5 online marketing strategies for small businesses that work

5 online marketing strategies for small businesses that work

Online marketing strategies are no different from traditional marketing strategies when it comes to goals and purpose. Both types aim to increase brand awareness and find more customers for the particular company.

Online marketing or digital marketing as it is more widely known, has a number of components that cover every aspect of online promotion from content creation to delivery and sales. These components can be combined together and form 5 basic strategies that can be used by any type of online business to get more traffic and customers online.

1. Search engine marketing

Search engine marketing (SEM) is the first online marketing strategy you can use and it has two major components. First is SEO (Search engine optimization) and second is PSA (Paid Search Advertising). In simple words SEO will help you get more organic visits from search engines for free while PSA can get you visits from search traffic but you will have to pay for them.

What is your goal with SEM? Your goal with SEM is clear: get more visits from search engines either from organic search or through carefully designed and targeted PPC campaigns

How: To get more visits from search engines you need to make sure that your website is optimized for search. Things like your page titles, descriptions, web page speed, Google authorship, design and structure, incoming links, content freshness, ALT text for images and many more are important.

Tools: There are many SEO guidelines you can follow and although each rule is important on its own, if you apply a number of rules together, that would produce better results. You can use these 2 articles (5 on page SEO techniques and SEO tips for beginners) to guide you through the process and once you are done, you can perform an SEO Audit of your website to ensure that it is in good shape before continuing with the rest of the online marketing strategies.

Tip: When you make changes to your website to improve SEO, these changes will not be immediately taken into account by Google or other search engines. You have to be patient and monitor your pages for improvements in their ranking through google webmaster tools (search queries report).

2. Mobile Marketing

Normally after search engine marketing you can expect to find social media marketing or content marketing as the next online marketing strategy for small businesses but the increase in the number of mobile searches raises the importance of mobile marketing. As stated by Google, mobile marketing isn’t an option but it’s an imperative for every business. Some recent statistics about mobile usage re-enforce this statement:

What is your goal with mobile marketing? To provide your users with the best possible experience when browsing your website using their mobile devices.

How: How can you achieve the ‘best possible experience’? First you need to make sure that your website looks good and usable when viewed through a mobile browser i.e. you need to have a mobile friendly version of your website. Second, you can also offer your users native apps to download (from the itunes store, Google play, amazon store, windows store) and install on their devices.

Tools: If you are using wordpress you can easily create a mobile friendly version by either changing to a responsive theme or by using a plugin.

If you are not using wordpress you can use services like conduit to create mobile friendly versions of your website.

Make sure that you understand the difference between a mobile friendly version of your website and a native app. A native app is different than a mobile website and you need to hire a mobile developer to build an application for the specific platform. For example if you want to create an application for your website and have this application published on the Apple Store then you need to hire an apple developer to code the application and prepare it for submission to iTunes.

3. Content marketing

Content marketing is the heart of every digital marketing campaign. Once you have a good foundation (that’s search engine marketing) and a good delivery platform that can cover all your user needs (that’s mobile marketing) then the next step is to take all actions needed to create content that rocks!

Content is what will create loyal visitors, comments, social media shares and most important of all sales.

What is your goal with content marketing? To put it simply, your goal is to create high quality content that your readers want to read and try to convince readers to become customers or execute a call-to-action process (register to a newsletter, follow on social media, vote for a poll etc.).

How: Before even creating content, whether it is an article, a video, a table or image, try to think how that particular content will benefit your readers or customers. Don’t just create and publish content for the sake of keeping a publishing schedule or to satisfy your desire to have something to publish.

In the past this technique of publishing mass amounts of content to trick search engines used to work but not anymore. It is more important to have less published pages but with good content rather than lots of published pages with low quality content.

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4. Social Media marketing

Social media marketing is naturally the next marketing strategy for your business. You managed to have in your hands great content (from the previous strategy) so now it’s time to spread the word out and the best way to do that is through a well-designed social media marketing strategy.

What is your goal with social media marketing? Your social media campaigns should serve two purposes. First is to gain as many targeted followers so that your content and brand gets as much attention possible and second to get visits from social networks that will eventually convert into customers.

How: You need to establish a good presence in all major social networks (Facebook, google+, twitter, Pinterest) by sharing useful related content on a regular basis and by engaging with people interested in your website, products or brand. Have a look at these 3 articles to get started: 10 social media marketing tips for beginners, social media mistakes to avoid, how to get more followers on facebook.

