9 Effective Ways to Reach Your Local Customers

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customer buying item after being reached by local marketingIt’s the million dollar question for any local business owner: “how do I reach my local customers?”

Website

If you want to reach local customers, you need to have a solid foundation: a well-built business website.  A solid website has all the information your customers and potential customers could need or want, and a convenient way to contact you.  Though you can’t use the website to overtly reach your customers, your business should have a website that you can direct your customers to when they find your website on search engines, social media, through a content marketing piece, or from email.

We’ve written about the important elements of a solid website before; don’t just open your brochure and start haphazardly putting the text into a website.  Instead, organize the information that your customers want in a format they can easily navigate (or hire the pros to create a website) and that you can easily direct people to from email, social media, and direct mail pieces.

Search engines

Think of SEO technology as a website amplifier.  SEO optimizes your website for search engines, making major search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo take note and list your website at the top of search engine results pages.  Not just any SEO technology can do this effectively, so choose your SEO provider carefully.

If you want to use SEO to reach local customers, contact a company that provides local SEO.  Local SEO gets your business at the top of the searches (not ad listings-important!) that pertain to your business by people within 10, 20, and 50 miles of your business.

Social Media

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the major social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat.  If you want to reach your local customers, you need to harness the power of these sites for your business.  Choose the right social media sites that your target audience is on, and make sure you don’t take on more social media marketing than you have time for.  Start by using these tips to grow your social media followings, and be careful not to oversell on your pages.

Even though your goal is to use social media to grow your business, focus on connecting with your audience instead of selling to them.  No one wants to listen to a business that continually broadcasts advertisements at them.  Instead, use humor (when appropriate), excellent customer service (please answer their messages!), relevant information, tips, community information, and anything else your customers want to hear to build trust.

Review Sites

Local review websites don’t help you directly reach out to your customers, but they do help build trust when customers are trying to find you.  When they do, use common internet review sites like Yelp or Angie’s List to your advantage.  Fill out a complete profile on top review sites and ask your customers to post feedback after their experience with your company.  If you have multiple locations, you may have to create numerous profiles.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is exactly what it says: producing content for marketing.  Basically, you write about topics that your audience wants to know about (i.e. tips, advice, checklists, etc.) and use different methods to promote it.  For example, if you are a pet store, you would write about choosing the right food for your cat.  The article would be posted to a blog, then sent out in an email to your customers with pet food specials and scheduled to post to social media.  If you don’t know what to write about, or don’t have the time to write new content, use these tips to select a content marketing firm that can. 

In addition to building trust with your audience, content marketing has another benefit.  Adding relevant content to your website can gain the attention of search engines and improve your ranking in search engine listing.

Email Marketing

Connect with your local customers through their inbox—with their consent of course.  Use these tips to build a quality email list (please don’t buy lists) and add sending emails with strong attention-getting headlines and strong call-to-actions to your to-do list.  Make sure your emails are relevant and relatable, and that you give your email subscribers the chance to ‘unsubscribe’ when they want (it’s the law).

Direct Mail

Contrary to the obnoxious naysayers, direct mail as a marketing tactic is not dead.  However, the days of sending direct mail after direct mail pieces out is.  Instead, integrate direct mail into your marketing plan as a targeted effort.  Target customers with services that you know they are going to want to know about, such as an accessory sale for a product they had bought.  In addition to direct mail, use other marketing tactics to spread the word about your sale (i.e. content marketing pieces about product maintenance, social media posts with memes, etc.).    

Advertisements

Whether online or traditional, there is value in advertising.  The key to a successful advertisement (and any marketing tactic, really) is to know who your customers are and advertise in media where they go for information.  If your customer base is younger, look into advertising on search engines or social media.  Make sure you target local customers in online advertisements; if you don’t have the opportunity to target your online ads, you’re not going to reach the potential customers you want.

Marketing Plan

We know a marketing plan is not technically a marketing tactic, but it is an important element of reaching your local customers.  Instead of randomly employing these tactics to drive sales whenever you hit a lull, use a marketing plan to strategically promote your business all year round (here’s how to draft a solid marketing plan for local customers).  If you don’t have the time or expertise, contact a company that can draft a marketing plan and help you reach your local customers.

