What is local website optimization?

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man using smartphone to find local businessesMarketing for a local business is different than a national company. Not better or worse, just different.

National and local businesses may have the same goals. They may even target the same audience demographic.

But a potential customer interested in lawn mowers in Texas isn’t going to drive to Wisconsin to purchase. Or for dinner at a Wisconsin restaurant. Or order carpet from a flooring store thousands of miles away. Local franchises are in the same proverbial boat.

But every company should have an online presence, both national and local. This can leave local business owners and sales teams asking, “How can we get our website in front of local customers?”

Trust us. We’ve been asked the question A LOT.

Unfortunately, building a well-designed, easy-to-navigate website is only part of the task. The next step is website optimization, the process of creating a website optimal for search engines. Some website optimization can be accomplished during the building process by optimizing the website structure for search engines.

Website optimization is a continual process. For local businesses, the next website optimization step revolves around targeting local customers (and no, this does not mean listing local community names at the bottom of every page). Basically, the goal of local website optimization is to be found by local customers when they search.

Generally, think of this scenario; a homeowner is looking for new flooring. Instead of pulling out the traditional phone book, the homeowner goes online and searches for local flooring store. Search engines pull up a list of local flooring businesses and information (plus ads) relevant to the search. Local website optimization puts a local flooring store in that list.

Embracing local website optimization

Local website optimization is not a flippant process. Strong (and complete) efforts lead to strong results. Its also a process that should be focused on the audience and search engines; optimized website caters to both. All website content should be created with keywords and topics that potential local customers would use in their search. Simply put, when potential customers have a problem, they look for a solution online. Website optimization provides the answer to the problem, and local optimization technology ensures that content shows up in organic searches (below the ads) by a local audience. If the process sounds like its being communicated in another language, outsource local website optimization efforts to the professionals (use these guidelines for selecting the right optimization pros).

As stated previously, optimization is a continual process. Optimized content added to a website on a regular basis gains credit with both search engines and online users. To target a local audience, produce relevant content that a local audience can relate to and create a promotion plan to reach the target audience.

Establishing a strong online presence

In addition to optimization, creating a strong online presence can play a crucial role in earning key positions on search engines. Taking ownership of business profiles on local review websites (i.e. Yelp, Facebook, Google My Business, etc.) is a necessary step in the endeavor to earn a top spot on search engine pages. As with website optimization, this effort is a continual process. Fortunately (and unfortunately) for businesses, owning these pages comes with positive and negative reviews. Manage these reviews by connecting with a company with brand online management software or use these tips to deal with unhappy customers and request reviews from satisfied customers.

(Highly) Effective Ways to Drive Local Leads to your Sales Team

salesperson conferring with clients using online marketingNothing in the business world exists in a vacuum. Every service, every department, every piece of a company is connected. Marketing is connected to customer service. Customer service is connected to daily operations. Marketing is connected to sales.

Or is it?

Is your marketing integrated into your company sales strategy? Are you investing in marketing that your sales team can use? Are you putting valuable marketing tools in your sales team’s hands?

If not, reconsider. Even the most awesome salesman or woman appreciates solid marketing that they can use to boost sales and improve the bottom line.

Invest in a good website

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is junk in the business world. The truth is that customers judge a company by first impressions—both in-person, printed, and online—every day. Online, this is especially true for company websites, where a slow-loading or low-quality website leads to high bounce rates. Put simply, if your website is subpar (in design or functionality) or doesn’t load quickly, potential clients and customers leave and move on to other companies with functional websites and sales teams they can contact.

To generate leads for your sales team, build a functional, well-designed website with clear call-to-actions and easy contact forms. Designate a staff member responsible for passing the potential e-mails generated from the website to a member of the sales team, and follow-up to ensure that all contacts are responded to promptly.

Get your website at the top of local search results

Warning: it’s time for another saying that is completely not true in marketing. “If you build it, they will come.” A website is not going to attract visitors on its own (or leads to the sales team); behind every successful online business presence is a well-executed website promotion plan and strategy.

