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How to Get Positive Reviews Online For Your Small Business

Local listing sites like Google Places, Yelp, and Yahoo Local have become the new way people find what they’re looking for in their area. The power of reviews on these sites has become increasingly important for driving new customers and smart business owners are figuring out numerous ways to encourage more positive reviews on these very influential sites. To learn more about the importance of local listings, check out my post Why Local Listings are Crucial for Your Small Business.

If you want to start getting more positive reviews for your small business online, start with this list of easy-to-do tasks:

1. Provide Stellar Service – Yes, it’s a no-brainer of sorts, but the first and best way to get positive reviews on any of these sites is to make sure you are providing the best and most memorable customer experience possible to each and every one of your customers. You can do all the other things on this list and it won’t get you any reviews if you don’t give your customers something good to talk about.

2. Ask for Reviews – Ok, so some of these sites actually discourage you from asking your customers for reviews outright. That being said, since all of them don’t have this policy, I feel the best practice is to simply ask for a “review online.” Always ask at the end of your business transaction and don’t ask for a positive review, just a review online. This way you’re encouraging folks to leave you a review on any of these sites they happen to use without influencing them to review your business one way or another.

3. Post Signage in Your Business – Imagine a tech-savvy customer of a small business who just finished having a wonderful buyer experience at your business (hopefully due to that stellar service we talked about earlier.) While they’re paying at the register, the customer sees a snazzy and colorful sign on the counter that says “Please review us on Yelp!” Do you think they would be more likely to give you a review? I think so too, so get some signage posted ASAP.

4. Put Links on Your Website – Another obvious but often-missed tactic that can drive online reviews is to post links or banners on your company website saying “Please Review Us Here”. It also serves as a good point of direction for your customers If somebody wants to leave a review but doesn’t know where to go you can simply direct them to the banner on your website which clicks through to the site of your choosing.

Do you know any other ways to get positive online reviews? Leave us a comment with your ideas and we probably will use them in a post (giving you full credit of course.)

Please read my other articles related to Local Listing Management:

Why Local Listings are Crucial for Your Small Business

4 Things You Should Do For Your Business Right Now

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The Art of Starting Today: How to Shun Complacency and Get Things Done

It’s common to reach a point as a small business owner where you know you have to do something to improve your marketing. You realize that your logo needs to be redone. You feel like your website looks like one of those homemade websites (because you made it at home). Your business cards have a different color scheme or design than your logo and it doesn’t even have your website address on them and don’t even start on your advertising efforts that you haven’t paid attention to in months or the thousand other things you’ve thought about but just didn’t have the motivation for.

Why aren’t I Motivated?

Maybe you don’t really “get” why these things are important. It feels like there’s always something that could be done, but hey, you’re not going out of business. So you don’t need to do those things today, right? Ab-so-frickin-lutely WRONG!

First of all, the reason you feel like you need to improve your marketing, is because you do! The problem is, for whatever reason, you don’t want to start what feels like is going to be a long process today. The major problem with that way of thinking is if you don’t start today it will get perpetually put off until tomorrow, which means it will never get done. The trick is just getting started on tasks that you don’t want to do.

A Real Trick

Well I’m here to tell you that 50% of getting those little tasks done is just starting on them. Starting is quite often the hardest part of a journey. Once you’ve gotten started on a task, such as upgrading your website, it has a way of building on itself and motivating the person doing it. Make it up in your mind that you are just going to start today. You’re not necessarily going to finish the task but at least decide that you are going to get the ball rolling today. Make a list of the things you need to do and start taking them on one at a time. Each item might break down into several smaller tasks, make another list for those and start knocking them out. The point is to make the decision that you are not going to waste another day just knowing you need to improve your marketing, you’re going to start today. 

The magic of “starting today”

The real magic trick for motivation like this is to make up your mind to take on each task one at a time. Get excited about new and fresh ideas and lay out tasks to turn those ideas into action. Know that if you don’t ever take on these seemingly small tasks, they will never get done. Try not to look at the tasks as a great big group of things, instead just make a list and take them on one thing at a time. Try not to set goals that are larger than needed. Lay out tasks for one day at a time. Remember, starting today really is the key. Once the ball gets rolling on these various goals it will become easier to motivate yourself to finish them.

Overcoming Barriers

There’s always a reason not to do something if you look for it. We are good at setting up barriers for ourselves for things we really don’t want to do. We say “that won’t really help” or “it’s not worth it” but we know it will. Solidify in your mind the idea that you will not let barriers be the reason you don’t start something. Understand that this is a natural human reaction and let those negative thoughts come and go. Do not let barriers take you out of the mind-set that you are going to start today on improving your business. If it doesn’t work, so be it, but its better to try something with a noble cause and fail than to never have tried at all.