10 Reasons Your Content Marketing Is a Fail

frustrated young business man irritated that content marketing isn't working“Why isn’t my content marketing getting results?” might be one of the most asked questions out there.  (Right behind, “what is content marketing?” and “why isn’t my social media posts getting any attention?” but those are posts from another day.)  Fact is, many a business manager and owner know enough about content marketing to be dangerous but not effective. Here are some of the most common reasons why your content marketing is stalling out.

You don’t know who you’re writing for

All your content should revolve around your audience.  If you don’t know who that is, you’re not going to write content that they want to read.  Take a second look at identifying your audience, and tweak your efforts accordingly.

You’re not posting regularly

The internet is full of blogs started with good intentions—and good posts—but lacking follow-through.  Content marketing takes commitment.  You’re not going to get continual credit from your online audience and search engines if you don’t continually produce quality content.  If you can’t keep up with your ambitious plan, outsource your efforts to a marketing firm that delivers.

You don’t have a plan

Random posts randomly shared yields random results.  Worst yet, it yields sporadic results that aren’t going to stick with your audience and give long-term results.  Before you start publishing content, create a content publishing calendar that coordinates with your other marketing efforts (both online and offline).  A marketing company can also help you draft a calendar and give you unbiased expertise that makes the calendar effective.

Your content just sits

As satisfying as it might be to hit the ‘post’ button on your blog, content on a blog is static.  Your audience isn’t going to find your content unless you have a strategic promotion plan.  If you want your content to be useful, use it in emails, on social media, on mail pieces, and on other media.

Too many typos

If you want your audience to click away from your content, don’t proof it.  Nothing repels a reader faster than an article full of typos and grammatical errors.  Double check your content before and after posting, and make sure your emails are full of content your teacher would be proud of.  If that task is beyond daunting (and time-consuming), contract your content to company that produces quality content.

Your content just sells, sells, sells

Business owners just want to scream to the world, “buy, buy, buy!”  Your content shouldn’t.  The goal of content is to build trust.  Content that sounds like a walking advertisement is going to do the opposite: make your audience quick to hit the ‘back’ button.  Quality content should have a call to action, but shouldn’t scream at your audience.

Your audience doesn’t care

Why would your audience click if you don’t give them a topic they care about?  Relevance is the name of the game in content marketing—and the way to get clicks and engagement.  Your audience isn’t going to click on your headline if you don’t give them a topic they care about and that’s relevant to their life.

You’re not allocating enough time

As easy as content marketing sounds, it does require a significant amount of time and effort.  Many of our clients have delved into content marketing thinking they have the time, but quickly realize they don’t.  A few paragraphs aren’t going to do; you’re going to have to have the necessary time to produce quality, in-depth content.

You aren’t using quality images in your plan

Notice the caveat: quality images.  The combination of images and text in your content marketing plan serves as a draw for everyone in your audience.  Text-only articles without images or social media posts minus a quality image just isn’t going to get your audience’s attention.

You expect the moon now

Online marketing is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.  If you want to build a quality following that makes all your content marketing efforts worthwhile,  prepare for the long haul OR contact a marketing company that can achieve long-term results (here are tips for choosing the right content marketing company).  There’s no shame or blame when outsourcing your content marketing efforts—only the satisfaction of an effective well-executed content marketing plan.

3 Social Media Ideas that Set Your Business Apart

one lit light bulb that is like business that stands out on social mediaWe humans are creatures of habit. We find something that works and we stick to it, like that morning coffee routine or that muffin you pick up at the corner store every morning.  For the most parts routines are great, but they do get to be a problem when business owners and managers stick to the same thing over and over on social media. It gets stagnant. The same posts (and kind of posts) get boring in the ever-evolving—and crowded—world of social media.

So how can your business stand out among the crowd?  You don’t have to get rid of what works for your business (please don’t!), but you can start to mix some “new age” posts into your social media plan.