One of the most effective ways to promote a website—and to attract leads for the sales team—is local website optimization. This technology optimizes a company’s website for local keyword searches (in this case, local to business location) on major search engines, such as Google and Bing. There are a lot of marketing agencies that offer the service; select an agency that can show examples of past successes and can provide regular reports of data that indicate ongoing local website optimization success. Local optimization gets local visitors researching relevant services and products to the business website; a well-designed website gets messages that the sales team can follow up on.

Produce content the sales team can use

Another effective way to attract local leads is with visual and well-written content. Content regularly added to a website earns a business extra credit with search engines (who value websites that add fresh high-quality content)—and can serve as the ideal way to build trust with prospective clients.

To achieve the latter, set up a plan of strategic content promotion by every member of the sales team. Train the sales team to use the content in emails (individual or mass communications) or on social media to build trust with prospects.

Make sure the communication goes both ways; ask members of the sales team to not only use the content, but to reciprocate with information that produces relevant content for future communications. Because of their regular contact with prospective clients, salespersons can provide frequently asked questions that can be used to provide quality content (either by company marketing or by a marketing agency) they want to use.

Manage online brand management tools

Prospective clients are researching services and products, and the companies that provide and produce them, with an (alarming) regularity. This trend is only alarming if the company brand is the subject of numerous negative reviews—negative reviews that can play a significant role in the amount of (or lack of) prospects contacting the sales team.

To keep the phone ringing off the hook, take ownership of online reviews. Set up a system for requesting and monitoring online reviews or contact a company with automated brand management software. Respond to all negative and positive reviews; use these tips to respond to negative reviews in a positive manner. View a negative review as an opportunity to showcase stellar customer service. Thank positive reviewers for their input and notify the sales team of all positive reviews so they can use them in their future communications with prospective clients.

Local Businesses: 20 Marketing Ideas that Connect with Customers

local customer with smart phoneAs local business owners, another sale may be the ultimate goal, but a connection with a customer is what gets those sales in the door. With in-person and digital options available, local business owners and managers need to select the right (and most efficient) marketing ideas that form those invaluable connections with local customers.

What is the goal of a customer connection?

A connection with a local customer is more than just a means to another sale—and it’s different for a local business versus a huge national corporation. A local business owner should choose tactics that inspire actions from a customer, such as (but not limited to) a referral, brand awareness, positive reviews, or in-person contact. The desired action should play a key factor in deciding on the type of tactic selected to reach business goals. A marketing professional can also offer advice on the specific tactics right for a local business.

It’s also important to realize that many marketing tactics are more than just a part of a plan; they are an integral part of operations that should be implemented via customer service employees who are the face of the business. This means that local business owners and managers should develop standard operating procedures that are a daily part of business and a standard part of employee trainings.

When its time to outsource local marketing efforts, take that team approach a step further. A marketing firm is an extension of your business’ efforts; contact them regularly with updates and information that can be used for a cohesive execution of all local marketing tactics.

How can I get more connections with my customers?

In-person

  1. Ask customers during customer interactions to follow business on social media
  2. Provide a card or flyer during customer interactions with social media options
  3. Ask customers during customer interactions to sign up for email list
  4. Provide a card with deals and contact information to be included in local community event goodie bags
  5. Ask satisfied customers for online reviews
  6. Give customers a mobile device for payment and for leaving an online review (when service is completed)

Website

  1. Optimize your website so you appear in search engine rankings
  2. Include clear call-to-actions (graphic & text) that ask for social media follows and email list sign-ups
  3. Post content with local news, tips, and information helpful for customers

Social Media

  1. Post pictures of employees doing work or on special occasions (with their approval)
  2. Drive traffic to a specific website page from social media
  3. Share website content relevant to customers’ lives
  4. Respond promptly to messages from customers with helpful advice
  5. Share posts from other local businesses and events
  6. Social media advertisements that target local users

E-mails

  1. Send out personalized e-mails with relevant information
  2. Showcase community involvement and local news pertinent to the community and business

