man looking at business online marketing that didn't utilize marketing trends

5 Marketing Trends Your Business Hasn’t Used (and It Shows)

There’s knowing about marketing trends—and then there’s, well, knowing. It’s one thing to know about the latest online marketing trends. It’s another to USE those marketing trends to draft a marketing plan that connects with a target audience and yields, ultimately, more customers and sales.

If small businesses aren’t incorporating those marketing trends, they are falling behind their competition. They aren’t getting found online by local users or converting them to customers. They aren’t earning as many sales as they could.

But this article isn’t about blame. It’s about bringing local businesses up-to-date on trends that bring a solid return-on-investment.

Voice Search

Voice search is not a new marketing trend, but it’s one that’s not slowing down anytime soon. With the rise of voice search comes opportunity, and unfortunately many businesses are missing out on capitalizing on this consumer behavior.

So how can businesses “cash in” on this rising opportunity? The answer isn’t a simple singular application, but it should be reflected in the tone and structure of future online marketing projects. Every digital marketing project should be structured for search engines and consumer browsing. Marketing channels should have fast upload speeds and a conversational tone with phrases used by visitors.

Videos

Videos are also a marketing trend that’s not going anywhere—and small businesses need to make this a regular part of their marketing efforts. The good news is that producing a marketing video doesn’t require as much effort as it used to, thanks to easy-to-use video editors and high-quality mobile devices.

The list of ideas for marketing videos is long. Small businesses can produce videos with tips, product and service demos, or about customer experiences. For live videos, businesses can record behind-the-scenes footage or give insight into a unique part of the business. Videos should be promoted as part of a strategic marketing plan.

Optimized Content

Customer search intent should be the core of every piece of digital content produced, and marketing trends suggest the production process should go a step further. In addition to utilizing a conversational tone for voice search, content should also be crafted specifically for the target audience. In the past this meant incorporating keywords (and this is still an important content marketing practice), but the effort should also utilize recent search trends.

If the process sounds incredibly complicated, it’s time to bring in the experts to combine all the essential elements into content drafted specifically for the target audience. The online world has become incredibly crowded, and utilizing the latest information (directly from the source or from marketing professionals) gives businesses an edge over the competition.

Online Customer Experience

In the past, business’ online customer experience has been incredibly one-sided. It’s time for businesses to create an online presence that focuses on the customer. Statistics have repeatedly shown that customers turn to businesses that not only solve their problems, but make it a positive experience.

In practical terms, this means that every aspect of the experience should be easy-to-use. It should be easy to find information, easy to contact the business, easy to communicate with the business, and easy to buy. The whole process should be focused on the customer, and should involve many staff members. Small businesses need to be prepared to provide prompt customer service on a channel that the customer prefers.

Automation

Automation is making the whole marketing process more efficient, giving businesses the keys to get more from every minute of their marketing efforts. This process can make getting online reviews easier for businesses, especially with systems that can monitor online reviews and give customers more chances to leave positive reviews. This automated system is definitely worth the effort; statistics have repeatedly proven that customers are basing their purchases off of positive reviews left by other customers. Review automation is only one marketing solution; the future of automation is looking bright for businesses willing to embrace these marketing trends.

office desk with tools for planning marketing budget

How to Get the Most Out of Your Marketing Budget

Every dollar in a small business marketing budget matters, especially when the budget is tight. That’s why we’ve put together a list of tips that help small businesses get the best return-on-investment for their marketing dollar.

Realize that growth requires spending

Unfortunately, small business marketing follows the old adage, “nothing in life is free.” (Though that doesn’t mean it doesn’t can’t be affordable.) While setting up a social media profile may be free, social media marketing is rarely effective unless the profile is maintained regularly with relevant content. The production and maintenance take time, and time is money. However, if marketing on social media is done well, it results in more customers and sales. Effective marketing yields results but effective marketing requires a regular allotment of time (such as a regular check-in with the marketing team or hands-on marketing) and funds.

Make a plan

One of the easiest ways to get the most out of a small business marketing budget is to make a plan. This step results in a documented strategy that ensures the budget is allocated into marketing tactics with a high ROI that can be regularly checked and evaluated. An effective marketing plan starts with a few simple questions and should include a marketing schedule. The schedule should follow the business’ sales cycle and clearly designate the party responsible for executing each tactic.

Choose tactics that target local customers

A marketing plan is only as effective as the tactics included. Small businesses should take this selection a step further and choose tactics that target a local audience, such as local SEO, social media, or on-page website optimization. These tactics typically have the highest ROI and strategically leverage every dollar of a marketing budget. Local SEO and on-page website optimization target local customers by building authority with search engines, allowing them to appear at the top of local searches. These marketing tactics are backed by statics. Search Engine Watch recently published a Google report that stated local searches led 50% of mobile users to a local store.

