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From Lost to Found

This article was featured on Pet Business on March 28, 2017. You can read the full article here.

Pet retailers who fail to optimize their website for mobile devices and for local search are missing out on valuable foot traffic and business.

Every day, shoppers pull out their phone and type in a quick search to look for local businesses nearby. In fact, recent research conducted by Connexity, a Los Angeles-based multi-channel marketing firm, shows 56 percent of online searches for retail businesses begin on a mobile device.

But what determines the results that appear? And how can pet stores ensure that any time a shopper is looking for a business like theirs, they appear in the search results—and that shoppers will then go from the internet to their store?

The answer can be broken down into two core concepts: responsive design (also known as being “mobile friendly”) and optimization for local search.

“Nowadays everyone is using their mobile devices when they are on-the-go and it’s important to invest in search engine optimization (SEO) to ensure that your business comes up in the search engines,” explains Seth Worby, CEO of Champ Internet Solutions, a full-service digital marketing agency based in Newton, Mass.

“If you’re a pet store in Boston, and you don’t rank in Google when someone in Boston searches ‘pet store,’ then are a missing out on a large portion of website traffic, visibility—and, ultimately, revenue.”

That example isn’t chosen at random. Worby has spent the past three years managing digital marketing initiatives for Pet World, a suburban Boston pet store.

Pet World is a small, family-owned business that offers a large array of items for pets of all kinds and sizes. Like many independently owned pet stores, it takes pride in its knowledgeable and caring staff and has well-cared-for small animals. Worby worked with the store to re-launch its website with a new mobile-friendly design and rework its digital marketing strategy to improve its SEO.

The results? According to Worby, “Pet World’s new website has received lots of positive feedback from their customers while also attracting new business, making their [return on investment] a website that paid for itself.”

A Site for Sore Eyes

Retailers interested in driving traffic from the internet into their store should begin by ensuring that their site is optimized for mobile devices.

“Mobile optimization means that your site has been designed to fit mobile screens of all sizes,” explains Howie Zisser, digital marketing associate at MatchNode, a Chicago-based firm that works with a variety of businesses to help improve their online marketing. “This is not simply a pinch and squeeze version of your desktop site, but rather it’s designed from the ground up [for mobile].”

To determine whether a store’s site can be considered mobile-friendly, Google offers a free tool called “Test My Site.” Factors that influence whether a site is considered responsive include:

  • The time it takes to load—users expect a site to load in less than two seconds;
  • How well content is displayed on a mobile device; and
  • The size of buttons—too big and users will hit them without meaning to, too small and they won’t be able to click on them at all.

Navigation menus should also be optimized for mobile devices. Ideally, a user should not have to click more than two to three times to find any specific piece of information.

If navigating a retailer’s website on a phone or tablet is a painful experience, pet owners are likely to leave the site and never look back. Instead, they’ll head to another nearby store—one whose site was easy to find and use.

Simon Poulton, account director of strategy at WPromote, a Los Angeles-based online marketing agency, points to recent research from ShopperTrak and MasterCard SpendingPulse to support this. According to the research, foot traffic has declined 57 percent in the past five years, but the value of those visits has nearly tripled.

“This is to say—the window shopping that used to happen outside of a storefront window, is now happening online before a consumer ever has a chance to see your store,” says Poulton.

Retailers should also make it easy for online visitors to become in-store customers by prominently displaying the store’s address and its hours on the site. Include the store’s phone number, too, in case a customer wants to call and confirm the store carries a specific brand or product.

SEO Savvy

Google has changed its algorithms in recent years to reward responsive websites, so pet businesses that take this step are already closer to being found in search—but there’s more that can be done.

“Determining if your site needs promotion is as simple as searching on Google the way a potential customer would,” says Roger Montti, an expert on SEO and digital marketing.

“Do you offer dog grooming services? Search for dog grooming and the name of your town. If your site does not appear, then your business is losing business to the competitors who are already ranking.”

The words or phrases pet owners are likely to type into their phones when looking for a pet store in your area are called “keywords.”

“Keywords are important to make sure you’re showing up in local and mobile searches,” says Michelle Fournier, co-founder of Slobbr, an app that helps pet owners find dog-friendly businesses. “You will want to have the location of your store in multiple places within your site and foremost in the description on the homepage. Add to that with blog posts that constantly hit on the neighborhood or city your pet business calls home.”

Fournier notes that by “location” she means both the city the store is located in and any specific neighborhood name that locals may use in a search.

Fournier routinely talks with pet stores about driving traffic from online to in-store. In fact, before co-founding Slobbr, she was the founder and operator of Durty Harry’s “Best of Boston” Doggie Boutiques with locations in Charlestown and Brookline, Mass. She says that in addition to the content on a retailer’s website and its design, business owners should consider factors outside of their site. This includes Google My Business.

“These are often the top results you see when on mobile,” says Fournier. “You should include your address, business hours, location, etc. in the most precise way possible. Google will penalize you for anything that is outside of your exact business name and location, so don’t try to add too many keywords here.”

Melysha Acharya, a corporate SEO consultant in Boston ( explains how Google My Business works: “You’ll fill out information about your business, including business hours, photos and location information. When you’ve finished filling out the form, Google will send a postcard with a code to the location of your business,” she says. “Once you have verified your business location using that code, your business will show up in Google Maps and as a featured business page in some cases.”

This, she says, puts you front and center with potential customers. “They can call, get directions or leave/read reviews in just one click.”

Other citations on sites that link back to local businesses, like Yelp (and, of course, Fournier’s own app, Slobbr), can also help a store to show up in local search results. A citation is basically any place online that uses a company’s name, address and phone number.

Adrianne Beutnagel, SEO team lead at Volusion LLC, an ecommerce software provider based in Austin, Texas, cautions that retailers need to ensure their citations and website all include the same information, though. “Make sure you only have one local phone number or risk messing up your local search results. To be well optimized in local, it’s crucial to present only one business name, address and phone number, or you can end up with duplicate local listings that dilute the authority of your location.”

And, of course, retailers should make use of other online tools—like social media—as well. “Social media is one of the most important and effective online tools at your disposal. Local and social are the easiest ways for small businesses to compete with the big dogs. Run contests, get involved in your community, show off the pets that visit your store; there’s countless ways to make a name for yourself,” says Beutnagel.

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