Over-the-top images

Three sixty photos, striking images, relevant memes, infographics—all these visuals set your business apart on social media.  They catch people’s eye and can create a connection with their relevancy.  If you want to make your business stand out on social media, up the ante of your social media images.

One note of caution: make sure your images are relevant to your business, and not just random images.  Use the same tone with the images so you create a consistent business voice that drives your customers to a sale—and aren’t just a bunch of random images.  If you don’t know how to tie all the pieces together into a clear, relevant social media campaign, trust your efforts to someone who can. 

Videos

There is some great news in the world of social media videos: you don’t have to be a professional to shoot them anymore with professional editing equipment.  While those videos still have a place in your marketing plan, short videos from your tablet or phone can make your post stand out correctly (if part of a plan and played out correctly).  Your videos don’t have to be very long, but they need to be relevant and interesting.  Not all your posts should be video, but an occasional video can make you stand out in the feed.

Go live

If you want to take videos a step further, it’s time to go live on social media.  Don’t overdo it; many a business or user has lost a good chunk of social media followers because they are sick of getting constant notifications about your live video.

Instead, be strategic.  Go live before an event or when something BIG happens.  Don’t sell in your videos: entertain or deliver value without banging your followers over the head with annoying advertisements.  Use your live video to broadcast advice from and expert about tiling their bathroom or how to fix their bicycle.  Or give your followers the “inside scoop” and broadcast one of your employees (with their permission) participating in a community event—a post that’s sure to make you stand out.

5 Areas to Invest Your Marketing Dollars in 2017

Businessman with binoculars looking to future of marketingA progressive small business owner or manager always looks ahead, whether it’s to the next service your customers want, the methods of delivery, or the next way to be part of the community.  The same goes for marketing.  If you want to stay ahead in marketing your business, the end of the year (both fiscal and calendar) is a great time to look for the “next big thing” to invest your marketing budget.

To be clear, we’re not talking about fads.  Fad marketing comes and goes, making your investment a short-term investment.  No, we’re talking about long-term strategies that keep delivering dividends well into the future and you can integrate with your tried-and-true strategies (direct mail, advertising, etc.)

Optimized Website

If a new website is on your list of business marketing tasks for the New Year, add optimization to your list of considerations for the new site (in additional to functional and aesthetics).  An optimized site is built for the search engines, both in terms of structure and content.  An optimized website is built for an optimal user experience (both on desktop and mobile) with speed, relevance, images, and content playing a key role.

You can’t get an optimized website built by just anyone, so be selective about the individual or company you hire to build your website.  Some companies can give you a website that is beautiful, but difficult for search engines to index. One of our clients had first-hand experience with this phenomenon.  When it came time for them to build a new website, a friend promised to build them a beautiful and cheap site.  They took this friend up on their offer, and the result was disastrous. The website was beautiful, but the content and structure was so poor that they dropped in search engine results like a stone.  Take their story to heart; invest your dollars into an optimized website that search engines and your target audience notices.

SEO

Getting indexed by search engines is only half the battle.  If you want to get to the top of search engine results, it’s time to add search engine optimization to your list of marketing tools.  Specifically, we’ve seen businesses get excellent marketing results from local SEO which targets customers within a 10, 20, or 50 mile radius from their location (or locations).  Local SEO also works within a short amount of time.

One of our clients in southeastern Wisconsin saw their website traffic double in just four months because of search engine optimization. In 30 days, their unique visits increased 122% and hit an impressive increase of 200%. Remember that website traffic is just a number unless you can convert those visits to customer interest. Our client receives significantly more form submissions every week from potential customers thanks to SEO, with 60% of those visits stemming from their search engine optimization package.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is a marketing win on two different fronts: for your audience and search engines.  Content marketing is the process of creating content to your website.  We’ve seen significant results for businesses that use a blog for this purpose.  With a strategic plan and regular posts, content marketing creates more pages to be indexed by search engines.  More pages equals better search engine results, and higher rankings on search engine results pages.