Print

  1. Send out flyers or printed materials to local prospects
  2. Ask other local business owners to carry printed materials

Online Review Sites

  1. Take ownership of business profiles on review sites
  2. Contact a company with brand reputation software that manages positive and negative reviews from all online review sites
  3. Respond to all online reviews (negative and positive)
  4. Provide excellent customer service to customers who leave negative reviews (i.e. assist with resolving issue, offer to help)

Local Marketing Ideas that Put Your Business on the Map

customer paying for product at local businessLocal sales are what every local business owner strives for, but are not always attainable until they hit on the right combination of marketing tactics. To muddy the decision-making process even further, the perfect marketing combination is different for every local business.

Though testing is part of the process, a good marketing strategy minimizes the amount of guesswork. The right strategy can position a brand in front of the right people at the right time. Identifying the “right people” is one of the first steps; a target audience is the key to selecting the right marketing tactics and schedule that increase the bottom line.

Website

Today’s websites are more than online brochures; they are a means to an end, with the end being an online sale or contact. To that end, a website should be created with the ends in mind. The website should be easy to navigate for online users, with content produced for the target audience and easy-to-access contact information and calls to action. A mobile-friendly website used to be a luxury; today, mobile-friendly is a must for any business website. Walk (or run) away from any website design company that suggests otherwise.

Local Optimization

Without promotion, a website is just another page on the internet. Significant effort and planning should be put into website promotion; one of those methods can be done during website creation and continually after it goes live. Optimization is the process of creating content for search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing; if done correctly, an optimized website is listed on the first page of search engine results pages for phrases relevant to the business.

For local businesses, there is an added factor: locality. Local optimization services not only get a business at the top of online users’ search results; they get the website ranked at the top of local search results within a radius around the business. Not all optimization services are created equal; contact a local search optimization firm that can show results and data from other clients—and continually produce the data that proves it works.

Content

Optimized web content is only a part of attracting the attention of search engines and users. Regular, high-quality content added to a website continually earns their attention AND can be used in other promotional tools. Regular blog posts, graphics, and video relevant to the target audience (note-they are the key to successful marketing AGAIN). This content can also be used on social media, snail mailings, and in these other business promotion tactics.

Social Media

A connection with customers that walk in the door is vital to sales; an online connection keeps them walking in and gets them to the door. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram are the link. As with every marketing tactic, positioning the business in front of the target audience is the key to success. Before any business blindly dives on social media, some thought should be given to choosing the social media site with the majority of users in the target audience (use this data on social media demographics). No matter what social media site chosen, regular posts get results. Choosing the right social media or sites, and devoting regular efforts to posting, is the formula for a regular connection with customers.

To connect with local customers, post regular content that shows the business is part of the community and takes an interest in local activities. Share news of local events the business is involved in, and pictures of the people in it. With their permission, post photos and videos of employees and customers that are vital to keeping a local business going.

(Snail) Mailings

Mailings to customers and potential customers may not play as vital of a role in modern marketing as in the past, but they are still a solid way (especially when integrated into a marketing campaign) to retain and attract local customers. Always include alternate ways to contact on the mailer, such as a website link and social media address, so customers can communicate on their own schedule and via their preferred means.

E-mail

E-mail is a digital marketing tactic that has one of the highest returns on investment IF sent to e-mail users that want to receive e-mails. Build a strong e-mail list by making in-person and online asks (i.e. via website, social media, etc.). Send relevant e-mails to that list with content valuable to them (not just discounts and offers) on a regular basis. A solid e-mail is relevant, valuable, and creative enough to get users’ attention AND clear call-to-actions that customers can easily use.

Reviews

An online review is more than just a record of a customers’ experience; it’s a marketing tactic that can be utilized to attract customers. Statistics prove that reviews are a valuable marketing tactic. Creating online profiles and ‘owning’ those reviews are an essential part of marketing a local business. Ask for local reviews (use these ideas to get positive reviews) and incorporate them into daily operations. Integrate reviews into your marketing strategy or lean on local marketing pros that have put other businesses on the map.