Read material on avoiding procrastination, such as this article: 11 Practical Ways to Avoid Procrastination

Breaking out of your routine and taking on new tasks can be challenging, but for small business owners it is an absolute must. After all, if you would’ve never opened your business in the first place, where would you be now? It was the act of starting today that got your company going and it will be the art of starting today that will advance your business onto the next thing it needs to stay relevant and profitable. Shun complacency! Make a list of things you can do to improve your marketing and start today.

Small Business SEO Basics

Search engine optimization (SEO) is all about making your website more easily found on search engines like Google, Bing and Yelp when people type in keywords related to your business. Small businesses with professionally designed, search-engine-friendly websites can compete in a real way with larger competitors because their site appears as or more favorably in search engine results pages (or SERP).

SEO encompasses many very technical elements, but just understanding some basic concepts will help you considerably when it comes time to develop your website.

Domain Name

Your domain name is the internet address that is attached to your site (http://www.yourbusiness.com) and it’s a very large part of deciding how high up on the Google results your business appears. For instance, if a person is searching for “Wichita Dry Cleaner” and somebody has a website with the domain “wichitadrycleaner.com” then they will likely appear at the top of the search engine results. So , if possible, be sure to register the most relevant keyword-rich domain name possible along with your company name.

Title Tag

The title tag is the group of words that appears at the top of the title bar of your website and in the blue link that appears on Google results. They are one of the most important factors in getting a high Google ranking for your business’ website. You should include your company name as well as relevant keywords and phrases to ensure higher results. In fact, if you fix your title tags you will likely see some instant improvements in your company search results ranking.

Meta

Meta tags are elements of your website’s design code that specifies certain information like your website description, keywords, author of the document and other info. These tags will not appear on the website itself but are identified by Google and other search engines looking for specific keywords. The meta tags are always placed in the <head> section of the website’s code and they play a very large part in your search engine results.

Keywords (research)

Keywords are words and phrases that search engines crawl the internet looking for when people type them in to the search box. While the art of implementing the right keyword strategy for your website can be a little complicated. The basic idea is that the more a word or phrase shows up on your website (in fair and relevant ways) the higher the website’s Google ranking when those keywords are searched for. You should do some research on what keywords and phrases your customers use when looking for your type of business and make sure your website is s filled with them.

Links

The links on your website also play a big part in determining your Google ranking. The words of the link itself along with the alt text contribute to the relevancy of your website on Google results pages. As much as you can, create links with keywords and phrases related to your business and its functions.

Social Networks

Social networks have become a large part of a company’s SEO. By having profiles on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, a company is able to appear more frequently on search engine results pages through these profiles. Also, linking your profiles to each other as much as possible along with linking to your website on these pages helps increase the relevancy of your business site in Google.

Local Listings

For storefront businesses, the local listing (your company listing on sites like Google Places, Yelp, and Yahoo Local)  has become one of the most important parts of their online existence. Not only do customer reviews on these sites greatly affect people’s decisions in choosing your business, the description and link to your website on these pages play a large part in your websites SEO. Be sure to claim or create your listings on these various services. For more information read my article on Why Local Listings Are Crucial For Your Small Business.

Understanding your company’s SEO is the first step for you in the development of your company’s online strategy. Armed with this information, you should be able to take more effective steps in building your online presence so that you appear higher on Google results, get more traffic to your site and, ultimately, get more more customers.

Please leave us comments if you have any other ideas about SEO basics for small businesses.

How to Get Your Company Written About in Newspapers and Magazines

Getting a placement in a major publication can be a terrific way to drive more customers to your business. Being written about in a newspaper or magazine is a great way to get your company positive exposure through media outlets. It’s for this reason that getting your business written about should definitely be a part of your business’s overall marketing strategy. Here are specific instructions on how you can get your business written about in magazines and newspapers.

Develop Your “Story”

The first thing you need is to figure out what part of your business is “newsworthy”. Simply existing as a business isn’t typically enough to get your business written about. You need to have a story. Maybe you do something for the environment, or perhaps one of your services is innovative and unlike something that’s been done before, or maybe you’re giving away something for free. Whatever it is, figure out how to make it into a story that you can pitch to newspapers and magazines.