More importantly, content marketing delivers value to your customers and potential customers—if you promote it (i.e. on social media, in emails, more ideas here).  Relevant and regular content answers your customers’ questions and assists them with their problems, building trust and driving them toward a sale.

If you’re considering content marketing, start with a calendar and a plan.  Regularly posted content is important to achieve results, so make sure your calendar is ‘doable’ or enlist the help of a content marketing firm that can execute—or hire a company to take on the planning and execution with your input (here’s how to weed out a quality candidate).

Social Media Marketing

Social media is all the rage, but it’s a marketing tool that’s not going away any time soon.  With the number of social media users steadily increasing, social media is a unique opportunity to connect with your customers and potential customers—and to drive sales.  Like content marketing, social media is an opportunity for your business to build trust.

You can do that by choosing a social media site (or sites) that fits the demographic of the audience you want to reach, and adding social media posts to your list marketing calendar.  Remember, that social media is not a billboard; it’s a way to connect.  To that end, post content that builds trust and sells—with a majority of it aimed at entertaining (when appropriate) and building trust. (More ‘must haves’ of a solid social media presence here.)

Social media takes time, so make sure you don’t get in over your head on multiple social media sites that you don’t have time for (automated sites like Hootsuite and Buffer can help).  Tailor your posts to each individual social media site for best results; social media users can see when you don’t know what you’re doing.  If you don’t feel like you know what you’re doing, trust your social media marketing to experts that do.

Email Marketing

Email marketing sounds so simple; get a list of emails and send out an email asking your customers to buy your products.  In reality, email marketing is a marathon of regular, relevant emails —and a marathon that yields long-term results.  Include your emails strategically in your marketing plan, and make sure you send your emails to recipients who want to receive it.

Email marketing drives your customers back to your website (which should be built for an awesome experience), to your social media pages, or to your content to build trust.  Emails can be automated and sent out by automated programs, or you can trust your emails to marketing firms that have the experience and expertise to draft attention-grabbing emails.  We’ve seen statistics that say the return on investment can be as high as 400% with email marketing, making email marketing one of the premiere areas to invest your budget dollars.

Step by Step: How to Get Your Business Up & Selling on Social Media

popular social media icons on tablet screen ready for business ready to useYou just sign up your business up for social media and….

And WHAT?

The fact that you’re reading this post means you’re looking for the answer to that question.  The answer isn’t always a million followers and a zillion sales for your business—unless you take a more strategic jump into the world of social media.

Make a plan with a goal.

Too many businesses wander into social media, and keep wandering because they have no goal.  Social media should not feel like you’re trying to find your way through a dark room with a blindfold on.  Crafting a plan with a goal eliminates that, and gives you guidance as you choose the right social media posts and create content for social media.

Use the SMART acronym to choose your goal.  The S in SMART is for specific; be as specific as possible about what you hope to achieve.  M is measurable; your goal should be something you are able to measure so your have a clear idea of how far/close you’ve come to reaching it.  The latter sentiment takes us to the next letter in our acronym, attainable.  As much as you want to reach 1 million followers, remember that social media is a marathon effort not a sprint.  Set a goal you can reach.  R is for relevant; your goal should be in line with your business goals.  T is for timely.  When do you want to reach your goal?

Write your goals down, and create a calendar with tactics that help you reach your goal.  Be flexible as you follow your calendar; the best brands on social media (wisely) choose content that is relevant to their audience’s “right now.”

Do your research.

Who do you want to reach?  Who is your audience?  Instead of jumping on board every social media channel you don’t have time for, be more strategic.  Think about who your audience is, and choose the social media channel with the demographic that helps you reach that audience.

As you do your research, don’t buy into the one-size-fits-all notion that you can simply link two social media channels to kill the proverbial two birds with one stone.  Each social media channel is different, and you’re going to achieve your goals if you cater your posts to that specific channel.  If you feel like you don’t know how to make that happen, contact the experts who can.  There’s no shame or blame in outsourcing your efforts to a company who has the expertise about the specifics of each channel and can help you reach your social media goals.