9 BIG Content Marketing Do’s & Don’ts that Get Results

hands typing on a computer producing contentA freight train. We’ve been around for, well, awhile (20+ years) and we’ve seen marketing on the internet develop and evolve. It’s not a slow process; many online marketing tactics have progressed at an amazing rate (look at social media!)—truly at the speed of a freight train. Content marketing is not immune from the rat race; creating content for marketing has evolved from blogging and producing short content to blogging with a few images to producing multiple types of content strategically that get results. Through it all, the principles of content marketing that get results have not changed—and neither have the “don’ts” that sabotage content marketing results.

Do make a plan.

Content marketing is not a tactic for the faint of heart. While writing a few blog posts or creating a series of graphics may get you short-term results, strategic content that follows a plan with written goals gets continual long-term results. Depending on your goals and tactics, content marketing can gain leads, raise awareness, and drive leads. Before the process of producing content is initiated, make a plan with clear goals, a target audience, and a schedule that follows your sales cycle.

Don’t steal from other sites.

The rules on plagiarism haven’t changed since school. It was wrong to copy other people’s work—even part of an article or work—-and it’s still wrong to duplicate text found on other websites. Beyond an ethical reason, duplicate content can prompt penalties from search engines that can take a significant amount of time to recover from.

Do know who you’re writing for.

A connection with a prospective customer is a valuable asset in your content marketing plan. That link with readers and viewers is not achievable if the content is produced without knowing the target readers. When drafting a content marketing plan, research the ideal target audience (i.e. gender, age group, interests, etc.) and include content ideas relevant to the reader.

Don’t take a “sell, sell, sell!” approach.

Even if the goal of content marketing is lead generation, not every piece of content produced should sound like a walking advertisement. People are surrounded by advertisements screaming at them on a regular basis; create a content calendar with approximately 20-30% produced with a strong selling message. Instead, produce content marketing that solves the reader’s problem and entertains them. Include clear call-to-actions and links directing readers to easy-to-use landing and contact us pages for optimal results.

Do answer customer questions.

Internet users search the internet regularly looking for answers to their problems. Answer them. Include sales staff into the production process on a regular basis. Ask them for frequently asked questions that customers ask often. Once the answer is produced, makes the sales team aware of the content so the content can be utilized on social media, blogs, e-mails, and communications with prospective customers.

Don’t miss a post.

Regular posts on web pages, social media, and blogs are an essential to content marketing success. Sporadic posts do not reach the audience on a regular basis and can negatively impact campaign results. Create a schedule of regular posts and stick to it. Use social media automation tools like Hootsuite or Buffer to efficiently use time and post when the target audience is online. Assign content to a staff member with clear deadlines or outsource the task to a quality content marketing firm that can supplement or manage a comprehensive content marketing plan.

Do post with an image or video.

Numerous studies have shown that blog and social media posts perform better with videos or images. Take those studies to heart; produce videos and images and include them strategically in the content marketing plan.

Don’t hesitate to outsource.

An ambitious content marketing plan is a list of steps: brainstorming topics, writing, creating graphics and video, optimizing for search engines. All of those steps need to be accomplished by the assigned deadline. There is no shame or blame in outsourcing all of part of those efforts; a content marketing firm can produce high-quality, optimized content that meets deadlines. When choosing a content marketing firm, use these tips to ensure that the end result is high-quality content that is optimized for search engines and plays an integral part in accomplishing content marketing goals.

Do use your content.

Content marketing pieces are not and should not be produced in a vacuum. Push it in personalized e-mails to customers (e-mail marketing or via sales staff). Promote it on social media. Use it in online advertising. There are many different tactics for using content, all of which should be utilized and executed.

9 Questions to Ask BEFORE You Jump into Content Marketing

question marks painted on a asphalt road surface signifying seo questionsContent marketing is a powerful marketing tool. Content marketing is as easy as spitting out piece after piece of content. Content marketing starts by diving into a regular schedule of content, images, graphics…

Not so fast.

