Reopening Checklist for Local Businesses: Make It Confusion-Free, Local SEO-Friendly, and Safe

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No matter how operational your business has been, or how “open” it can be now, or how your goals have changed, sooner or later your local search visibility again will be one of your sorest spots.  Whether that’s already happened or is still a while off, at the very least you don’t want your local SEO to be in worse shape than it was before the lockdown.

There’s a good chance you’ve been open in some capacity this whole time.  So when I say “reopening” I’m referring to whenever you’re (1) welcoming more in-person business and (2) focusing more of your local SEO effort on drumming up that in-person business.  My guess is you’re not emerging suddenly.

 

Of course, I don’t know your specific situation, so I assume it’s safe and legal for you to “reopen” in one manner or another.  I assume you’ll apply your best judgment.

I’ve put together a quick checklist of the main quick tasks to help you pick up your local SEO effort where you left off, and maybe even make a little progress.  Here’s my “reopening” checklist (chunked into sections for clarity):

Google My Business (“GMB”)

  1. Make sure your GMB page is not marked “temporarily closed.” The ideal situation is you never did that, because for a while marking your business as “temporarily closed” would you from the 3-pack (from what I saw). In any event, now is probably a good time to mark it as “open.”  By now, most people know to check with you if they’re unsure of your hours or SOPs.

  1. Accept or deny any auto-updates Google has made on your GMB page, depending on whether they’re accurate.
  1. Make sure your latest GMB post reflects your current status, especially if you created a sticky post or a “COVID update” post.
  1. Confirm your GMB description is up-to-date.

  1. Submit edits on any recent keyword-stuffing in competitors’ Google My Business “name” fields. (In the COVID era Google has allowed certain kinds of descriptive phrases in there, which of course certain people have used as a justification to keyword-stuff even more than they did before .)

Website

  1. Make sure your title tags reflect your status as of reopening time (if you updated any of your title tags to reflect your COVID status).  Even if your title tags are unchanged, at least your description tag (or even a sitelink) should anticipate and address the question on everyone’s mind.

  1. Make it clear whether your online or “virtual” offering is available long-term, once you’ve resumed seeing customers / clients / patients in-person. Many business owners scrambled to roll out that kind of service and to create a page for it, but many of them conflated that page with their “COVID policies” page. So you want to make it clear to people whether your virtual offering is or was strictly a spring of 2020 thing.

  1. Confirm your “contact” page reflects your current status: how open you are, your hours, willingness to offer a virtual service, etc.

Reviews

  1. Determine whether Google is allowing new Google Maps reviews through. As you may know, Google put new reviews on hold for a while, though Google been allowing some reviews through (to varying degrees) since about mid-April, from what I’ve observed. Do a dry run by asking someone you know (customer or not) to leave you a Google review.  A few hours later or maybe the next day, sign out of your Google account, open an incognito browser tab, and see if you can see the review in Google Maps.
  1. Try responding to a Google review to confirm whether Google has restored your ability to respond to reviews. (Yep, that feature also was on ice for a while.)
  1. Encourage a recent customer or other reviewer to mention your safety protocols in his or her review. That accomplishes at least a couple things: it makes it clear you’ve seen customers recently, and it gives would-be customers a sense of your business’s current SOPs.

Other

  1. If you run Google Ads (AdWords), make sure none of your ads or extensions has been pulled because you mentioned the pandemic or telehealth by name. (You can only refer to those obliquely.)
  1. If applicable, make sure HealthGrades shows correct answers in the FAQs section (which shows up because HealthGrades uses Schema FAQs markup).

  1. Send a “howdy” or low-key announcement to anyone who may have wanted to visit your business or work with you in recent months, but who couldn’t. I’m referring to people you had to turn away, people who had safety concerns you may have addressed in the meantime, etc. I’m sure your website and Facebook page will convey the message, but I’d also recommend an email blast, a one-on-one email, or even (dare I say) a piece of snail mail.  Even if your rankings are OK and you’ve got no local-visibility-related problems, it may be a while before you get any new customers through the local search pipeline. See who’s been stuck in the pipeline for the last few months.  No doubt some people have lost interest, while others are in real bad need of what you offer.

 

Once you’ve reopened, of course you’ll get back to the same challenges you had before: getting more visible than your competitors are, and getting business out of the deal.  Then you’ll be back to the same questions, like of how to earn good links, how to get good reviews, how to make your site as big and bad as it can be, how to keep a lid on competitors’ spam, and more.  In a strange way it may feel good to get back to the point where those things are the biggest problems; they might not seem as daunting.

What else is on your reopening to-do list?  Anything I forgot?

Any big decisions you’re pondering (that tie in with local search)?

Leave a comment!

Doable Examples of Online/Remote Services Offered by Local Businesses

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While everything and everyone is on lockdown, how can a “local” business still bring in a little revenue?  How can you set yourself up for a strong comeback?  And how can you do it from your yurt?

