DIY Online Marketing Tools for Small Business Owners

DIY Online Marketing Tools for Small Business Owners

If you want your small business to thrive and survive, online marketing is no longer optional.

Whether you’re a B2B or a B2C operation, your customers are out there somewhere — and they’re already online and looking for you (or someone like you, with your type of services or products). In fact, 80% of people do some kind of research online before they invest in a product or service. So online marketing is really all about making yourself easy to find.

Fortunately, you’ve never had greater access to easy, inexpensive (or absolutely free) online marketing tools than you do right now. Whether you’re a dedicated do-it-yourself’er or just want to experiment with online marketing on your own for a while, this is where you can get started.

Ranking Higher on Google And Getting Started On SEO

A lot of small business owners haven’t figured out yet how Google knows how to locate the right things when someone types in a few keywords and starts searching for whatever they want.

Well, whether you’re selling pizza or property, it’s pretty much all the same process. Google takes a look at all the available information it has from the searcher, which now usually includes some idea of the person’s address due to the geolocation abilities on cell phones. Google then tries to match up the best pieces of content it has available to the person’s query on a search engine results page (SERP).

Where your business falls in that SERP is largely a result of your ability to wield the mighty power of search engine optimization in your favor. Those are the techniques that you can use to become visible to your potential prospects.

While it isn’t an exact science and it takes some time, it isn’t impossible to learn either — especially if you’re willing to do your own research. There are plenty of free training materials dedicated to SEO that will walk you through everything that you need to know to move forward.

The first thing you should probably do, however, is get yourself firmly on Google’s radar by getting on the map. That alone will increase your company’s visibility in local searches. Local search is becoming tremendously important these days because consumers are increasingly mobile — and when they search for something, they’re often on their cellphones and ready to buy.

Leveraging Social Media Into a Business Marketing Tool

No matter what your business, the trend today is to engage with consumers where you can find them — and you can find them all online, somewhere on social media. You need a strong social presence in order for new prospects to discover you and drive up organic interest in your brand.

A Facebook page is an absolute must. It’s still the go-to social site for many consumers, and it’s business-friendly. However, don’t overlook the value of a Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram account. All of them appeal to different parts of your potential market and have different uses. All of them help your future customers find you.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of free tools and tutorials out there that will walk your through the ins-and-outs of social media and its role in digital marketing.

You can also get some significant insights after you get started on your social campaigns about what’s working and what isn’t using tools like BuzzSumo. It lets you track the success of all the content you put out there.

Final Thoughts (For Now)

Even small things online can have a big effect on your business. While some things, like starting a campaign on social geared at driving new prospects to the door, may take you some time to learn and begin, other things — like just adding social media accounts and putting yourself on Google’s map — can have a big impact right away.

The first steps always seem the hardest with any project. DIY online marketing takes some time to learn and some effort to implement, but there are plenty of resources available that can walk you through the steps.

How You Can Optimize Your Small Business for Local Searches

How You Can Optimize Your Small Business for Local Searches

Even if you do a strictly brick and mortar business, local search engine optimization is critical to your company’s survival.

Why? Because when consumers pick up their cell phones or open their laptops to search for “Chinese restaurants” or “hardware stores in my area” they aren’t thinking about purchasing dinner or a drain pipe a couple weeks from now. They have a need they’re looking to fulfill and they’re looking for a convenient location to do it in. That’s why 50% of local searches on smartphones turn into store visits within a day’s time.

So how do you do it? We’ll show you. These steps are relatively simple to follow, but they do take some time, so prepare to spend a few hours on the task. The rewards will be worth it.

Make Sure Google (and Potential Customers) Can Find Your Business

You need to be listed on Google My Business. Make sure your company’s profile is complete. This is a free service, so overlooking this is like ignoring free advertising dollars.

In addition, you need to increase the company’s visibility by building backlinks and a local presence. Make sure that the company’s information is correct and complete on as many contact directories as possible. Some places to direct your efforts include Yelp, Angie’s List, Yahoo, Bing, Yellow Pages, and the local Chamber of Commerce.

  • Make sure your NAP is visible: Your company’s name, address and phone number needs to be on every page of your website. That helps Google locate you and makes it easy for potential customers to do the same.

Optimize Your Website for Local Searches and Immediate Needs

Take a good look at your current website. Is it time to do some updating?