Follow through.

This sounds simple enough, but “following through” on social media is the one challenge that we see businesses repeatedly have problems with.  (That’s usually why they contact us.)  Most businesses start with good intentions, filling their social media channels with posts…until they don’t.  Suddenly their social media channels go silent, and they’re not achieving the goals they set out to achieve.

To help (but not replace) with regular social media posts, use automation to your advantage.  Use services like Hootsuite or Buffer to automate your posts so you can post regularly and get the results you signed up to achieve (or contact someone who can).

If you want to achieve results, don’t just sell on social media (more tips for solid social media presence here). While you set out to sell your products on social media, you have to post relevant and regular content that your audience cares about—and leads you to your ultimate social media goal.

20 Ways to Spice Up Your Holiday Marketing Campaign

muffins, tea, and holiday drink filled with holiday cheer from marketing campaignIt’s never too late, or too early, to spice up your holiday marketing campaign. Fact is, the holidays are a great time to relate to your audience in your content marketing, on social media, and in emails to your customers. 

That doesn’t mean you should abandon your planned marketing campaign and just post random holiday “stuff.”  It does mean that you should add some holiday cheer into your plan that your target audience wants to see (if you don’t have time, give yourself the gift of a marketing firm that can keep your social media posts regular).  Here are a few ideas that’ll spice up your holiday marketing campaign—and your followers’ interest.

  1. Pictures of how your office or store is “decking the halls”
  2. Social media post about business involvement in community
  3. Video of holiday cheer (i.e. slideshow of photos of décor, company service in community, etc.)
  4. Ask on social media for photos of holiday cheer from followers (i.e. their pictures of elf on the shelf, favorite cookie design, favorite gift, etc.)
  5. Offer social media only discounts and incentives to buy (make sure you don’t only post sales info)
  6. Email with ways to help them with holiday gifts (i.e. free shipping, ideas, etc.)
  7. Content that helps with holiday to-do list
  8. Story about retro holiday favorite that ties into business or industry (content or social media)
  9. Holiday fun memes (relatable to your industry)
  10. Content with last-minute tips about getting ready for the holidays
  11. Testimonials from clients about how product or service made holidays better
  12. Content with relatable holiday stories
  13. Holiday countdown graphics
  14. Social media contest asking for pictures with special holiday prize for winner
  15. Run a poll (i.e. does our tree look best with this tree topper, what holiday coffee flavor is best, etc.)
  16. Run trivia question about holidays on social media
  17. Create a hashtag (if you are on a social media channel that uses them) that relates to the holiday (i.e. #soooonotreadyforholidays, #holidayfailx2, etc.-make sure you do your research before using)
  18. Content about New Year’s resolutions
  19. Memes about the New Year
  20. Content with New Year’s predictions related to your industry

Small Business Owners: 4 Marketing Terms You Should Know (& Use!)

business growth chart with people celebrating business growth from online marketingWhen you’re looking to grow your business, there are a lot places you can turn to: fellow business owners, consultants, marketing firms.  All of them can feel like you’re swimming upstream without a paddle and stranded in a sea of marketing jargon.  And the whole time you’re listening all you want to do is run and grow your business.

That’s why we’ve put together this list of marketing terms every small business owner should know and use to grow their business.  Or, more accurately, if you only want to run your business and not worry about marketing, what jargon to look for when you contact marketing firms about these online marketing tactics (otherwise known as jargon).

Website Optimization/SEO

It used to be that all you needed was a beautiful website to grow your business online.  Today a beautifully-designed website is not enough to get your business customers off the web.  Your website just sits without promotion—unless you optimize your website for search engines.

An optimized website starts with a well-built website, structured for search engines.  Your optimized website should have an easy-to-navigate menu system and fast loading speed, both for optimal user experience and search engine credit.  The next step is adding optimized content to your website, written for search engines and customers.  Make sure your contact information is clearly included on your website for customers and search engines to use.  Use compelling images on your website optimized for search engines and to get customers’ attention. Make your website mobile-friendly for the benefit of smart phone and tablet users alike (and a huge turn-off to customers and search engines if your website isn’t mobile-friendly). How can you tell if your current website is optimized well? Ask the pros.

