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3 June, 2015

10 things to do when taking over a local business

white_listThe online world has a huge impact on local businesses, and that adds a whole new category of items to tick off your list when looking at buying a business. It’s easy to forget the impact local search can have on how people can find you when you’re focussed on the legals and finances. But forget this at your peril.

A client recently was referred to me after they had bought and taken over. It hadn’t been an easy transition, and there were a lot of loose ends that ended up causing major headaches for them with local search.

In my client’s case, they were in a situation of where Google and real-world logic don’t always align.   They had decided to rebrand and start fresh, as they believed there was a negative perception of the business in the community.  The new business was the same type as the old.

From a commercial perspective, their decisions made to rebrand made some sense. From an online perspective that decisions had unintended consequences.

Here’s why – It takes time for the public to learn a business has a new name, and people will continue to search for it by the old name for a very long time. In the same way, search engines take a long time to register this new business name at the location is trustworthy and relevant, and should be listed where the old business was.

In a nutshell, these were the conditions when we first started talking:

Issues

  • Rebranded.
  • Brand new domain to reflect the new name.
  • No access to existing Google local page.
  • Tons of citations for the old business name scattered around the web with conflicting contact info, unclaimed and ignored.
  • Had marked the old business Google Local page as closed.
  • Had created a number of new business listings.

Positives

  • Had access to old website.
  • Maintained the same phone number.
  • Terrific new website, designed well for users and search engines.
  • New owners understood the importance of a strong online presence.

Had the new business been a completely different type of business from the old, I suspect the transition would have been cleaner and quicker.  But since it was the same and the old business name info had been there so long and was spread so wide, Google has been hanging onto that old info *forever* and is making the new website and business name work incredibly hard to be recognised.

So if we had a do-over moment, what would I recommend?

Before hand

  1. Get access to  Analytics and Webmaster Tools – understand where their website traffic is coming from, where you phone calls are coming from, and whether the key online representation of the business (website) has significant problems.
  2. Don’t rebrand if you can reasonably avoid it.
  3. Get all the logins to all the online assets – website, local pages (google, bing, apple), citations (truelocal, Facebook, womo, Yelp, etc)
  4. Get a list of the citations – places around the web where the business is referenced – primarily a combination of name, address, phone and website.
  5. Dig deep into the YellowPages®. Sensis are notorious for having bad data about businesses. And since they are the major data partner for Google in Australia, it’s critical to get this right.
    You need only one listing per location with

    • the right address (and pin marker on the map),
    • the real phone number (not their call tracking number) and,
    • the correct website URL.

    If you’re not doing any YP advertising, consider taking it for a test drive for six months. You might be pleasantly surprised. Word of warning – don’t go overboard with all the packages and service offerings, keep it simple.

After you’ve taken over

    1. Keep the same phone number.
    2. Update the citations before you update the Google page.  Start with Sensis and the other key sites (above, 3), then move onto the larger body. Wherever possible, update the existing listings with the new info.
    3. Keep the same Google local page and update it with the new info.  You can do this after the key sites and before the larger body, or at the same time as the larger body.
    4. Keep the old domain.  If the old domain is ranking well, put your new website there. If not, use a professional to help you transition to the new domain over time.
    5. Clean up the domain’s “digital reputation” if you need to, but whenever possible leverage the benefits of an old and known domain from Google.
        Couple of points to consider about the old domain:

        • If the “digital reputation” is too badly trashed (eg maybe the previous owners trusted the wrong SEO firm who built a ton of spammy backlinks or used black-hat techniques), then it probably isn’t ranking well.
        • Seek professional advice – you need to make a judgement call.  Is the cost and effort required to clean the reputation is greater than the cost of not being on the home page with a very young domain, plus the ongoing effort it will take to get it there?
          Remember, you’re not looking for the business to show first by its name, you’re needing it to show by category.

Put simply, the less you change online about the business, generally the better.

Where this gets contentious is online reviews. If you’re buying a business with a lot of negative reviews online, rebranding will *not* make them go away. Google stores reviews based on the physical location not the business name. Facebook and Sensis seem to be more forgiving in that aspect, so you’ll need to know where your largest share of customers comes from online.

If you have the added complication of being in a business subject to the National Act (not allowed to ask for reviews), know you will to have to do a *lot* of offline marketing to help offset those reviews. In time they will fade in importance and in time, your new happy customers may put up positive reviews to offset those.