Convince your prospect that you’re really open for business with three online platform tweaks

Stand-up comedian John Mulaney spent a few minutes of his debut Saturday Night Live monologue unpacking how we spend half our time online trying to convince security systems that we’re not robots. It’s frustrating enough to figure out the difference between a squiggly “3” and a squiggly “E” when you’re trying to access your email.

Imagine what it’s like for a prospect who’s trying to figure out whether you’re running a real business. Not the best user experience, right?

Prove you’re not a robot

The New York Times and the popular podcast Reply All both covered the trend of “fake online locksmiths.” Until recently, most locksmiths operated on word-of-mouth or relied on Yellow Pages listings to land emergency calls from locked-out consumers. Because they hadn’t invested time setting up secure, online platforms, lead generation companies—sometimes from a half a world away—started scooping up their prospects by deploying thousands of identical, basic websites with just enough localization to fool search engines.

When you’re trying to differentiate yourself from a sea of bot-enabled competitors, leverage the things they can’t copy: you, your team, and your true local presence. Deliver a better customer experience by filling your website and your social media handles with photos of yourself engaging with clients and within your neighborhood. Record podcasts or short videos of yourself that highlight your expertise, your community investment, and your humanity.

Make it easy to contact your humans

Once you’ve proven that you’re a real business with real people ready to help your ideal customer, cut any clutter that gets in the way of a deal. Start with a content audit that takes stock of every piece of information that exists about you online. Then, optimize your user experience: put your phone number in a prominent place (either at the top or bottom) of your website, and ensure that your hours of operation are updated on key sites like Google Places and Yelp. Even if you don’t believe that you’re trying to win any new customers from those review sites, their data influences search tools like Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana. If the data makes it look like you’re closed, those tools will rank your competitors higher than you.

Because a growing number of consumers prefer to engage with businesses by email or chat, give your prospects the option to connect with you in ways that make them feel comfortable. You can use tools like Drift, Intercom, or Zendesk to drop a “Contact Us” widget right into your website that will turn new messages into emails, chat prompts, or even telephone callbacks, depending on how your customers like to speak with you. If there’s no clear contact option on your site, those prospects will drift to the next competitor they find on your list.

Stay in control of your story

When our team assesses a client’s communications process, we rank them on a scale from “Reactive” to “Strategic.” When you’re operating at a truly strategic level, you’re eliminating much of the stress of your daily outreach and engagement tasks. You know what you want to say, and to whom you want to say it. You also enjoy a buffer between your promoters (the fans you’ve helped who want to spread your message) and your detractors (folks who just think you’re wrong for the job, whether they’ve ever worked with you or not).

When you’re only operating in “reactive” mode, you’ve got little to no shield if a competitor wants to move in on your digital turf. It’s even worse if you find yourself having to defend yourself online. By the time you’re aware that you’re being publicly shamed, the press could already be sharing bad photos of you and prospects could be crossing you off their lists for good.

When we work with clients, we recommend using an editorial calendar to keep a steady stream of fresh content flowing across their online platforms. Although we’re long past the “update your blog three times a day” era of website maintenance, it’s a good idea to freshen up your platforms at least a few times a month to show customers that you’re open for business. That way, if you find yourself facing a sudden reputation management crisis, your backlog of content can keep detractors from topping your search engine rankings.

We know it’s tough to keep track of all these tasks yourself. That’s why our team now offers a six-week program to assess the health of your online presence, to measure how your prospective customers see your brand, and to build out a model for how you can keep your website and your social media handles fresh without getting buried by posting schedules. We only get to work with a few new clients every month, so schedule a complimentary discovery session now to get some real-time feedback about what you can do to make sure you’re not facing your own fake locksmith crisis.

Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram