8 Things to Consider BEFORE Your Website Redesign

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smartphone with URL address of a website redesignWe can’t emphasize the importance of a stellar website enough.  PEOPLE, it’s important.  Not important like that math project you didn’t want to do as a kid, but was told you would always use when you grew up—and never used again.  IMPORTANT.

A well-designed and functional website is like the foundation of a house.  If well done, it’s a solid support.  If your foundation isn’t strong, the rest of your marketing efforts are going to be ineffective.  After all, you can spend all your time trying to drive traffic to your website, but what good are your efforts if you can’t convert because of a poorly designed and built website?

We can attest to it. We’ve seen it: a great social media presence with all the essential elements, a blog full of excellent optimized content, marketing strategy that integrates it all—all based on a sub-par website that leaves visitors confused—and not buying. That’s why we’ve put these tips together to help you get through the website design process (either on your own or by relying on the experts) without feeling like you wasted your time and efforts.

KISS

We can’t stress this enough; usually business owners come to the initial website redesign planning meeting with a list of what they want—and everything in “an easy-to-find spot.”  To be clear: there’s no crime in having a wish list for your new website, but an overcrowded home page is incredibly ineffective—and can actually sabotage goals you’re trying to achieve with your new website.

Use the ‘KIS’ from the KISS adage when designing your website: keep it simple.  Have a goal for your website, and keep your website home page—and every internal page—simple and strategic so your customers and potential customers can focus on call-to-actions.  Website call-to-actions can include buttons, video, or text options: (i.e. for more information, get a free quote, download, etc.)

Content

Website content should be more than a block of text copied from a company brochure; it should be drafted specifically for your targeted online audience and search engines.  The first step is to identify your target audience and information that needs to be included (you may need to ask customers outside of your company for this information).  Once you start drafting content, keep the target audience and your secondary audience, search engines, in mind as you write your content.  Note that search engines are a secondary audience; you don’t want to write so much for the search engines that potential customers are driven away.  While this approach may result in improve search engine rankings, your bounce rate is going to increase and your conversion rate decrease.  If this sounds like a lot of gibberish, it may be wise to contact a website redesign professional about their optimized website writing services.

Media

PLEASE, please, please don’t invest the time and energy in a new website and not include any images or videos.  Images and videos are an opportunity; they are a chance to grab your reader’s attention, and keep it with interactive videos.  When choosing your images and videos, don’t settle for any less than high-quality relevant photos and videos on your new website—without landing in legal hot water.  As nice as it is to find images and videos on the internet, know your legal rights to use the photos and videos you use.  Using copyrighted images can open your company to serious (and expensive) legal repercussions (here’s more information on image rights and legalities).

Choose images for your website wisely and note the ‘relevant’ part of the right image. As much as you may love roman columns, a website for a pet grooming business full of roman columns is not a good fit.

Function & Navigation

A properly-organized website with intuitive navigation is more than a work of art; its part of an excellent user experience that converts users to customers. Approach your website redesign organization not as a business owner, but as a potential customer.  What do they want to know?  Where would they look?  Once you have a proposed organization of your website, use a sounding board to perfect your website navigation—and don’t stop.  Part of the website redesign process is testing and retesting until your final live deadline (and even after).

Optimization

If your site is well optimized, online searches should be one of the top sources of website traffic.  Local website traffic is essential for retail and businesses that rely on local users who need a quote or want to buy their products; think of the user looking for a service who picks up their smart phone asks Google for a list of local businesses that can solve their problem. Website optimization technology targets search engine users in cities and communities within 10, 20, or 50 miles from your location (or locations).  With professionally-written optimized content and technology, local optimization can get your well-built website redesign on the first page of search engine results.

Speed

Online users are tired of waiting for slow websites, and Google has taken note.  You should too (or the pros you hire to build your website) because faster websites gain you favor with Google and your online users.  If you don’t believe Google, look at the statistics: a recent study by KISSmetrics, 40% of users leave a site if it takes longer than three seconds to load.  As you build your new website, use this statistic when you look at page loading, image and video selection, and all other aspects of the final website product.

Mobile-friendly

It was a momentous day when Google announced the amount of mobile searches had surpassed the amount of desktop searches. Since that day, it’s also been clear that this is more than a passing trend—and another reason to design a new mobile-friendly website.  What does that mean? A mobile-friendly website is easy-to-read on mobile devices, has large buttons, a comprehensive contact us page, and a mobile-friendly structure.  If you approach a company or individual about a website redesign and there is no mention of a mobile website (not a separate one but a capability of your site), move on to your next website redesign option.  It’s that important.

Marketing Strategy

A website is the foundation of a solid marketing strategy, so keep your overall marketing goals in mind as you redesign your website.  If content marketing and social media are part of your plan, draft a website that is a valuable part of your marketing puzzle (or contact marketing pros that can fit all the pieces together).

5 Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Sales

Dollar Bills from solid business social media presence With The Word CashThere are a lot of reasons why business owners and managers jump into social media, but one of the most recurring motivations is the incredibly general, “we’re here to increase sales.”  While you may have more concrete goals in your marketing plan, that motivation is the underlying justification that rationalizes all the time invested in posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms (choose carefully).  Here are some ways to turn that motivation into actionable social media tactics when you set your company’s online marketing plan.

Include sales in your social media plan

Hopefully, every social media update you post is done with your audience in mind and answers the question, “what do they want to know?” Combine that with the business goals and a clear voice and you’ve got a winner of a marketing plan.

Undoubtedly, one area your audience is interested in is saving money. If you’re running a sale that helps them with that, include it in your list of planned posts and tweets.  To be clear: that doesn’t mean you should fill up your plan with only information about your latest sale, but it does mean that you should post sales ads AND informational posts in line with your sale goals (think 80% info/20% sales posts).  For example, if you’re running a sale on dog leashes, schedule posts and tweets about the sale AND posts that help your audience with dog training and aids (like leashes!). If you can’t wrap your mind around that kind of plan—-or you don’t have the time—consider hiring a marketing company to set a marketing plan and get results (here’s why).

Make it easy for your audience to ask for quotes.

The path to a sale is not always clear cut, especially if you need to provide a quote or estimate before the sale.  Make getting that quote or estimate easy for your potential customers: answer comments and messages that come through social media quickly, add a contact button to your Facebook page, and include your contact information to your profile picture (or hire experts that can).

Your customers expect you to answer them within a few hours of their message, so be ready to answer and use these customer service tips to complete the transaction.  If your customer is sending you a message via social media, don’t make them work hard to get information; try to answer them on their chosen form of communication, social media, and give them the option to call if needed.

Create clear call-to-actions in your content

If you’re taking advantage of all the benefits of a solid content marketing effort (and you should be), include a clear call-to-action in your content.  Your call-to-action doesn’t always have to be a hard-sell to get results (sales), use subtle call-to-actions as well (i.e. for more information, to find out more, etc.) Make sure your content is sharable as well, so your potential customers can share it easily.

Of course, you can’t get customers to click on your content unless you’re producing regular, relevant, and high-quality content. (More about the essential elements of high-quality content here.)  Use strong headlines and images to make your content stand out and, ultimately, catch your customers’ attention.

Use strategic videos.

Video is becoming a powerful tool in the business marketing tool box, especially when it comes to social media.  Social media platform after platform is giving organizations more options for posting videos.  Take advantage of it; produce videos that entertain and inform with a clear call-to-action.  Remember, that not every video has to be professionally produced.  When appropriate, videos from a mobile device can serve as a personal “insider view” into your business (and products and services).

Use social media reviews as social proof.

Today’s customers find you through online searches, and choose your business through online research—including your social media channels.  Since your business is consistently striving to provide excellent customer service, now it’s time to be rewarded for it.  Use those excellent social media reviews (from your excellent customer service) as social proof, one of the top reasons customers give as a deciding factor in choosing a business.

If you get a negative review, go out of your way to reach out to the customer (invite them to discuss details through a private message) and resolve the customer’s issue (more tips on online customer service here).  Showcase your responsiveness and excellent customer service—two key factors that’ll bring new customers in the door.

5 Elements of GREAT Content Marketing that Stands Out From the Crowd

content marketing pro trying to make her content stand out in a crowd

Make your content stand out in the crowd

There are so many benefits of content marketing, and it seems almost every business—small and large—is pumping out content, both visual and text, both good and bad.  If you’re one of those businesses, or want to be, one of the biggest challenges is to make your content stand out from the crowd—to produce good content that is as good, or better, than the best.

So how do you produce quality content?  What qualifies as “good” content marketing that people want to click on, and search engines want to deliver on the search engine results page (SERP)?  While you can find dozens of articles with complex explanations, here is the recipe for a solid content marketing strategy in straightforward terms that you can use to produce solid content.

Plan

You wouldn’t go on a road trip without a GPS or map, would you?  Use that same attitude when approaching your content marketing trip.  Before you start, plan out your trip: who you’re writing to, what they want, and how you can drive them to your goal.