I know that it’s not an easy process to follow and it is rather time consuming to run campaigns on many networks at the same time but this is how online marketing works for small businesses these days and you have to do it too.

The good news is that social media traffic does convert (despite the initial believes a few years back that visitors from social media don’t become customers) and if you don’t have the time or knowledge to manage your social media presence, there are professionals that can do it for you.

5. Local SEO strategy

Since we are talking about small businesses, I thought that it is more appropriate to have local SEO listed as a separate strategy because it is very important for them. Local SEO is a must for every company that has a physical address. Whether you are a doctor or florist, a mechanic or retailer, local seo can help you find more customers online.

What is your goal from local seo?      The goal from local seo is more than clear: to get high rankings for searches related to your area. When people search for long tail keywords with the addition of location in the query (for example: “Web hosting companies in Uganda”) you want your website to be listed in the top positions.

How: There is no straightforward answer for that, as with any other SEO related question. What you can do is follow Google SEO best practices to ensure that Google will not penalize you for trying to cheat on their algorithm and optimize your website for local SEO.

Think outside the box

While the 5 online marketing strategies explained above are great and can generate fantastic results, you need to also think outside of the box for even better results. For example besides search engines, mobiles and social media what are some other ways to increase traffic coming to your small business website? To be more precise here are some ideas that worked for some of my clients:

Chrome web store: Registering your website as a web app in the chrome store can generate an additional flow of quality traffic coming to your site.

Direct Advertising on other websites: Besides running PPC campaigns on Adwords and Facebook you can also try to ‘rent’ advertising space per month on other related websites. You can easily find related websites in your niche that offer advertising and contact the webmasters directly and ask for their rates. It will cost you less than PPC and with proper tracking you can evaluate the results and ROI.

Guest posting on high traffic websites: Guest posting for traffic (and not for links) is a good way to increase your online reputation but also gain traffic from other websites. If the website you are guest posting on has a good social media presence then the benefits are even more.

Conclusion

Small businesses can succeed online if they follow proven techniques and practices. When you build your website the first thing that you should look at is search engine optimization. Once you get this right then you need to enhance your delivery channels by going mobile. After that you need to revisit your content strategy and ensure that you have content that matters and makes sense. Next in line is social media marketing that will help you to push your content to the world.

 

Why and how to use customer reviews to grow your businees

Why and how to use customer reviews to grow your businees

When you shop online, how do you narrow down your choices? And how do you get reassurance that you will receive what you pay for? Do you read customer reviews before deciding where to buy your laptop from or which plumber to hire to fix your drippy kitchen tap?

Chances are you do, which means that your potential customers are also looking at your business’s reviews before spending their money on your products or services. They’re looking at the testimonials on your website, on Yelp, Facebook, Google and on any other sites or forums they stumble upon in their research online.

In this post we’ll take a closer look at the importance of customer reviews and their influence on your target audience’s opinions and purchases and how you can use them to build trust and drive more sales. Already got reviews? Then checkout this guide to combining web design and customer reviews to help overcome customer objections.

Why customer reviews matter

Studies show that nine in ten people read reviews and that these are becoming more important in the purchasing decision, so important that customers say they trust them as much as personal recommendations.

According to BrightLocal’s annual Local Consumer Review Survey:

88% of consumers read online reviews to determine the quality of a local business
39% read reviews on a regular basis
85% of consumers said that they read up to 10 reviews
72% said that positive reviews make them trust a local business more
88% said that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
Plus, according to Reevoo, a ratings and reviews solutions provider, by simply adding a reviews section to your site sales can rise as much as 18%.

These stats show how important it is for businesses to attract more reviews as well as to manage their online reputation. I have no doubt that these numbers will continue to increase in the coming years so make sure you read on to learn how to use customer reviews to your advantage.

Why do you need them?
Simple: more positive reviews = more customers.

  • Reviews can help you generate more sales. While users can learn the basics about your products or services by reading the description on your site or in an advertisement, good reviews can compel users to actually consider buying from you.
  • They can eliminate any doubts potential customers may have about a product, or can help them choose between products.

Aside from increasing conversions, reviews can also:

  • Provide credibility to your business and help build trust with potential customers online.
  • Increase loyalty among existing customers as it makes them feel like they are part of your brand and that their opinions and feedback matter.
  • Help with your products’ search engine optimization (SEO) efforts as reviews are indexed and used for search results. Think about it – people write reviews using natural language, which targets long-tail keywords and helps to give you an SEO boost. So they’re doing the hard work for you.

