Productivity

Make your business shine online: 8 steps to boost visibility

Set up Google services


Invite people to peek inside your business, by using Google Business Photos.

Google has a number of services besides Google+ that can increase your business's online visibility, especially if you have a physical location.

Google Places is a free service available to any business with a mailing address. Even if you run a roving food truck, you can set up a free Google Places account and populate it with helpful information—including business hours and relevant product or service photos—about your company. Customers can also leave reviews here, à la Yelp. This information integrates into Google Maps and regular Google searches automatically, so building out your Google Places presence is a no-brainer. (When Google launched Google+, many people wondered whether the new service was replacing Places, but it has not.)

If you really want to step up your game, and you have a physical location to show off, Google Business Photos lets you give customers a virtual tour of your offices, with Street View-like features. Prices vary, since the 360-degree photo shoot requires coordination with a Google-approved (but independent) photographer.

Consider other merchant listings


Don't overlook arranging for your company to appear on smaller local listings.

The more you build out your third-party merchant listings, the higher your visibility will become. But most such services have price tags attached, and each one you add increases the time you'll have to spend managing it instead of getting work done. I covered the major Yelp alternatives last year, and my advice there still applies: Claim what listings you can for free (including Judy's Book and Yahoo Local), but think carefully before spending money on an upgraded profile.

Send out press releases

A well-conceived press release can pay off in greater visibility for your business.

Press releases are another easy way to generate a large number of back links to your website and to legitimizie it in the eyes of many readers. The purpose of a press release is to encourage media to write or broadcast a story about you, but online press releases have a secondary function. Because hundreds of sites looking for free content may reprint an online press release verbatim, such releases can translate into instant links and page views...and higher visibility.

Some sites, including PR.com, are free. Others, like PR Toolkit, cost a few hundred dollars per release. (PR Toolkit charges between $129 and $399 per sent release, depending on the options you choose.) Either way, Internet exposure means greater visibility for your company and its website, even if the New York Times never writes a cover story about you.

Don't overlook Web directories

 It still looks the way it did in 1998, but the Open Directory Project is useful and free.

Web directories don't have much value today, as Google largely discounts these vestiges of the 1990s Web in its search results. Still, if you find yourself with a spare half hour to kill, it's not a bad idea to submit your site to a few of them.

Which directories are worthwhile? First, try submitting to DMOZ, a venerable and credible directory that AOL now owns. Getting a site listed on DMOZ is difficult and can take months, but a listing here provides a high-quality, free back link to your site. Second, seek out industry-specific directories suitable for your business. For example, FindLaw is a respected directory of legal service providers (though it's not free). If a solid directory serves your industry, and if its price fits your budget, give it a try, at least for a while. Don't bother with other nonspecific directories, however; most of them are spam havens, and a back link can actually hurt your business instead of helping it.

Make a video connection

Many a business has been made on YouTube—and given the weight that Google accords to YouTube videos in search results, putting some effort into devising an engaging and/or humorous mini-movie to promote your business can be time very well spent. If it's a hit, your sales could go through the roof overnight. If it's not, it will still improve your visibility online. Remember to link back prodigiously on your YouTube Channel page and on each video's page itself. Link to your other social media sites, too, and use keyword tags thoughtfully. Can't come up with a funny video to promote yourself? Try putting together a webinar that will show potential customers your expertise.

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