Successful content marketing requires planning and a solid strategy. Effective content marketing requires asking questions so the ‘jump’ is a graceful dive—not a belly flop.

Strategy Questions

Who is the target audience we are writing for?

The tone of your content, types of content, and topics you choose ride on this question. Determine what group your efforts are targeted at; break it down into gender, general age group, interests, etc.

What is the goal?

Don’t dive into content marketing with a general “we just want more sales” approach. Decide on a goal for your content, such as increasing sales leads, building awareness, or retaining existing customer base. Remember as you create content, that no matter what your goal, not all your content should be a screaming advertisement; subtle content with the right call-to-actions can be just as effective and beneficial.

What schedule should I follow?

Once you have determined your target audience and goal, it’s time to put together a strategic schedule that follows your business sales cycle. For example, if you’re an event venue who wants to generate sales leads, your content calendar should follow the sales cycle. Craft content aimed at company managers who book holiday parties before the holiday season and wedding planning tips before wedding planning season.

Who is in charge of meeting the deadlines?

A successful content marketing calendar is broken down into regular, manageable deadlines. Assign every piece of content to a party that can meet those deadlines. The creator of the content does not need to be in-house; if producing content exceeds the capabilities of your company, consider outsourcing the effort to experts who can meet the deadlines.

How can we promote and use the content?

Content should not be produced in a vacuum. Blog posts should be shared via e-mail, images included in your social media strategy, videos posted in your online library. Have a plan for every piece of content created, the deadline for production, and schedule for promotion.

How can we measure results?

Evaluation is one of the most commonly overlooked steps of content marketing. Decide what analytics should be collected and analyzed periodically to decide the status of your current efforts, and what improvements can be made in the future.

Content Planning Questions

What questions do we frequently hear from customers?

The most effective content topics come from your target audience. Compile a list of frequently asked questions on a regular basis, and insert those questions strategically into your content calendar. These topics are relevant to the customer and answer questions, creating an instant connection that can convert readers into potential customers.

What topics do our customers search for?

If you want relevant topics that earn points with customers and search engines, put yourself in the readers’ shoes and use marketing tools that give you insight into online users’ search activity. Optimized content is a valuable tool for businesses that want to be found in search engines. For local businesses, go a step beyond to differentiate your business by including content and topics related to local users’ interests and community.

What images are needed?

Images are not an online luxury; all types of media are necessary for content marketing success. As you map out your content marketing strategy, brainstorm ways to strategically collect the necessary images needed to make your content marketing a success (if you outsource, that brainstorming is up to the marketing agency).

Content Marketing: The What & Types of Effective Business Content

hands working on laptop producing content for marketingLet’s not beat around the bush. Companies allocate their marketing funds based on one key question: what marketing tactic gets the best bang for the buck? The answer is where they allocate dollars and time.

With so little of both, most managers and owners are hesitant to put their marketing budget funds into the next “big thing.” A few years ago, producing content for your blog was the next big thing.

It still is.

Producing content is still one of the top ways to put your business website in front of local customers and give them all the information they’re looking for. But like everything else in life and technology, content marketing has evolved. It’s changed. And it’s still one of the most effective marketing tactics for small and large businesses.

State of Content Marketing

The simplest definition of content marketing is exactly what is inferred from the terms: content used to market a business. In its infancy, the tactic usually involved writing a blog post aimed at search engines. Frankly, many of those posts created were often so narrowly authored for that purpose that they provided little value to the reader. Other posts were short and aimed solely at selling to the reader. They were a walking advertisement. The amount of low value content published was staggering. The worst posts were unreadable to the average reader.

High quality content marketing is produced for two audiences: potential and current customers and search engines. Well-produced content builds trust (one of many ways to build trust online), provides answers and entertainment to visitors, and engages your target audience. For search engines, fresh and updated content gets a website extra credit in terms of search engine rankings.