Outsource when needed

The crux of an effective marketing plan is productive execution. Regular marketing is an important part of building brand awareness and engaging customers. While small businesses tend to believe that marketing is cheaper when done in-house, the opposite actually proves to be true in certain situations. This is where a (quick) evaluation can be an important step toward yielding results. Businesses should ask, “What marketing do we need? Do we have the staff and time to effectively execute the plan?”

The answer might be a clear yes or no, or only a partial positive or negative. For some businesses, it is more cost-effective to outsource part—or all—of the marketing (a request for a quote can answer the question). To be clear, even if the answer is a completely positive and it makes the most sense to completely outsource, businesses still should plan on allocating some time. Regular check-ins and contributions are an important part of creating a custom marketing plan with the same tone and look.  

marketing plan meeting

10 Questions that Yield the Perfect Small Business Marketing Plan

This post is not about social media or local SEO (though both marketing tactics should be on every local business’ radar); instead, this practical post is for small businesses looking to draft (and use) a marketing plan that gets results.

While drafting a marketing plan adds another item to the year-end task list, the process is definitely worth the effort. A small business marketing plan provides the direction that ensures that every marketing tactic and investment is strategic; it allows businesses to strategically choose the right marketing tactics and get the most from investments of time and money.

A marketing plan ensures that the marketing process is more methodical, but that doesn’t mean the effort shouldn’t be incredibly practical as well. The plan doesn’t have to be full of technical marketing jargon, but it should include some vital information that stems from asking several strategic marketing plan questions.

What is the current state of the industry? What are the unique strengths of the business?

This section of a small business marketing plan doesn’t have to be long, but should detail the environment of the business’ industry. This section should also include information about competitors, and what sets the small business apart.

Put simply, the latter should answer the question “what makes customers want to buy from the business?” The answer may be excellent customer service, a unique form of service delivery, or a product advantage. Whatever the answer, this information can be used to create marketing messages that detail why customers should buy from the business.

What current marketing tactics are being used? What marketing has worked in the past?

The marketing plan should detail past marketing tactics (i.e. social media, content marketing, etc.) and the success (or not) of past marketing campaigns. In addition to detailing the past, this part of the marketing plan should also include future marketing tactics and ideas to be included in a marketing calendar.

Who is the business’ target audience? Who is the ideal customer?

This is one of the most important marketing plan questions, and, unfortunately, one that not many small businesses address. The marketing plan should specifically detail who the business is targeting. Instead of the generic “everyone,” this section of the small business marketing plan should provide demographic information (and location specifics, if the business is local) of the target audience.

What new products or services are we introducing?

A small business marketing plan should provide direction for a marketing calendar; a list of new products and services (with projected roll out dates) guides decisions about future marketing tactics and ideas.

What are the future goals? How are those goals evaluated?

Future goals are an essential part of a small business marketing plan. This section should also detail how the goals are evaluated and when they are evaluated. When setting goals, it is important for small business owners to be realistic and to realize that quality matters more than quantity. As tempting as it is to set goals like, “gain 10,000 new followers on social media,” it is important to realize that the amount of social media engagement contributes far more customer loyalty and future sales.

What staffing and budget is available for marketing?

Just as with marketing goals, this portion of the small business marketing plan should be an honest assessment of the staffing time and expertise available for reaching goals. If this assessment proves that there is a gap in available staffing (or expertise), certain tasks should be outsourced to a marketing team of specialists with experience and a track record of results.

In addition to staffing, this area should also set a budget for marketing. Though some marketing tactics may be (technically) free, it should be recognized that results are gained by regular and relevant efforts (which cost money).

The answers to each of these questions should be documented so progress is regularly tracked and results are easily evaluated. A custom-drafted marketing plan can also be drafted by a professional marketing team with marketing tactics specifically chosen for the small business (and fitting within the marketing budget).

businessman celebration successful market plan execution

Effective Marketing Plan Tips & Ideas that Get Incredible Results

Most business owners would agree that they want to reach more customers, but very few know how to craft a marketing plan that reaches potential customers. A marketing plan captures all those business growth ideas and gives a business a clear execution plan that achieves results. A marketing plan includes:

  • Summary of the business’ current situation (including product or service, current effective marketing tactics, challenges, etc.)
  • Target audience (including demographic specifics)
  • Future goals (makes these goals specific, such as social media engagement goals, website traffic, etc.)
  • Budget
  • Tactics used in future marketing efforts (i.e. social media, content marketing, advertising, etc.)
  • Marketing schedule (with party responsible for execution and clear deadlines)

Benefits of a Marketing Plan

  • A marketing plan provides focus so the targeted audience is reached.
  • Planning ahead allows for adequate planning and preparation (and avoids charges for rushed projects).
  • A marketing plan puts ideas into a document, so the business can regularly revisit the plan and make sure work is being done.
  • It allows a business to track results—and refine future marketing.

