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Local businesses getting global exposure thanks to Greenup students

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Greenup seniors Amber Brown, Alex Quillen, Leslie Lambert and Olivia Ball check restaurant listings on their cell phones.

ASHLAND Greg Miller is a chef, not a media expert and definitely not a techie.

He is at home in his restaurant kitchen kneading pizza dough, blending sauce and making meatballs. He has his hands full with that and every other chore that makes launching a restaurant a life-consuming enterprise.

But a restaurant, especially one like Alma’s Italian, the new kid on the block in a town where customer loyalties run deep, needs exposure, visibility, marketing.

So when a quartet of teenage girls with smart phones and laptops stopped by with suggestions for putting Alma’s in the foreground of the digital landscape, Miller sat down with them while they came up with a plan.

By the time the girls were finished, Alma’s had muscled its way to the top of the Google search engine with links to its website, photos, map location and reviews.

And it showed up on Google Maps with a detailed profile of basic facts a potential customer would need to know.

The visibility improvements came mainly through the free Google My Business service offered by the search giant — and the deft management of the four tech-savvy teens, all members of the Greenup County High School Student Technology Leadership Program.

The students, Amber Brown, Alex Quillen, Leslie Lambert and Olivia Ball, are all seniors. They are working with about 20 area businesses to create, maintain and enhance Google accounts that will lead to greater web presence. They are doing it as a community service project they believe will bring more customers to local businesses and better inform people on where to eat, shop and play in Northeast Kentucky.

They are calling it “Greenup Goes Global,” because of the world-spanning reach of the internet and the unstoppable trend toward putting virtually every aspect of human endeavor online.

At a time in history when more and more people have grown up with keyboards at their fingertips and cell phones in their pockets, the web is the go-to source for information, they said. “We Google everything,” Quillen said.

That really means everything. When they come to Ashland they would rather pull out their phones and thumb in the search terms “restaurants in Ashland” than flip through the Yellow Pages.

They also could open Google Maps and search with the term “restaurants” to find a suitable eatery.

Doing either will yield links to several restaurants, including Alma’s, and navigating to the links will reveal maps, addresses, hours of operation and further links to more detailed information.

That is why it is imperative for businesses to learn the digital marketing basics and keep their information up to date — because frustrated would-be customers who can’t find the correct address or don’t know when the store closes will walk away and spend their money somewhere else.

Since starting the project they’ve discovered a number of incorrect Google Maps addresses — including Gerber’s, a Greenup restaurant they are working with, and two of the district’s elementary schools.

Technology resource teacher Stacey Spears, an adviser to the group, keeps a file of businesses with information they have updated .

Miller said the students impressed him with the depth of their technology knowledge and their understanding of marketing imperatives. “You have to know that you have to be proactive. The information doesn’t magically show up on the internet. This has been an eye-opener,” he said.

The students also showed Miller how to track pageviews and other statistics that will keep him apprised of how well his web presence is reaching potential customers.

The students want to work with other businesses in the area and are concentrating their efforts on locally owned enterprises, reasoning that chains and franchises have their own corporate resources.

Once connected to the digital marketplace, local businesses also will be in shape to reap profits from out-of-towners who come in for mega-events like Summer Motion, Spears said.

“For any small community to survive, they are going to have to think globally. That’s how the world operates now,” Quillen said.

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Mike James is The Independent's education reporter. He has covered news in Northeast Kentucky since 1996.