There needs to be an automatic contact/call button on the mobile site — and if there is no mobile site yet, get one. Users today expect them both and will be frustrated if your site doesn’t have them. Take the following steps as well:

  • Put a link to Google Maps on the site. This can help consumers find your business — and visually inspect the location before they get there.
  • Look carefully at the keywords your site is using. Log out of all your company sites and search for your products or services. Ask a few of your employees to do the same. See what naturally comes to mind and how well the site is ranking with those terms. It may enlighten you about changes that need to be made to the keywords in the company’s URLs, title tags, meta descriptions and more. A lot may have changed since the last time you looked at what you were using.

Build Consumer Confidence and Brand Credibility by Getting Feedback

Ask for reviews from existing clients. In fact, be shameless about it. People will often give reviews just because they’re asked. If you collect email addresses from your customers (and you should), send review requests. Make them easy to fill out for maximum response. In addition:

  • Get a digital loyalty card going. Consumers love loyalty bonuses and you can also use them as a gateway to gain more reviews, which increases your online presence.
  • Start building a social media presence. It does take time, but your business should (at minimum) have a Facebook page — and it needs to be updated as frequently as possible. Ideas for updates include daily or weekly specials, new products, photos of employees, information about the owner’s story and answers to frequently asked questions. That will also encourage feedback and build credibility for your brand.

Why are reviews from your current customers so important? First, search engines give preference to review sites like Yelp, which means reviews of your business might actually rank higher than your actual website. Second, positive reviews encourage prospective customers to give you a try.

Word-of-mouth is still what makes a business thrive in a local market — it’s just that the process of asking for references has changed. Instead of going to their next-door neighbor directly, nine out of 10 people hop online to see what their neighbors are saying.

It’s important to remember that the search engine optimization job is never something that can be completed overnight. It’s something that builds steadily over time through each post, each link and review. There’s absolutely no substitute for patience and consistency when it comes to developing a strong local presence on search.

Why You Need SEO Help for Your Unique Small Business

Why You Need SEO Help for Your Unique Small Business

You know your craft and understand your customers better than anybody. So why should you trust your future to a SEO company to promote it for you? Aren’t you better off handling all your marketing yourself?

No, you aren’t. Now, let’s look at the reasons why.

You Need Increased Visibility

The demand for handmade, unique, well-crafted items has risen steadily over the last few years. Artisanal and niche businesses are rewriting the rules when it comes to what makes a business viable for the future.

So, why isn’t it easier to find new customers and grow your business? It sounds like people should be clamoring at your doors just to get a sample of your product.

The trouble is that you may be largely invisible to any market outside of your current customer base. Traditional advertising, which is the easiest thing for someone who isn’t familiar with ins-and-outs of SEO to manage, won’t cut through all the visual noise these days — especially if your customers are mostly Millennials. Only 1% of Millennials are influenced by ads. The other 99% of that potential future market simply tunes them out.

The latest research indicates that 97% of people now shop online, even if they buy in the store.

In fact, more than 40% of Americans now do their shopping while lying in bed. To reach the online market, you have to be able to get your message out through multiple platforms:

  • A blog that provides free content related to your product
  • Videos that entertain and educate
  • Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media to help you make connections

Growth is about visibility. Today, visibility means having a strong online presence in all the right places.

You Have Limited Time

Unless you already have some mad SEO skills, it’s not something you can just pick up on the fly. The rules change constantly — which means even the best guides you can find online or in a bookstore can be outdated overnight.

For example, Google dominates the world of search engines. It also continuously updates its methods of ranking pages in order to provide users with a more streamlined experience. Since 2015, there have been four major changes to the algorithms Google uses to rank websites. In 2017, websites streamlined for mobile users suddenly found themselves higher in the search engine results pages (SERPs) than sites that aren’t mobile-friendly.

You can’t dedicate the amount of time it takes to master all of the intricacies of the SEO field and still maintain the same level of dedication to your own business. Nor do you have the time to generate all of the content and maintain all of the social media platforms on your own.

As an owner, you’re probably used to handling things yourself. You may even prefer it that way. However, that’s a disservice to your business and yourself if your efforts aren’t getting the word of your existence out where it needs to go.

Given the amount of work that has to be done, it’s time to delegate a little.

