Online Strategies To Grow Your Local Business: Case Study of Curry N Kebob, From 0 to $1.6 Million in 2 Years
I have a friend that opened a new Indian food restaurant in Boulder, CO a few years ago, and I offered to help him with his online marketing.
And while I don't really focus on local marketing for my own online business, I had taken a couple of courses on this just because I found this interesting, and I really looked forward to seeing if I could help get his new business rolling.
And ... on almost no budget (the whole plan cost less than $1,000 total), the local business marketing plan we put into action helped grow his business from 0 to $1.6 million in 2 years.
And that was with him only putting into practice a portion of what I had talked with him about.
What is really amazing to me is that a few years after putting all this together, and with almost no updating since, the restaurant continues to dominate the local search results for the basic keywords I was shooting for "indian food Boulder". You can see the current search results for yourself -- Google search for Indian Food Boulder
As I write this in June of 2015, Curry N Kebob comes up 2nd for the local results, effectively comes up #1 for the organic search results since it is #1 on Yelp for Indian Food Boulder, and then the website comes up 3rd in the organic search results.
You think someone searching for a new Indian place in Boulder might decide to give it a try?
And for probably .25 cents more, through Adwords, he also could have been the only paid listing as well.
Local SEO Basics -- Grabbing Local Listings from Google, Yahoo and Bing
After confirming his ownership of this business, I went into the administrative areas and put in all the information including pics and videos. It is important to fill out this information completely in order to have the best possible quality score for these listings.
For Curry N Kebob, this meant I had to take a few pictures and make a very simple video as well in order to be able to fill out all the information.
And while I did end up using this basic site for Adwords advertising, looking back I should have put up a few more pages to make sure it didn't run into problems. Typically, Adwords will want to see that an advertiser has a privacy page, a contact us page with address and phone, and also an about us page. If you don't have these pages, your ads may just not run, or you may end up paying a lot more for ads since your quality score may be very low.
I got away with having this very small site somehow for our Adwords advertising, perhaps because I included all this basic information on the home page.
One aside -- if you site doesn't have a decent look and feel, it may not make sense to use Adwords since people just won't have a great reaction to a bad looking website.
If I had to do it again, and for those of you without a website, I would recommend using WordPress to put up your website. It is free, and relatively easy to use to put your site up.
You can see an example of a site I put up with just a few hours work for my blog on my website at my Healthy Foundation Blog
I did use my coding knowledge to make a few changes to the template, but that isn't something you would necessarily need to do. And there are all sorts of free templates you can find for WordPress along with great looking site templates that are very affordable ($50 to $100).
I know that this sounds kind of intimidating, but it really isn't hard and there are lots of tutorials online about how to put up a WordPress site. And the best part is that if you do this, you can then easily update your site yourself without paying someone to make every change.
In the long run, it will be well worth your time and also give you control over the look and feel of your site. Which can be one of the key factors to the success of your site.
Since this business was starting from scratch, I had them register the domain with GoDaddy, and then pointed this domain to the website address. Then I updated the business listings to show their web address (the domain name they chose).
If you are starting off as well, I generally advise trying to get a .com name rather than a .net, .biz, .us, etc. Why? People are used to typing in a .com, and it also just gives off a more professional vibe. If your name has already been taken, you can try to get around this by using a descriptor of some type (like adding a location to the name - so if currynkebob.com had been taken, we could have tried currynkebobboulder.com, etc).
And, as I talk about below, having your important keywords in your domain name might also be something to consider if it doesn't make the name too long and unwieldy -- and adding these keywords might give you a .comm domain name option that isn't already taken. So something like currynkebobindianfood.com would be an example of adding keywords into a domain name.
Other Local Basic SEO Points To Consider
It is worth the time to do some basic local SEO when putting together your online presence. And as this case study shows, you don't have to kill yourself. I did just a few basic things from the beginning, and so far this strategy alone still keeps Curry N Kebob coming up for relevant searches.
First, it is just good practice to put together your site's pages with a tad of thought. So having your basic keywords in your page's Title tag, H1 (headline tag), and sprinkled in your text will help.
But don't overdo it and try to stuff keywords into everything.
I just try to put a few (as in 3 or so) keywords at most into the title and headline tags.
In this case, that would be "indian food boulder".
And don't repeat these through your copy. Use related terms (like "indian restaurant", etc.) in the copy in a natural way. I really just try to write natural copy that would incorporate these sort of related words, and don't worry about it too much.
