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Time to shake up the digital high street

By Thomas Costello - June 21, 2017

Research has revealed that when searching online for shops or services in their local area, three in five people say the search results show large retailers rather than small independents, and nearly half (45%) say it can be hard to find a good range of both small and larger businesses.

The study, commissioned by 123 Reg, highlights there is a desperate need for small independent businesses to improve their visibility on Google Maps in order to compete against their bigger counterparts.

The cities of Birmingham and Manchester were shown to favour big brands the most – further research using Google AdWords Discovery revealed only a fifth of the shops and services searched in Manchester and Birmingham city centres were small businesses. In contrast, four in ten of the businesses listed in Glasgow and Sheffield city centres were independent stores.*

However, there are certain small businesses that are getting it right. Independent DIY stores, bike shops and coffee shops often trump the bigger chains in local searches, however, smaller pharmacies and bookshops are struggling to cut through.

Nick Leech, Digital Director at 123 Reg, said:

“Much like the modern UK high-street, the online high-street has become all too similar, largely because bigger businesses outperform small independents in local SEO. Small businesses have a tough fight on their hands to compete with the big boys, but there are easy ways for them to win. The key is to be visible wherever people are searching, and for this you need to have a good search engine ranking and ensure you are included in all the relevant local directories.

“If more small businesses managed to crack local SEO, the value it could bring to both their online and offline presence could be enormous, and in turn, the digital high-street could be turned on its head. It’s been proven it can have a big advantage in terms of footfall – half of everyone who searches for shops or services in their local area on their mobile actually visit the shop that same day.”

To help businesses get to grips with local SEO, 123 Reg has recently launched Local  Listing, a product that takes much of the hassle out of  local SEO. It allows users to manage all their local directory listings from one simple dashboard, meaning it’s easier to ensure you’re sending out the right signals and giving yourself the best chance of appearing at the top of local search results.

Local Listing also offers a free local SEO check up, so you can see what you need to do to improve your chances of ranking.

One business that successfully beats their rival bigger brands by having strong local search engine rankings is The Card Gallery in Exeter. In contrast to the research which showed large card shop brands dominate local searches across UK, they come out the first result on Google Maps in Exeter.

Lisa Forde, owner of The Card Gallery, said: “ I’m a firm believer that customers are more likely to know and trust companies local to them, and so all online businesses should invest time to ensure their websites rank highly for local searches. We have see seen a very positive impact from our local search results. It’s helped build our customer base and word-of-mouth, which has resulted in more positive reviews. It all adds to our turnover and profitability.”

Owner Sean Gerrie of Newcastle business UpSide Down Presents tells a similar story. “Having a good local ranking is vital for businesses that require people to find you in the real world as so many now turn to their mobile phones to search what is nearby, said Gerrie. “ I knew it was important for the success of my business to set up local listings on Google, as well as ensuring we got listed on directories such as Yell, FreeIndex and TripAdvisor. It was easy and straightforward to do, and I’ve noticed that since doing so, the shop attracts a lot people who otherwise wouldn’t have wandered past or come to our shop, such as tourists staying in nearby hotels and those visiting within the vicinity.”

Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones, said: “To compete with the bigger chains, it’s crucial small businesses are visible online. They are the beating heart of our economy and for this to continue, consumers need to be able to find them.

“But when I speak to small business owners, it’s clear many are unsure of easy ways to build their online presence. Establishing a strong local search ranking is a very good starting point – the more people who know about you and what you have to offer, the quicker your business is going to grow.”

Leech adds: “At 123 Reg we are dedicated to helping our small business customers boost their online presence, and help their clientele find what they’re looking for. That’s why we run free online training courses tailored to small business owners, outlining the few simple steps they could do to successfully drive more visitors to their website.”