You Can Build Your Brand Identity

If you’re worried about trusting your baby to strangers, don’t be. Part of successful marketing is making sure that you stay in close contact with your marketers. You still retain the ultimate control over your company’s future:

  1. You set the goals. Do you want to see an increase in website traffic? Do you just need to convert more prospects into buyers after they come to your site? You identify the problem that you want the SEO company to address.
  2. You define your brand. Your brand has its own personality, and you have to convey that personality to the marketing company. It’s the marketer’s job to help you make that personality evident to the world, in order to attract your customers. A lot of artisan products have a sophisticated personality that attracts customers with refined tastes. However, if your product is earth-centric and aims to reduce the consumer’s carbon footprint, you may want to convey sincerity instead.
  3. You decide your target market. You already know the type of person who buys your product. Your marketer isn’t going to try to change that unless you want to change that. Your marketer’s goal is just to reach more of those particular people.

Frankly, your marketing company can’t really do an effective job without you. Together, you can build your brand identity and establish credibility with your potential customers. In order to do that, however, an SEO company will need you to provide a lot of guiding information.

The Takeaway

Your work with an SEO company is a collaborative effort. It has to be. You both want to succeed. In this case, the SEO company won’t succeed unless you also succeed because its goals are tied to yours.

Why Customer Service Matters for Your Online and Offline Presence

Why Customer Service Matters for Your Online and Offline Presence

In this digital age, you have to be aware of and deal with unhappy customers online and offline.

How do you handle an unhappy customer?

If you’re responsible for the unhappiness — a mixed-up order or a late arrival — you naturally want to do whatever you can to fix the problem.

But what if the problem really wasn’t your fault? What if the customer’s child was just tired and cranky while the customer tried to get her bakery order in? What if a dog owner contacts you on social because she’s still worried her dog might be sick, even after your mobile vet visit?

If you aren’t responsive, that customer is likely gone for good. Around 59% of customers will take their business elsewhere after just one instance of poor customer service and if they leave a bad review, they take even more business with them.

Are you a little confused about how you could be giving poor service when you didn’t do anything wrong?

It’s because you also didn’t do anything right.

What Is Good Customer Service?

Customer service isn’t just what you do for the customer — it’s also about what you don’t do. An unhappy customer is actually a golden opportunity.

If you own a bakery, the smart move would have been to offer the tired child a free cookie to distract him or her while the mother put in her order. If you operate a mobile vet service, respond to her comments with an offer to swing by the customer’s house and check the dog out again. Don’t forget that you need to connect your digital marketing to your real-world actions for the best customer service.

“For free?” you say.

Yes, for free. By acting at just the right moment — when it will make your customer’s experience a little better or easier — you’re turning those products, efforts on social sites, and services into a type of currency. That currency purchases customer loyalty in an era where customers have a huge range of options.

Customer retention and loyalty is the name of the game when it comes to small business survival. Studies have shown that three out of five customers will ditch their usual place of business in favor of someplace with better service — even without an unhappy experience. Plus, nine out of 10 of those customers say they’ll cheerfully spend more money at a small business that they think provides excellent customer service.

So, take an active role in responsive digital marketing and respond to every online post. Respond to your customer’s frustrations and fears — even when you’ve already done what you need to do. Doing more is what will give you a win.

Why Is the Short-Term Loss Unimportant?

Keep in mind, when you react to an unhappy customer, online or off, you aren’t just making an impression on that customer. You’re also making impressions on every customer who’s watching you in the store and especially online.

Happy customers tell an average of nine people about their experiences. However, it turns out that unhappy customers are a lot more energetic than happy ones. One angry customer will usually tell around 16 people about their lousy experience, not counting the hundreds or thousands in the wider online audience.

See what I’m getting at? The smart choice may be to take the short-term hit to your bottom line right now in order to make long-term wins.

Why Is Doing What You Don’t Have to Do So Important?

Choosing to take that short-term hit in order to get a happy customer may be particularly smart business if you feel like the customer’s unhappy experience really wasn’t your fault.

Take, for example, an experience I had at a local restaurant. The menu said that the spaghetti had Italian sausage in it, but I didn’t know to expect the sausage to be spicy. Unable to eat it, I pushed the plate aside and focused on my friends instead of the food. I didn’t want to make a big deal about it.