If you do decide to use WordPress, there are SEO plugins you can use to be able to put in the title or headline text you want. There are a bunch of these -- to find them, just do a search for WordPress SEO plugins.)
Secondly, it may help to have the keywords you care most about in your domain name. I didn't try to do this in this case, and I don't think it would have looked natural to try it. But if you makes sense to have a domain name with your most important keywords, then you may want to consider that option. So here we might have thought about www.currynkebobindianfood.com, or even www.currynkebobindianfoodboulder.com (although that is a mouthful).
Having a good social presence is a factor these days in how your pages rank. But what does that mean? What sort of social presence is the best to use from an overall marketing perspective, not only SEO?
I didn't want to set up a huge amount of work for Curry N Kebob by getting them going on a big Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. strategy. They did set up a basic Facebook page, but I don't know that they put any time into it (got any friends, etc).
So what I decided to do instead was focus on the social types of things that didn't take as much work and constant updating, and also might serve as independent sources of traffic as well as important social proof for the quality of the food.
(Note: I thought this worked best for a restaurant site, and would eliminate their need to put up daily updates and copy on different social media sites. They were busy enough in the daily operations of the restaurant without having to do this extra daily work.
But I've heard about other types of small business sites that have very successfully used social media sites to gather their audience. Such as a boutique using Pinterest to show their latest clothes, or a food truck using Facebook and Twitter to let people know their latest menu options and where they will be that day.
I'm sure with that these sort of social strategies can be very effective, but since they require a lot of work to update frequently to build and nurture an audience, I didn't chose to go that route here).
My focus, then, was getting reviews on Google. I also didn't mind if they posted a review on Yelp, but since the local search results that came up on the top of the page seemed driven by Google reviews, I wanted to focus on these at first.
Getting Google reviews back then was easier than it is now. Back then, someone only needed a Google account in order to post a review. Now, people need to be signed into Google + in order to post a review.
But if you can get people to jump through this hoop, these Google reviews can still be helpful -- not only for SEO, but also in driving people to your site.
I will detail below how I went about trying to get reviews, but it wasn't that hard to do and within 6 months or so Curry N Kebob had more Google reviews (and Yelp also) than most of their competitors that had been operating for years.
One important point -- this sort of review strategy is based on having a great product or service. Because if you don't get great reviews, none of this will really matter.
Curry N Kebob has always gotten mostly great reviews since day 1. So since I knew that their product was great, I put all our eggs into the review strategy and I has paid off in an amazing way over the years.
Another thing I did was to get some basic links to Curry's website. You need to have links to your website -- it remains the basic way Google rates your site's relevance.
I went about this a couple of ways.
First, I spent a few hours doing basic web searches for our most important keywords ("indian food boulder", "indian restaurant boulder", etc).
And then I clicked on all the directory results that came up, and submitted Curry N Kebob to all the free listings I could.
When I did this, I made sure to use the same name, address and description for each. I put this into a small text file so I could copy and past the exact same info into each (so a small file with the name, address, phone, website address, short description and a longer description to use if it had the space in the listing)
Having this same information in all the directory listings is supposed to help with your SEO profile.
I also contacted the local magazines that had restaurant listing to include Curry N Kebob in their print and online versions.
Finally, I did pay for company to submit Curry N Kebob to a lot of other local directories. I didn't want to kill myself with trying to manually submit Curry N Kebob to every possible local listing, although I do think it was worth manually submitting a local business to the directories that come up in the first 40 or 50 results for your most important keywords (I did manually submit to directories that came up in the first 100 or so search results).
You can find a lot of options for these sort of directly submission services -- the one I used was Universal Business Listings and I just did the lowest priced package.
I can't say whether these directory listings from the paid service helped with either getting traffic or with SEO. And these days, I might skip this since Google has come out so strongly against link buying (I'm guessing that they may well see this as unnatural links that would count against you, although I'm not sure this amount of directory links might get flagged).
So today, I would probably just do the keyword searches, identify local directories that do come up and are valid and post the business to these directories. And also submit to the local magazine, newspapers, etc. that are relevant to your area -- not only for SEO help, but also because these can drive traffic independently to your business as well.
My focus, though, was really not so much on SEO as instead getting Curry N Kebob to show at the top of the Local listings that show at the top of the search results page along with showing in the directories that came up high in the search results to begin with (most notably Yelp, which I talk about next). And that is why I focused on getting Google reviews more than getting links.
Grabbing Your Yelp account -- And Considering Using Yelp Advertising.
