Time to shake up the digital high-street, calls 123 Reg

3 in 5 people say online searches favour big, chain stores, meaning independent businesses lose out, a new study reveals.

Research reveals that when searching the digital high-street for shops or services in their local area, three in five people say the search results show large retailers rather than small independents, and nearly half (45 per cent) say it can be hard to find a good range of both small and larger businesses.

The study, commissioned by 123 Reg, highlights there is a desperate need for small independent businesses to improve their visibility on Google Maps in order to compete against their bigger counterparts.

The cities of Birmingham and Manchester were shown to favour big brands the most – further research using Google AdWords Discovery revealed only a fifth of the shops and services searched in Manchester and Birmingham city centres were small businesses. In contrast, four in ten of the businesses listed in Glasgow and Sheffield city centres were independent stores.

Google a blessing and a curse for SMEs

However, there are certain small businesses that are getting it right. Independent DIY stores, bike shops and coffee shops often trump the bigger chains in local searches, however smaller pharmacies and bookshops are struggling to cut through.

Nick Leech, digital director at 123 Reg, thinks that, much like the modern UK high-street, the online high-street has become all too similar, largely because bigger businesses outperform small independents in local SEO.

Leech adds, ‘Small businesses have a tough fight on their hands to compete with the big boys, but there are easy ways for them to win. The key is to be visible wherever people are searching, and for this you need to have a good search engine ranking and ensure you are included in all the relevant local directories.’

He says, ‘If more small businesses managed to crack local SEO, the value it could bring to both their online and offline presence could be enormous, and in turn, the digital high-street could be turned on its head.

‘It’s been proven it can have a big advantage in terms of footfall – half of everyone who searches for shops or services in their local area on their mobile actually visit the shop that same day.’

One business that successfully beats their rival bigger brands by having strong local search engine rankings is The Card Gallery in Exeter. In contrast to the research which showed large card shop brands dominate local searches across UK, they come out the first result on Google Maps in Exeter.

Lisa Forde, owner of The Card Gallery, says, ‘I’m a firm believer that customers are more likely to know and trust companies local to them, and so all digital high-street businesses should invest time to ensure their websites rank highly for local searches.

‘We have seen a very positive impact from our local search results. It’s helped build our customer base and word-of-mouth, which has resulted in more positive reviews. It all adds to our turnover and profitability.’

Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones, comments, ‘To compete with the bigger chains, it’s crucial small businesses are visible on the digital high-street. They are the beating heart of our economy and for this to continue, consumers need to be able to find them.

‘Establishing a strong local search ranking is a very good starting point – the more people who know about you and what you have to offer, the quicker your business is going to grow.’

Further reading on digital retailers

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Freddie Halvorson

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the Smallbusiness.co.uk and Growthbusiness.co.uk titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the Express.co.uk.

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