Tips for an Incredibly Effective Marketing Plan

Effective marketing plans are built, not given. The best marketing plan sets clear goals and outlines tactics that coordinate together to achieve those goals. As such, there are some clear marketing plan tips that businesses should use to create a coordinated and target effort that provides the best return-on-investment for the marketing budget.

Identify a target audience.

A target audience is an important part of effective marketing because it guides the selection and tone of future marketing. Instead of saying “everyone,” a marketing plan should specify the location (especially true for local businesses) and demographics of the target audience. A clearly defined audience can dictate the right social media channels that are used by the demographic. (The demographics of social media are outlined in this Sprout Social report.) If the target audience location is key, a marketing plan can demonstrate the need for solid local SEO services.

Set reachable goals.

Most businesses want to growth their business. The most effective marketing plans aim for growth, but do so with a set of annual attainable goals. As nice as it would be to gain thousands of social media followers, a marketing plan breaks the effort into step-by-step goals that get hundreds of customers in the target audience ever year.

Remember, that effective marketing is all about quality over quantity. For local businesses, reaching thousands of customers hundreds of miles away that can’t buy is a waste of marketing funds. Instead, it makes cents (pun intended) for local businesses to invest in marketing tactics that reach local customers that are in a position to purchase the business’ goods and services. A hundred local customers that can or may buy are more valuable than thousands of national customers.

Be realistic.

The crux of a well-executed marketing plan is to be realistic about the amount of staff available to carry it out. If a business wants to keep the effort in-house, the responsible staff member should be chosen carefully (with the right skills and expertise) and have the time available to devote to regular marketing efforts. All marketing passwords should be stored at the business. User profiles should be set up for the business, not the individual.

When there are not staff members available (or not enough time in the day), it may be time to outsource efforts. Just as when hiring a new staff member, a marketing firm should be chosen carefully. The marketing firm should be screened carefully and should be able to provide firm data that demonstrates the return-on-investment of every marketing tactic. For local businesses, the marketing firm should especially be able to demonstrate a clear expertise and have a track record of getting targeted results for local businesses.

Strategically choose tactics that fit with goals.

Targeted marketing requires targeted marketing tactics. This is especially true for small businesses who don’t have the staffing, time, or budget for large-scale marketing. Instead, businesses should choose marketing tactics that reach the target audience and provide the best return-on-investment.

Marketing Plan Ideas

An effective marketing plan utilizes marketing tactics that reach the target audience, though the combination of those tactics is different for every business. This list includes marketing tactics that build trust with an online audience and provide a solid return-on-investment.

Local SEO

Local SEO services set up a business online so that it shows up in searches by local customers. This marketing tactic involves multiple steps, such as claiming listings on online directories, building an optimized website, and creating and promoting quality content. The whole effort is a series of one-time and ongoing tasks that build trust with search engines and online customers. Because it is an ongoing process, it often pays off to outsource this effort to a local SEO service.

It’s also a marketing tactic backed by statistics. Another study published in Search Engine Land found that 78% of all local mobile searches result in offline purchases. Local SEO gets a business found in local searches, and builds continual trust with brand reputation management. Again, the latter is based off of online user behaviors. According to Search Engine Land, research has shown that 88% factor online reviews into their purchasing decision.

Content

Quality content attracts customers in two ways: through listing in search engines and via email and social media. Well-written content with well-chosen images establish a company as a local industry expert and the answer to customers’ problems.

The key is to produce optimized content that positions the content in relevant customer searches and results in clicks on social media and in emails. For the effort to be successful, the content needs to be regularly posted and relevant to the target audience. Content creation should also involve keyword and search intent research and end with a promotion strategy that reaches the target audience. For regular and strategic content creation, a calendar with topics, deadlines, and responsible parties (either in-house or by a quality content firm) should be crafted and maintained.

Social Media

Social media is a marketing tactic that requires strategic planning and execution. The effort starts with selecting the right social media channels based on the target audience and continues with regular posts relevant to the industry and audience.

This marketing tactic is about more than just selling products. Social media also gives businesses the chance to showcase their involvement in local causes, showcase projects and achievements, talk to their customers (with excellent online customer service), and gain positive reviews that show up in online searches.

The latter two elements of social media are often overlooked by businesses. Prompt and excellent customer service is an interaction that can result in sales and loyalty, though it needs to be delivered promptly. For this reason, businesses should select experienced staff members for the responses and establish a system for response and follow-up.

On social media and online review sites, positive reviews are earned; however, businesses are passing up on a chance to earn more customers by not asking for them. There are many opportunities for businesses to remind customers to leave reviews, which is why businesses should incorporate the asks into existing marketing pieces and customer interactions. The effort should be a comprehensive business effort with every staff member trained to deliver during service delivery.

Website Optimization

A well-built, easy-to-use website is worth its weight in gold, both in the eyes of customers and search engines. The website is a business’ chance to tell their story and provide an optimal customer experience that builds customer trust.