To expand the reach of your optimized website, consider search engine optimization which is everything mentioned above with a technological boost.  SEO technology is offered by specialized companies that keep up with this evolving technology (more information here).  There are several types of SEO technology, but we’ve seen great success for companies that use local SEO to target a local audience.

Local SEO technology targets users that are searching online in your target area. Local SEO gets business websites at the top of search engine listings in towns and cities within a 10, 20, or 50 mile radius.  Think of it as a prominently displayed modern phonebook ad—without looking like an ad.  SEO gets your website in the listings below the ads, which is important when you look at the statistics. Today, 54% of Americans have substituted the Internet and local search for phone books (comScore) and 95% of smartphone users have looked for local information (Source: The Mobile Movement Study, Google/Ipsos OTX MediaCT , Apr 2011). 75% of users never scroll past the first page of search engine results.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is the equivalent of an online newsletter article posted online regularly, though it doesn’t always have to be an article.  Content marketing is the strategic producing of videos, images, and articles that give your customers/readers something.  That ‘something’ can be an answer to a problem, entertainment (when appropriate), or information.

All of this content is added to your website on a regular basis (several times a week, once a week, once every two weeks, etc.)  So how does all this good content (find out how to tell if your content is good here) help grow your company? If you plan your content and marketing of that content well, your blog posts can be a valuable asset to your customers and potential customers.  Your content can help them with their problems, build their trust, and entertain them (when appropriate).

Content marketing also has another benefit: it gives your website more credibility in the eyes of search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.  Adding content to your website adds more valuable pages (if you post excellent content) that search engines want to deliver to their users.  This in turn can help boost where your website is listed in search engine results when customers and potential customers search for your business.

Social Media Marketing

Social media is more than just a place to keep up with your friends.  It’s also a valuable place to market your business, so you don’t alienate your personal friends with sales pitches.  More than that, it’s an excellent platform to market your brand.

More than that, social media is an ideal place to connect with your customers even when they don’t need you.  Pictures of your staff (when appropriate) and day-to-day operations, entertaining memes, content that answers their questions—all these types of content give your business a face and a personal connection with potential customers (here’s how to build that social media following).  One note: marketing your business on social media is only effective if you post regularly so your connection is consistent (other signs of a solid social media presence are listed here).

Email Marketing

Sending emails to your customers is one of the most effective ways to grow your business—if you do it right.  Build a solid email list (here’s how to and how not to build an email list).  Write emails with strong headlines and content.  Strong headlines are not always sales pitches, they are creative attention-grabbers.

The content of a successful email is different for every company, but it doesn’t have to include a lot of text.  Give your customers value, like a discount or information that your readers want.  Make it worth their while to open your email—and to click on the links to your optimized website, social media marketing, and content marketing pages.

Why Facebook Isn’t Always Right for Your Company

happy businessman jumping into social media for companyWhen business owners see—or start to hear about—the benefits of social media for business, their first inclination is to jump on board.  It makes sense, especially with all the goals that can be achieved with a solid social media presence.

There is one down side to just jumping in to social media: the step of choosing what social media site is right for the business is completely overlooked.  Instead, most people tend to sign up for the biggest site so they can cast a big net, or the social media site they have a personal profile on.

That’s when you need to just slow down.

Don’t get us wrong: we’re not saying that Facebook is the wrong site for every business (we’re not!).  We’ve achieved great things for many businesses on Facebook.  What we are saying is that when you’re considering signing your business up for social media, your first step should be deciding what site or sites is right for you—and how many sites you can manage well.

Choosing the right social media site(s)

social media sites behind smart phoneMatching your business to the right social media site (or sites) is a match made in heaven, because it allows you to reach the people who like—and want to buy—your products.  They’re your target audience—and should be your social media focus.