Content types

Modern content marketing is more than just solely writing blog posts. Modern content marketing follows a plan and includes a variety of different types of content designed to reach and engage followers, including:

  • Blog posts. Blog posts—high quality, well-written, optimized posts—are still a major player in content marketing. Blog posts should provide value to the reader (ask this question before writing). A well-written blog post should be shared through e-mail, on social media, and in other marketing pieces. A successful blog includes valuable content (with quality images) produced on a regular basis. If you can’t keep up with a regular schedule, consider outsourcing the effort for optimal results.
  • Graphics. The type of graphic produced for content marketing depends on the purpose of the image. Images are a significant part of any content marketing effort. Memes and infographics can also get you credit on social media and in e-mails.
  • Video. There is a reason there are so many videos on YouTube, and more videos are uploaded every hour and day. Video is one of the top forms of media that online users view and share. Not all video needs to be professionally produced; videos created on tablets and phones can be just as effective. For additional views, share live video of events on social media.
  • E-books, docs, and whitepapers. Longform content can be a valuable offering to online viewers, and an effective way to build an e-mail list. For long-term value, produce checklists and books with content that lasts beyond short-term trends.

Content marketing is an effective marketing tactic that needs to be a regular effort. For that reason, the task should be assigned to a dependable staff member or outsourced to an experienced marketing agency.

10 Ways to Ask Customers for Online Reviews

customer filling in online review, leaving star review for businessOnline reviews have become a hot online commodity in today’s modern world. Customers research your business. They see those reviews. And statistics have shown that online reviews play a significant role in a customer’s purchasing decision. Every business wants positive online reviews. How do you get online reviews?

Before you start blindly reaching out for reviews, be aware that asking for online reviews comes with a risk—and additional work. Negative reviews come with positive reviews. All online reviews come with their own process: asking for reviews, monitoring reviews, and responding to reviews. All of these steps can be integrated into already existing operational procedures and should be included in the training of every employee who interacts with customers.

Asking for reviews

Because every business is different, it’s up to every business owner and manager to choose and implement the tactics that work for their company. As you determine what tactic is right for your business, know that there is value in pre-screening customers before you make the ask. Put simply, a positive review is more likely to come from a customer who has positive feelings about the work your company has done for them. Obviously, pre-screening does not mean your company is exempt from negative reviews. Negative reviews can come at any time (and from anyone)—no matter how and who you ask. Here are some ways to ask customers for online reviews:

  1. Put a sign by the register asking for reviews (with or without an incentive)
  2. Ask “Can you help us by reviewing us on _______________?”
  3. Ask “Were you happy with your service/product? We get a bonus for positive online reviews and would be grateful if you left a review on ______________.”
  4. Send out an e-mail to customers (with their permission-here are solid ways to build an e-mail list)
  5. Pass out flyers with instructions for review
  6. Include instructions for online reviews with packages that are sent out
  7. Have salesmen ask satisfied customers on phone to leave reviews, follow up with e-mail
  8. Include request for review on e-mailed receipts
  9. Offer a discount for next purchase with a review of the product
  10. Ask for review when corresponding with customer in social media messages

Monitoring for reviews

Awareness of reviews is a significant part of the review process; it can also be a challenge with so many online review sites. Once you’ve put your business out there with solid profiles on all the review sites, make the monitoring process efficient by contacting a company with an automated process that makes you aware of reviews posted about your business.

Responding to reviews

There is a general rule: respond to every review, both negative and positive. There are a few exceptions to this rule, though these are far and few in between. If the review is negative, always remember not to take the review personally. Remind yourself of this as you use these tips to respond to negative reviews:

  • Identify the customer’s problem. Read through the customer’s complaint completely, and identify the source of their complaint. Don’t be afraid to ask them to private message you with more information about their problem.
  • Respond promptly. Customers expect businesses to respond with online customer service within an hour. Don’t delay and add fuel to an angry customer’s negativity.
  • Don’t ask a customer to call you or take other steps to contact you. Communicate with them on their chosen medium and don’t make it difficult for them.
  • Show sympathy. Saying your sorry they have a problem does not show weakness.
  • Apologize if you were in the wrong. Try to sandwich the negativity with “Thank you so much for your feedback. We apologize for the delay by our technician. We will use your feedback to make sure that this error does not happen again.”
  • Showcase your customer service skills. Be incredibly polite. This is your chance to show them that you care enough to resolve the issue.
  • Read through your response before you send it to ensure that your response is appropriate. If needed, ask another manager to review the response.
  • Don’t respond to every customer with a canned (copy and pasted) response. You want your customer to feel like you care, not like they are one of a million customers.