Statistics prove that a mobile-friendly, fast website is worth the effort. A study in Search Engine Land found that nearly 60 percent of all searches are done on a mobile device. According to Google, when the time for a website page to load goes from one to three seconds, the chance of an online user leaving the website increases by 32%. That number almost triples, to 90%, when page loading speed goes from one to five seconds. The number increases to 106% when loading from one to six seconds. From one to 10 seconds, the chances of a bounce are a whopping 123%.

In addition to these important parts of the customer experience, captivating images, website content, and an easy-to-navigate website all play a significant part in converting visitors to customers.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is one of the most effective marketing tactics IF executed correctly. Email marketing starts with a list of recipients interested in the business services or products. If the recipients are not interested, the email is going to go to the trash; this is a key reason why buying email lists is not an effective way to build an email list.

Instead, businesses should ask for e-mail addresses with incentives or during interactions with customers. Businesses can ask for email addresses on the website, during the buying process, or at meetings. To continue to grow the list and maintain interest, all emails should be drafted with a subject line that gets noticed, content that is valuable to the customer, and high-quality media that connects with the recipient. For best results, email content should be coordinated with other marketing tactics in a coordinated marketing calendar.

worried businessman because website is bad

6 Ways Your Small Business Website is Missing the Mark

The saying, “the devil is in the details” definitely applies to small business websites. The truth is that many small business websites aren’t reaching local customers. The websites that do get found online are not converting visitors into paying customers.

In both instances, small businesses are leaving money on the proverbial table.

This is why those devilish details need to become a top priority for small businesses looking to market online. Since a small business website is the core of a solid online marketing plan, this is the place for businesses to start investing their efforts and tracking the results.

Website isn’t secure

Following search engine recommendations should be a top priority for small businesses. Search engines can be the source of a majority of website traffic, especially from local visitors. These recommendations are based off of the search engine’s goal of delivering lists of websites relevant to the search and that deliver a full customer experience.

The customer experience starts with a secure website. In 2015, Google admitted to giving a preference to HTTPS websites during the ranking process and promoting the widespread use. Recently, the search engine king started throwing up warning pages about sites that it didn’t feel were secure. The warning page strongly warns visitors about proceeding to these websites; essentially, these warning pages block new website visits and significantly lower website traffic.

Not mobile-friendly

A secure website is just the tip of the iceberg. Google also includes mobile-friendly as one of its more than 200 ranking signals. This preference is based off of statistics that show insight into consumer behavior. In 2016, Google reported that more than half of all online searches were done on a mobile device.

The use of mobile devices has exploded since then, making a mobile-friendly website an absolute top priority—and one that, surprisingly, many small businesses have not embraced in their website design. That choice can be a major turn-off for customers; Google has reported that “52% of users said that a bad mobile experience made them less likely to engage with a company.” 

Slow Website Loading

A slow website can sabotage the customer experience just as much as the lack of a mobile-friendly site. According to Google, forty-six percent of online users put “waiting for a website page to load” on their mobile devices at the top of their dislike list. The news—and the statistics—get worse for slow websites.

As the loading time of a webpage increases, the chance an online user moves on also increases. Google reports that when a website loading time increases from one to three seconds, the risk of an online user leaving increases by 32%. If the loading time goes from one to five seconds, the bounce rate increases to 90%. That number sky rockets to 106% when the loading time goes from one to ten seconds.

Poor customer experience

All of these factors are part of a strong customer experience. A well-structured website optimized for search engines and built with optimized content written for search engines and the target audience are also key elements in attracting the attention of search engines and visitors.

A website’s metadata and structure play an important role in what terms websites are ranked for, and how high the website is ranked. These optimization elements also determine what information is displayed in search engine rankings, which is a significant part of getting online users to choose the website. Website page headlines, content, and strategic call-to-actions are the last piece of the website optimization effort.

Lack of website promotion

Building a solid website is not enough. Website traffic only grows with solid website promotion tactics included in a solidly built marketing plan. The effort should be continual, which can be done by in-house or outsourced to experienced marketing professionals.

Website promotion should be strategic and include the tactics that reach the target audience. For local businesses, this plan should be aimed at local users that fit within the business’ target demographic. Website promotion ideas include regular social media posts, a complete Google My Business listing, and a complete online directory and review site monitoring strategy.

Irregular (or no) website content

Adding regular, optimized content to a website is an important part of earning search engine rankings and online users’ trust. The effort should be based off keyword research and optimized with topics relevant to target audience searches. Content should be added regularly to the website with minimal breaks in the content publishing calendar (which can be maintained in-house or via an experienced online marketing firm).

