Short answer? Yes.
Your customer’s in-person experience directly impacts your rankings on Google. But the way you can affect it as a business leader isn’t quite what you’d expect.
It’s impossible to run a business without hearing about SEO, online reviews, call analytics, paid search, or social media marketing on a daily basis. Your email inbox is probably full of digital marketing agencies and marketing analytics tools trying to scoop up your business right now. I’m obviously in full support of every company developing solid digital marketing strategies (it’d be a real problem if I weren’t), but is there more we can do as business leaders, outside of our marketing teams, to improve our online visibility?
Note: I’m going to make a lot of bold claims about Google here that are totally my opinion, but they’re based on a decade of experience observing and manipulating the search results. Buckle up!
Why does Google even care about how your business runs?
Every algorithm update Google rolls out focuses more and more on weeding out the bad SEO tactics and finding increasingly real, grounded ways to get the right search results to users. If we just look at the last four updates:
- Google deprioritized sites with spammy content with the Helpful Content Update (12/5/22)
- Google decreased spammy links with the Link Spam Update (12/14/22)
- Google weeded out thin, unhelpful reviews while prioritizing product reviews based on actual experience and research with the Product Reviews Update (2/21/23)
- Google rolled out a core update in March 2023 which resulted in increases in visibility for sites that demonstrated “true experience” and decreases for sites that aggregate information from other sources without offering their own unique product or service (Amsive Digital).
Great, so what does that mean? Well, we sometimes forget that Google is a business: Google makes money by keeping searchers from turning to Bing or other search engines. How do they do this? By providing the best possible results for the searcher and continuously eliminating the junk from the results. A satisfied searcher is a satisfied Google customer. At its core, this is SEO.
Digital marketers know we can affect a business’s visibility on Google by creating a great website with truly helpful content that meets the searcher’s needs. We develop solid listings built out with extensive information about services and products, get quality online reviews, tie those listings to the website with beautifully crafted schema markup, run paid search campaigns to target users most likely to convert, and so on. Again, this is all fabulous, but it’s mostly in the hands of our marketing departments or the agency we’re working with. There must be more we can do at the C-level.
Well, guess what? There is! In fact, it all starts with us.
Your business operations are the foundation of your digital success.
Any business owner can have a successful digital marketing strategy – hire the right agency, dedicate the right resources, create the right content, boom! You’re good to go. But after all that talk about Google focusing on real quality, experience, and expertise, any success won’t last without a solid reputation to back it up. And when I say reputation, I don’t mean digitally (though I think I’d get in trouble if I didn’t mention how important online reviews are – there, I did my part).
My bold claim is that if you run a business that is so awesome people talk about you – not just online, but the old-fashioned way with their words in person, your rankings on Google will reflect it.
To make this work, your goal should be to build a reputation where:
- Your customers love you because your product or service is truly great and they feel good when they interact with you and your team.
- Your employees love you because you provide great benefits and a great work environment.
- Your community loves you because you’re, well, actually part of the community.
You know what will happen? Google will love you.
Step 1: Build a repeat customer base.
I know, I’m starting with the least earth-shattering concept. Repeat customers are obviously business gold: it means recurring revenue, that’s a no-brainer. But what if we think beyond the revenue itself, through the lens of Google?
We all have a lot of apps on our phones, and so many of them are tracking our location even if we don’t realize it. Google is certainly no exception; Google uses your location to provide the most relevant search results in maps, but also collects data about where you are in order to fill out the “Popular times” area in the Google Business Profile for the business you’re at.
So, when the same device is seen at your business multiple times, it indicates to Google that you’re actively attracting and retaining customers and suggests a positive user experience and satisfaction with your products or services.
These positive user signals can indirectly influence your SEO, as Google aims to provide search results that align with user preferences and satisfaction.
Great – we obviously want repeat customers, but how do we attract them? By making business decisions that set you apart from your competition, truly. We all say we’re the best in our industry – BE the best in your industry.
- Provide exceptional products and services. This is easier said than done, because being exceptional is not cheap and we all know you have a bottom line to manage. That’s what makes our jobs tricky: we must find a way to efficiently source the things we need to fulfill our orders without cutting corners on overhead and sacrificing quality.
- Find your niche. You can either be mediocre at a lot of things or the best at one or two things. Are you a plumber? Maybe your expertise lies in excavation projects. Do you own a brewery? Maybe your expertise is in making the weirdest recipes. Double-down on doing that, exceptionally.
- Be trustworthy. Regardless of what industry you’re in, your customers will not come back if they don’t feel like they can trust you and your business. Make sure your online payment portals are secure, don’t sell people’s information, if they have a bad experience, make it right, back up your work with service guarantees – whatever you need to do in your industry to solidify your customer’s trust… do it.
- Make your customers want to come back. We’ll get into this more in Steps 2 and 4, but create an experience that your customers enjoy.
You know what attracts repeat customers without fail, no matter what industry you’re in? Great customer service (read: employees that care).
Step 2: Cultivate a team of employees that actually care.
The best way to retain repeat customers is by developing a staff that truly cares – both about your business and about your customers. I know, I know, this is so much easier said than done. But this is something that only you can affect, dear business leader. Good teams aren’t built by accident, they don’t just happen. It’s your job to hire the right people, fire the wrong people, and cultivate the team environment you want. How do we do this?
