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Market Your Small Business Like an Octopus

It’s not uncommon for a client to ask me “What is the one thing we can do to improve our marketing right now?”  I always make sure I’ve got a good ten minutes to go into the inevitable discussion that will come from my answer to this question. Because the answer is: there is no one thing. You’re not going to shoot a commercial, put it on local cable, and your good. You’re not going to offer one or two new promotions, and you’re set. Nope, doesn’t work like that, and trying to figure out that one thing you need to do is the wrong way to think about your company’s marketing plan.

You Must Be Like An Octopus

When you look for that one big knockout punch to market your company, you’re thinking like a human being, with only two arms. But if you want to develop a successful marketing plan, you need to think more like an octopus, having many arms out into the marketplace sweeping around for food (or customers). A successful marketing campaign is not led by any single effort but is, in fact, an accumulation of many different marketing efforts all coming back to one thing, your business, or the mouth of the octopus.

Because there is no one thing that is going to make all the difference in marketing your small business, you should develop a plan that lays out multiple things that your company is going to do to market itself. A successful marketing campaign does not have a single flagship item for which all the other items play second fiddle to. A successful marketing plan lays out a group of efforts that essentially bring the octopus food back to the mouth of the octopus (or customers to your business.)

Small Business Owner Mentality

Small Business owners are entrepreneurs, and successful entrepreneurs are typically very talented jugglers. They can often be master-jugglers of the highest sort in-fact and what they juggle is the thousands of different moving parts that go into making their company operate and profit. These people are great at focusing on a single issue, making a quick decision, and moving onto the next issue with equal focus. It’s a very efficient way to be. But it can make for a lack of creativity when it comes to developing an effective marketing plan. Be sure that you’re marketing plan is a group of efforts and you’re not gambling your entire budget on any one thing. It’s a culmunation of a bunch of different things that are going to help your business generate more leads, retain more customers, and gain more new clients.

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.

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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