I also set up a new Yelp account for the business in a similar manner. Yelp has a way to put in a listing for a new business, and then you claim it and amend the information.
But be warned, once you have a new Yelp listing the business owner will get hit repeatedly by Yelp for advertising. I finally had to call and talk to a supervisor to ask them to leave the owner alone. And only then did the calls from Yelp stop.
(Note: I've had a bit of a change of heart these days about advertising on Yelp after seeing how important Yelp reviews turned out to be in driving traffic for Curry. Especially for businesses like restaurants that are so driven by reviews, I would try Yelp advertising when starting out in order to be seen in these Yelp searches.
I'm guessing it doesn't cost that much per click, and it is an way to easily and quickly show at the top of a Yelp search result. You could limit your spend to $50 a month to start out, and see if it helps jump start your business (which is basically the same strategy I use by doing Adwords advertising at first -- a cheap way to get on the 1st page of the search results for your most important keywords, which I discuss in more detail below).
And later, when you have some reviews and perhaps naturally start appearing near the top of the Yelp results, you can decide whether to continue with the advertising.)
Yelp is a very mixed bag, and going in you should know that it can be very frustrating at first. And if you end up getting middling or negative overall Yelp reviews and overall ratings, it can be very hard for your business.
They do screen about 1/4 of all reviews, and it seems that our experience with having a lot of good reviews screened out at first isn't an out lier.
Whether this is true or not, it can be very frustrating to see a lot of good reviews get screened (perhaps because the reviewer is new and hasn't earned credibility with Yelp, etc) but some bad ones still show.
But after some time, positive Yelp reviews and overall ratings can be an incredibly valuable asset. Curry N Kebob comes out 1st on a search for Indian Food in Boulder, CO, with a 4 1/2 star overall rating for 280+ reviews as I write this, and I can't even guess how much business this drives to Curry N Kebob week in, week out. (ok, here's my guess -- an awful lot)
For Curry, I didn't really focus on getting Yelp reviews till we had about 100 Google reviews, but I did see that as we got more Yelp reviews it seemed to just take on steam and the Yelp reviews started flowing in.
As did customers.
So while Yelp may not be as key for other types of local businesses, from this experience I can tell you that they can be an incredible asset for a restaurant.
How To Get Reviews?
Now while I could have waited to have customers post reviews over time, since getting reviews was such a central part of my strategy, I wanted to make sure I did what I could to get folks to post reviews -- and as quickly as possible.
So What I did next turned out to be the special sauce and ended up getting Curry N Kebob more reviews in 6 months than his established competitors had gotten in years.
And it was as simple as this -- I had the owner put cards on every table that asked people for their reviews. And also asked the owner to put in a review card with every to go order bag as well.
I bought a bunch of brochure holders, and made up a card template to fit into the holder (so about 3 3/4" wide by 11" long). On the card, I wrote that we'd love to get your review, and then gave them links to the Google review page for the restaurant. Later, I switched out this card with one asking for Yelp reviews along with an easy link. And I did a QR code for each as well so people could scan these with their phone and easily get to the review page
The result? Within a few months the restaurant had more Google reviews than any other Indian restaurant in Boulder, and after a year they also had the most in Yelp.
Again,if you are going to do this, you absolutely need to make sure your service or product is top notch. Getting bad reviews just will kill your chances of getting a good listing and your business as well. So you need to believe that you really are doing something very well and have confidence that customers think so as well.
And you should take the time to monitor the reviews, and respond to any customers posting a negative review to see if you can somehow address their issues.
In our case, people love this restaurant. Curry N Kebob not only the most reviews in Google and Yelp, but also is at the top of the overall ratings.
These days, I would still try to get Google reviews as well as Yelp reviews, although this is harder since they require people to sign into Google +. But since it is more challenging, I do think the payoff to getting Google reviews is worth the trouble.
Also, I should say that if you get great reviews, you can use these offline in other ways to market you business.
You could certainly tout them on your site as we did for Curry, as well as in your general offline brochures, cards, and other marketing materials.
We went one step farther and had a window sign put up that said something like "Only 5 Star Rated Indian Food In Boulder" that was easy to read from the street.
And I copied and posted some of the best reviews in the window so that customers checking the restaurant out could see for themselves what customers were saying about the food.
Covering The Local Search Bases By Using Adwords
One last thing I did was to do very simple Adwords advertising for the restaurant.
This is key since even if your SEO strategies may pay off over time, you can use Adwords to literally show up on the 1st page of the search results for your important keywords ... tomorrow.
