By Gabriel O’Brien
Published on: March 06, 2014
Many independent music retailers feel hopelessly outgunned by large chain stores and Internet-only retailers. How can you possibly compete, given your other responsibilities and limited budget?
You can, and you can do it in as little as 15 minutes a day. The first step is to take advantage of Google, so customers and potential customers can find you online. Google is how we search for information now. If you want to know or find something, you probably open up your laptop, fire up your iPad or take out your phone and Google it.
Here are a few ways to get found.
1. Google like your customers.
Start by Googling your business as a customer would, and train your staff to do the same. This will help you optimize your site and be found for the products and services you carry.
• Your store name. When people search for your business on Google, your store should be the first result on the first page. This search accounts for customers who already know who you are and want general information, such as store hours, lesson rates, rental programs and current stock.
• “Music store” with your town or city. This accounts for potential new customers who just moved to the area—people who haven’t heard of you, possibly someone vacationing in the area. When you’re in a new area and looking for a coffee shop, how would you search for it?
• Your marquee brand names and state. “Taylor Guitars Ohio” would be an example. This is a wider search based on destination brands—products people want to pick up and try before making a purchase. Customers are far more likely to Google the information than go to a manufacturer’s website, as they’re used to getting better search results from Google.
• Your services with your town or city. Examples include music lessons, band instrument rentals and repairs, along with a town name. I want customers to find my store when they Google “Band instrument rental Wooster” since rentals are a big part of our business. Other terms may apply, such as music lessons, guitar lessons, guitar repairs and so on. Again, your goal is to search like a customer.
You want your store’s listings to appear above the halfway mark in a search, meaning customers will see them without having to scroll down the page. (Think about the way you search for something: You click on one of the first five items and rarely anything beyond the first page.)
2. Focus on unique products.
Whether you have an e-commerce-enabled website or not, you should highlight interesting or unique products online. You’re far more likely to come up higher in search results if you offer a unique product or an instrument in a hard-to-find color than if you’re selling the same product as everyone else. Focus your efforts on unique items to make your store stand out.
3. Optimize keywords.
Keywords are words or phrases that people commonly search for to find a company, product or service. The product description and brand name should be repeated throughout your product listings. If you’re listing a Taylor 614ce in Koi Blue on your website, use the full name of the product in lieu of such generalities as “this guitar,” “the guitar” and so on.
I always include our store name; our slogan, “Ohio’s coolest indie music store,” which has the words “music store” and “Ohio” in it; and keywords, such as “Taylor acoustic guitars,” that people commonly use when searching online. Also, when we list a company name, such as “Taylor Guitars,” we link it to a landing page for Taylor Guitars within our website.
4. Take advantage of landing pages.
Landing pages are a great way to attract customers to the brands you carry and services you provide. Some manufacturers even require landing pages if you want to sell their products online. When you Google “Taylor guitars Ohio,” our store’s home page comes up pretty high, but our Taylor Guitars landing page comes up even higher.
For best results, a landing page’s Web address should reflect the product and brand—for example,yourwebsite.com/taylor-guitars. We actually use /oh-music/store in our store’s URL to help identify that we’re a music store in Ohio, as well. That, combined with brand-specific information and targeted keywords on the landing page, further targets searches based on brands and state.
Use keywords on the landing page for brands or services you’re highlighting, much like you would do for individual products. Point search results within your website to the landing page, so if someone searches “Taylor guitars” on your site, he or she is directed to the landing page for that brand. The same goes for music lessons, instrument repairs and other services. Also, use some of these keywords as hyperlinks on your home page to direct site visitors to specific marquee brands you think customers will commonly search for.
Even if you don’t have an e-commerce-enabled website, it’s important to use landing pages to promote brands you carry and services you provide. Customers search for products or services they want before, and often instead of, checking your website to see if you offer them. It’s important to have good search rankings for the things your potential customers may be looking for, and landing pages rich with information are a great way to accomplish that. Google takes note when your website provides information customers appear to be searching for and will place you higher in search results.
5. Get social.
Make sure to claim your Google Places listing, along with your Foursquare and Yelp pages. These sites feature general information about your store, and they can link back to your website. You can also list key brands and services on them. This goes for Facebook, as well. You can post a cool, new product on Facebook every day with a link back to the product on your website.
If you have the time to create them, YouTube videos highlighting unique products are another effective way to drive Web traffic to your unique and harder-to-find items. Provide links in the description field of YouTube videos that direct customers back to your brand landing pages or product listings.
6. Connect with manufacturers.
Make sure manufacturers have your website on their dealer pages. That said, I don’t recommend creating links on your website that send people to manufacturer pages. That will drive up their Google search results, not yours. Instead, if you don’t have an e-commerce-enabled website, take the time to create a brand landing page, and link to that.
If this seems like a lot of work—and if Facebook and “Internet stuff” aren’t your thing—ask yourself this: When you’re looking into something, how do you search for it? You use your smartphone, iPad or laptop, and you Google it. Your 15 minutes a day will yield far more effective results that the $1,500 a year you’re probably spending on Yellow Pages ads.
Set aside those 15 minutes, and only focus on one thing per day. Don’t take on more than that. Feel good that you accomplished it, and move on. Those 15 minutes should be as high a priority as anything else. Around our store, we have a saying: “Once you pick something up, don’t put it down ’til it’s done.”
As you return to each task repeatedly and add more content, Google will update your search results to show the changes, and you can watch your search results improve.
Get your whole staff involved. I know it seems like a lot of work, but you’ll be surprised at how much you can improve your website’s search rankings with a little effort.
Gabriel O’Brien is the sales manager at Larry’s Music Center in Wooster, Ohio—a NAMM Top 100 Dealer. He spoke about getting found on Google at the 2014 NAMM Show and has been featured in MMR, Music & Sound Retailer and Music Inc. magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.