Our job is to focus on business. Customers will come if we do our jobs really well.
Well, this is the sort of wishful thinking that leads the majority of small businesses to remain just that – small. Yes, all you lawyers, doctors, professional service providers; I am talking to you.
Growth and eventually, success; comes from getting more and more customers to know, try and buy your products over and over again. If we were having this conversation in 1995, I would tell you to go out there and spend some money on buying a bunch of local billboards, investing in direct mailers or working on local cable TV ads to promote your local small business.
However in 2015, the marketing scenario has undergone such a vast change as to become nearly unrecognizable to your alter ego from the 90’s. Print advertising is shrinking, television is under threat from streaming entertainment services like NetFlix and there is a brand new player on the horizon – digital media.
As per the Adage Marketing Fact Pack for 2015:
- TV is losing the battle for consumer eyeballs to digital. In 2014, adults in the United States spent more time on digital platforms than on television – 346 minutes vs. 273 minutes per day.
- Last year saw a quarter of all ad spends in the U.S. market being spent on digital advertising. That’s three times the level of spends on digital just 7 years ago.
- Digital is the fastest growing platform with an annual growth rate of 18.3%
Need more data? I guess not.
The writing on the wall is clear. Digital marketing is here and it’s only getting bigger by the day. The only businesses that will survive our planets next few trips around the Sun will be those that understand this fact and embrace it wholeheartedly to promote their brand.
Hire the Right Person to Manage Your Brand
At first glance, marketing seems like a pretty easy thing to do. After all, what’s there to it than coming up with a few smart lines of ad copy and publishing those ads wherever you think they’ll work best? Well unfortunately, the real world is not an episode of Mad Men.
Marketing today, more specifically digital marketing; is a highly specialized function that is tough to execute and even tougher to learn from scratch. You probably would have been able to wing it in the pre-digital era with a quick wit and deep marketing pockets. However, the vast majority of digital marketers out there are themselves learning the latest skills on the job. The fast changing digital landscape means technology that one is well versed in today, becomes useless tomorrow. Case in point – SEO practitioners who excelled in black hat techniques but had to retool themselves with cleaner, more straightforward SEO approaches with each new update rolled out by Google.
Since promoting a brand online and turning it into a commercial success, while constantly learning new marketing skills is a full-time job in itself; it makes a whole lot of sense to get a real professional to helm the marketing of your brand, leaving you enough time to focus on running and managing the business. Take a look at this interesting flowchart that was on hiring the right digital marketer the next time you need to get a marketing pro on board.
Find someone from your own industry? So much the better. Such a candidate will come with valuable experience that you can dig into right away and will have a shorter learning curve trying to understand your business.
Set Your Website Straight
Imagine this scenario. A strong lead is on the verge of converting and wants to meet you to close the deal. Would you consider inviting them over to your home office that you share with your three year old toddler and rambunctious dog? I thought not.
A good website performs the exact same function, but online. Don’t let potential buyers wander into a run-down, dowdy site that offers them no help in buying your products. Instead, let your online office be a shiny steel and glass building with a zippy elevator and clear directions about where every department is located.
There’s no single blueprint on designing the perfect website. Creativity, your area of business, the type of customers you deal with all have equal says in what your site will eventually look like. However, there definitely are some key elements that a good, functional website must have like,
- Clear, uncomplicated layout
- Attractive design that does not overpower the user
- Crisp and uncomplicated copy with clear calls to action
- Simple navigation
- Intuitive user interface
- Optimized for SEO
- Clear and visible contact information
- Quick to load
- Mobile optimized
Don’t panic at the thought of incorporating all of these things into your site. Setting up a new website or redoing an existing website has never been easier. DIY platforms like Spaces or Wix help you set up a fully functional website from scratch without breaking the bank. Even better, with these platforms, you don’t need write a single line of code either.
New website design has definite rewards. Leading UK newspaper, The Guardian launched its redesigned site in January of 2015 to some spectacular results. Website traffic grew by 14% month on month and 35% year on year. The shift was even more dramatic for their mobile site. Mobile traffic grew by 98% as compared to January 2014. Now, who would not want those numbers!