In addition to optimized text, a content publishing calendar should also include quality images and video. These images and videos should be carefully produced and strategically chosen as part of marketing efforts. The end result is a variety of marketing topics and pieces crafted for search engines and local visitors searching for the small business’ products and services.

two businessman looking at well promote website content on smartphones

BIG Ways You’re Not Promoting Your Website Content

By now, businesses should know that adding regular and relevant content to a website is a proven way to get found online. Unfortunately, what many businesses don’t realize is that creating and adding content is only half of the equation. Promoting website content is just as vital for online marketing success.

Content promotion is all about getting the most bang for a business’ buck. It’s about using the content to reach the maximum amount of members in the business’ target audience and attracts search engines’ attention.

Unfortunately, many businesses take the outdated stance that website content can be found without promotion. While the old, “if we build it, they will come” content strategy worked years ago, today the amount of data added to the internet is in the quintillions (no, that’s not a misprint). It’s time for businesses to not only add quality content but to reap the rewards of a well-executed website content promotion strategy.

Types of Website Content

Before getting into proven promotion tactics (that many businesses are not using), these types of website content can be produced (in-house or via content marketing experts) as part of an online marketing schedule:

  • Blog post
  • Graphics
  • Video
  • E-books, docs, and whitepapers

To be clear, website content that gets results is not necessarily filled with “buy, buy, buy!” messages. Instead, content should be produced with a clear goal to provide value to customers. This can be accomplished with valuable information and quality call-to-actions.

Ways to Promote Content

Email

A connection with a customer is an invaluable part of a marketing strategy. When an e-mail owner chooses to receive marketing e-mails, they show an interest in the business; this sets e-mail marketing apart from “cold calling” tactics. There are several ways to build an e-mail list with users interested in receiving communications from a business.

In an e-mail, businesses can promote many pieces of website content or focus on a particular piece of content. Businesses can choose the option that is relevant to its promotion strategy. The topics included in the e-mail should resonate with the customer and can even including offers and discounts. For example, a business selling ski products should produce content and include them in e-mails prior to the slope season.

Almost as important as the content is the subject line. The subject line is a business’ chance to pique e-mail owner’s interest. Effective call-to-actions in the e-mail drive a customer to act. Both elements should be a key part of every marketing e-mail.

In addition to the topic, businesses need to set an e-mail schedule that appeals to customers without annoying them. Too many e-mails are going to drive customers to immediate hit delete and drive down click rates. On the opposite side, businesses that don’t take advantage of this tactic are missing out on marketing results.

Social Media

There are multiple ways businesses can promote website content on social media. The first step is to choose the social media site(s) that the target audience uses. The next step is to look for opportunities to promote website content on the social media site (or outsource the effort to marketing pros).

Typically, there are three different ways to promote website content. All three tactics are dependent on social media monitoring. Businesses should invest in social media monitoring software to find out what followers are talking about—and what they are saying about the business.

The first social media promotion tactic is to maintain a solid social media profile with regular posts. If not done correctly, this can feel like a shout in a tunnel with only an echo of acknowledgement. A social media profile should be maintained with posts relevant to the audience and in line with other marketing materials.

The second website content promotion tactic is a paid option: social media ads. This tactic involves drafting an attention-grabbing ad targeted at the audience demographic interested in the business. The crux of this strategy is to choose content that is relevant to the audience and that they want to click on.

If social media monitoring is done correctly, the last tactic is to use content to help users solving a problem relevant to the business. This can be done by adding share buttons to content, so other readers can share the content or respond to comments with helpful information. Businesses can also monitor groups centered around relevant topics (or create a group) and respond to users who are asking for information.

QR Codes

QR codes are an effective way to direct users to content from a printed marketing piece. This marketing tactic can be included on mail pieces, event marketing materials, in programs, and even in packages sent to customers. QR codes may seem traditional, but customers need a smartphone to scan the code and be directed to the content or business app.

smartphone search by local customer finding local business

What (Really) Goes into Local SEO that Works

One of the best marketing choices a local business can make is to invest time and effort in local search engine optimization (SEO). Local SEO is a powerful tool for businesses that want to get found online in searches by LOCAL users. These efforts generate website visits, e-mails, in-store visits, and phone calls.

The effort to get found online does provide value, both in online and in-store visits. Search Engine Watch reported that Google said that half of all local consumers head to the store after doing a local search online. Google also stated that more than half of smartphone users found a new company or product during a search on their smartphone. (Other local SEO statistics also prove the value of this online marketing tactic.)

However, don’t let the term “generate” make local SEO seem like a passive marketing effort. Companies can’t sit back and wait to be found online.

Local SEO is an active and comprehensive marketing effort that never ends. This online marketing effort is a combination of one-time and ongoing tasks. While that may sound contradictory, some local SEO services, such as building a website or claiming a listing on a review site, are a one-time effort. Other items on the local SEO checklist, such as publishing optimized content and asking for online reviews, need to happen on a consistent basis for best results.

A stellar local SEO effort is complete with every item checked off the local SEO checklist. Because online marketing is also continually evolving, businesses need to stay up-to-date on the latest SEO practices that get results (or consult with local SEO pros).