This is where a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work (and an approach that too many businesses take).  Instead, customize your content, in the voice you use, choice of headlines, and the topics you cover, to your audience for optimal results.

Research

This comes in two forms: relevancy for your target audience (who you’re writing for) and the search engines.  What does your audience want?  What problems do they need to solve?  What entertains them?  Remember you’re trying to reach your audience and not turn them off, so try to avoid creating content that sounds like a blaring radio advertisement (at least not all them time).  If you can reach the first group with good content, the secondary audience (search engines) follows—if you write about relevant topics and use significant keywords and images.

Don’t get us wrong; we’re not telling you to stuff your content full of keywords.  Keyword stuffing can get your website penalized.  Instead, ask yourself what your audience wants to know and what relevant keywords your audience would use.  This is a fine art (writing relevant, optimized content); you can’t write so much for search engines that you turn off your primary audience and vice versa.  There’s no shame or blame in outsourcing this skill to the pros; companies often use marketing agencies for all their content or supplementary content that complements their marketing efforts.

Timing

A strong content marketing plan is built with relevant content published on a regular basis.  This is where many content writers go wrong; they plan an ambitious calendar of posts but don’t keep up with regular, relevant content.  You can find evidence of this on company blogs throughout the internet: blogs started with regular content, then abandoned because of a lack of time and knowledge (if the latter is true, it’s time to consider outsourcing your content marketing).

We’ve seen this firsthand as well; some of our clients started blogs with good intentions, but couldn’t keep up or wrote sales-focused posts that didn’t yield results.  At a loss for time and expertise, they contacted us to continue their content marketing efforts.  Now, they contact us on a regular basis with information about their customers, business, and sales cycle—and reap the benefits of regular, relevant content.

Images

Content marketing without an image or video is only half a full content marketing effort; statistics have consistently shown that content marketing promotion without images and video perform worse than blog and social media posts with.  Simply put, you’re not putting all the ammunition in your content marketing cannon.

To clarify, your video and images don’t always need to be taken by a professional photographer; when appropriate, a video taken on your phone or a candid snapshot can give your content marketing an advantage.  These images (again, if appropriate for your brand) can give you the opportunity to tell a story and establish yourself as an authority/professional in your field.

Promotion

Good content that isn’t promoted is like a really good secret that no one can hear—and is not going to get your company results.  Ensure that your content is sharable, mobile-friendly, and part of a good content promotion plan.  The last step of any solid content marketing plan is to promote your content (more about content promotion here), coordinate it into your digital marketing plan, and integrate your online and offline marketing.

Integrated Marketing: 15 Ways to Connect Your Offline & Online Marketing

businessman with tablet connecting offline and online marketingIt’s one of the biggest mistakes we see in marketing today: companies treating their online marketing (i.e. website, social media, content marketing, SEO) like it exists in a bubble separate from in-person customer service, radio and billboard advertising (traditional marketing).  Yes, we consider customer service as part of your marketing efforts—and you should too!—because customer service is part of the customer experience and many offline and online marketing tools rely on direct conversations with the customer (read how marketing can’t exist without excellent customer service here).  That doesn’t mean you should “hard sell” during every customer inquiry; if you’ve followed our blog enough, you know we recommend using a more subtle approach and selling when appropriate.

That being said, integrating all your marketing together—print, radio, SEO, content marketing, social media, TV (everything!)—sounds great in theory (doesn’t it?), but it’s hard to imagine how to apply to your business marketing without solid concrete examples of online and offline marketing integration:

  1. Keep the feel of your offline and online materials the same (i.e. colors, logo, text, etc.)
  2. Use your billboard or radio to market a social media contest or campaign (coordinate your efforts through a strategic marketing plan).
  3. Add your social media channel URLs to your print pieces.
  4. Answer customer questions by directing them to the content marketing piece that answers the question.
  5. Offer an incentive to customers that join your email marketing list.
  6. Draft email marketing pieces that bring your customers (and potential customers) into your store.
  7. Answer frequently asked off-line questions from customers in your email and content marketing pieces.
  8. Add pictures & notices of in-store discounts to your social media channels.
  9. Give people a glimpse of the results of your services with pictures and videos in your email and social media marketing.
  10. Use local search engine optimization to reach the attention of local customers.
  11. Build a solid website that is mobile marketing friendly (with all the contact information easy to find) for customers that want to visit your store.
  12. Use similar graphics in a coordinated and customized (for the specific platform) social media and print advertising campaign.
  13. Add QR codes to your print materials connected to strategic URLs for a social media or website page.
  14. Use your website, social media, content and email marketing to promote your offline events.
  15. Post videos and pictures of your store, products, or employees (with their permission!) on YouTube and social media to draw your online customers into your business.