Know Your Digital Marketing Channels
Now that you have a spanking new website, it’s time to know how to promote it and get it to work for your business.
Digital marketing has some basic channels that every business, however big or small, needs to be on. These are:
- Search Engine Optimization
- Social Media Marketing
- PPC Search Ads
- Content Marketing
- Email Marketing
Let’s take a closer look at what each channel can do for your business.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Good SEO is not about getting to the top of a search results page. Good SEO is about answering a user’s questions and solving their problem. If your website does that efficiently, it automatically gets bumped up to the top of search rankings. SEO is probably the most important channel that you’ll work on to promote your business. Studies show that an estimated 71% of all website traffic comes from organic searches.
A recent study of 442 marketing professionals tried to uncover the expectations of small businesses from SEO. The largest majority of respondents (61%) focused on generating more leads from SEO. This was closely followed by increasing website traffic (57%) and increasing conversions (54%).
This makes two things crystal clear. First, that SEO is a multi-pronged tool that can give you a variety of results. More importantly, it demonstrates that SEO is an extremely effective tool to put your brand in front of users and draw them into your business.
Implementing SEO on your website has two distinct aspects to it – on page and off page SEO. On page SEO deals with optimizing your website, its design, its code and more. On the other hand, off page SEO involves factors that website owners have relatively less control over, like backlinks to your site, authority and popularity on social media.
Maximize your on page SEO by focusing on:
- Keyword Research – Knowing what your users are searching for is the first step towards creating content that they will like. Use tools like Google’s Keyword Planner to help you identify the best keywords that will drive traffic to your site.
- Great Content – The most important thing for a high rank for any search is offering the perfect solution to the problem posed by the user to the search engine. Build high quality content around your business and its specific niche. Create content that addresses common problems faced by users. High quality, unique content that is relevant to what users search for is the silver bullet for incredible SEO rankings, if there ever was one.
- Keyword Optimization – Forget about the days of stuffing keywords willy-nilly across your site to trick search engines into ranking it higher. Keyword optimization now means including your keywords into your site content in a natural manner, even if it means using it just once on an entire page. The ability of search engines to now process semantic search and natural language patterns means that synonyms of your keywords, variations on the keywords are all perfectly legitimate ways of slipping in keywords into your content.
Keywords also need to find a home in the HTML of your pages. For example, your page title, header tags, URLs, alt tags and meta data all need to contain relevant keywords in them. However, do not stuff these site elements with keywords either to avoid being blacklisted by search engines.
- Site structure and navigation – Invest in a clean page layout and design allowing users to find what they want easily on your site. Work on improving your user experience with A/B tests that tell you exactly what works for your particular audience. Make it easy to move from one section of the site to another with clear navigation menus, onsite search bars and transitions. Build a clear sitemap that shows the various sections of the site and helps search bots crawl across all the URLs on the site with ease.
- Speed – Google prizes sites with quick page load times and rewards them with higher search rankings. Not only should your site be quick to load initially, it should also offer users smooth transitions from one section to another. To this end, work on reducing the size of images that you host on your site. Use tools like Pingdom to diagnose what elements are slowing down your site and take the necessary steps to fix them.
- Security – In light of the multiple hacker attacks that have rocked the business and entertainment world in the recent past, website security and safety of users’ personal information has been given prime importance by Google and other search engines. This means sites that take concrete steps towards website security like using HTTPS protocols across the site, firewalls and heightened password security measures get better positions in search rankings than others. A clean track record of no hacking attacks in the past is a bonus.
- Mobile Optimization – With mobile usage now skewing more towards smartphones than feature phones, websites need to be optimized for small screens like, yesterday. Don’t know if your site is optimized for mobile yet? Find out with Google’s nifty tool here. From responsive or adaptive design to mobile-only sites, whichever way you choose to go, make sure the user experience of your website remains top notch on smaller screens too.