And don't worry that this might break your budget. I think we ended up spending $50 - $100 a month for the first 6 months on Adwords for Curry. And for this, we showed up on the 1st page of all the searches related to Indian food and Boulder.
So I think it is a great deal. And these days, I would add in Yelp advertising as well so that you made sure you showed up for Yelp local searches immediately as well.
(Note: I would also consider using Facebook ads for local if I could target my ideal customers well -- using an interest (like a food lover if you are advertising for a restaurant, book lover if for a book store, etc) along with targeting people by their geographic location (so the advertising will just show in your local area). I haven't tried this for a local business, but I think if you advertised a discount coupon on Facebook in this way for your local business, it could cost you very little per click and end up driving a good amount of traffic to your store.
But I would first try Adwords and Yelp before doing this, since Facebook advertising is more general while Adwords and Yelp target folks who are actively searching for you product or service in your local area.)
So how do you do local advertising using Google Adwords?
It is easy to get started with Adwords. But most local businesses don't seem to either use Adwords (perhaps they think it is hard), or they don't use a very effective strategy for putting together their advertising campaigns in Adwords for their local business.
The key strategy to use for a local Adwords campaign is to split it into two campaigns: one that only shows in your local geographic location and uses your important keywords, and another that shows across the US but uses geographic descriptors with the keywords so that your ads only show in these very limited searches.
By doing these two separate campaigns, you make sure your ads show when local people search under your keywords, and also that your ads show if someone outside your area searches for your product or service in your area (so, for example, if someone planning a trip to Boulder in another state typed in the keywords "boulder indian food", Curry's ad would show up in their search results due to this 2nd campaign).
Here's how I set up these two campaigns for Curry. I set up the general keyword campaign that is limited to the local geographic area to only show within a 5 mile radius of the restaurant for important keywords like "indian food", etc
I've learned since that perhaps I should have targeted it more broadly by geography since an IP address for someone in Boulder might show as being in Longmont, depending on how the internet provider routes the connection.
So perhaps I would target the campaign to show in the Denver/Boulder general geographic area.
And if I wanted to make sure the ads showed within 5 miles of the restaurant, so that anyone looking for an Indian restaurant while in Boulder on their smart phone would see it, I could set up a separate campaign that would target just this smaller area and raise my bid on these keywords.
(Note: you could also set up a campaign to bid more for mobile in a certain area if you think mobile customers are of really high value. The only downside is having to set up and maintain these multiple campaigns.)
As for the other basic campaign, I set up one that didn't have any geographical limits (so one that covered the whole US) but used keywords with geographical terms like "indian food boulder", etc. so it would catch folks who are researching Indian Food in Boulder from wherever they may live outside Boulder.
These two campaigns were very inexpensive, and these ads did show up for every search of these very targeted terms. I think the whole thing ran about $25 or so a month, and Adwords had sent Curry N Kebob a card that gave them the first $100 for free.
(Note: Google often has this type of $50 or $100 free offer for those signing up for a new Adwords account. So it is worth it to set up your account early to see if you get this type of offer by email or mail. Also, some Adwords books have these offers as well, so buying a good Adwords book like Perry Marshall's Ultimate Guide To Adwords can end up being a great deal once you factor in the $50 or $100 of free Adwords you get with the book).
(Further Note: At the talk, I went a bit into actual Adwords strategies that other types of businesses might use.
>One thing I didn't put in this page is the Adwords strategy I use often that is very effective, but wasn't relevant for a restaurant, of putting up informational Adwords ads.
For example, perhaps for a fitness business, they could have an ad for the top 3 exercises to increase your balance (or core strength, etc), which would take them to a landing page with a video with them teaching these important basic exercises.
Which hopefully would give prospective customers a feel for what you they do, excite them about it (if the exercises give them some noticeable benefit), and then hopefully get them to give this place a try (with an offer of some type -- free 1st week, etc).
You can combine this approach with having them first have to give you their email address to see the video -- that way, you get their email and can set up an email campaign to keep sending them great info that will hopefully get them to try you out over time.
I've done this sort of advertising for years running ads for my memory foam buyers guide. And lately, I've been testing combining this with trying to get people to opt-in in order to get the guide. I can't say it is working for me, but for lots of local businesses this can be a great way to build a list (and I talk more about the importance of building a list for a local business below) and it doesn't necessarily cost too much.