If you need any other ideas, or need help crafting a marketing plan that integrates your offline and online efforts, don’t be afraid to contact a marketing agency (like us!) that can help coordinate your efforts and get you the maximum results for your marketing dollar.

15 GOOD Ways to Build Your Email List (And a Few Ways Not to)

laptop with email icons used for email marketingTrue story: we once knew a business owner (not one of our clients) who told us he purchased a trade association list so he could add all the emails of the members to his email list.  He thought it was a brilliant business move, but it turned into a major goose egg.  Turns out, the people he was emailing didn’t want his emails (why should they, when they never asked for it?).

Email marketing is a powerful tool in your online marketing toolbox with one of the highest return-on-investments (ROIs) and an excellent way to promote your content—if you build your email list the right way.  Building your email list the wrong way (see our list of ways NOT to build your email list below) can land you (and your email server) in the same boat as stealing online images—-in hot water, increase the amount of spam reports against you, and ultimately sabotage your email marketing results. (If you need more information on successful email marketing the right way or a company to help you execute a solid email marketing campaign, you know who to call.)

How to build your email list

  1. On your solidly built website (more about building a solid website here)
  2. On direct mail pieces
  3. On social media
  4. Through a contest
  5. On your blog
  6. Make your emails easy to forward and share with others
  7. With a marketing piece in your packaging
  8. In your email signature
  9. At the end of your video (direct them to a link on your web page)
  10. At tradeshows and events
  11. Through social media ads
  12. With a QR code
  13. At check out
  14. In sales meetings
  15. With a discount

How not to build your email list

  1. Buying email addresses
  2. Adding customers to your list without their permission
  3. Buying lists from another business
  4. By using old lists that were collected in the past (but not with the users’ consent to email)
  5. From membership lists

5 Ways to Use Your AWESOME Content

Businessman sitting at the table with laptop and looking at camera after writing awesome piece of marketing contentIf you’ve decided to take advantage of the many, many benefits of content marketing, you undoubtedly fall into one of two categories:

  • You’ve written an in-depth piece you know your customers can benefit from and have posted it;

OR

  • Your marketing firm wrote an excellent piece based on your feedback and has posted it.

Now what?!

As great as it is that you’ve turned out an AWESOME content marketing piece that’s not going to give your customers a concussion from the constant beating of sell-sell-sell (more about great content here), your job is not done.  You’ll get a whole lot more bang for your marketing buck from that content marketing piece if you let people know it’s there (here’s how to draft an awesome content promotion plan).

Content that isn’t pushed out, just…well…sits.  You’re not getting everything out of that piece that you can.  And after all the work you—or your content marketing firm—put into drafting and creating, you have several options of how you can maximize your investment by promoting your content.

Social Media Marketing

Hopefully, the same people you are writing your content for are the same followers on social media (if you’ve targeted your efforts correctly).  Promote your content on the social media channels with the right followers; make sure you draft a different message for each social media site.  PLEASE don’t draft the same message on Facebook and Twitter or on Pinterest and Twitter.  When you do put your post up, research your hash tags (one of the key ways to build your social media following) and only use the appropriate number for the site (there is such thing as too much)—and only if it’s appropriate to use hashtags on the site (if you don’t know, put your social media efforts in the experts’ hands).

Email Marketing

Use your content in emails to your customers (after all, that’s why you drafted it, right?).  Use an image and strong email headline to increase your open rate and a strong call-to-action to inspire your email recipients to act.  That action doesn’t have to be sales (your approach depends on your industry); instead your call-to-action can be a request for more information or an offer for a free product or sample.

Send it to your sales team

An excellent piece of content can be a powerful tool for your sales team, whether to other business managers or in a retail setting. Ask them to integrate the piece into their marketing pieces (i.e. presentations, emails, etc.) and make sure to keep the conversation two-way.  Ask them for their input for future content based on the questions and feedbacks they receive from customers and potential customers. If you are using a marketing firm, pass the feedback from your sales team on to them to guide future online marketing efforts and for a strong marketing plan.

