The Ways Online Marketing Has Shifted and How You Should Respond

The things that were applicable to your online marketing strategy five years ago may no longer be relevant. Here are five tips to keep in mind.

The Ways Online Marketing Has Shifted and How You Should Respond

Carter Harkins and Taylor Hill

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Google makes changes to its algorithm over 500 times a year. And every one of those changes can have an impact on where your business shows up in search results.

Of course, as a business owner in the midst of a pandemic, you have a lot on your plate, without trying to figure out what you need to do to rank in Google. But everyone says ranking and website traffic are keys to success, so you’ve got to make it your business to know about these changes, right? 

What’s important to Google has to be important to you, whether you like it or not. The good news is that you don’t have to know and understand every single little shift and algorithm change. Understanding only a few key changes can help you make better choices and ramp up business faster as we move through these uncertain times.

The Biggest Changes Happening With Online Marketing Today

Five years ago, businesses had to worry about getting reviews on 30 main directories. Now there are only three real players: Google, Facebook and Yelp. 

Google once served up the top websites in organic search and sent people there for answers to their questions. Now they’re trying to answer as many questions as possible right in search results via Google My Business, or GMB. 

Social media used to be where you connected with old high school buddies and kept in touch with family and friends. Now it’s one of the main pillars of local search and a place for customers to engage with local businesses.

Previously, searchers clicked the top website in search results. Now searchers are savvier, pay more attention to reviews and recognize ads when they see them. 

It used to be that a business’ biggest online concern was its website: The place where customers did all their research and connected with the business. Now your customers can be conducting research and engaging with your business all over the place, which means you too have to be everywhere.

In some ways, there’s less to focus on, while in other ways, there’s more. 

How can you use your knowledge of these changes to make meaningful decisions and grow your business? Here are five tips:

1. Focus on getting reviews on the three main directories: Google, Yelp and Facebook. Even though fake reviews are a growing problem, reviews continue to be a leading trust-builder and major factor in consumer research. And don’t forget to respond to both negative and positive reviews. A growing portion of consumers are looking at those responses and using them to determine whether or not to do business with a company. 

2. Optimize your GMB profile. While your website will always be important (visiting your website is still the No. 1 action taken after reading reviews), you need to start paying a lot more attention to the little in-search-website that Google serves up for your business. Your GMB profile should answer a lot of the questions your customers or potential customers may have, such as:

  • If you’re still operating during shelter-in-place orders.
  • What your phone number is.
  • What your hours are.
  • What services you offer.
  • What areas you serve.

Google will surface your GMB profile first when a searcher searches for your business or clicks on your business in maps, so make it a valuable resource that sells people on doing business with you. While we never advise you to put all your eggs into any of Google’s baskets, this is a (currently) free tool that can help you win customers.

3. Engage with customers on social media and invest in Facebook Ads. More and more people are engaging with brands on their favorite social media platforms and using platforms like Facebook to search for local businesses. This is especially true right now as more people are stuck at home and glued to their screens as a result of shelter-in-place orders. Make the most of this reality by posting engaging content and interacting with your customers on your business’ social media pages. Be there to engage, inform and uplift them, now and always. Local service area businesses are also seeing success with Facebook Ads, so that’s something to consider budgeting for. This will be especially important once Google gets rid of the third-party cookies that make targeted ads possible on its platform. 

4. Focus on SEO, but don’t freak out about rankings. Everyone wants their website to rank No. 1 and everyone panics when Google adds yet another result before organic results. But don’t get too freaked out. Make sure your website is optimized, mobile-friendly, engaging and informative, and don’t obsess over rankings. Searchers are savvy to ads, and they know that just because a website is first or an ad is first, that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice. They’re looking at reviews and making the decision for themselves. So keep calm and carry on, as the saying goes. 

5. Be where your customers are. You don’t have to be everywhere, but you do need to be where your customers are. If they’re not on TikTok or Snapchat (and they likely aren’t), don’t waste your time there. If they’re on Facebook and Instagram (which is much more likely), make sure you’re active on those platforms, answering questions, replying to messages and providing helpful info. The point is that your reputation is more than just what your website says about you. And your customers have expectations that you’ll respond in a timely manner, engage with them and provide valuable info wherever they’re looking. So think about your online presence holistically. 

Timely Bonus Tip: Review all of your messaging right now and check for tone and relevance. There’s nothing like a sudden world-changing event to make the sales pitch that worked so well yesterday fall flat on its face today. Make sure you are acknowledging your customers’ current frame of mind because they are seeing everything differently than they did just a few short weeks ago. 

You can’t control everything, but there’s a lot you can do to keep your business ahead of the curve and top of mind for those searching for the services you provide. Stay focused on the things within your control and you’ll weather these challenging times and come out on the other side stronger and wiser.  

About the Authors

Carter Harkins and Taylor Hill are the co-founders of Spark Marketer, a Nashville, Tennessee-based digital marketing company that works primarily with service businesses. They're also co-creators of the award-winning app Closing Commander, which helps contractors close more estimates effortlessly, and co-authors of the book Blue Collar Proud: 10 Principles for Building a Kickass Business You Love. Both regularly speak at service industry trade shows and conferences across the nation. Visit, or


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