If you are using an automated monitoring process, you can often respond and resolve the review before it becomes public. Don’t hesitate to take the time to protect your online reputation via reviews; the effort is well worth the investment, both for you and your customers.

Marketing that Can Be Done in an Hour (or Less)

company manager with an hour for marketing businessGot a few minutes to spare? Use the time and these ideas to market your business and improve your bottom line. But like all great ideas, they come with a disclaimer: marketing your business is more than just a one-time effort.

Effective marketing needs to be continually fueled and maintained. But we won’t waste any more of your time with a lecture; time is precious, especially when your business to-do list keeps growing. We can give you a list of marketing tactics that take an hour to get started AND a continual effort to keep getting results.

Optimizing your website

Get started: Build or update your website with optimized content. Add optimized headlines, images and videos with optimized alt tags, and content that search engines and your audience appreciate; don’t “over-optimize” and make it unattractive to your audience—all that does is increase your website bounce rate and decrease conversions. If all of these terms sound like a foreign language, contact an optimization company that gets results for other businesses—and can provide solid data to demonstrate results. Optimization can be especially valuable for companies that want to reach local customers in local communities around a headquarters or retail location.

Keep it going: Add optimized content to your website through a blog. Regularly produce content, videos, and images that follow your sales calendar. Remember just because you’re following your sales calendar doesn’t mean you need to produce content that is entirely about selling your business. Write about topics that provide value to your current and potential customers. Use this list of content marketing ideas for inspiration. Don’t forget that your content is being produced to convert your customers; include links back to your website, search-optimized pages, and social media channels so your customers have an easy way to buy and ask questions. Publish your content on a regular basis (or assign the task to a content marketing agency or staff member). Fresh content is a major factor in how your website performs on search engines; use the content on social media and in future e-mails as well.

Social media

Get started: Don’t jump onto any random social media site (or even just choose your favorite). Take a few minutes to decide who your target audience is and research social media sites to decide what site (or sites) is right for your business (use this graphic with key statistics about the top social media sites to start). Don’t get in over your head. Regular social media posting is a must to get results; don’t choose too many social media sites that you don’t have time to maintain. Once you’ve made your final decision about the right social media site and number of sites you have time for, use this article to set up a social media profile for your business.

Keep it going: Make a concerted effort to take photos and videos that your audience responds to. In addition to sharing your content, don’t be afraid to share interesting articles and videos, notices of upcoming events (i.e. grand openings, tradeshows, open houses, etc.), pictures of your employees providing service (with their permission), and interesting things you see on the job.  Keep everything you share somewhat professional; you don’t want to give your business a black eye by making one of these social media marketing mistakes. Respond immediately to any questions that come in through social media. If you don’t have time to post every day, use social media scheduling tools like Hootsuite and Buffer to automatically schedule posts at times when your audience is online.

Send out e-mails

Get started: Start building an email list of customers and potential customers, with their permission. Ask for e-mail addresses at every opportunity: during in-person contacts, on your website and blog, and on social media (other ideas for building an e-mail list here). Use an e-mail service (i.e. Constant Contact or Mail Chimp) to create an e-mail template that has the same look as other marketing materials. Include content and discounts that your audience wants to read. Make your customers want to open the e-mail by creating an attention-grabbing headline.