As you might guess, you do it by offering an online or “tele” version of at least one of your services.  Customers / clients / patients may need to keep their distance, but many still want or need now what you offer.  Only a video, phone, or other online option meets both of those needs.

The problem now is you’re not sure where to begin, because you don’t have examples or blueprints of online-only services that you can adapt to your situation.

I’m not saying a remote option is an option for every business.  Some businesses can only do their work in-person, and don’t have a practical online option.  (Movers, roofers, dentists, and others come to mind.)  Others can ship, or deliver, or offer gift cards or prepay options, so this post isn’t geared to those businesses as much.  But if my experience before and during COVID-19 is any indication, a solid 75% of businesses can roll out an online-only service of value to local or non-local customers.

Below are examples of non-ecommerce, mostly “local” businesses that offer an online-only service.  (Some of these examples are from current or one-time clients.)  The online or remote service they offer is an option both for people nearby and for non-locals.  As you go through the list, think of what kind of rigging might just work for you.

 

Example 1: Online mold remediation by Moldman in Chicago: moldmanusa.com/virtual-mold-consultations/

Big strength: the business makes it clear that there may be a DIY solution to a mold problem.  That may save the client a lot of money, and more than offset the small cost of the consultation.

 

Example 2: Online therapy / counseling by Heartland Counseling Center in Missouri (multiple offices): heartlandcounselingcenter.com

Big strength: the online offering is unavoidable, because it’s in the sidebar on every page.  It’s not limited to one page that you hope people see.

 

Example 3: Telemedicine for pain management by Dr. Jason Attaman and Dr. Cameron Cartier in Bellevue and Seattle, WA: jasonattaman.com

Big strength: it’s clear what the doctors can and cannot do virtually, it’s clear what the logistics are, and it’s clearly geared toward patients in areas locked down by COVID-19 restrictions.

 

Example 4: Online plumbing consultation by Lutz Plumbing in Shawnee, KS: lutzplumbing.com/about/virtual-plumbing-consultation

Big strength: an extremely clear value proposition: it’s mainly for do-it-yourselfers who want a second opinion on a project.

 

Example 5: Online dog training by Fun Paw Care in Los Angeles: funpawcare.com/pet-services/phone-consultation/

Big strength: a thorough list of very specific dog-behavior problems and concerns that a consultation can help with.

 

Example 6: Online electrical troubleshooting by RightWay Electrical Contractors in Jacksonville, FL: rwecinc.com/online-electrician

Big strength: the page has some free troubleshooting tips before the paid-consultation option.  That helps people determine whether their issue calls for an electrician at all.  If it does, then the virtual option is right there.

 

Example 7: Online patent law consultation by OC Patent Lawyer: ocpatentlawyer.com/schedule-consultation/

Big strength: a very clear rundown of what to expect, with links (lower down on the page) to posts that get clients’ feet wet before the deep dive.

 

Example 8: Online divorce mediation by Equitable Mediation (multiple offices): equitablemediation.com/divorce-mediation/online-mediation

Big strength: very solid copywriting.  That includes the FAQs, and the way the owners make it clear why many people prefer the online version.  (By the way, you can also read my case-study post on this business.)

 

Example 9: Online tutoring by Boston Tutoring Services: bostontutoringservices.com/online-tutoring/

Big strength: even though the company has a clear local focus, the very top of the page makes it clear that in-person lessons are completely optional.

 

Example 10: Online voice lessons (in Spanish) by Vox Technologies Vocal Studio in Barcelona: vox-technologies.com

Big strength: it’s implied that many students do online lessons, and that the online offering isn’t second banana.

 

A couple of examples that get an honorable mention, because although they’re not “local” businesses to begin with, they took a clever approach to offering services that bricks-and-mortar and service-area businesses usually have a monopoly on:

 

Honorable mention: Online veterinary consultation by NHV Natural Pet Products: nhvnaturalpetproducts.com/veterinarian-consultation/

 

Honorable mention: Online landscape design by Tilly: tilly-design.com

 

I hope those examples gave you some ideas for the online version of your service, whether you’re trying to ramp it up or roll it out for the first time.  Getting a blueprint is the hard part, and probably the most important part, but here are 5 principles I suggest you keep in mind when figuring out your online service:

  1. It must solve or help with a problem people have now.
  2. It must help in self-contained way, and not just serve as initial consultation or a free quote.
  3. It won’t necessarily provide all the things you can do in-person, and that’s probably OK.
  4. It should be available and helpful to non-local people, too.
  5. It should probably be a service you’ll still want to keep around as a permanent component of your business.


What do you like about those examples?  Anything you’d improve about them, if you could?

Do you know of any examples of a “local” business with a clever or well-presented online offering?

Are you trying to figure out a work-from-home version of your service?

Leave a comment!

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