The Most Effective Digital Marketing Channels for Small Businesses

The Most Effective Digital Marketing Channels for Small Businesses

For many years, there was agreement among marketers that email was the most effective digital marketing channel. Small businesses took this advice and ran with it. If they had limited marketing budgets, they focused on email and little else.

Today, this consensus has dissipated. Although many marketers do still consider email the top channel, others favor different options, namely social media, content marketing, marketing technology, and SEO.

Top Five Marketing Channels

Late last year, Ascend2 conducted a study called 2018 Digital Marketing Plans. It surveyed 271 marketing influencers to find out what they considered the most effective digital marketing channel. The top choice was social media with 18 percent. It is unsurprising, then, that 57 percent of social marketers said that they would be allocating more budget to social this year.

In close second place came content marketing, with 17 percent. This was followed by marketing technology (with 16 percent), then SEO (with 15 percent), and finally email (with 13 percent).

Although this does mean that email is pushed down to the fifth position, it is also only 5 percent below the top choice. In other words, there is by no means a majority opinion about what is the best marketing channel.

Top Digital Marketing Objectives

The same lack of agreement was true for participants’ responses to the effectiveness of different digital marketing objectives. Top options were lead generation, sales revenue, web traffic, and improving brand awareness. Each of these were named as the top choice by between 14 to 18 percent of those surveyed.

The question, then, is what should small business owners take away from this?

Why SEO Is the Most Effective Channel

Although it came in fourth place, I’d like to make the argument that search engine optimization is, in fact, the top channel for digital marketing. I’ll also assert that this is the case for any businesses looking to gain visibility online, including small businesses in all industries. Let’s look at why.

1. The Majority of Online Experiences Begin With Search

As many as 93 percent online experiences begin with a user typing a query into a search engine. For prospects to find your business, you need to be near the top of the search results, as the first page receives up to 92 percent of all clicks. It is only possible to reach the first-page rankings with SEO. This is extra important if you’re looking to increase web traffic.

2. Websites Receive More Organic Traffic Than Paid Traffic

Whereas you’ll gain an even higher position on the search engine result pages (SERPs) with a PPC ad, you’ll receive far fewer clicks than with an organic result. The average click-through rate in AdWords across all industries is just 3.17 percent for ads in search. This is not to say that PPC shouldn’t form any part of your strategy; only, you should be aware that the tactic is far less effective than SEO.

3. SEO Leads to Improved Brand Awareness

Appearing in higher positions in the search results leads to greater consumer awareness and trust. Local users who consistently see your name at the top of the SERPs will begin to relate your brand with high-quality, informative content.

4. UX and SEO Are Connected

The only way to optimize for Google is to take user experience into account. Long gone are the days when you would just make your pages appear relevant to search engines. Now, Google wants to see that users enjoy interacting with your site and will stick around to explore. Focusing on SEO will also mean that you strive to improve the experience for users. This is critical for encouraging users to provide you with the contact information you need to turn visitors into leads.

5. Once You Have a Strategy, You Keep Improving

Collecting data about your SEO campaigns will tell you more about your audience, particularly what they are looking for in terms of information and offerings. You can use this data to continuously improve your strategy. For instance, you’ll be able to better define your target audience and choose more successful keywords. Both these actions will bring better-targeted traffic to your site.

SEO is about more than just keywords. Search engines take a variety of factors into account when determining your rankings. A major factor is authority. Just because you’re a small business doesn’t mean you can’t become an authoritative source of information. All you need is a well-rounded strategy that includes gaining reviews, building links, and improving your presence on social. You also need to create content for optimizing. SEO allows you to do this.

Put another way, SEO is not just the most effective channel, it is a critical cog in your digital strategy. SEO works by bringing the many pieces of your marketing strategy together.

Lumps of Coal: How to Handle Negative Reviews Over the Holidays

Lumps of Coal: How to Handle Negative Reviews Over the Holidays

What’s Santa to do when a company he does business with doesn’t quite come through as expected? For example, if the sleigh repair shop doesn’t do a good job, can you expect Mr. Kringle to leave a pile of coal at their door as a show of his displeasure?