Build a Media Package

Your business is never too small or too young to have a media package. So develop yours and send it off to your local newspapers, TV and radio stations. A media package contains all the important material about your company including your location, the nature of your business, and names and biographical information of company officers. You can either hire a PR firm to prepare and send this off for you or you can develop the package yourself.

Use “Guerilla” Style Marketing

Sometimes we need to use some non-traditional methods to get the attention of the media. While not all of these tactics work all the time, they can be a great way to get exposure for your brand if you can manage to generate something newsworthy. Publicity stunts are one form of this style of marketing. Viral videos such as spoofs of commercials or other popular videos are another type of guerilla marketing. Think outside the box and do some research on publicity stunts because while these techniques can be very effective they can also be very risky if not handled correctly (see Kanye West’s storming of the stage of the Grammys during Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech.)

Follow Up and Try Again

If you sent a media package out, perhaps you could give a friendly call or email to the person(s) that you sent it to and just check to see if they received it and if they’re planning on running a story. If not, you can ask what sort of content they’re looking for and what would make a better story the next time around.

There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for receiving media exposure, but with hard work and persistence it can be a very effective way of receiving the positive attention for your company that helps build your business and brand awareness.

Do you have more ideas on how to get media exposure? Leave us a comment or email me at darren.dvx[at]gmail[dot]com

8 Things Your Small Business Website MUST HAVE

These days, most businesses have a website, but I’m always surprised at how many small business websites (usually designed by the company owner or a tech-savvy family member/friend) are missing some very basic elements that help businesses increase the reach of their message, add to company credibility, and improve their website SEO and overall online position.

So I compiled this list of elements I feel no small business website should be without. Do not launch your website without the following crucial elements:

1. A “Contact Us” Page – Yes, I see that your number is featured prominently on your homepage but online consumers are creatures of habit. And when we visit websites with the intention of contacting the company we almost always look for the obligatory contact us or simple contact page. Not only should this page have every piece of pertinent contact info for your company (phone, office, mobile, fax, email, address) it should also have a google map photo showing your location and a link to give the customer directions to the business (if applicable).

2. An Opt-In Form – Your building a mailing list, right? Riiiight? Okay well one of the best ways to get people to join that mailing list is by them “opting in” using a sign-up form on your website. How you encourage folks to fill out the form depends on your business type and your overall goals and objectives. For instance, a professional service (marketing, real estate) can offer a FREE consultation if the user just fills out the form, or an online service wanting only email addresses from its customers could encourage folks to give their email addresses in exchange to a desirable link or file (such as an e-book, coupon, or white-paper). The opt-in form is a must have for any business looking to generate leads with its website.

3. An “About Us” Page – So many small companies omit this critical relationship-building tool that is the “about us” page. Quite often the highest traffic-receiving site after the homepage, the “about us” section of your website provides customers information that allows them to both learn about the company and it’s message and mission as well as gain confidence and trust as they learn about the company’s history and functions. If you’re in a business with any competition at all, the about us  page is where you can differentiate yourself from your competitors.

4. A Blog –The obvious reason is you need a blog to inform your users about your specific product or service. But there really is so much more. Blogs help tremendously with your SEO (Google SERP loves blogs), they instill trust in your client-base, they drive sales, increase leads, build brand awareness, and they make you look like an expert in your field. Do some research, don’t just dive in, but begin working on building a blog for your company ASAP.

5. A Privacy Policy – This section gets overlooked quite often by do-it-yourself web designers but is very important for any website asking people to submit their personal information. Put a link at the bottom of your opt-in form that says something like “your information is safe with us” and have it link to your privacy policy page. View some other websites policies to get an idea of what should be included in yours. It’s a basic element but it adds credibility, something that all consumers are looking for when they shop online.

6. Clear Call(s) To Action – Simply existing on the internet isn’t good enough. Know the purpose of your website and drive visitors to do what you want them to (buy a product, sign-up for a newsletter, call for a consultation) with clear and consistent calls to action. Avoid cluttering the screen with a lot of text copy and images, instead make sure that your “buy now” button is the main focal point of your site and is prominent on every page. The idea is to take away all the distractions so that they have nothing to do BUT click the buy now button.

7. Social Network Buttons – It’s the new era of the online consumer, and people are using social networks more than ever to learn about brands, products, and services of all types. When a person wants to praise (or complain about) a certain company, they quite often will do it on facebook, twitter, or another social network. It’s critical that you not only create a presence on these various networks, but that you encourage people to “follow”, “like”, “friend”, and otherwise subscribe to your brand using these social sites. Again, do some research as to how you’re going to effectively position yourself on these sites, but definitely use them, and definitely make buttons for them on your website. 