Social Media Ads

If social media advertising is part of your content promotion plan, draft an ad around a very strong piece of content.  Use two different set of criteria to ensure maximum effectiveness:

  • Choose a social media site that has a demographic that fits with the ideal audience you created the piece for.
  • Target your social media ad at the audience you drafted your content for (i.e. text, graphics, location, etc.)

“Shareability”

Since you’ve created such fantastic content, naturally people are going to want to share, right?  That’s why you should make sharing your content easy and convenient for readers so they can pass it on to others—the ultimate goal of your content marketing efforts.

10 Offline & Online Tips to Build Your Social Media Following

counter with numbers that business owners set as goal to grow social media followingIt’s one of the frustrations we hear from businesses new to social media: “Where do I get started? How do I get people to follow my page?”  Interestingly, we hear the same from social media veterans with the goal of trying to grow their social media following.  Here’s our answer to their common social media marketing question (only longer and more in-depth).

Have a plan.

Don’t just tackle social media without a plan.  We’ve given you step-by-step directions on how to draft an online marketing plan in our recent post; for social media, make sure you have a set plan that follows your sales cycle (i.e. what events or products you sell at different times of the year) without bashing your followers over the head with “buy, buy, buy!”  posts.  Instead, ask yourself, what’s going on in my followers lives?  What do they want to know?  What do they want to see in their feed?  From there, draft a customer-centric plan that follows your sales cycle and gives your followers what they want.

Make sure you’re on the right social media site(s).

Don’t think you have to be on every social media site to get results.  Target your efforts at social media sites where your customers are based on their demographics (or what they tell you!).

Make your social media marketing a team effort

If you are a real estate firm, ask your employees to follow your page and share information with their friends. That doesn’t mean they need to share everything, but, as powerful advocates, they can share posts they feel are relevant and expose your business posts to a new audience.

If you (and your managers and employees) don’t have time for social media (you know what we’re talking about you only post every once in awhile or when you have time), consider outsourcing your efforts to experts that keep up with the latest practices and information.  To get best results, schedule regular contacts with your marketing firm so they have insight about your business and customers.

Give your followers a reason to follow you.

The proverbial social media love is not given, it is earned.  Give your followers a reason to want you in their feed with the inside scoop (pictures of workers, problems, and finished products), information, and entertainment (if appropriate).  On occasion, you can add a social media contest to the mix, but make sure you give your followers a reason to share the contest—and your new followers a reason to keep caring about your profiles even after the winner is announced. (More social media contest tips here.)

In addition to posting relevant information, make sure your two-way social media conversations are not one-sided; respond promptly (within 1-2 hours) to all messages, reviews, and comments so your customers know you care about them.  Don’t leave them hanging.  If you do get a negative comment (one of the risks of social media), use these tips to respond to an angry customer.  For comments that require customer service, invite them to send you a private message so you can resolve their issue.

Invite people at the counter, in sales meetings and when you provide customer service.

We know, in the digital world we live in, it seems counter-intuitive that spreading the word via mouth is still one of the best ways to draw people to your social media sites. It’s also one of the easiest. A simple, “Don’t forget to check our Facebook page for discounts” when you check out a customer or ending a client meeting with “We’d really appreciate it if you’d check out our social media sites for more information” is a personal invitation. In today’s world, many of your customers and clients can find the site right there—and continue the connection that you initiated in person.

Integrate your social media and blog into your marketing materials.

Producing a brochure? Add your Twitter profile address. Sending out a direct mail piece? Don’t forget to add a QR code they can scan with their smart phone that takes them straight to your Facebook page.

Use hashtags.

This tip comes with a caveat: make sure that you use hashtags appropriately and on the social media sites where they should be used.  Don’t use too many; usually, 3 to 5 hashtags can be used on Twitter and Instagram to get results.  Too many hashtags can actually sabotage your results and—if used on a social media site where hashtags usually aren’t—make you look like you don’t know what you’re doing.

Here’s how to use them right: scout out other users and see how they use hashtags successfully.  Research hashtags before you use them instead of just blindly jumping on the bandwagon.  Don’t try to use a hashtag to promote your product if the hashtag is related to a tragic event.  This tactic can backfire and cause your business to be seen as insensitive.  Feeling like you’re over your head? Hire experts who know the ins and outs of hashtags on social media.

Connect your social media pages to your website.

If a customer is on the verge about buying your product, the “tipping point” that influences their buying decision may be a discount or promotion. But how will they know about it? Add links to your social media sites to your website. Today’s consumers not only research your website, but your social media sites as well—and you need to make it easy for them.

Add the social media addresses to your email signature.