That’s the problem with jumping on the biggest site, or the site you have a personal profile on.  If your target audience isn’t on that social media site (more info on social media sites and key demographics in this infographic), you’re not going to engage with the people you want—and want you.

Are you a hair salon or bridal shop? Consider Pinterest, where images and a mostly-female demographic fit with your product. Sports team? Consider Twitter where fans are waiting for your 140-character updates.

Worse for your business is when you jump on that site, or all the major social media sites, and then discover you don’t have time.  An abandoned Facebook page, Twitter profile, or any other business page isn’t going to get you results—and it looks bad to anyone who happens upon your abandoned site.

What makes a solid social media presence

Plan

A good social media plan for your business revolves around two key factors: target audience and business calendar. Knowing your target audience facilitates 1) choosing social media sites; 2) selecting the right tone for your audience; 3) determining what content you create and post to social media that fits your audience.

A good social media marketing plan follows the 80/20 or 70/30 rule. Twenty percent of your posts should be promotional and 80% entertaining (if appropriate), relevant and valuable to your audience.

Scheduling tool

To execute a stellar and efficient social media plan, sign up for a good scheduling tool, such as Hootsuite or Buffer. Don’t schedule your social media posts too far in advance so you can stay on top of trending topics.  When necessary, be flexible when needed.

Hash tags

On certain social media sites, such as Twitter and Instagram, hash tags are not optional —at least not for anyone (or business) who wants to gain traction on social media. Posts with relevant hash tags can expose your post to potential followers interested in your industry or topic. Hash tags are also invaluable when starting a conversation, running a photo contest, promoting an event, or executing a coordinated social media campaign. Create original hash tags without any “online baggage” (i.e. used before with negative connotations, taken from a competitor) and promote them through an integrated marketing campaign that includes online and offline marketing efforts.

Quality images

Social media posts with images have been proven time and again to receive significantly more engagement than posts without. Use this social media image cheat sheet to create images optimal for your social media network, and be very selective about the images you create or choose. Don’t just pull random images off the internet; this can lead to serious legal repercussions (more about image copyright info by Hootsuite here).

If you decide Pinterest or Instagram is right for your business, don’t just worry about size; worry about the quality of your images. These social media networks are visual networks, and you won’t get results unless you have high-quality images and attention-grabbing text.

Regular posts/Time

Your social media plan isn’t going to gain momentum if you’re present for a period and gone for awhile.  Inconsistent social media posts are going to get you nowhere if you take the feast and famine approach.  Put simply, great social media execution requires regular time—and not just when you have the time.

The definition of “regular” depends on the social media site you are on. Whatever site—and the frequency of your posts—you find works for your company, choose quality posts over quantity. Twenty ‘junk’ tweets or posts won’t get you results (except for bogus followers) if your tweets aren’t valuable and relevant. If you don’t have time to produce and find quality posts, outsource your efforts for optimal social media results on the right site for your business.

5 Things You Should Look for in a Content Marketing Firm

business interviewing potential content marketing firmEver since the benefits of content marketing became clear (i.e. increased web traffic, value for your customers, etc.), the internet is crawling with content marketing firms full of promises.  “Choose us!  We get you results!” One of the scariest promises we saw recently was “Fully automated blog gets you to the top!”

While all those promises sound wonderful and we know it can be hard to sift through the smoothest sales talks, there are a five clear signs that can help you weed out the disreputable and find the best content marketing firms (for your business and your budget) that have these commonalities.

Data

A reputable content marketing firm should be able to provide data to back their claims up, both in the benefits of content marketing and what they can do.  If your content marketing firm delivers only promises and not numbers, walk away.  Contact a reputable content marketing firm that can tell you what a content marketing plan can do for your business, and what they have done for other businesses in the past, with real, concrete data.

Experience

Not only can a good content marketing company back up their claims with data, they have the experience to know that it doesn’t happen in a box.  Look for a company that doesn’t just offer content marketing, because the best online marketing plan includes online and offline marketing services that coordinate together for a solid marketing strategy.  Content marketing pieces are no good unless you use have a strategy for promoting the content; a good content marketing firm knows that (or can give you recommendations on how to use your content).