Probably not. Kris Kringle is far more likely to hop on Google or Facebook and leave the company a bad review instead. Not only does a bad review get the point across to the sleigh repair shop that they failed to live up to expectations, but it’s also a great way for Santa to warn other potential customers to take their money elsewhere.

Managing your reviews on local search results can determine whether your company receives a lump of coal or the gift of revenue this holiday season.

Why Good and Bad Customer Reviews Matter so Much

If your small business clients are concerned about negative reviews, their fears are not exactly unjustified. In fact, 72% of consumers won’t even consider doing business with a company until after they’ve read a positive review or two — 30% consider reviews to be a key factor when choosing local companies to use.

Both positive and negative reviews wield a lot of power over local businesses because of their importance to local search marketing. A single star increase in a restaurant’s rating on Yelp, for example, can bring in 5-9% more revenue.

However, an occasional bad review shouldn’t be cause for panic.

Consumers know that it’s hard to please everyone, all the time. When consumers see nothing but glowing reviews for a business, they usually suspect that the brand is either padding their reputation with fake reviews or screening out the bad ones.

Owners Need a Strategy for Negative Reviews

Every business owner should commit to this strategy for negative reviews:

  • Acknowledge negative reviews as quickly as possible.
  • Empathize with the customer’s feelings and ask the customer to provide more information, if necessary, through direct contact (like email or chat).
  • Make it clear in the response that the business is willing to make things right, if possible.

Exactly what a small business owner needs to do next in order to turn each negative review into a positive depends on the purpose of the complaint. Let’s look at how small business owners should handle the most common dissatisfied customers they will encounter:

Disappointed Dianes: Unexpected Experience

These are the customers who genuinely didn’t get the experience they expected. The service may have been bad or the product may not be working as described.

Disappointed Dianes aren’t dropping coal at your small business owner’s door. They’re actually a gift. They are, more often than not, alerting small business owners to a problem that needs to be addressed. For every Disappointed Diane that speaks up, there are about 26 other unhappy customers who stay silent — and most just walk away.

Small business owner’s need to respond to Dianes by:

  • Asking for a new opportunity, whether that means a product replacement and a refund, a meal on the house or something more.
  • Asking for a new — hopefully improved — review.

If a small business owner has corrected the problem, there’s nothing to fear.

Critical Carls: Unreasonable Expectations

Critical Carls usually have unreasonable expectations in the first place. They walk into a store on Black Friday and are offended at the wait even though every register is running. They order the pepper-crusted steak and find it has too much pepper for their liking.

It’s important to remember that Carls are genuinely disappointed in their experience — even though the business did nothing wrong. small business owner’s still gain a chance to show their professionalism and increase the credibility of their brand by their response, so they should:

  • Gently illustrate the fact that the issue was unavoidable.
  • Show their willingness to “go all out” for the customer.
  • Ask for a new review.

For example, a restaurant owner might respond, “We realize our signature pepper-crusted steak isn’t for everyone, but we’d like you to try one of our other great meals — on the house!” The odds are Carl will be happy and everyone reading that response will be impressed.

Hateful Henrys: Something for Nothing

Hateful Henrys are, by and large, trying to get something for nothing and they hope to leverage their negative review into free services or goods.

Owners can’t fall for a Hateful Henry’s tricks. Nor can they just ignore a Henry. Business owners can, however, use a Henry to show just how exceptional and professional they can be — and gain the trust of many potential customers in the process.

Small business owners need to remain unfalling professional and worry only about how they look to other potential customers reading that review. There’s nothing they can do to appease a Henry except give in to the extortion and that’s not something small business owners should do.

Final Thoughts

What’s the most important thing to remind small business owner’s about negative reviews? Even lumps of coal can serve a purpose and have value if you appreciate them for what they are, not what you had hoped they would be.

How to Prepare Your Site for an Influx of Holiday Traffic

How to Prepare Your Site for an Influx of Holiday Traffic

If your website is not up to speed for the holidays, you’ll be missing out on potential customers. Every second of website load time, 20% of consumers leave and seek one of your competitors for their purchase. Also, bear in mind that you need to keep your website running fast late into the season, as the highest amount of traffic actually occurs on December 26.