This is one of the simplest—and most overlooked—way to spread the word about your social media sites. You send emails to your customers with quotes, product information and customer service inquiries. Why wouldn’t you want to continue to connect with them after they’ve read your email?

Don’t give up.

Social media is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.  Set your expectations accordingly.  No matter the results (or lack thereof), don’t abandon your social media efforts.  To the contrary, use the two R’s of social media marketing to grow your follower base: relevancy and regular posts (so they don’t forget about you).  Then, test out different ways to connect with them—and you’ll see your followers start to grow.

CRAZY Bad Internet Marketing Advice You Should Ignore

Shocked man over terrible bad marketing adviceWe apologize if your jaw is injured from hitting the floor, but ready yourself for this: we just saw a tweet from a marketer advocating for buying social media followers.  Once we got over the shock and possible concussion (seriously?!), we started thinking through some of the craziest pieces of marketing advice we can’t believe are still being passed around.  Here’s a list of bad marketing advice we compiled that you should regard with the same level of distrust and NEVER follow.

Buying social media followers & email lists are a GREAT idea

Why this is bad: If you pressure wash a wall, you have a better chance of hitting more surface area.  The more you have the better chance for success, right? Buying email lists is built upon the same premise, but you’re going to find that non-targeted emails and followers are going to fade and can even inhibit your results.  In essence: you can’t buy love, you have to earn their trust—and their email and social media following.

What you can do: Build your followers and email lists organically with relevant information developed for your target audience.  Spread the word about your email and social media offline as well, through coupons, an occasional contest, word of mouth with your customers, email signatures, and these ideas.  If you want to do this strategically, contact a marketing firm that can recommend and execute organic email and social media building tactics.

SEO is dead

Why this is bad: This is a misperception based on the fact that old search engine optimization tactics (keyword stuffing, spammy links, etc.) don’t work in the evolving world of internet marketing.  That doesn’t mean SEO is dead—far from it—it means that optimization has evolved into optimized writing and technology that delivers exactly what the search engines want: relevant, valuable content (on your website, blog via content marketing, social media, etc.).

What you can do: Embrace the new SEO because it gets results!  You can either learn the new and continually evolving art of optimizing your website, blog, and social media with well-researched keywords and topics specifically targeted at your customers or hire the professionals who can (and can keep up with it).  If you are a business with a local audience, you can take that a step farther by utilizing local SEO tactics.

You can use any image for marketing you find online

Why this is bad: There are many reasons this is a bad idea but the main reason is that it is STEALING.  If you don’t pay for the images—or take them yourself—you are taking someone else’s work and using it without their permission.  As such, you are opening yourself up to the possibility of legal action.

What you can do: Create or take your own photos, or hire a professional photographer or marketing firm to manage your images.  You can also buy images from a popular service per graphic or through a long-term plan.

The more social media posts, the better

Why this is bad: This is one case where more is not always better.  It’s more important to have regular posts so you stay in front of your audience than posting 10 times a day and then nothing for a week.  The feast-or-famine approach does nothing to build brand awareness or to encourage consistent conversations.

What you can do: Create an integrated marketing plan that follows your business sales cycle and includes relevant information that your target audience wants to know.  Make sure that your social media posts are a regular part of your plan, then use a service like Hootsuite or Buffer to schedule regular posts that coordinate with your website, content marketing, and email marketing efforts.

Automate, automate, automate!

Why this is bad: Scheduling your email and social media is helpful, but automated posts and emails should not be all you do.  If you want to start a conversation with your audience, you need to have some flexibility to respond—and to respond to hot topics and current events that come up.

What you can do: Create a marketing plan and use automation to carry it out.  However, be ready to vary your schedule or add in an email or social media post that fits with the times.

Mobile marketing is optional.

Why this is bad: Next time someone tells you that you don’t need to cater to users with cell phones or tablets, plug your ears and start spouting statistics about the rising amount of mobile devices.  The latest studies show that two-thirds of Americans have smart phones, and that number is only going to increase with time.  Mobile marketing is not optional any more, it’s a MUST.  If you don’t have a mobile-friendly website and marketing tools, your audience is going to be driven away in droves.

What you can do:  Create a mobile-friendly website (or contact a marketing firm that can) so your users don’t have to zoom in to read your text or squint to find your contact page.  Remember, a lot of times they won’t bother, they’ll just hit the ‘back’ button.

Sell, sell, sell!