What about bad reviews?

Worried that not all of your customer reviews are positive? Don’t be. Nobody’s perfect. What matters is how you respond to a complaint or a negative review. Be friendly and polite when dealing with negative comments and show that you care about resolving the customer’s issue.

In fact, a mix of positive and negative reviews can help to improve customer trust. Stats from Reevoo suggest that the presence of bad reviews actually improves conversions by 67%.

Here’s what they discovered:

68% of consumers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad scores
30% suspect censorship or fake reviews when they don’t see any negative opinions on the page
So, don’t freak out if you receive a few bad reviews as these will legitimise the rest of the good reviews and reassure users that the feedback is genuine and written by real customers.

Just make sure there aren’t too many bad reviews because that means your biggest problem is not the negative feedback, but your product or service.

Oh, and don’t think about writing fake reviews. It’s already difficult to build trust online and this trust is dependent on the reviews being authentic. If you get caught by your customers or Google, be prepared to pay up, and not just through the fine you might face, but also with your online reputation which will be destroyed.

Tips to attract more reviews from customers

Want to know what’s the best way to get more reviews for your business? Just ask your customers to leave a comment with their feedback.Here are some simple tips to help you gather more reviews:

  • Make it nice and easy for them to share their feedback directly on your website.
  • Create a separate reviews section on your site or one on every product page and offer customers the option to leave a quick rating out of five and a short summary of their experience purchasing with you.
  • Email customers post-purchase and ask them if they would like to leave feedback.
  • Either create a survey or link to your site or other sites where they can review your business.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, follow up with a second email.
  • Set up profiles on multiple review sites. This obviously includes social media platforms like Google+, Facebook, Twitter plus the sites devoted solely to rating and reviewing businesses such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Yahoo! Local, Angie’s List and more.
  • Educate people on your social networks about where they can review your company.
  • Provide links directly to review websites or to the reviews section on your site.
  • Train your staff to ask for reviews. Make your customer service and sales employees understand the importance of asking for feedback from the customers they work with.
  • Create incentives to motivate them to gather as many reviews as possible.
  • Offer incentives to your customers to encourage them to leave a review. This can be a discount on a future purchase. Just don’t pay people to write positive reviews.
  • Offer free samples or trial versions to get more people to try and test your product. This will increase the number of voices talking about your product.

Reviews are not great just at convincing potential customers to choose you over your competitors but also at helping you understand the needs of your customers and how you can improve your offering to meet their needs. This feedback also helps create a direct line of communication that allows you to monitor customer service and the perception of your brand.

It’s hard to find a reason not to want to gather reviews. So if you want to drive your business to success now’s the time to give reviews some attention. Once you’ve built up a bank of reviews, learn how to use them to build trust and boost sales in an effective manner with this guide.

Seven(7) Ways To Promote Your Business Online For Free

Seven(7) Ways To Promote Your Business Online For Free

The Internet is teeming with marketing platforms that don’t cost a dime—you just need to know where to look.

You may not have wads of cash to spend on marketing in the early stages of your startup, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t effective ways to get your brand out there.
Before the Internet, small businesses only had a few ways to market their products cheaply, through methods like printing out fliers or sponsoring little local events. Now there are all kinds of opportunities out there on the Web—you just need to know where to look.
Here are seven ways to promote your business online that won’t cost you a dime:

1. Use the three big local listing services
Registering your business with Google Places allows it to be found more easily on Google searches and it shows up on Google Maps. All you have to do is fill out the form and register, then get your business verified through their confirmation process, which can be done either with a phone call or snail mail. Yahoo! also has a big database of businesses called Yahoo! Local. It’s free, and is certainly worth the few minutes it takes to set up. Microsoft’s Bing has a similar service that’s easy to sign up for.

2. Embrace social media
Social media isn’t just a tool to gain exposure—it has now become a necessary time investment for every business to make. You can tie in ads and offers on your Facebook page and have a direct channel with your customers on Twitter. Networking on LinkedIn—both at the personal and company level—can be another way to help your startup.

3. Start a blog
A blog not only helps your company get its name out through followers, but is a way to connect with your consumers more directly. But remember that one of the major keys of blogging is to keep your stream updated as frequently as you can. A dormant, abandoned blog is worth nothing.