In addition to speed, mobile web design is essential, as half of all holiday sales are made on a mobile device. Plus, it is equally important to optimize your website for desktop users — to provide them with the festive experience they need to convert.

1. Figure Out How to Make Your Website Fly Faster Than Santa

First, you need to find out if your website will be able to handle an increased amount of traffic. This will depend on your hosting solution. It’s a good idea to contact your hosting provider and ask if your current solution is sufficient. If the company tells you that your website will not be able to manage a large number of simultaneous requests, look into upgrading.

2. Check Your Website Usability Score

A website usability score tells you how your site is currently performing and shows you what you can do to make improvements. You can receive a free website score that shows things like:

  • Local presence: Find out where you lack local SEO and what you can do about it.
  • Mobile analysis: How mobile friendly is your site currently and what can you do to optimize?
  • Organic search analysis: What keywords should you use to improve seasonal search rankings?

3. Help Customers Purchase Gifts with Ease

A usability score will tell you plenty, but you also need to examine the website for yourself to see where it’s falling short. One area that can often be improved is the checkout process on your e-commerce store. If checkout requires too much information or too many steps, you may find that you have a high number of abandoned shopping carts full of presents never to be bought.

A simple fix is to make it easier for new customers to purchase from you. Do this by removing the requirement to register. You can always incentivize customers to register later, such as advertising your loyalty program or asking them to sign up for notifications of special offers.

4. Repurpose Seasonal Content from Last Year

Content falls into two categories: evergreen and time sensitive. Normally, seasonal content is part of the latter, meaning that it only has a short-term role in your strategy. However, it is possible to gain greater use from your seasonal content by repurposing it.

If you have any successful blog posts from previous years that remain relevant, find a way to revive them and add them to your strategy for this year. As well as reducing the amount of time you need to spend on your content strategy, you know that customers like and will respond to the content. You may be able to use the exact same piece (just updating some statistics and information) or you can create a new post about the same topic.

5. Run A/B Tests to Improve Your Site

A final way to ensure that your website is optimized is to run A/B tests. It would be unrealistic to try and test every element on every page. Instead, focus on just the most important pages for the holidays and aspects that matter the most. These may include:

  • Placement and wording of CTAs
  • Navigation
  • Color of buttons
  • Information on product pages
  • Forms

Preparing your website for the holidays is about ensuring your site appears in high in the search results and then increasing the chances that users stick around by working on UX. This process involves discovering where you may be able to make improvements, followed by testing different ideas to figure out what leads to the most conversions for your site.

How to Take Advantage of Holiday Cheer to Increase Positive Online Reviews

How to Take Advantage of Holiday Cheer to Increase Positive Online Reviews

Almost 95% of customers check out online reviews before making a purchase. This means that if your business has only a few reviews, you lack the social proof to convince users to choose you over a competitor.

In addition, reviews are critical to small business SEO, as search engines use them to determine quality and authority of your business.

To make matters worse, users (and Google) look for reviews in multiple places, including Google My Business, product review sites like Yelp, social media, and industry-specific sites. It’s best if you have at least a couple reviews in all of these places.

Luckily, the holiday season gives you an excellent opportunity to increase your number of positive reviews. Customers are full of holiday cheer and looking to spread their good will. However, it’s still unlikely that they’ll leave a review without some encouragement. You need to have a strategy in place to solicit reviews from satisfied customers.

1. Tap into the Good Cheer of the Holidays

Start a campaign, just for the holidays, where you ask for reviews. You can run this campaign on social media or through email — accompanied with a holiday greeting. If you use an email campaign, include a link to the site where you want users to leave a review.

It’s best if you can find a way to make your campaign holiday themed. For instance, you could ask people to explain how your product brightened up their holidays or to share a holiday story that involves one of your services.

2. Meet Increased Customer Demand

People are more likely to leave you a review if they have a bad experience with your company. You need to avoid disappointing customers at all costs. If you provide an exceptional service, you increase your chances of receiving great feedback.

If the holidays will mean an increase in sales for your business, you need to take steps to ensure that you’ll be able to meet the demand. This means stocking up on your most popular products, making sure that your e-commerce site is accurate about how many products you have in stock, and only guaranteeing delivery times that you can fulfill. You’ll also need to ensure that you respond to queries as soon as possible and otherwise provide great customer service.