- No Duplicate Content – Duplicate content gets penalized by Google as plagiarism and actually suffers in search rankings. However, many sites tend to have multiple pages with the same or very similar content for various reasons. If such pages are unavoidable, make sure that any duplicate content on your site canonicalizes to the original page
Off page SEO depends on:
- Backlinks – The more, the merrier. However, the reputation and trustworthiness of the sites that send you backlinks matters a huge deal. How relevant is the backlink to the context of your website is another key factor. Backlinks must contain keywords that you’re trying to rank for. A free tool like OpenSiteExplorer offers you a clear picture of how many backlinks your site has, where they come from, how important they are, popular webpages and more. Approach high authority sites in your domain and check if they’ll allow you to publish guest posts on their site. The backlinks you earn from guest posting still count, in spite of all the debate over Google’s stance on it.
- Site Authority – The quality and reputation of the people and websites that link back to your site determine the authority your own site will develop. Backlinks from heavyweight sites the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal mean your site carries valuable information and would be useful to a prospective user. These obviously carry more weight than backlinks from personal blogs of average Joes.
Older sites are given more weight from a rankings perspective than newer sites. The fact that they lasted for years without going bust is a vote of confidence in their favor. Register your domain for as long as feasible. A one year domain registration is an indication to the search engine that you’re not sure how long your business will last.
- Social Popularity – How often your social posts are shared online offers search engines an idea of how popular your site is. The fact that socially shared content carries backlinks to your site helps in raising its ranks on SERPs. The right people sharing your content is important too. Focus on reaching out to and nurturing key influencers among your fans. While a tool like SocialMention helps you monitor the conversations about your business across the web, BuzzSumo helps you identify top influencers in your niche that you can tap and nurture.
- User Reviews – Keep a close tab on the reviews people leave behind about your business on sites like Yelp, UrbanSpoon, TrustRadius, CNet or any other review site for that matter. Negative reviews can profoundly affect not just customer decisions but also search rankings. Make a genuine effort to respond to and fix problems raised in negative feedback. It will show other users you care and lighten the burden of the negative inputs.
One tool that I solidly recommend you invest in to stay on top of your rankings, keyword research, desktop and mobile traffic, backlink analysis, as well as get an in-depth sneak peek of what you’re competition is doing is SEMrush. When it comes to finding out how you’re faring with SEO, there’s little SEMrush can’t tell you.
It’s when on page and off page factors work in tandem that SEO magic is created.
Most Efficient SEO tactics adopted by small businesses
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) / PPC
Did you know that 93% of all online experiences begin with a search engine? That means, just seven out of a hundred internet users directly type a website address into the address bar of the browser or land on it via third party media like a banner ad or a social media post. If search engines are so central to life on the internet, doesn’t it make sense to put your money where the users are?
Search Engine Marketing or Pay-per-Click (PPC) Search marketing is all about capturing eye-balls in that all important search results page, even if you have to pay money for it. While SEO pushes your website’s ranking high organically for searches made by your target audience, SEM cuts to the chase and simply pays money to Google, Bing or Yahoo to appear at the very top of relevant SERPs.
You know those links that come at the top and the right hand side column of most search results? The ones that are labelled as ‘Ad’ in bright yellow? Yeah, those are your pay-per-click search ads. Every time a user searches for something in Google, Bing or any other search engine for that matter, he is shown a variety of paid results that closely match the search terms used. Take a look at the screenshot below.
I searched for “PPC search marketing tools” and these are the results I got. If you look carefully, each SEM ad has a combination of four elements in order for it to work. These are
- A headline that grabs the eye and draws the user in
- Copy that describes exactly what the business offers the user in a crisp one liner
- URL leading to the landing page
- A landing page that hopes to convert the user
Google being the largest search engine in the world, leads the race for SEM platforms, with Bing and Yahoo coming in a distant second and third. Hence it follows that Google’s Ads platform is a key tool that any aspiring SEM professional needs to master to make any headway in paid search marketing.
Here’s what an extremely simplified process of PPC marketing involves:
- Identify keywords that users in your industry are searching for. Tools that you used for keyword research for SEO can be used here as well.