But what really goes into local SEO that works? What do all those technological terms mean?

The list of off-site and website tasks breaks the local SEO process down—giving businesses the short list of what needs to happen.

Off-Site Local SEO Checklist

  • Claim, verify, and optimize a Google My Business listing. (One-time)
  • Ask customers for company reviews, which are also an integral part of local SEO. (Ongoing)
  • Update online review sites and directories with the (exact) same name, address, and website URL. (One-time)
  • Update Google My Business listing with posts. (Ongoing)
  • Engage with customer comments and reviews on Google. (Ongoing)

Website Local SEO Checklist

  • Build a well-structured and fast website with optimized content. (One-time)
  • Follow Google best-practices for a website with https. (One-time)
  • Optimize website pages with relevant keywords, headlines, and topics relevant to the target audience. (One-time)
  • Make a website mobile-friendly (important for search engine optimizations and website visitors). (One-time)
  • For businesses with multiple locations, create a separate page for each location. (Be careful not to duplicate content, which can incur a penalty). (One-time)

Locally Optimized Website Content Checklist

  • Add local, focused content to the website regularly. (Ongoing)
  • Select topics and high-volume keywords relevant to the target audience. (Ongoing)
  • Optimize content with keywords (without keyword stuffing). (Ongoing)
  • Include keywords in headline, meta tags, and URL. (Ongoing)
customers on smart phone and laptop looking for local businesses

7 Local SEO Myths to IGNORE

Local SEO can get a business more customers and sales. Local SEO myths don’t.

These online marketing statements sound black-and-white, but reality is not always that simple. As business owners try to sift through information about local search engine optimization (SEO), it’s easy to get caught up in the truths and untruths. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the latter; those outrageous local SEO myths that stand between businesses and results.

Let’s start with the worst local SEO myth.

SEO is junk.

This is an online marketing myth that has been around for a long time (and honestly needs to go away). It has its roots when black-hat search engine optimization tactics stopped working and results were not immediately obvious.

Recent search engine optimization statistics prove the opposite to be true. SEO is here to stay, and local SEO is a proven way for local businesses to be found online. These online marketing tactics utilize the latest online trends to build trust online. In local SEO, the goal of these tactics is to get a business found in online searches for local businesses and solutions.

All a company needs to attract Google’s attention is an optimized website.

A website built and created for readers and search engines is only one part of a strong optimized online presence—but only a part. In addition to a website, businesses should also utilize marketing tactics that meet their goals. A local business should also complete a Google My Business listing, maintain a strong social media presence, request and monitor reviews, and employ other online marketing tactics (use this full checklist of local SEO tactics) that target customers and search engines. (Find out more about how reviews play a HUGE part in getting a company found online.)

Adding keywords and cities throughout a website makes it rank better in local searches.

To be clear, the term “optimized” does not imply that a website should be loaded with keywords, local cities, and the business address. To the contrary, a website stuffed with keywords is actually a black-hat on-site SEO tactic that earn a Google penalty. In addition, loading every page with cities and location information can deter potential customers and make a business look like amateurs. Instead, businesses should build an optimized website utilizing the latest online trends and SEO tactics (or contact SEO professionals that can).

Google My Business listings are optional.

This local SEO myth is partially true. Google My Business (GMB) listings are completely optional. Business may even still get high rankings without a GMB listing. The key word is “may.” However, for a business serious about attracting local customers, verifying and completing a GMB listing is an essential part of a strong local SEO presence. A completed GMB listing guarantees that accurate information is used in search engine listings; to be clear, however, not all the information included may show up in listings, though customers have access to the filled-out information.

A bigger service area on Google My Business yields bigger results.

Many businesses are under the impression that if they designate a large service area in Google My Business, they get ranked in all the cities within the service area. The truth is that potential customers can see the service area and see how far a business travels, but the information does not guarantee high rankings in search results in all the cities within the service area.

Content is only for big businesses.

The one tactic that has continually proven to be an important part of a strong SEO presence is high-quality content (even through all the Google algorithm updates)—and it’s not just a tactic for large businesses. High-quality, optimized content produced on a regular basis is well within small businesses’ reach and their budget. Content marketing also comes with other benefits because content can be used for other promotional purposes. To get high-quality website content, businesses should designate the task to a marketing employee or outsource the effort to professionals with a proven track record.

There is nothing companies can do about reviews.

Negative and positive reviews are not—entirely—a random occurrence, though positive reviews on review sites are an important part of local SEO.  Though businesses cannot control when customers post, asking for and responding to reviews is an effort that can managed on a daily basis.