8. Links to Review Sites –
For local businesses of any type, online reviews on sites like yelp, yahoo local, and google places have become the new “word-of-mouth” arena for their customers and it is absolutely a must that you do your best to control the reviews your company receives on these sites. If you need to know more about this read my article Why Local Listings Are Crucial For Your Business. A good review can increase your sales considerably, and bad reviews can kill your whole business. Include links to these places on your website and encourage customers to go leave you reviews. The more positive reviews you get the more business you will likely get.

There are many elements that make up successful websites of all kinds, these are just the 8 things I feel get most-often overlooked in today’s marketplace. Please leave me comments with other elements you think are crucial to a successful small business website (or to just say hi.) And read my other articles on small business marketing.

Why Local Listings are Crucial for Your Small Business

In today’s marketplace, when a person wants to find a new place to get their hair done, or a pizza place, or an auto-repair shop, or any type of small business’ product or service they will more-than-likely look to the internet to find it.

Old-School Word-of-Mouth – In the “old days,” if you wanted to find the best local cheeseburger, you might ask a cab driver, or local store-owner, and this was and still is a form of “word-of-mouth” marketing.

New-School Word-of-Mouth – Today, the internet has replaced (and magnified) this marketing form with the use of several local listing websites and their respective review systems. Now, when one needs to find a new dry cleaner in a certain area, one will google it, or maybe visit yelp.com and check the reviews people have left about businesses offering a particular product or service.

So, how can a small business owner be sure their company’s marketing is taking full advantage of this new age of word-of-mouth marketing? The answer is to simply make sure you have placed or claimed your business on the following local listing websites:

All of these sites are FREE to list your company on

1. Google Places

2. Yahoo! Local

3. City Search

4. Yelp

5. Bing

6. Local.com

7. Ask.com

8. Insider Pages

The first step is to make sure your company is listed on these sites, the next step should be to drive positive reviews from your customers to these sites. Even though some of these sites don’t “encourage” you asking your customers for positive reviews, the opinion here is “Hey, we’re small business owners and we need all the help we can get to keep the lights on!”

So yes, ask, promote, and bribe your customers into leaving positive reviews for you on these and every other site they can find. Positive chatter about your company will improve your SEO but, more importantly, it will equal more business/clients/customers for your company. Be proactive, provide a quality product, encourage folks to talk about it online, and you will see a difference.

The 4 Social Networks Your Business Should Be On

Social networks are, without a doubt, a crucial part of your small business’ position on the internet. They help with SEO, brand awareness, SERP, special promotions and a variety of other valuable elements of your company’s marketing. If you own a business of any kind, these are the 4 social networks you absolutely must build profiles on for your company (and possibly key members such as the owner of manager).

1. Facebook

The king of the hill right now and will likely be for some time so you had better get familiar with this site. Build a profile, then build a company page. As far as what you should do on this site, start slow, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience with social networks. Also there are hundreds of online articles filled with tips and tricks for small businesses on FB. Just google small business facebook tips. If you’re interested in getting more traffice to you page, research (or have your marekting dept/firm show you) how you can take advantage of their extensive pay-per-click advertising opportunities.

2. Foursquare

So many businesses are missing out on this site it’s incredible. This site, which rewards users with badges, points, and titles for “checking in” at locations verified by their GPS (quite often, people are checking in from a business, get it?). Foursquare offers a variety of ways to add incentives for your customers to come to your business frequently. For a person who checks in at a location the most, the title of “mayor” is earned, and the site provides ways to offer specials and discounts to “mayors” and, if desired, any other visitor who “checks in”. Register (or claim) your business on this site right now.

3. Linkedin

This is the social site for networking and connecting with other professionals, including potential employees. In terms of users, LinkedIn is nowhere near the numbers of Facebook. But Linkedin’s over twelve millions small business users make the site a great place to find leads, freelance professionals, networking opportunities with other professionals in your field, and of course it’s another brand building tool adding to your company’s credibility, SEO, and overall online presence.

For more info on how to use linkedin for your small business check out this article from Guy Kawasaki – 10 Ways for Small Businesses to use Linkedin

4. WordPress

You may have heard by now that you “need a blog” and yes! It’s true! If you own a business the odds are good that your company could benefit a great deal if a blog was used to publish company news regularly. I personally use wordpress for my blog and find the service to be easy to use as well as technical enough with the tracking and SEO qualities I need and can easily figure out how to use.

For more on why your business needs a blog check out this article from Chris Garrett13 Reasons Your Business Needs a Blog

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