How To Get Started With Small Business Marketing On The Internet
by BG Hamrick on 3/15/17 8:08 AM
An online presence isn't just a nice addition for brands anymore, it's a vital component of their core business. Consider these facts: according to a December 2016 study conducted by Pew Research, almost 80% of all Americans are now shopping online. And whether they purchase through a website or in person, more than 80% do some sort of research online before making a purchasing decision.
Digital marketing is key, but it's a unique form of marketing that's about more than just the one-way promotion of traditional outbound marketing. It embraces new technology and new patterns of interaction to create an ongoing conversation with the customer and enhance brand awareness through all sorts of innovative means.
The first step in digital marketing is identifying how your customers find you online, and the biggest component of this is web search. Google is king in this realm, but there are several other search engines that are fairly popular such as Bing and DuckDuckGo. Regardless of the search engine, it's vital that your company be in the first page of the search results for key terms related to your business -- according to a study by Advanced Web Ranking, only about 5.6% of searchers will click on a result that is past the first page, and 71% of them will engage with at least one of the links in the first page of results. Only 1.6% of all searchers will venture to the third page or beyond.
So what's the key to high placement in search results? It's a marketing strategy called "search engine optimization", or SEO for short. SEO is the practice of identifying the search terms that are most likely to lead customers to you and placing them appropriately in content throughout your website. It's also important that this content be useful and relevant, however, as Google has become extremely sophisticated in judging the relative value of information posted on sites and screening out those that are attempting to game the system by "stuffing" keywords into otherwise useless pages
If this all sounds like alien language so far, don't worry! Most businesses establishing their web presence for the first time are equally confused at the beginning. It's really not that tough, though, and this article will guide you through the process. Topics we'll explain in detail include:
- Why your website isn't ranking highly in Google results (and how to fix that)
- How to create a website, including means to DIY without hiring a web developer
- How to get started with social media (and why it's important to your brand)
- What blogging is, how it benefits your business and how you can do it even if you don't have a writer on staff
- How to leapfrog your competition in search results
- How web traffic works and the different ways you can improve it
The Basics Of Small Business Marketing
Online marketing methods can collectively be referred to as "inbound marketing." Older methods of "outbound marketing", like television ads or radio spots, were basically a case of blasting out an idea and hoping it would stick. Inbound marketing is much more sophisticated, and when done right has a much higher rate of success on a small business budget.
Getting A Website Started
The very first thing you'll want to do is establish a website. When customers come looking for you online, they'll expect you to have at least a basic site that contains the key information they are looking for. It also makes it much easier to be found through search engines; social media accounts alone usually won't cut it for placing in the first page of search results.
So what sort of information should your website contain?
- Your business name, location and contact information (such as phone numbers and email addresses)
- Information about your products and services, with a quick summary headline that reassures new visitors they have found what they are looking for
- Customer testimonials, awards and positive reviews / references (for established businesses)
- A navigation bar or menu
- Supporting images or videos that add value and help break up the text
- Content that is relevant to what your visitors are looking for
How Do I Make A Website?
You always have the option of hiring a web developer or marketing agency to design a website for you from the ground up. If that option is cost-prohibitive or you'd just rather create something on your own, however, it's fairly easy to use various services and web-based tools to make a site even if you have no previous experience.
The "site in a box" solution for those looking to avoid as much technical work as possible is called CMS, or a "content management system." WordPress is probably the most well-known example of a CMS. With these systems all you basically have to do is pay for web hosting, register a domain name, and then plug the CMS in on the server space you are paying for. There are plenty of CMS options oriented to beginners, which will then allow you to customize the stock website that they set up for you without having any specialized web design knowledge. It will also cost a lot less to hire a web designer to customize a CMS site rather than having them build you one from scratch!
Once you have a basic site set up, there's one more important tool that's vital to know about. It's called Google Analytics, and it's a free service available to anyone with a Google account. Google Analytics is a web-based service that will show you statistics about the people who are visiting your site -- things like demographic information, where they're located, how long they spend on each part of the site and what links they tend to click on the most.