Because positive reviews are an important part of building trust online, businesses should evaluate their daily interactions with customers for chances to ask satisfied customers for reviews. This can be done by sales personnel at a follow-up meeting or during the checkout process. When reviews are posted, businesses should monitor social media sites and review sites to ensure that all reviews receive a response and customers are satisfied with their service.

hands on laptop sending business email as part of email marketing campaign

8 (Easy) Ways to Build a Solid Email List

When it comes to building email lists, we feel like (some) companies are missing the mark. There are so many missed opportunities and misconceptions that can stand in the way of results.

To be clear, there are a lot of results to be had. This list of email marketing benefits from Business2Community spells out the most compelling reasons, including building brand awareness and generating more website traffic and sales.

It should be noted that none of those results are reachable without building a solid email list and producing relevant emails. The basis of every solid e-mail list is a list of recipients that want to receive communications from the business and emails with information they want to receive. Here’s how to get started on the first part of the process: building an e-mail list that gets results.

 How to Build a Solid Email List

Don’t buy or rent e-mail lists.

The first, and biggest, part of gathering emails for marketing purposes is a stern “don’t.” As tempting as it may be, don’t buy or rent email lists. This unfortunately all-to-common practice can lead to wasted efforts and incredibly low results.

Put simply, if the people behind those e-mail lists don’t want to receive e-mails from a business, they’re not going to open the e-mail. This leads to a higher bounce rate and lower open and click-through rate, which can get businesses tagged as spammers without generating any (or few) sales.

Ask in sales meeting, tradeshows, and at the register.

The biggest missed opportunities for e-mail addresses come during daily interactions: in sales meetings, trade show interactions, and during in-person checkouts. This is a prime reason why every employee should be included in the effort to request e-mails (and ask for online reviews).

The exact method of asking is different for every business, which is why identifying opportunities involves an overall evaluation of all business practices. For businesses that ship products, marketing materials asking for e-mails can be included. If the sales process is online, a follow-up email can be sent thanking them for their business and asking if they would like to communicate further.

If a sales team is involved, there are several chances for these asks: during follow-up visits and interactions. Even technicians can collect e-mails and ask for reviews when the service is delivered. Both of these efforts can be useful for marketing purposes and improving a business’ local SEO. (For more information on the pros, contact local SEO experts.)  

Create a social media ad.

Social media is an essential part of every business marketing effort and another way to boost a business email list. Effective social media ads are run on social media sites that reach the target audience (more on how to choose the right social media site here) and are targeted (via interests, demographics, or location) to ensure that a relevant audience is being reached. These ads may include incentives for compliance, such as a discount for e-mail list sign-up or an offer that the viewers can’t refuse.

Make e-mail sign-up part of the check-out process.

For e-commerce websites, an e-mail sign-up is a logical part of the buying process. The exact process of the e-mail sign-up should be easy and reasonable. Long forms and indirect links can weaken the resolve of even the most dedicated user.

Directing users to the e-mail process should be just as clear-cut. The ask can be made via a box included in the purchasing process or via a follow-up e-mail after the purchase. If repeat sales or retaining customers is a campaign goal, the follow-up can include an incentive for another purchase (i.e. percentage off on next purchase, discount on certain item, etc.)

Make followers aware of the perks of e-mails in a social media post.

Social media is a great way to spread the word about the benefits of joining an e-mail list. This is a business’ chance to (occasionally) let users know what they’re missing out on (exclusive e-mail offers) and direct them to the e-mail sign-up page. Social media posts about the e-mail list should be included in a regular social media plan with relevant topics.

Add the request to promotional materials.

The request for e-mails can extend beyond social media and in-person asks. The ask for e-mails should be included on promotional materials strategically produced for the targeted audience. As with online, the request should make the process easy for the recipient. QR codes (which are easy to scan with a mobile device) and URLs to the sign-up page are both easy and effective. The preferred method can be included on brochures, post cards, materials included in shipments, and trade show packets.

Add a pop-up with the ask to the business website.

Website pop-ups can be unpopular and incredibly effective for e-mail sign-ups. The pop-ups should utilize the best online marketing practices and give viewers a reason to want to click. These incentives could include a discount for e-mail sign-up or valuable insider tips that viewers only receive for taking action.

Include the request on the business blog.

Content marketing is a great way to bolster a website’s search engine rankings, offer customers valuable and relevant tips, ask for engagement on social media, and request e-mail sign-ups. The request for e-mail sign-up can be included as a call-to-action in the content, in blog pop-ups, or in clickable images on the blog. These clickable images can include, “for more information, subscribe…” or “to get more great tips, sign-up…”

Tips for Effective Email Sign-Ups

  • Make it easy for users to sign-up (no long forms!)
  • Give users an incentive to sign-up.
  • Make the sign-up process secure.
  • Include the ask for e-mail sign-up in business standard operating procedures.
  • Ask employees to spread the word about the business email list on social media, in e-mails, and in e-mail signatures.

