by Courtney Llewellyn

Nothing happens until your ideal customer knows you exist. That was the blunt message presented by Monica Hemingway, a digital strategist for the green industry, during “Five Keys to Getting Your Green Industry Business Found Online in 2021,” her presentation for Nursery Guide Live (produced by the Oregon Association of Nurseries). And it’s not enough just to be “found” online. It’s about being found by the right people, in the right place, at the right time, with the right message.

Hemingway’s session broke down the keys to an online presence that gets real results. She first discussed how Google decides what it will show searchers. “The Google algorithm makes 3,000 or so updates every year in what it decides to show online and where it will show that,” she explained, and that matters because 95% of searches are done on Google. For 2021, Hemingway said the search engine is focusing more on creating a good user experience, only showing sites that are fast, secure and provide good content – and these attributes are only going to become more important.

“Another big thing that has changed obviously is COVID’s influence,” she said. “Look at the positive aspect: 20 million people are coming into growing plants for the first time, and they’re looking for plants, services and products that we as an industry provide.”

She noted there’s also growing support for local businesses in the “shop local” movement. And transparency is key. “We’re all tired of seeing information and not knowing if it’s true or real or not,” Hemingway said. “User-generated content is becoming more important and more impactful.”

Ultimately, there are only two reasons why you’re not getting more customers: they don’t know you exist (visibility) and they don’t think you can do what they want (perception), Hemingway said. Fortunately, these are both things you can do something about by utilizing her five keys.

  • Key 1: Focus your resources. Choose how to spend your precious resources – not just your money, but your time too, she said. What you focus on depends, because every business is different. Start by identifying what you do, why you do it, who you do it for and what you’re trying to accomplish. That should drive what you do online.

“Google wants clarity. You need a rifle, not a shotgun – you need pinpoint precision rather than blasting out a lot of things and hoping something works,” Hemingway said.

Proximity + relevance + prominence = how Google decides to rank local businesses. You cannot control proximity – it’s physical distance. You have some control over relevance – how well your business matches what someone is searching for. “Prominence is the part you have the most influence over – that’s the credibility of your business and how it shows up online,” she explained. “Google looks at online reviews, links from other websites and content from anywhere you show up online.”

  • Key 2: Getting found. Hemingway said there are some relatively simple things you can do. Using Google My Business (GMB) is absolutely essential. “If you haven’t optimized your GMB listing it’s impossible to succeed on this front,” she said. It’s a free listing Google gives you. You control what is seen in the “knowledge panel” on the right side of the screen. You don’t need a website to make this work – but you do need to use GMB. All you have to do is claim, verify and use your GMB listing (tips on how to do this are on Hemingway’s website,
  • Key 3: Online reviews. “Word of mouth” has moved online. Hemingway said the more people that endorse you, the more you’re viewed as a credible source. Her research has found 88% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations and 74% of people say reviews are a key influencer in their purchasing decisions.

“To get more and get better reviews, ask!” Hemingway said. “The more you have, the less impact a negative review will have.” Seven out of 10 consumers will leave a review for a business if asked, but only 33% of businesses actively seek out and collect reviews. She said to focus on Google reviews first, then Facebook and LinkedIn second. She also recommended showing off your reviews on your website (but don’t call them testimonials).

  • Key 4: Technical SEO and content. Google uses everything on your website to determine its relevance. Hemingway suggested running a full site audit to make sure your site is sending all the right signals to Google (she offers a free audit on her website as well).

Beyond that, check (and fix, if necessary) your website basics: Make sure your phone number is listed at the top right; your service area/products/services are in the header on all pages; offer simple navigation; post relevant content (photos and descriptions, ordering details, where you ship, etc.); and utilize good search engine optimization (SEO) – using those key words that customers type in the search bar.

  • Key 5: Email marketing. This is about building a community of people who know you, trust you and will buy from you, Hemingway said. Research shows that for every $1 spent in email marketing, sellers can see $40 in sales. She suggested sending a monthly or biweekly email newsletter – whatever frequency you can do consistently. Focus on relevant and feel-good topics that will help your customers be more successful. “We’re in such a visual industry, it’s easy to turn newsletters into a showcase for our businesses without seeming like we’re selling,” she noted.

Her most important piece of advice, though, is to pick one key, focus on it and do it right (starting with Key 1). “If what you’re doing right now isn’t bringing the results you want, it’s time to change it up,” she said. “Going online is no longer optional. Let 2021 be the year you do something different and break through all the noise out there and make this the best year yet.”