Saying that the Internet is the new phone book for businesses is, I think, the most accurate way to express what is going on today with business on the web and something every business really needs to understand. I think that Google understands this and has been working to help businesses transition to the web (for free) for several years now with their GYBO Week program.
The GYBO program helps businesses who do not yet have any presence on the web (estimates range between 40 and 50 percent of all business in the US) has recently unveiled the latest incarnation of their GYBO (Get Your Business Online) program. It provides businesses who are not on the web the opportunity to create or claim their Google My Business listing and/or to create a website for their business (free for one year). Plus it provides on site help for business owners to do these things in the form of volunteer “Partners”.
I remember when telephones were somewhat different than they are today. When I was still very young I remember that my family had a big, black rotary dial phone hanging on the wall in the living room. It was the late 1960’s and we were still on what was called a “party line”. That was a single telephone line that was shared by several customers. Each family on the party line had a unique ring so that you knew when an incoming call was intended for you and when it was not.
Of course you “could” answer when it was someone elses call or even pick up the phone and quietly listen in on neighbors conversations. The NSA has nothing on this one little old lady who lived a few houses down from us. She knew everything that was going on in the neighborhood via the party line.
Even then most businesses had telephones. But it was not too long before that when many did not. That is the period of time that I am comparing to the situation today with businesses on the web. Back then, when the telephone was first coming into popular use many people did not want one. They didn’t really see the need for the added expense. This was especially true for small, local businesses who depended on foot traffic from Main Street as their source of customers.
Before long though pretty much every one did have a telephone and a listing in the phone book. The only way not to be listed in the phone book was by paying a fee for an (aptly named) unlisted number. You did not have much control over your phone book listing in the white pages, it was just name, address and phone number. You were only listed in the phone book in your own local area and the listing was free with your phone service.
Then came the Yellow Pages. With these specialized “business only” pages in the phone book came new opportunities for businesses to stand out. Every business (as I remember) got at least a name/address/phone number listing in the Yellow Pages. The difference was that your business was listed according to the type of business. That made it easy for potential customers to find you when they were looking for a product or service and it was a lot better than just a white pages listing. Those businesses who wanted to stand out further could purchase block ad listings up to and including entire pages or even spots on the front or back cover of the phone book.
Now, fast forward to the present. Today most people in the US search the web for products and services. They do this from traditional PCs, Laptops, Tablet computers and, most recently, Smart Phones. To get an idea of how universal this is check out this page of statistics from HubSpot.
This being the case isn’t it amazing that so many (40% +/-) of small businesses in the US do not have a web presence? Just being in the phone book is no longer enough. A great many people do not even have a traditional landline phone anymore. Something like 186 million Americans have a smart phone. Everyone from kids in middle school to grandmothers and great grandfathers are now using smart phones and they use them to find products and services on the web when they want to purchase them. If you are not on the web they will find your competition.
If you are a business owner who is not particularly web savvy in a techie sort of way then the comparison between the web and the telephone should be helpful. On the web there are many opportunities to be found. The most basic are the local business directories. Local directories are kind of like basic Yellow Pages listings in the phone book. Every business gets one and they are free. If your business information shows up in any of a number of databases on the web some local directories will even auto-generate listings for your business.
Google’s “Google My Business” listings are an example of local directory listings on the web. Unlike many similar listing services they have the advantage of having their own section on the front page of google search when someone searches for a local business that provides a specific product or service. So this is very similar to a basic Yellow Pages listing of old. They may even exist already as auto-generated pages.
There are a number of reasons why you should create and claim a listing on local directories. First off, unlike the phone book, there is no guarantee that you will have an auto-generated listing. Second, even if you do have one there is no guarantee that the information it contains will be accurate. Third, a claimed listing can be customized with all of the information that the person doing the search might need in order to select you as the business they want to use. The information that you can add includes an accurate name/address/phone (very important) and photos, a business logo or photo of the business owner, store hours, parking information, types of payment accepted and a detailed description of your business. Compare that to an auto-generated, unclaimed business listing and the advantages of claiming your free listing become more than obvious.
The next level of web exposure is having a website. This can be compared to having a big fancy box ad in the Yellow Pages. It makes your business stand out from the crowd and provides a way to tell potential and existing customers more about why your business is the one they should choose.
The Put Your City On The Map program from Google also offers the chance for business owners to build a free website (free for the first year) for their business. So, in this program they have supplied everything that any business owner needs to establish a presence for themselves on the web and to do it for free. With their Partners in the program and local public events they even supply on site assistance from real live people.
If you are one of the many business owners who is not yet on the web I hope you see that it is now as much of a necessity as it is to be in the phone book if you want people to find your business. I also hope you see that any objections you might have in terms of cost or technical inability do not apply. I invite you to check out the Google “Let’s Put Our Cities On The Map” program and watch for an event near you. What have you got to lose? Nothing and there is a lot to be gained.