4. Put up multimedia on YouTube and Flickr
YouTube provides a free way to distribute creative promotional videos, but in order to succeed you must put up content that people want to view and are relevant to your business—a simple ad will not work. A Flickr profile can also help by giving you one place to compile all the photos for your business, and allows you to link back to your website.

5. SEO your company website
Search engine optimization cannot be underestimated in the world of constant Googling. Pick up a book or head over to an online how-to-guide on SEO and make sure your site is primed for performance on search engines.

6. Press releases
Every time your business does something newsworthy, don’t hesitate to shoot off a press release—maybe folks will pick up on it. They’re a powerful media tool to use to help generate publicity, and having free distribution of them is a bonus. There are dozens of websites out there that you can use for your press releases.

7. Join a relevant online community and contribute
Every niche has communities online that you can get involved in. But just signing up for a forum and posting every once in a while about your business isn’t beneficial for anyone, and will likely just annoy people. Actively contribute and build a rapport with the community, while keeping your business out of it. Passively promote your business by putting a link in your signature or mentioning it only when the context is appropriate.

The importance of quality score in SEM

The importance of quality score in SEM

Quality Score is a variable used by Google, Yahoo! (called Quality Index), and Bing that can influence both the rank and cost per click (CPC) of ads.

To determine the order in which ads are listed, each ad has the following formula run against it: bid * Quality Score. Ads are then listed in descending order based on the result of that equation. The exact weight of Quality Score versus bid has not been revealed by any of the major search engines, and each company has stated that they reserve the right to continually adjust their ranking methodologies.

In late 2008, Google revealed that Quality Score was used to determine which ads it would show above organic results, and that a high quality score could actually cause ads to jump over ads with lower quality scores that would otherwise not merit that prominent placement.

Purpose behind Quality Score

The major search engines have each independently implemented efforts to maintain and improve the quality of ads listed on their sites. The primary reason for this is to improve the experience of users who click on paid advertising links. It is reasonable to assume that users who have a great experience when clicking on ads will click on them more frequently, thus increasing advertising revenues for the search engine.

In addition, Google chose to introduce variable minimum bids at the same time as it introduced Quality-Based Bidding. On the surface, this new feature allowed advertisers to bid as little as $0.01 to have their ad shown. However, in some cases advertisers found their minimum bids for some ads were raised to as high as $5.00 or $10.00. By implementing variable minimum bids Google created a mechanism whereby the company could set different minimums for different advertisers for the same keyword, and potentially increase the average minimum bid without the advertising community as a whole being made aware. Furthermore, by raising minimums bids, Google could test each advertiser’s ability to pay these increases, thus increasing competitiveness within the auctions and extracting maximum revenue from each advertiser.

Factors in determining Quality Score

There are a number of factors that determine the Quality Score of a given ad. While each search engine has released directional information on the factors most important to them, presumably in an effort to guide their advertisers towards making better ads, none has revealed their formulas in detail. Below is a summary of what has been released.

Click-through rate
All three search engines have revealed that a major factor – the most important factor to Google in their respective Quality Score formulas is the historical click-through rate (CTR) of the keyword and matched ad. In fact, prior to its introduction of Quality Score in July 2005, Google determined ad rank by running the following formula against each ad and sorting them in descending order: bid * CTR.

In addition to the CTR of the keyword and matched ad itself, Google takes into account the overall historic CTR of the entire AdWords account as well as the historic CTR of the display URLs in the ad group.

Ad copy relevance

All three search engines have revealed that the relevance of the ad copy to the keyword is a factor in determining Quality Score. Therefore, it can be assumed that ads with ad copy that contains the keyword will have a higher Quality Score than ads with ad copy that does not contain the keyword.

Landing page quality

All three search engines have revealed that landing page quality is a factor in determining Quality Score. Landing page quality generally refers to whether or not the page contains relevant and original content and the navigability of the site. In the case of MSN, they have revealed that ads with landing pages that don’t contain the keyword may be declined altogether.

Landing page load time

In June 2008 Google revealed that landing page load time impacts Quality Score.

Geographical considerations

Google has revealed that the accounts performance in the geographical region where the ad will be shown impacts Quality Score.

Other factors

All three search engines have revealed that other factors are taken into consideration when calculating Quality Score. In particular, changes in terms of use in Google Analytics have fed speculation in the search engine marketing (SEM) community that Google is using on-site conversion data in its Quality Score formula.