To unlock the true potential of search engine marketing – or any marketing really – you need to be in it for the long haul, with a dedicated budget that is worked into the cost of your goods and services.

If you have a small business that is experiencing growth, but would struggle to justify the monthly costs of Google Ads, chances are your budget will be better spent elsewhere. Google Ads can be expensive and are not suitable for every stage of business growth.

But that doesn’t mean you are walled off from the Google ecosystem, far from it.

Search engine marketing is just one of the tools and services Google has on offer, and most of these can be used to leverage the search presence of your business for free.

Here are 4 preemptive strategies – all of which are free or low cost – to prepare your business for search engine marketing success AND organically boost your search presence along the way.

1. Start Collecting Data

Install the Google Analytics global site tag on your website as soon as possible and start collecting data.

Even if you are not running ads, you will collect valuable data about audience demographics, what devices people are using, what times people are visiting your website, which channels they are coming from, how long they spend on your website, and so on.

When you are ready to start search engine marketing, all of this data can be used to plan out your strategy, research keywords, write ad copy and refine your target audience.

The more data the better. Trends happen over a period of months and years, not weeks, and the more data you can provide, the sooner your campaigns can get up to speed. 

Installing the global site tag isn’t difficult if you know your way around the back end of a website. Otherwise, ask your website developer to install the tag for you.

Offline sales data can also offer valuable insight into purchasing behaviour. Note down things like best selling products by month, most popular days for purchases, in-store demographics and the results of any marketing campaigns, sales or special offers.

2. Verify Your Business with Google

If you have not added your business to Google, chances are that someone else has, or Google has created a listing from an online database. Your business needs to be verified before you can edit how your business appears on Google. 

Once verified, you will be able to update your Google My Business listing and provide valuable information such as a link to your website, operating hours, photos of your premises, upcoming events, special promotions, and much more.

You will also be able to respond to reviews left by customers. Keep in mind that your business doesn’t need to be verified for customers to leave reviews, good or bad, but you need to be verified to respond to them.

Google My Business profile appearing in Google Maps

Being verified will also allow your business to show up in Google Maps and appear in “near me” searches. “Near me” searches are when people search for a business with the search phrase “near me”, for example “florist near me”. The search results will first show paid Google Ads for florists, then below will be a link to Google Maps with all the florists in your close proximity.

The most common method of verification is by postcard and it usually takes around 14 days. To verify your business with Google, visit this support article.

3. Start Collecting Reviews

Once your business has been verified and has a Google My Business listing, start collecting reviews from your customers.

Google reviews don’t directly affect search engine marketing results – for instance, the amount of Google reviews you have does not favour your ads over competitors – but you can bet that people will click on your ad, browse your website, then go back to Google and do a search for your business.

Somewhere in this process, they will most likely come across another business that is nearby to yours, offering similar services.

Ask yourself: are you more likely to visit a shop that has 50+ glowing reviews highlighting the quality of service, quick communication and value for money; or the shop that has a handful of one star reviews, most of which are from disgruntled customers?

Law of reciprocity: If a customer takes the time to write a review, find the time to write back and say thank you.

Humans trust other humans. All you need to do is take the great customer service you already offer and magically upload it to your Google My Business profile. 

The easiest way to do this? Just ask. Timing is everything, so wait until you have completed a job or have a positive interaction with a customer, then ask them if they would mind leaving a review.

You will be surprised at how open people are to supporting a local business that goes above and beyond for their customers.

4. Improve Your Customer Service

This one might seem obvious, but it needs to be said every single time. There is no point bringing in leads if you are unable to close the deals. For a small business, that means answering your phone every single time.

Google Ads are not a magic bullet that will start revenue rolling through the door. They are inquiries from people interested in your goods and services, and they are interested in them now.

Not later this afternoon, not tomorrow, but right now. They will not leave a message, they will not ring back and they will not send a text. Most likely, they are already talking to someone else who did pick up the phone and is solving their problems. Task completed, they move on with their day.

How many of your incoming calls are you currently able to answer on the first call? If the answer is less than 100%, how are you going to respond to a 30% increase in new enquiries, and manage the customers you already have?

This is where Google My Business can help. Sign up for an online booking service and link directly to the booking form from your Google My Business profile.

If you find that new clients have frequently asked questions or are ringing about fixed pricing, fill out the “Questions and Answers” section of your profile. By answering questions upfront you can cut down on unnecessary phone calls and improve the overall quality of leads.

Every business is different, so it’s best to start exploring solutions before you need them.

Final Thoughts

If you have the budget, search engine marketing is an amazing tool to grow your business, but you don’t need money to take advantage of the free tools and services Google has to offer.

Start with the basic strategies listed above and squeeze every last drop of potential from your Google My Business profile.