These sort of landing pages (called squeeze pages, because they want to squeeze an email address out of people who land on the page) do still work for Adwords, but you have to make sure the page complies with their requirements on having content and links (so just having an opt-in form will not pass snuff for Adwords). Here is a page I did that for my business that shows you an example of this sort of landing page
Memory Foam Buying Guide Squeeze Page For Adwords
If you interested in trying a squeeze page, and you don't want to design them yourself or pay a web designer to do them, there is a service called LeadPages that has become popular that offers different squeeze page and opt-in templates. If you were using these for Adwords, they would need to be ones that offered this additional content and links to be compliant. I haven't checked lately on what they offer, but I have seen an Adwords template in the past. One issue is that you need to have the domain used in the ad copy match that shown when the ad actually shows. So you would need to put the LeadPages template on your site or blog in order to comply with this domain requirement (in other words, can't just have the ad go to a page hosted on LeadPages that has their domain address) )
Putting It All Together -- After 6 - 9 months, Things Really Started To Roll.
So what was the results of all this? It took about 6 - 9 months to really take hold, but at about this point lines were forming outside the restaurant during busy time -- and I found I couldn't come in with my family anymore because they were too busy. (I didn't charge Curry N Kebob for my time, but just got free food -- which was great until it became so busy)
And after two years, Curry N Kebob had expanded into the space next door, remodeled, and was doing $1.6 million in sales.
Their website itself didn't initially come up high on a search, although it does now for searches like "indian food boulder".
But the restaurant's listing in the local results that show at the top of the search page was #1, and now shows at #1 or #2 for the most part.
And that is why I say to forgo these expensive monthly SEO packages. Getting high in Google's local results is a great way to go and something you can shoot for yourself if you just follow the system I used. You may need to pay someone to do some of these things for you (design a small site, grab your Google + and Yahoo business listings and put yourself in our directories), but the cost of doing this is a drop in the bucket in comparison to the price of the local internet marketing packages I've seen.
The key to my strategy, again, is getting your customers' reviews on Google + and Yelp. Putting out the cards worked great for us, or you could also give them this sort of card asking for reviews with their bill (in a restaurant), or in the bag with their merchandise or their take out order. All we had to do was ask and give them simple directions on finding the Google + or Yelp page for our business to post their review. And people were very nice -- really, their response was more than I could have expected, and their reviews really made all my work worthwhile since I saw how much they enjoyed the food and loved the restaurant.
One More Strategy That We Should Have Tried, But They Never Got Around To -- Building Your Own Customer List.
One other strategy that I really wanted to implement from the very start was getting a list of Curry's customers. So we could text or email them special offers, special of the days, etc,
For your business you could use this list to offer closeouts for baked goods that didn't sell for example, or a special on a pedicure if your nail salon wasn't busy.
I still believe if Curry N Kebob had done this they could have been drawing big crowds much sooner and also perhaps used this to help start up their next location (they are looking into expanding, so it really might have been something great to have).
And these days, building a list doesn't have to be that costly. It is as easy as doing some cheap Facebook advertising to people showing an interest related to your business in your area. The advertising would offer them a coupon, let's say, for 25% off their first order, and send them to a page where they can claim their coupon by putting in their email address.
Or at the minimum, you can have a list people sign up for at your business that offers them some sort of incentive for putting their name, email, and text # on the list.
That way, you can email or text folks with your offers. And the text option is nice since texts have a much higher deliverability than emails and people also open them up at a much higher rate.
And if you get enough folks on your list, you might just be able to use the list to keep your business going.
My youngest daughter, who is 10, is starting a baking business specializing in sweet potato Curry N Kebob puffs. Colorado allows for people selling relatively small amounts of certain homemade products to sell them without having to have a commercial kitchen, so she is very excited about getting her business going.
And since she doesn't have a lot to spend on marketing, the first thing we are doing is building her list. She is giving out free samples at different places, and then giving folks an offer of 25% off their first order if they sign up to be on her list.
So far she has 70+ people on her list, and I figure that with a 100 or so she probably will get all the orders she can bake -- and without having to spend any more money on marketing.
And if she needs more folks on her list, she could see if these folks would pass on her special offer to their friends, so that their friends might join her list for 25% off their first order.
This is a simple example, but I wanted to show that no matter how small your business, getting a customer list can be an important foundational asset.
I wish Curry N Kebob had tried this out so I could let you know how it worked on a bigger scale. But they were fortunate that the other basics I put into place ended up working out so they never felt a need to put this list strategy into place.