Keep it going: Send out e-mails on a regular basis; don’t send out too many e-mails so you annoy your customers and they unsubscribe. To save on time, use content produced for your blog and automatically schedule the e-mails so you don’t have to be available to hit the send button. Include links to your social media profiles, website, and blog for future engagement opportunities. If you find yourself squeezed for time, contact a marketing company and provide them with information for the e-mail so you don’t miss an opportunity.

To maintain your marketing momentum, create a written marketing plan that can help you efficiently and strategically execute these marketing tactics. Write down your goal and target audience, and keep it in mind as you draft a marketing plan that follows your business sales cycle. For example, if you are a caterer, look back at your sales for the past year to dictate your marketing plan for next year.  Your sales team or customer service representatives would be an excellent source for this information; after all, they are interacting with your potential and existing customers on a regular basis.  An example would look like:

December-March Booking weddings (because of high engagement rate)

April-June Booking company picnics

July-August Booking weddings

September-November Booking holiday parties

This calendar is very simplified, but you can see how your sales cycle would drive your marketing plan.  Next, list the specific tactics you plan to use (i.e. once a month customer email, weekly blog post, daily social media post, etc.), deadline, and party responsible to execute the tactic. Be flexible with your plan and honest about your time demands. When time gets tight, don’t hesitate to bring in the experts and reallocate your hour (every week or month) to give them direction (i.e. images, customer questions, etc.) and get the results.

BIG Things Small Businesses Overlook on Social Media

business manager managing company social media profileFacebook. Twitter. Instagram. Linkedin. Pinterest.

Social media sites are full of failed business profiles that are abandoned, full of negativity, or just full of junk. It’s impossible to know the reason behind every single botched social media attempt, but there are a lot of businesses out there—primarily small companies—who jump in to social media without thinking about these important parts of social media.

Answering messages

Most companies start a social media presence with a clear sales goal. There are ways to achieve this on social media with testimonials, images of products or services delivered, creative posts. However, many companies overlook the most direct approach: answering messages from potential customers.

Remember, customers (and potential customers) reach out to businesses with questions through whatever means is convenient for them—even if it’s not always the company’s preferred method. Select an employee or manager (carefully) who is trained to handle customer service inquiries. Connect an e-mail to company social media profiles so the employee receives notifications of new messages. If there is not a suitable employee or a manager that has time, contact a marketing company that can manage the social media profile (including responding to messages after contacting the business).

Respond to them as soon as possible. If that’s not possible, and the social media network has the capability, leave an auto-respond message that indicates when a response is coming (such as during business hours). Make it a top priority to respond promptly (within a few hours) BEFORE the customer moves on to the competition.

Negative comments and reviews

As much as company managers look forward to the sunshine of social media, there is a down side to marketing on social media. Social media is a two-way conversation; negative comments and reviews, unfortunately, are part of the process. Dealing with unhappy customers is also a key reason to choose the employee who responds on social media carefully (or why to put social media messages in the hands of marketing pros).

When a customer does post a negative comment or review, the general rule is to respond. The response should include a sincere sorry (even if it’s just for what they’re going through) and an offer—if possible—to resolve the issue. Don’t be afraid to ask the customer to private message if more information is needed. There are a few exceptions to the ‘always respond’ rule, such as if the comment or review is an act of revenge (i.e. from a former employee, angry friend or family member). On Facebook, the option to review a business can be turned off if the negativity becomes overwhelming. This shouldn’t be the first choice, however, as there is value in maintaining a social media profile with positive testimonials.

Amount of time it takes

Successful companies on social media make it look easy; from an outside standpoint, managing multiple social media profiles—and getting results from them—can appear simple. The truth is not so simple. The first step is choosing the right social media sites with the company’s target audience. From there, a solid social media presence requires quality images, videos, hash tags (when appropriate), responses…all posted at the right time (when followers are online) on a regular basis. A successful social media presence requires a plan that follows the company’s sales cycle (here’s how to craft a complete online marketing plan). In short, a successful social media presence requires time.

If the answer is in-house, a company manager should take care to choose the right employee who can maintain a regular posting schedule. If there is no one on staff who has the time or expertise, outsource the effort to an experienced marketing company.