Ideas for Engaging E-mail Content

  • Blog posts relevant to the season or recipient (from the company or from other industry leaders)
  • Sales/discounts/offers (including exclusive offers that make the recipient feel like part of a loyal club)
  • Useful tips
  • Communications from business leaders
  • Requests for donations
  • Daily points of interest
  • Photos and videos relevant to the audience
magnifying glass on search engine rankings in Google

Local Businesses: How to Rock Rankings in Google

How do local businesses get customers to (and through) the door? Driving online and foot traffic is (or should be) the bread-and-butter of every local business marketing strategy. There are many ways to achieve this goal, including (but not limited to) email lists, social media, and search engine optimization (SEO).

The last item isn’t as tangible as sending out regular emails to customers or posting to social media, but it’s one of the most important ways to drive customers to your business. SEO is the process of getting to the top of search engine results pages for relevant keywords and phrases. For some businesses, this can be phrases like, “school backpacks for preschoolers” or “backyard grills.”

For local brick-and-mortar businesses, the focus on SEO results needs to be far more specific. After all, a person searching for flooring in Wisconsin isn’t going to contact a business in Ohio. For businesses with a specific target area (around their business or business location), local SEO is one of the top ways to ensure that local businesses are showing up in online user’s searches.

Statistics from Google, the most popular internet search engine, prove this marketing tactic to be successful:

Those statistics are based off of real online behaviors. When a person is looking for a product or service, they are going online to research products and businesses that provide the specific product or business. This could be an intensive process or an impulsive search online. Some of the research is done through voice search or typed-in keywords, phrases, and questions.

If a local business wants to be found in these searches, the business name and information needs to show up in search results. This can be in the form of tips and information, business-specific information, or lists of local businesses that provide a product or service (i.e. “restaurants near me,” “djs near me,” etc.)  There are numerous ways business can show up in searches; this list is just the start of a business’ targeted local SEO efforts (for more technical local SEO, contact local SEO experts).

Claim a Google My Business listing.

Online visitors need businesses that provide products and services. They look for them online, either by typing in or asking questions. An article on Forbes estimated that an average of one billion voice searches occur every month.

In a Google searches, the businesses listed as answers in those searches are often pulled from Google My Business (GMB). GMB is an online directory of local businesses.

To be included in GMB, business can claim a free GMB listing. To verify the listing, businesses need to enter a code from a postcard that comes in the mail. Listings should be optimized and filled out completely for optimal results.

Add strategic content to your website.

High-quality, optimized content is a huge asset in local SEO. The content can answer questions or provide information relevant to searches about the product or service. Either way, the content must bring some value to the reader.

Years ago, this content would have to be 300 words and only text to be high in the rankings in Google. As search engines have evolved and the sheer amount of content has multiplied (exponentially), the stakes for content has skyrocketed.

Modern content needs to be optimized with keywords and topics relevant to online searches. This does NOT mean repeating keywords over and over, which is called “keyword stuffing” and is penalized by search engines. To be clear, the content not only needs to be optimized for search engines but also for the target audience. (Optimized content can be outsourced to professionals to get regular content that gets results.)

All content should contain images optimized for higher rankings in Google. These images should have relevant alt text and ideally would be a video that provides more value for the reader. While these images should be clear, they should not slow down page loading speed. Page loading speed is another Google ranking factor.

According to Google, when the time for a website page to load goes from one to three seconds, the chance of an online user leaving the website increases by 32%. That number almost triples, to 90%, when page loading speed goes from one to five seconds. The number increases to 106% when loading from one to six seconds. From one to 10 seconds, the chances of a bounce are a whopping 123%.

Claim directory and review site listings.

Research has shown that 88% factor online reviews into their purchasing decision (Source: Search Engine Land). For this reason, business listings on review sites and online directories are a common result on search engine results pages (generated after a search).

Businesses should compile a list of online review sites and web directories relevant to their industry and claim listings on those sites. Every listing should have consistent information—even down to the abbreviations. The suite should be “Ste.” on every site, the same for “Rd.” and “Ave.”   

These sites also play an integral part in building trust with potential customers. More than 70% of customers say positive reviews play a part in trusting a business. To earn those positive reviews, businesses should provide excellent customer service and make asking for reviews a standard part of the process. Every staff member should be trained to provide an excellent experience and ask satisfied customers for a positive review.

To make the process easy for the customer, businesses should look for opportunities to ask for reviews. This could include a link included in a follow-up email, a postcard included in a package, or an in-person ask from a salesman or technician.

Build a website with an optimized structure.

An optimized website is an integral part of every business’ SEO toolbox. To get high rankings on Googles, businesses must structure their website for search engines. In addition, an optimized website must load quickly, contain relevant keywords, never have duplicate title tags or meta descriptions, and contain no broken links.

Astoundingly, almost three-quarters of all Americans have a smartphone. The growing amount of smartphones should be a key part of every company’s marketing strategy. According to Google, almost half of all mobile users are frustrated by websites that aren’t mobile-friendly. This trend is reflected by Google, which include mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.