- Sign up for a PPC account with the search engine of your choice.
- Inside the PPC account, create campaigns dedicated to each product / service that your business offers.
- Match your keywords to each campaign and develop ad copy that will attract users and help convert them.
- Now comes the toughie. Decide how important each keyword is to your business and how much you’re willing to pay for clicks to each keyword. Based on these budgetary prioritizations, create budgets for each campaign.
- Next, set up a bid for each keyword through your PPC account. This basically tells the search engine the maximum you’re ready to pay per click for each keyword.
- When a user types in a search term that contains your keyword into the search engine, the search engine decides which PPC ads to display to the user based on how relevant the ad is to the search terms, the value of the bid
The performance of SEM ads can be tracked from within your PPC account. Your analytics will tell you the total number of clicks your ads received, the click-through rate (CTR), your bids, total number of conversions, conversion rate, cost per conversion and more. SEM campaigns require a near-constant level of monitoring to manage bids based on competition’s movements, adjust budgets for different keywords based on their performance and so on.
SEM has some key benefits over SO that make it a great customer acquisition tool.
- Unlike SEO, SEM gives immediate results.
- You only pay when a user clicks on your ads. This keeps budgets under check.
- You have the flexibility to modify budgets for various campaigns on a near-real time basis, something that no other paid marketing platform can offer
- There is no wastage of your marketing message or budgets as SEM ads get triggered only when the relevant keywords are typed in by the user.
Social Media Marketing
Every time we hear the words ‘social media’, we expect to hear ‘engagement’ right after. However, social media is not just about engaging with your existing audience. Building brand awareness is a key role that social media plays very well. In fact, the smartest marketers use social media as an effective top of the funnel tool, instead of expecting every Facebook or Twitter post to result in a sale.
Despite the temptation, don’t plunge right in and create a social media presence for your brand on every possible network. Not only will it be tough to manage, it may even be totally unnecessary from the point of view of your audience. Study your target audience and your direct competition to first figure out which social network will make most sense for your business. Facebook works for most businesses, as the overwhelming majority of all social media users tend to be active on the network. However, social media does not equal Facebook. Don’t be scared of experimenting with relatively newer social networks like Pinterest or Instagram if they make sense for your audience. Millward Brown’s research shows that 93% of active pinners use Pinterest to plan purchases, 87% said they’ve bought something because of Pinterest.
Begin with a combination of organic posts and paid ads on your chosen networks. Organic posts on social networks that talk about things your users are interested in are great to build an initial conversation with your target audience. However, the way each social network is now monetized, you will need to set aside marketing budgets to create paid social media ads that accomplish your goals more efficiently.
Some pointers to keep in mind while marketing your business on social media:
- Offer content that ticks off the 4 E’s – Entertainment, Education, Engagement and Excitement. Unless your content tells people something they didn’t know before or tickles the pants off of them, they will not bother to share it or engage with it in any other way. Aim for at least one of the 4 E’s with each social media post.
- Don’t be too promotional. Your fans and followers are on social media to connect with and know more about the people and things they like. Don’t put them off with constant sales pitches. An 80:20 ratio of generic content vs. promotional content is a good balance to maintain.
- Don’t be afraid to publish curated content. While it’s awesome to create and post unique content of your own on social media, it’s often not financially viable to do so. Which is why, it is perfectly OK to post interesting pieces of content that you discovered elsewhere on the internet as long as you give the required attribution to the owner of the content.
- Post regularly. Building a relationship does not happen by simply earning a like from a fan or follower and then resting on it forever. Relationships take time and nurturing. Fans who follow you on social media will only be able to see your posts if they interact with them regularly. Make sure you put up at least one post per day to maintain top of mind recall as well as organic visibility.
- Post at the right time. Advice about when is the best time to post varies depends on whom you’re talking to. While some advice posting in the mornings, evenings and on weekdays; others advice focusing on the weekend to get users’ undivided attention. I would recommend studying the patterns in which your users interact with your social media content before making major decisions regarding post timings. Dig into your social media analytics suite and identify the times of day that they are most active. Publish your posts at those times to maximize returns.
