(Excerpted from the Brandify webinar, “Five Tactics for Marketing Your Business This Holiday Season”)

The holidays are rapidly approaching, which means millions of consumers will soon be spending billions of dollars on gifts and other holiday-related purchases. Despite the prevalence of online shopping, this time of year — with its last-minute shopping spikes — totally favors local retailers. After all, when Dad is scrambling to get those gifts for his kids, even the offer of free shipping is going to pale when compared to the assurance that he can have the gift in his hands right then and there.

But these days, very few shopping experiences are truly “offline.” Even folks who make their purchases in person tend to do their research online, which means you could be missing out on a lot of potential holiday business if you’re not putting your business out there where customers can find it.

Here are 5 tactics that can help give your business an edge during the holiday rush.

#1. Advertise Your Products Along with Your Business

When people search online for gift ideas, they tend to be focused on specific products. They’re not searching for “retail stores.” They’re searching for “big screen tvs.” So you need to make sure your products are showing up in these searches.

If you have a Google My Business (GMB) listing, then you have access to Google Inventory Ads. If you’re not familiar with Inventory Ads, it’s basically an ad program related to Google Shopping that allows you to upload a feed of your entire inventory to Google. So if you sell big screen televisions, you’re more likely to show up as a local result if someone is searching in your area. This gives you the potential to show up in hundreds of additional searches than just your brand name alone.

The downside to this tactic is that it requires a *lot* of heavy lifting up front, especially if you have more than one location. If you’re looking for a simpler approach, you might consider taking advantage of the Products tab in GMB. It allows you to manually enter products, along with images and descriptions, to your GMB listing. Obviously, it isn’t feasible to list *everything* you sell, but it is a good opportunity to highlight products you want to feature for the holidays.

In short, make sure you’re advertising the products your customers are looking for.

#2. Engage with Your Customers Through Reviews and Q&A

We’ve reached a point where consumers take it for granted that a business — any business — is going to have some kind of online presence.

According to a study from Quiq, Inc., 60% of consumers expect businesses to be available via online messaging. Many of these consumers need timely answers to their questions and concerns during the holiday crunch, and most of them will look online.

There are a lot of channels for online Q&A, including Google and Amazon. Consumers will post their questions in these forums (“What time are you guys open on Black Friday?”). If you don’t respond, somebody else inevitably will. And even if they give the correct information, just think of the user experience. Somebody reached out expecting an answer from you, but instead got an answer from a total stranger. So respond to these questions yourself when possible, and your customers will know you’re paying attention. Since very few brands actually do this, it will set you apart from the competition.

When it comes to online reviews (especially negative ones), the absolute worst thing you can do is respond in an unprofessional and defensive manner. The second worst thing you can do is ignore them. If a customer voices a concern about your business online, take the opportunity to address it and make it right.

Being highly responsive, especially during the holiday season, is a great way to build trust and loyalty with your customers.

#3. Use Online Booking to Bring in Customers

Online scheduling is a must for any business that relies on appointments. Studies show simply implementing it (and sending reminders) can reduce no-shows by as much as 50%.

But even a business that isn’t appointment-based can still use online booking to create an experience for holiday (and other in-store) events. For example, if you’re offering a giftwrapping demonstration to bring customers into your store, you could simply announce it, throw up some flyers, and hope for the best. Or you could promote it online and let people put it on their calendar through online scheduling.

Letting customers book your holiday events online will build conversions and bring them through your door.

#4. Create a Google Posts Holiday Campaign

GMB allows businesses to post online. At the moment, this service is being offered for free, which means Google is in effect giving away some valuable “online real estate.” Since less than 40% of businesses actually use Google Posts, this is yet another simple way to set yourself apart from the competition.

Google Posts is an excellent channel for calling attention to your GMB listing during holiday events and promotions. Even though the posts won’t have any impact on your actual ranking, they’ll still provide more conversion opportunities on your listing.

Any of your existing campaigns can be promoted through Google Posts. If you’re having a holiday sale, simply take the content you’ve already created and put it in a post. The posts that tend to perform the best are special offers with specific details (i.e. “20% Off – This Friday Only!”).

Even if you don’t have any campaigns or special offers, you can still benefit from Google Posts. Simply including a post about your business, with a link to “Learn More” linking back to your website, will bring in some additional traffic (that could potentially convert to sales).

Google Posts are a simple and effective channel for getting clicks from customers.

#5. Use Photos to Dress Up Your Listings

This one sounds like it should be a no-brainer, but according to a recent study from ThriveHive, only 16.5% of businesses include images with their GMB listings. In fact, a lot of Yelp and Facebook listings are surprisingly lacking in images as well.

The fact is, consumers are more likely to respond to listings with photos. According to Google, including photos in your listing may net you 35% more clicks to your website and 42% more requests for driving directions. And once somebody has pulled up the driving directions, that’s a good sign that they’re ready to buy.

At the bare minimum, include your logo and a cover photo with your listing. But there’s no reason to stop there. If you’ve already created photo content to promote your business, the hard part is already done. You can include these photos in your GMB, Yelp and Facebook listings too. You can also use holiday images from your website and collateral to create a seasonal mood in your listings and in Google’s knowledge panels (those info boxes that pop up when someone searches for your business).

Another thing to consider is that listings typically allow the general public to upload photos as well. So if you don’t generate photos, your customers will have the opportunity to do it for you, which means you’ll lose control of the image you want to present. If someone uploads an image that portrays your business in an unflattering light, Google won’t remove it unless it violates their policy. So the only way to combat the random images uploaded by others is to provide compelling photos of your own.

With so few people taking advantage of photo content, it’s a great way to make your business stand out and help people notice you.

Summing Up

The goal of these tactics is to make you more visible to consumers who are doing their holiday shopping offline and locally. In short:

  • Advertise products that your customers are looking for.
  • Engage with your customers through reviews and Q&A.
  • Take advantage of online booking to bring in visitors.
  • Use Google Posts to create holiday campaigns.
  • Update your listings with engaging seasonal photos.