On to SEO
Once you have a working site and you have a little familiarity with how analytics works, it's time to start thinking about attracting all those searchers out there.
So how does Google determine where your site winds up in its search rankings, anyway?
Google has a special algorithm that automatically scans sites and determines which ones are most relevant to each search phrase. They keep the technical workings of this algorithm secret, however, so people don't game the system.
The algorithm isn't the only thing that comes into play, though. Google also has a large team of "search engine raters" who will periodically review sites, kind of like a randomized search for quality control. The judgment of this team also plays into search results, providing a check and balance against anyone who might figure out how to manipulate the algorithm with inferior content.
While we don't know how Google's algorithm works in full, they have released some limited information about it, and that paired with experimentation has led to learning some reliable techniques for helping a site achieve a high ranking. Collectively, these techniques make up SEO practices.
So what are some examples of things we know help your site rank higher?
- Obviously, your key search terms have to be present, but they should be used sparingly and in a natural way. Presence in headings and subheadings is very helpful.
- How relevant your written content (blog posts, articles) is to what Google has determined your site to be about
- How long your content is
- Content that is well-written and structured without significant grammar and spelling mistakes
- If you have a blog, posting frequency is considered
- How fast your pages load
- If your site is being actively updated on a regular basis
If you're targeting a specific location, for example if you're trying to draw people specifically searching for businesses in your city, you also need to get the location name into your content in a natural way so that Google places your site correctly.
It's also important to accurately predict the search terms that people will use to find you. You do this by creating a "customer persona" of the types of people that tend to be looking for your goods or services. Automated tools such as Wordstream or Market Samurai assist in defining these personas and then suggesting the words and phrases they are likely to use to search for businesses like yours.
Can Blogging Help With SEO?
It absolutely can. We know that written content helps to both elevate your search ranking and keep existing customers engaged. A blog is a nice, straightforward way to have a continual stream of this written content available.
It's important that blogs provide helpful information, though; they can't just be sales pitches. Google will rank informative content higher than copywriting, and helpful posts are also more likely to be shared organically by visitors through social media.
As with websites and CMS systems, there are a variety of free blogging tools to help those with no technical experience get underway. In fact, blogging is one of the central features of the WordPress system!
Ideally, you should do at least one post per week to keep Google happy. There are many freelance writers available who can ghostwrite for your blogs under your name.
I'm New To The Whole Idea Of "Branding"
The concept of branding is pretty simple; it's the public perception of your company. Your brand is basically how one person would describe you to someone else who had never heard of you before.
Though it's a simple concept, lots of different elements go into it. Your company name, advertising taglines and slogans, logos and color schemes, products and "voice" in which you interact with the public are all part of your brand.
Should I Market With Email Too?
Email marketing isn't appropriate for every type of business, but many will benefit from it and it has great results when it is employed correctly.
The approach most businesses use is to ask visitors to sign up for a newsletter. You can send this out once a week, and tie it into your existing blog posts and articles with references to them. You can also include things like special offers, coupons, event calendars, surveys, photos and customer spotlights.
This is another area where automated tools can really help. Some of the market leaders are Mailchimp, Sendtools and Gumroad.
How Do I Use Social Media?
It's just as vital to use social media as it is to have a website. New customers will seek you out through it, and existing customers will share information about you with their personal networks. A strong social media presence also can contribute to elevating your search ranking.
It's important not to spread yourself too thin on social media, however. Each account you create is a time investment to keep updated, and a social media account that is allowed to decay actually works against your business. You want to target the social media platforms that your target demographic tends to be on. For example, Pinterest skews heavily toward female users, and Tumblr skews heavily toward young users.
At minimum, however, all businesses should have a Facebook presence and update their Google business listing. Twitter is also a good one to consider that reaches all demographics, and while you can't control customer reviews it is also helpful to "claim" your Yelp page and keep it updated with relevant information.
The Small Business Digital Presence
Without a strong and visible digital presence, small businesses don't exist anymore. It's really become that important. There is an investment of a good deal of time and some financial expense is well, but building your digital presence properly provides long-term rewards that well exceed these costs.