- Invest in Paid Advertising. Many small businesses seem to consider social media as a free platform on which to market their brands. However, this could not be farther from the truth. Yes, social media platforms usually do allow you to create a free account and grow your own follower base; their effectiveness tapers off very quickly without paid ad buys to support the organic content that you already post. The best part? Since social networks typically have inside information about users that most other platforms lack, they offer you the unique benefit of picking the exact demographic, psychographic and social information you need to target the perfect audience for your ads.
- Set up a social media management suite. I’m not saying that it is impossible to promote your business on social media without a social media management platform like HootSuite or Buffer. I’m just saying these make life a lot easier. From replying to fans across multiple platforms from one place, scheduling future posts to sending out automated responses, analyzing your social media performance and listening in on conversations about your brand on social media; there’s such a mindboggling variety of things you can do with the right platform.
Here you see a great example of an awareness building ad on Facebook. Facebook’s Ads Create Tool allows you to build ads that target users geographically close to your place of business and appear inside users’ Newsfeeds to increase the probability of click-throughs. The combination of a key value proposition (organic food +unbeatable prices) with an enticing image of the store and a customized button to get directions to the store, make this ad hit every mark on the brand awareness board.
If you’ve been reading up on marketing in the last couple of years, there’s no way you’d have missed stumbling upon the term ‘content marketing’.
The fundamental principle of content marketing is based on ‘pull marketing’ instead of the traditional ‘push marketing’. Creating and publishing great content around your line of work attracts the attention of users in your niche and draws them in to your brand. By offering valuable content to the user, brands set themselves up as authorities in their field and enjoy high top of mind recall, conversions and brand loyalty.
The content created by the brand is published either on their own website or blog and drives traffic to the site without the need for paid marketing. In other words, the content accts like a magnet that pulls to itself backlinks from relevant sites hence boosting SEO rankings. Publishing interesting content on your social networks increases engagement with fans and followers and brings them back to the brand’s site, thus aiding in social media conversions.
There’s a whole range of content types that brands can create and publish to attract the right audience and convince them to convert. The content format chosen depends on the objective of the marketing activity – brand awareness, customer acquisition, repeat purchase, whatever. Some useful content formats to try out include:
- Blog posts
- How-to guides
- Whitepapers and eBooks
- Viral videos
- Original research
- Case Studies
- User reviews
Lauren Luke is a small time online seller of cosmetics who has become a YouTube phenomenon. She started out by re-selling other brands on Amazon and eBay.
Long before content marketing caught on as the mother of all catchphrases in marketing, Lauren had her own YouTube channel with wildly popular videos on makeup, grooming, and fashion tutorials. With over half a million subscribers and over 100 million views, Luke has carved a niche for herself in the world of video marketing.
From humble beginnings, Luke went on to create her own signature cosmetics line By Lauren Luke, now sold by a large number of beauty retailers. She also released Lauren Luke Looks, a popular set of “look books” on fashion and makeup, targeting teenagers.
This YouTube sensation’s popularity eventually made her part of the 2014 romantic comedy and Keira Knightley starrer Laggies.
That sinking feeling you get when you log into your email inbox? You’re not alone in that. With over 65 billion emails sent out just today, that daily email deluge is a very real and surprisingly widespread problem. A large proportion of those emails are marketing emails that promote various businesses.
It is also an extremely persuasive conversion channel. It was found that consumers who received email marketing messages spent 138% more than those that did not.
Given its advantages and almost zero cost of production and execution; it’s no wonder that building a strong email database is one of the first priorities of any new business. The captive audience of an email database allows businesses to reach out to them directly without paying any publishers or advertising agencies.
An effective email campaign is characterized by the following key features:
- Simple layout and design that enables users to find relevant information on the page easily
- Backlinks to the website or content page that helps in driving site traffic are a great way of making email marketing contribute to your website SEO.