3. Share Reviews

Pick your favorite holiday reviews and feature them on your website or social media pages. You can even explicitly say that you will be sharing the most inspiring stories — this should encourage more users to write reviews.

4. Offer a Holiday Gift for Reviewers

A final option is to provide an incentive for leaving a review. Incentives can be a discount on the customer’s next purchase, a freebie, or another type of offer. You can give the gift to all reviewers or hold a contest and randomly pick one user to win.

If you’re sending users to a particular site for the review, you’ll need to check that compensation is allowed. Some sites have strict rules about incentivizing customers — and if you break these rules, you could end up losing all your reviews. This will leave you much worse off than when you started.

Timing is key when soliciting reviews. If you’re using social media, test posting times to find out when your campaign receives the greatest number of responses. For email campaigns, send out requests for reviews when your company is on your customers’ minds. This could be right after a customer receives a product, after a client has used your service or following an interaction with your customer support team. You are more likely to receive responses if the email doesn’t come out of nowhere.

Avoid These Marketing Monsters Dwelling in Your Closet

Avoid These Marketing Monsters Dwelling in Your Closet

It’s the time of year when monsters come out, but some of them need to stay locked in your closet: the marketing monsters. You’re not looking to create a scare with your marketing. Avoid devilish tricks and use best practices instead. Your efforts will pay off.

1. A Community of Zombies

You can instantly receive a large number of followers to your social media account or email mailing list by paying a fee. In the case of social media, you’ll likely receive ghost accounts, whereas email addresses will belong to real people. There are major problems with both.

For one thing, it is impossible to purchase engagement. On social media, follower count is a vanity metric, whereas engagement shows the success of your efforts. This lack of engagement is often obvious, meaning people will be less likely to trust your brand. Trust will also decrease if users see your follower account suddenly shoot up in a matter of days.

In the case of email, lack of engagement is even more useless. You’ll be targeting people who have never shown any interest in your offerings — and there’s no reason to believe they will be interested. Worse still, their first interaction with your business will be a spam message, making it unlikely that they’ll ever see your brand in a good light. Lastly, if you message EU citizens without their permission, you may receive a GDPR fine.

The Solution

Grow your follower base authentically. Find people who are actually interested in what you have to offer and want to hear more from you. For instance, give users the chance to sign up for your email newsletter after they download premium content. Your social follower counts and email mailing list will be smaller, but at least most people on it will be potential leads.

2. Horror Story Emails

You have probably created a mobile web design by now, but have you also given the same attention to your emails? If too much is going on, if images don’t fit the screen, or if users need to zoom in to read the information, your message will probably end up unread. In fact, more than half of people unsubscribe from email newsletters because they are unable to read the messages on their phones.

The Solution

Test emails on a mobile device before you send them out. Figure out how you can make improvements and save this template for future communications.

3. Unleashing Your Wrath in Reviews

Negative reviews can be hard to take, especially if the criticism is undeserved, such as in the case of a misunderstanding or a difficult-to-deal-with customer. Your immediate reaction may be to reply in sarcastic or angry tones, but this is never a good idea — you’ll only seem unprofessional or perhaps even petty. Even replying in a private message is dangerous, as there’s always the chance that a customer could leak a screenshot.

The Solution

All this isn’t to say that you should ignore negative reviews. You should definitely reply — but the right way. Instead, apologize (sincerely) and name what steps you’re taking to correct the issue. Then, users who may have been swayed by the negative feedback will see that you care about your customers and about providing an excellent service.

4. Trust No One But the Numbers

You should certainly trust your gut for some aspects of marketing. However, relying on feelings entirely and never putting in any research is a recipe for disaster. Assuming you already know the answers will cost you money and reduce conversions.

The Solution

Monitor your successes down to the smallest details. This means finding out how well a piece of content performed, how posting at different times impacts engagement, and who is responding to your campaigns — for each channel.

Even during this spooky time of year, there’s no excuse to release the marketing monsters. It may take more time and effort, but marketing the right way leads to far better results.