bring their business online at the Queens Chamber of Commerce headquarters on January 24.
Randi Penfil, a marketing expert and speaker with Google, gave tips on how to better reach local customers using online tools and platforms. She kicked off her presentation by noting that everyone has “micro-moments,” or instances when people want to know, do or buy something.
Most of that today is done online, whether it’s looking up information on a business or buying an item on the Internet. Most customers now also have the ability to satisfy those moments at their fingertips.
“Today, we no longer go online, we live online,” Penfil said. “We are walking around with the Internet in our pockets.”
She told business owners to think about their customers and their micro-moments. Leverage those moments, she said, and build relationships with customers.
“Your customers will know all about your business before ever walking into your store or picking up the phone,” she said. “You want to make sure you’re tuned into what they’re finding about your business.”
There are billions of Google searches daily. In fact, there are roughly 40,000 searches per second. According to Penfil, 76 percent of people who search on their smartphones for a business are ready to buy or visit a store within a day.
Eighty percent of customers use search engines to look up information on local businesses.
That’s why a company’s online profile is so important. When a customer looks up a business, their “Google My Business” listing appears on the right-hand side of the webpage. It lists the company’s name, hours, a description and contact information.
Penfil urged business owners to take ownership of that listing and update it themselves. To do that, owners have to verify the listing and make sure the address is accurate. She also encouraged businesses to add more details, list special or holiday hours, and enliven the profile with photos.
Many customers like to look through photos of the company online before visiting, Penfil said.
Businesses can also engage local customers by posting and sharing updates. Posts only last for a week, Penfil said, so it’s important to constantly be active.
Other functions include communicating online with customers and reading and responding to reviews.
“It’s about being engaged with those who are having micro-moments,” she said. “That’s how you build your business. That’s how you stay in touch with those who are interested.”
However, Penfil advised not to “yell back at customers,” when reading a negative review. Take a few minutes, take in the comment, and respond accordingly.
Ignoring the review shouldn’t be an option either. Penfil reminded businesses that when a review is posted, good or bad, it cannot be taken off.
“At the end of the day, don’t get into a debate online, it will never end,” she said. “You won’t look like a business that really cares.”
The best option is to thank the reviewer for sharing their shopping experience, and ask to speak to them offline. They can always update their review after speaking, she said.
Penfil also spoke about the importance of being found “everywhere on all devices.” That means users should be able to see and use a company’s website whether using a smartphone, tablet or laptop.
When designing a website for your business, Penfil suggested asking the following questions: Why do you have a website? Who is your target audience? How will you reach them? How do you measure success?
Once the website is in place, another aspect is making sure businesses utilize search engine optimization (SEO), which is how Google reads a website.
“When you’re building your site, you’re not building it only for the human visitor,” she said. “You’re building it also for Google.”
She compared Google searches to a big filing cabinet. Once a user does a search, Google sees the keywords or terms, where the user is located, and looks into the filing cabinet of the Internet. Google then opens the most relevant drawer, pulls out a file, and delivers the pages most relevant based on the keywords and location.
To ensure customers find your business after a Google search, Perfil said, have useful and original content, including keywords, images and video. She also recommended having a fast loading time.
To ensure it is running optimally, she recommended using Google Search Console, a tool to gather data and diagnostics for a healthy website.
When creating content, it’s not only important to use different formats like listicles, how-to’s and videos, but also making the content relevant.
“Remember, people are coming to the web because they have a need. They have a moment, and they want to satisfy that moment quickly,” she said. “Having relevant content on your site helps you satisfy that need for that person.
“When you’re doing any type of marketing, it shouldn’t be about you,” Penfil added. “Have good information you can share with the person on your site.”
She recommended using another tool called Google Trends, which allows users to look up the activity of certain keywords over time. The trends can help inform which keywords a website should contain.
Another way to reach customers is through email marketing, using a platform provider like Mailchimp or Constant Contact. It allows a company to brand themselves with a logo, provide links to the website, and put out content.
Penfil suggested including in the email a clear subject line, a call to action, targeted content and correct spelling and grammar.
Most platforms have a way to measure the reach and clicks of the email. The data provided can be used to create better content in the future.
Finally, make sure the business website has strong navigation and an interesting homepage that is usable on mobile. Penfil suggested making it easy to search the site and to have the most important information “above the scroll.”
She added the recommendation of making it easy for customers to do tasks on the website, like paying or filling out forms.
“Don’t make me have to create an account,” she said. “We want to shop as a guest, too.”