- Include a clear call to action that inspires users to act right away. A sense of urgency only speeds up the conversion rate.
- Images that emphasize the content of the email are a great way to brighten up your emails and yet improve comprehension for the user. Keep in mind that these images need to be light to prevent the email from hanging.
- Social sharing buttons help users spread the word about your products and services. It works as a great referral to a friend – free brand awareness at zero expense.
- Personalize the content and subject lines of your emails to match the users’ preferences and profile information. Experian’s data shows that personalized emails show 26% higher open rates and 41% higher CTRs as compared to regular emails.
- Set up email messages that are triggered based on a user’s actions on your website or This could include shopping cart abandonment, no repeat visits to the site etc. According to Hubspot, triggered email messages get 119% higher click-through rates than “business as usual” messages.
An example of a triggered email to salvage an abandoned shopping cart
- Make your emails mobile optimized. HubSpot found that 80.8% of users read their emails on mobile devices. Make it easy for them to read and respond to your emails by making them crisp and short with ample white space. Keep the buttons large to enable easy click-throughs via mobile devices.
Making Time for it All
Small businesses have the unique dichotomy of having too many things to do and too few people to do them. However, not making time to market your business, is the biggest disservice you can do to it.
Doing just one thing per day that contributes to your brand’s marketing is a step in the right direction. Here’s a suggested schedule that you can tailor to your needs.
Blog posts, Guest Posts – 1 Post per week
Pick a ‘topic of the week’ each week and create two posts around each. You could designate a day, like Saturday to write your posts. Publish one of the posts on a fixed day every week to build an appointment readership. I would avoid Mondays and go for Tuesdays or Wednesdays for my weekly blog post.
Similarly, post the other article on websites that are related to your line of work as guest articles within the same week. You could link back to your blog post of the week, which is on the same topic and gain some quick backlinks in the process.
Social Media Posts – 1 Update per day, daily interactions with fans
There’s no getting away from social media by looking at it once a week. Don’t go overboard with the number of platforms your brand is active on. Pick two platforms to begin with and go beyond only once you have mastered your original picks.
Users interact with your brand on social networks every day and expect prompt responses to their problems, questions or even compliments. Post at least one update per day. This could be a status update, a piece of your own content like a blog post or a video or a whitepaper. It could even be a curated piece, posted with proper credits to the original creator.
PPC Search – 1 Day per week
This is your aggressive customer acquisition tools that need to be up and running on a continual basis. Once you set up your campaigns for search marketing, make sure that you check in on how the campaigns perform at least once a week. When certain keywords perform well, you might want to increase your budgets for those. Non-performing keywords need to be weeded out regularly and new ones ought to be added in based on data from your analytics tools.
Email Marketing – 1 Newsletter per week
Ideally, an email marketing campaign is personalized and tailored to each audience member’s tastes, place in the marketing funnel and more. However, if that level of personalization seems overwhelming to you, at least send out a single newsletter that updates users of the latest about your business once a week. Not only is it free, it’s also direct communication to a captive audience who actually signed up to hear from you regularly. Don’t disappoint them!
Video Content – 1 Video every fortnight
Creating video content does not have to be a scary proposition. Most smartphones and tablets these days have great video recording capabilities and can stand in for expensive equipment anytime. Create simple videos – how-to guides, product demos, cool tricks to do with your product, whatever – and post them to your YouTube channel and social platforms at least once every two weeks. Video content, as mentioned earlier, is the fastest growing form of content on the internet. It may take more time and creativity than the rest, but it will pay off better dividends too.
Don’t just keep running on your marketing hamster wheel. Take the time to sit back and see what results your marketing efforts have brought to the business. Compare key performance indicators like leads generated, leads converted, sales growth, revenue growth, engagement rates, brand awareness – whatever works best for your business and see where you stand vis-à-vis past performance. Check what your competition is up to. How did they perform in the same period? What areas do you need to improve upon? Fill in these blanks before you dive back into your daily routine.
Once you have your answers; review, retool and rev up those engines once again to take on the big bad world of competition once again!