- Develop a purpose that employees can get behind and feel like they’re contributing to. Create a set of core values and actually follow them.
- Provide good benefits and cultivate a real work-life balance. Labor costs are expensive – but you know what’s more expensive? Losing customers.
- Set high expectations and only employ people who meet those expectations. Nothing is worse than being an A-player surrounded by C-players.
- Foster a sense of camaraderie and teamwork – celebrate new ideas and collective achievements. Employees should know when they’re awesome because you tell them.
Bear with me on this one, because I have no direct evidence to support this. Google crawls every website on the internet, right? And we’ve established that Google uses location tracking and knows where people are, right? Is it such a stretch to imagine that Google might be able to connect the dots between our job listings, our employee’s LinkedIn profiles, our employee’s device locations, and/or Google Workspace account activations and suspensions to determine employee turnover rates? If not now, maybe someday… We do at least know that Glassdoor reviews are directly indexed by Google, so this idea isn’t too much of a stretch.
Yes, sponsoring community groups, sports teams, conferences, or industry events is good for PR – any chance you can get slap your logo somewhere people can see it is a good thing, right? Bonus points if you get a backlink to your website? Sure, but that’s not our goal in this case.
Sponsor something (or a few things) that you actually care about. It shows when you care and it resonates with people. The goal here isn’t just to be in the community, but to be a participant in your community, to help build your community. Again, we want your community to know your business, to talk about you, to associate you with your industry.
Time for a little anecdote.
At City Ranked, we worked with a local pest control company for about a decade before they were bought by the “big guys” last year (major win for the business!). For a long time we struggled to get them rankings for “Pest Control Portland OR” for a myriad of reasons I won’t get into here (also, don’t get me started on why it’s a terrible strategy to focus so much effort on one very competitive keyword – that’s an article for another day). Instead of doubling-down on traditional forms of SEO for that specific search term, this pest control company gained real-world local visibility (gasp! offline) by becoming a major sponsor for local pest control industry events, networking groups, and entomology programs. Their brand name became synonymous with “pest control” in the Portland area because they were so genuinely integrated in their community, and you know what happened? They started ranking #1 for “Pest Control Portland OR.” In fact, at the bottom of the search results where Google lists “Related Searches,” this company was suggested as an alternative of the word “Pest Control.” I’d call that a win.
This is where I’m about to get a little weird and claim that your decor affects your SEO. If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably still with me, so don’t lose me now!
If we revisit the fact that Google is a business aiming to provide the best search results to the user, we know the user’s experience will be the deciding factor on whether or not your business makes the cut. We know this is true online, but what about offline? This concept is sort of like a real-life version of your digital bounce rate. You can affect your digital bounce rate by making sure your website is clean and compelling, easy to use, has clear conversion points, and meet’s the searcher’s needs. Okay – let’s translate that to your IRL Bounce Rate (I’m officially coining this term):
- Make sure your business (or vehicle) is clean and compelling. Are your crew’s uniforms neatly ironed? Is your lobby inviting and comfortable? Does your business match the vibe you’re presenting online?
- Make sure your business (or vehicle) is easy to find. Think signage, vehicle wraps, and branded uniforms. Does your customer know where your business is and who represents you?
- Is it easy to convert in-person? Does your POS work reliably? Can your customers set up autopay? Do you have a system for scheduling recurring appointments without your customer having to call before each visit?
- Is the experience you’re creating meeting the customer’s needs? Is your restaurant an environment that people want to come back to or are your chairs wobbly? Does your lobby smell a little funky or is it decorated so nicely that people look forward to sitting and waiting for their appointment? Do you sell the world’s best scissors but make the packaging impossible to open?
Google knows the buying habits of consumers through so many different means. Browser histories, search histories, payment platforms, email confirmations, device locations, conversation histories or habits, even photo metadata are all accessible to Google. It’s not that bold of a claim anymore to say that Google knows the sentiment of your customers, even if they aren’t posting star-rated reviews directly online.
If Google is essentially all-knowing, the best we can do is provide a genuinely great experience to keep that IRL Bounce Rate nice and low.
So, do better business operations equate to better rankings?
In my opinion? Yes, absolutely.
You could hire the best digital marketing agency in the world to make you an amazing website and listings that check all the SEO boxes. But if your business itself is subpar, I promise Google will see right through it. If your goal is to get better online visibility to grow your business- yes, you should work with an agency and invest in a solid digital strategy, but don’t neglect the internal foundation that needs to be set to make that strategy actually work.
I made a lot of pretty bold claims about what Google may or may not be up to, and let’s be honest- no one really knows for sure. Whether my assumptions are correct or not, they’re all certainly within the realm of possibility. Google may not currently be rating businesses based on their employee turnover or the quality of their wobbly chairs, but they’re certainly looking at similar factors when evaluating businesses to determine which results to show to users. Google wants the customers it sends to your business to be just as happy as you do, because that means they’re satisfied with Google’s search results and continue using the search engine- which means Google can show them ads and make more money.
At the end of the day, if you hire great employees to provide a really good solution that truly satisfies your customer and your community knows you genuinely care? Google will know. Google always knows.
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