Why this is bad: This advice most likely comes from someone who views social media and content marketing as the “new” forum for advertising.  While targeted social media advertising does get results, your business page or profile should not be used solely for selling.  Your customers don’t want to be beaten over the head with endless posts and tweets or read content marketing pieces that are just about you.

What you can do: Use the 80/20 rule with 80% useful, entertaining, and interesting information and 20% selling content and posts.  If you don’t know how to tackle this more subtle form of marketing, hire the experts that don’t give you crazy bad marketing advice.

6 Must Haves of Every Business Website

smartphone with http of a well-built websiteJust cruise the web for a few minutes. So many businesses put the cart before the horse, as the old saying goes.  Business owners and managers want to take advantage of the ‘must haves’ of a solid online marketing plan (email marketing, search engine optimization, social media and content marketing) without a good foundation: a solid website.

While it sounds easy to build an excellent website, but we’ve worked with quite a few business owners terrific at what they do, but challenged when organizing and prioritizing their knowledge into a customer-friendly website. That’s where we come in, helping them organize their thoughts into a website their customers and potential customers want to visit—and a solid foundation for all their online marketing efforts.

So how can you do the same? Well, you can contact us (shameless promotion) or you can use these ‘must haves’ to create a stellar business website. No matter what industry you’re in, the basic formula for an excellent website is the same.

KISS

It’s like a bad movie that plays out again and again: overcrowded websites crammed full of graphics, disjointed text, and “stuff” that leaves potential customers running to the exit.  We can even tell you the rationale behind them: owners, managers, and teams all scrambling to get their customers’ attention about a million different products, services, and promotions with an overwhelming amount of graphics or information.  The result is a home page that challenges even the most focused person.  They don’t know where to look—or where to click.

Use the ‘KIS’ out of the old KISS adage when designing your website: keep it simple.  Have a goal for your website, and keep your home page—and every internal page—simple so your customers and potential customers can focus and know what you want them to do.  Remember your website is there to sell so you have to give them information they need and use, and a very simple mechanism for acting on it.  Help them focus on what you want them to get out of your content and the action you would like them to take. Keep it simple.

Intuitive Navigation

A website with proper organization is a valuable gem, giving your customers an intuitive navigation system (menu and links to related content) that makes it easy for them to find what they are looking for.  This is where you need to step outside your business and look at your company as a customer would look at it.  What topics do they want to know about?  Where would they look for it?

Once you have your answers, draft a chart. Don’t be afraid to use others as a sounding board to get to a finalized menu.  When we say ‘others,’ we mean people who are outside of your company (when we help owners create websites, that’s us) and use your website like a customer would.

User-friendly, Optimized, Quality Content

There are two audiences you are writing for: customers and search engines.  Customers get information from your site and buy from you, and search engines scan your website for information valuable to your customers.  When crafting an optimized website, consider both audiences (or trust your efforts to professionals that can).

To start, you need to step into a new “pair of shoes”: your customer.  Look at your content through their eyes.  Ask yourself (again): what do they want to know?  How can I organize information on the page so it is easy to read? Try to avoid big blocks of text.  Instead, break your information into smaller, easy-to-read short paragraphs.

Now, why should you worry about search engines?  Search engines are going to be one of the top sources of traffic to your site.  More than 90% of users start their search for information with a search engine.  Write accordingly with words that you think your users are going to use—without sounding like you’re trying—and use those words in your headlines.

If you want to add a “cherry on the top” to your website optimization, consider adding search engine optimization technology to your website that targets search engine users in cities and communities within 10, 20, or 50 miles around your company location.  With professionally-written optimized content and technology, local SEO technology can get your well-built company website on the first page of search engine results.  Why is that important?  Because 75% of users never click on the second page of search engine results.

(Easy-to-use) Contact Page

The goal of your website is to get customers to your door, to convert them from potential to paying customers—or to make them returning customers.  Make it easy for them to do so with an accessible contact form that is easy to fill out.  The perfect contact form is a fine line: a form with just enough fields that you can get the contact information you need to contact the customer but not too many fields that your potential customers aren’t intimidated by the form.

In addition, your contact page needs to have a second purpose: to make it easy for search engines to find your business so that customers can find your location.  Statistics have shown that more searches are being done on mobile devices than on desktops, and many of those searches are targeted at finding the location of local companies.  Make sure your hours, phone number, and address are included on the contact page for search engines and customers.