Clients

With all the internet claims and content marketing firms online, testimonials or case studies from a firm’s clients with long-standing relationships can be your godsend—a clear sign your content marketing firm is more than just a robot somewhere pumping out keyword-stuffed text.

Questions

There are many content marketing firms that use a one-size-fits-all approach to content marketing.  They target businesses in the same industry, and produce a slew of articles that fit the industry.  While that sounds wonderful, those generic topics don’t address the specific services your business offers or give your business a face.  If your content marketing firm doesn’t ask you specific questions about your business, your clients, and target audience, it’s time to turn the tables and start asking them questions.

No shadiness

Just as copying off your classmate’s paper landed you in hot water back in school, internet plagiarism comes with some very stiff internet penalties.  If you even suspect a potential content marketing firm of any shady marketing practices, run far, far away—to a reputable content marketing firm that can deliver quality content that gets you results (that they can prove).

4 Shady (Bad) Marketing Tactics You Should Run From (FAST)

businessperson being scared by bad marketing tactics on paperWhen you’re a business owner, it can feel like you have a target on your back.  Everyone wants and knows how to grow your business, and they’re all offering to make it happen—for a cost.  While some of the marketing promises might sound, well, promising, a bit of caution is wise when sifting through the offers for a variety of reasons. Shady marketing firms can take your money and not deliver, or, worse, use shady marketing tactics that lead to penalties and a marketing mess that can take a LONG time to recover from.

Most of these firms aren’t walking around with signs that say, “I’m as shady as the day is long!” so it’s up to you look through the sales pitch and look for whiffs that they might not deliver.  Here are a few shady marketing practices that you should look for, and avoid (as the old adage goes) “like the plague.”

Buying email followers

This is one of those situations where if the promise sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Marketing firms promise to beef up your email list quickly because sending an email to more recipients would (in theory) increase your chance of sales conversions.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?  After all, if you throw more darts at a dart board, inevitably several are going to hit the target.  While the claim seems to make sense, an email list that delivers long-term (note, not short-term) results is built over time via in-person contacts, social media, online offers, and advertising (a full list of ideas for building an email list here).  If you want to reap those long-term results, contact companies that give you advice on a comprehensive marketing plan that builds a legitimate email list to recipients who want to receive your emails.

Paid links

Backlinks are important to the SEO of your site, but paid links can do just the opposite.  Google has made it very clear that if they find paid links, they penalize the sites responsible.  If your marketing firm mentions buying backlinks (links back to your blog) or using any dishonest means to ‘get’ backlinks to your blog or website, walk away from their deal.

Instead, look for firms that can deliver the ‘real’ deal: marketing firms that can give you testimonials from clients who have gotten long-term SEO results (local results if you have a local clientele to reach).  They don’t have to deliver their trade secrets, but a good SEO firm should be able to give you information about their service so you know you’re not using black hat SEO that could get you penalized.

Buying social media followers

We are still shocked at the amount of money this multi-million dollar industry generates, and we can certainly understand why people buy into it.  The rationalization is simple: having thousands and thousands of followers gives you a lot of street credibility.  Plus, it’s sure to make other people follow you, and accomplish all those goals you set for social media marketing.

The truth is more disappointing: while buying social media followers may make you look good, it doesn’t give you any more than numbers.  Fake social media followers aren’t an engaged audience that connects with you and drives sales.  Remember, no matter what those Twitter account with the strange font tell you, purchasing followers is not going to get you long-term results.

Plagarism

Very few content marketing firms would walk up to you and blatantly say (and certainly not any reputable marketing firms), “we’re going to steal content from another site and paste it into your blog.”  But you should be concerned if your content creator doesn’t seem to want any input at all for content topics, now or in the future.  To be clear, not every content marketing company is full of plagiarists, and it’s normal to re-purpose old content into a new, in-depth piece.  However, you should be wary of automatic “content generators” that may be “reusing content” from other sites.  It won’t help the SEO of your website, and you’ll be responsible for stolen content.