While no one can say for certain what the future will bring, here are our thoughts on where small businesses should focus in 2022.

Messaging/SMS Replacing Emails & Phone Calls

People today are less inclined to get on the phone with a business, and emails and contact forms are simply too slow for most users. Instead, most consumers prefer to use on-site messaging (chat) or even SMS text messaging to communicate with companies. Enabling messaging in Google Business Profile Manager, Facebook, and on your website has never been easier, and can open up an entirely new sales channel for your business. 

A word of caution to business owners – not responding to customers in a timely manner can lead to a poor customer experience. For this reason, some companies will use AI (bots) to respond immediately and collect customer data until a representative is able to jump in.

Google Business Profile is More Important than Ever

Google is rapidly improving its ability to show local businesses for search terms like, “restaurant near me with outdoor seating and good customer service”. Completing your business listing, including business attributes, hours, categories, owner message, and even asking and answering your own questions are crucial for showing up for these highly valuable searches. 

Posting images and specials can also help drive traffic to your Google Business Profile and will only further enhance your presence on the platform. 

Reputation is More Important than Ever

Not only do consumers rely heavily on a company’s reviews to make buying decisions, Google also relies heavily on them. Getting more 4 and 5 star reviews can help push your business higher in Google’s organic search results – specifically, in the “Local Map Pack”. Asking for reviews is the most important step towards increasing your review count; however, implementing review acquisition software such as Grade.us or Birdeye can take your review game to the next level. 

Don’t forget to respond to all reviews that are left for your business. Showing this engagement will let other potential customers know that you are serious about your online reputation.

Content Quality is More Important than Ever

Gone are the days where you could write generic content stuffed with keywords and rank on page one of Google. Today, Google’s natural language processing is improving at a remarkable rate, and the only strategy for reliably gaining views on Google or social media is creating the highest quality content. When picking a topic for your next piece of content, whether it’s text, video, audio, or image content, do a quick search to see what’s already out there. If you’re not confident you can create something more useful for your customers, find another topic. Perhaps the topic was too broad and you can narrow in more on your specialty or local area.

Audio/Video is More Effective than Ever

Voice recognition and natural language processing advancements combine to introduce audio/video into the SEO mix. We can expect to see more podcasts and videos in search results, with automatically generated timestamps which take you directly to the section which addresses your search.

Live Streaming is Gaining Traction Quickly

Live video is growing rapidly. Even if only 2 or 3 people tune in, the video can continue to gain views over time. Make it a habit to have monthly, weekly, or even daily live streams. Be consistent and your viewership will grow over time. There are also a handful of companies focused on live stream coaching. Save yourself the headache and purchase a training course.

Omnichannel Marketing is on the Rise

Smart companies don’t only post their content once these days. That live stream can become a YouTube video, Facebook video, multiple Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts, a blog post, and a podcast. Those can then be shared on additional platforms as well.

Google Image Recognition is Rewarding Original Images

Google is quickly gaining the ability to recognize objects in images. Including high-quality, original images on your website and business listings can increase their visibility in search. Stock images won’t cut it; Google can easily recognize stock photos and will exclude them from search results. Invest in high-quality images of your products and services and use them wherever you can.

Brand Transparency is More Important than Ever

Consumers care more than ever who companies are and what they stand for. Being transparent and candid is now rewarded, while rigid, faceless companies are seen as untrustworthy. Don’t be afraid to be conversational when interacting with customers. As a brand, be forthright with your values. Take a stand and don’t apologize. You may turn off some people, but your core demographic will become loyal, raving fans.

There are More Places to Post Your Products

If your online store is the only place consumers can purchase your products, you’re missing out. You can now post products for free on Facebook, Instagram, Google Business Profile, and Google Shopping. All of these will increase your product exposure. Pro tip: Service businesses can post the services they offer as “products” in  their Google Business Profile.

User-Generated Content is More Trusted than Ever

Consumers rarely trust brands these days. Instead, they turn to reviews and comments from real users before making a purchase. Asking for reviews, including testimonials on your website (especially video testimonials), encouraging discussion on your content, and responding publicly to your consumers’ questions can help build trust among prospective customers.