The owner of the place, however, noticed on his rounds that I was not eating my meal. He asked me what was wrong, then immediately had me order something else. “On the house,” he said, “Please.” When the bill came, he’d actually comped both dishes.

Not only did he impress me, but he impressed my friends. He took total responsibility for my happiness. In doing so, he gained several long-term customers and organic word-of=mouth digital marketing from us for the price of two meals.

The Takeaway

Take total responsibility for your customer’s happiness — online and off — by being responsive even when you aren’t responsible for a problem. Service that goes “above and beyond” will build a loyal customer base.

Is it Time to Optimize for Voice Searches?

Is it Time to Optimize for Voice Searches?

As the Internet of Things continues to grow and change, voice technology is becoming more important. With all the internet-connected devices out there, people are typing less and talking more, whether they’re in their car, walking with a cell phone in hand or sitting in their living rooms.

The changes are happening quickly. A 2016 Google trends report showed that a whopping 20% of its mobile searches were already being performed by voice, not keyed-in commands. Experts predict that as early as 2020 half of all online searches will be done by voice and 30% will be done on devices that don’t even have a screen.

For small businesses, that means it’s time to take search engine optimization to the next level. You need to have your website optimized for voice in order to stay truly competitive. Here’s how to start:

1. Learn Everything You Can About Google’s Featured Snippets

Featured Snippets have been around for a couple of years now. They’re short, concise answers to questions Google users ask. Extracted from a web page, they occupy the top spot in SERPs, above the first actual search results. That’s the spot marketers are now calling “Position Zero.”

Being at the top of the page can increase your CTR up to 30% in searches that come back to a screen. In voice searches on devices that don’t use a screen, whatever’s in Position Zero is the only thing the end-user is going to hear.

Google generates Featured Snippets organically so the only way to land in Position Zero is to earn it. To do that, your information naturally needs to be relevant to the search terms. You can also significantly increase your odds of landing in Position Zero by adopting the following strategies:

  • Analyze keywords and develop new content with Snippets in mind.
  • Devote single pages to important questions, especially about your products or services.
  • Incorporate “frequently asked questions” into your content.
  • Break up content with subheadings, lists, tables, and graphics when possible.
  • Use images, since Snippets seem to favor them.

If you can use Snippets effectively, you can skip ahead of your competition even when you’re fourth or fifth in organic search results. In fact, 2/3 of the Featured Snippets analyzed in 2016 came from sites that are ranked 2-5 on the SERPs.

2. Think About the Questions Your Customers or Clients Ask

In particular, you need to be thinking and analyzing how people talk, especially if they are talking to a virtual assistant. Use that analysis, as well as whatever questions pop up on your social media or customer service sites, to generate new content that will help you land in Position Zero. As always, content is king, even when search results are being read to a device’s user.

As the technology surrounding artificial intelligence evolves, the way that people talk to their machines may also evolve. Right now, consider the following when you’re creating new content:

  • People are wordier in voice searches, so target long-tail keywords.
  • Think hard about what questions your target audience may have. Focus on the “How?” and “What?” questions your customers are asking. Those are the top two trigger words that are included in Snippets.
  • Try to include the answer to your target audience’s question at the top of a page.
  • Remember that voice search is highly mobile, so write with your location in mind. That means making sure that you have a page that completely answers the question where people can find you and your product or services.

It’s time to overhaul your website with voice searches in mind and the knowledge that data needs to be broken down into easily digestible chunks that hopefully turn into Snippets.

3. Help Voice Search Find You

Do you have your site optimized for local, mobile searches? If you don’t, you won’t show up in all the local voice searches people do while walking, driving, or riding in a car. At the very minimum, make sure you follow these rules:

  • Make sure each page has your name, address, and phone number on it.
  • Claim your “Google My Business” listing and complete it.

While these might seem like fairly simple steps, they’re easily overlooked. The more effort you can put into optimizing your site for mobile technology and local searches, the bigger the payoff is likely to be when it comes to voice searches as well.

The Takeaway

People are increasingly relying on voice searches and virtual assistants. When there’s no screen involved in a search, there’s no “second place” in an SERP. Because the task of updating your website for voice searches is likely to be a detailed process, your small business can’t afford to delay voice optimization. If you do, you risk being left behind.