Social Proof

Study after study has shown that social proof is a key factor in customers’ purchasing decisions, making testimonials and reviews an integral part of a good website.  Your potential customers want their decision to use your company confirmed by seeing (video) or reading (text) other people’s reviews.  You can approach this in two ways: 1) by adding customer feedback to your website manually, or 2) by having reviews from your social media site feed into your site.  In addition to adding reviews to your website, make it easy for people to learn about your business (latest updates, specials, etc.) and leave reviews from their experience with your company (more social proof) through your social media channels.

Mobile-friendly

Recent numbers clearly illustrate the reason for a mobile-friendly website: nearly two-thirds of all Americans have a smart phone—and that number is expected to rise. With the increase in mobile devices also comes another important part of marketing plan: responsiveness.  Your customers and potential customers expect faster response times to their website and social media inquiries; don’t disappoint them with slow reaction times or a substandard website.

Step by step: Make SEO, Content, Social Media & Email Work Together for You

puzzle with hand pushing in last piece of digital marketing puzzle We’ve met more than a few business owners who look at digital marketing tools as aliens from foreign planets.  What’s even more common is for them to look at each of these “UFOs” as all from a separate planet (or galaxy!), without putting all the pieces together and recognizing the potential of well-coordinated online marketing plan.

We’ve written about the ‘what’ of these online marketing tools: search engine optimization, content marketing, social media marketing, and email marketing, and how they are a must of any business marketing plan. Now we’re going to give you a general idea of how you can make them work together as an integrated marketing plan (think of it as a coordinated universe if we want to stick with space analogy), saving you time and effort in the process—and increasing your business bottom line, if executed correctly.

Start with a solid foundation: your website

What good is a stellar email marketing campaign if you don’t have solid website pages to send your audience back to?  What kind of sales numbers are you going to achieve if you entertain your audience on social media, but don’t have any more business info to give them?  Start with a well-built website (or hire experts to do it for you) with all the ‘must haves:’ optimized information about all your products or services, your business, and a way for people to reach you.  Optimize the content on your pages for search engines and your audience (use these tips), and use SEO to attract local customers searching for products and services pertinent to your business (see how this is all starting to come together?).   

Use your sales cycle to plan

Your efforts to market your website should follow your 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 online marketing calendar.  Based on this basic example, the content you produce would match what your sales team is seeing from customers so your entire team can use the materials you produce to reach your targeted audience.

Use strategy to dictate content creation

Remember just because you’re following your sales calendar doesn’t mean you need to produce content that is entirely about selling your business.  You are trying to provide value to your customer, and you’re not going to attract new customers if you’re screaming “buy, buy, buy!” in their face.  It’s the wrong first impression.

What you should do is compile a list of subjects related to your calendar.  These subjects can stem from customers’ frequently asked questions or topics that your sales team feels would entertain your customers and draw potential customers (more ideas for content topics here).  If you outsource your content creation, make sure you connect with your marketing team on a regular basis.  Make sure you integrate big events into your calendar as well, such as a trade show or open house.  Use video, quality images, and other media as part of your plan—remember not everyone is driven to text alone.  Make sure you post content to a blog (this is a very common and effective content marketing tool, more info here) on a regular basis (this is very important), both to keep your audience’s and search engine’s attention (search engine optimization).

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.

Draft a strategic distribution plan (and stick to it)

Businessman sitting at table and screaming in megaphone on laptop while content marketingQuality content without a distribution plan is like a really good secret no one hears.  Add another dimension to your content calendar with ways you are going to share your content, such as social media and email marketing.  When adding this layer to your online marketing, keep the word ‘manageable’ in mind.  A good distribution plan is no good if you can’t execute it.  Remember, you don’t have to be on every social media channel out there, only the social media sites that fit your audience (we found a useful information on social media channels and demographics here).

Share your content as much as possible and make your content shareable so your customers can share it.  Make sure your sales team pushes it out as well.  Ask them to share it on their professional social media channels (if applicable) and via email.  Start building an email list of customers and potential customers, with the customers’ permission.  Use your content in emails, and drive the customer back to your blog, website, and social media channels so they have a variety of ways to contact you and buy your product or get a quote.

In addition to sharing content, don’t be afraid to share interesting articles and videos, notices with upcoming events (i.e. grand openings, trade shows, open houses, etc.), faces of your business, 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.

How to make it ALL work for you

We wish we could give you a hard-and-fast plan with every online marketing tool integrated into an effective plan for your business (and we haven’t even touched out to add traditional marketing to the mix), but the truth is that every business and industry is different.  Plan accordingly, and be flexible.  Test out what works and doesn’t work, and outsource to the experts if you feel overwhelmed by “space age” online marketing.