Category Archives: online marketing tips

customer on smartphone looking for local business that uses local seo

Small Businesses: 9 Local SEO Tips that Get You to the Top

Most small businesses can’t imagine getting over-the-top results from a small marketing budget. However, with online marketing, the smallest details matter, which is why these local SEO tips can get a local small business to the top of local search engine results. Of course, that top position in local search results won’t come overnight, but it does come with regular efforts (detailed in this checklist) and utilization of the latest local SEO tactics.  

Local SEO can get local businesses local customers who are interested in purchasing local products and services. Unfortunately, online marketing myths always seem to follow these successful marketing tactics; this list of do’s and don’ts of local SEO can give businesses the positive practices that reach local customers and the negative myths that inhibit marketing results.

Do optimize the business Google My Business site.

A Google My Business (GMB) listing is an important part of a local SEO strategy. A complete and optimized GMB listing isn’t just an effective way to get marketing results, it’s free.

To optimize a business GMB listing, the business must first verify the listing. This can be done by requesting and entering a code sent by Google. To get the most out of the listing, the business should completely fill out the GMB listing (with these instructions for an optimized Google My Business from Search Engine Journal). For best results, small businesses should take this local SEO tip seriously and add their logo and product pictures, plus the business address (if applicable), website URL, business hours, and service area. (A local SEO service can also optimize the listing as part of a comprehensive local SEO strategy.)

Don’t believe that a bigger service area on Google My Business gets more results.

The Google My Business service area has become the source of many business’ misconceptions. Many businesses believe that if they make the service area bigger, they get higher rankings in all the cities and towns. Research has proved this myth not to be true. While online visitors can see the service area, a bigger service area does not guarantee higher rankings in the service area.

Do make review sites a top priority.

Review sites are becoming an important part of customers’ buying process. Even for local businesses that provide services, customers are using Yelp and the Better Business Bureau to choose the best business. Search Engine Land recently published a study that reported that more than 80% of all consumers trust reviews as much as an in-person recommendation. Bright Local published a consumer review survey that said that consumers would only choose businesses with more than four stars.

These local SEO statistics make this local SEO tip a priority for businesses. Instead of leaving reviews to chance, businesses should claim their listing, make sure all information is accurate, and ask satisfied customers for reviews. The ask can be done in-person or in follow-up communications (ways to ask for a review are included in this list). There are many opportunities for asks; a business should review their standard operating procedures and include the request in future employee trainings.

Don’t forget to monitor reviews.

Unfortunately, many small businesses don’t see review sites as an on-going local SEO tactic. This misconception is a risky stance. Instead, small businesses should monitor review sites (or contract with marketing pros with an automated review site monitoring system) and respond to negative reviews.

While it might be tempting to respond with angry comebacks to negative reviews, small businesses should respond with empathy and ask to take the conversation to a private conversation. This not only takes the discussion off-line, it also gives businesses the chance to resolve the situation to the customers’ satisfaction.  

Do make sure the NAP is consistent.

The building address is a significant part of every online small business listing—more important than many businesses realize. It is not only important to include the address, but there is also value in ensuring that every name, address, and phone number follow the same format on every site. The business name should be identical in every listing. A business’ suite should be abbreviated the same or written out, along with the road and other address information. The same goes for the phone number. While the NAP may seem like a minor detail, it is a minor detail that is worth utilizing in a business local SEO strategy.

Don’t forget about link building.

Link building is the practice of building links from other websites to the business’ website. In the past, this practice was linked to the black-hat SEO tactic of buying links. Often this black-hat tactic resulted in links to sub-par websites, which sabotaged SEO results for small businesses.

Modern link building revolves around getting links to reputable websites, resulting in reputable results. (Link building can be outsourced to marketing professionals for efficient results.) To search engines, link building is a third-party verification of a website. The third-party verification plays a role in how a website is ranked on search engines.

Do add local information to a business website.

If a business wants to be seen by local visitors, the business should include local information on the business website. The local information should be included in the original website copy and in optimized content regularly added to the site (produced by the business or content professionals).

In addition to local information, website content should never be produced without keyword research. Keyword research ensures that a website content is optimized for visitor search intent. Simply, this means that the content should be crafted with keywords used by the business’ target audience. This targeted online marketing approach increases website conversions because users visiting the site want to purchase the product or service.

Don’t bore website visitors with local, local, local…

While localized website content is an integral part of a local SEO strategy, it’s important not to alienate visitors by overdoing the localization. There are examples of this local SEO mistake all over the internet. Many businesses list cities or draft content with so much localization it sounds like an amateur produced it.

Do be social.

Social media may not be the first marketing tactic that comes to mind with local SEO, but it is an important part of every local business marketing strategy. Business social media channels reach customers interested in the business, and builds loyalty and engagement with customers. In addition, social media sites are crawled by search engines and, if utilized effectively, can result in an increase in website visits. For a full return-on-investment, business should select social media sites utilized by their target audience and regularly post relevant information.

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.

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.

Quick Guide to Holiday Online Customer Service

hands of business manager typing online customer serviceIt only takes one bad online interaction to put a damper on the next holiday sale. On the flip side, it takes one fantastic social media message or comment to make the holiday season merrier for the customer and the company. According to a list of holiday shopping statistics posted by Constant Contact, the numbers of online purchases and online searches leading to in-store visits are increasing. The stakes are higher than ever for creating an exceptional overall online experience for customers—including customer service.

Reaching the goal of 100% customer satisfaction during the holiday season can seam surreal. It’s the busiest time of the year for many companies. Staff members are stretched thin, both in terms of time and budget.

With all that being said, it’s not unrealistic to provide excellent customer service that boosts sales and brand loyalty. Use these tips to effectively deliver the online customer service that makes the holidays more festive for everyone.

Monitor social media messages.

The biggest mistakes companies make is a lack of awareness about the messages themselves and the importance of responses. On Facebook, one of the most popular social media sites, companies can get badges for quick response times. Beyond social media sites, customers value—even expect—-a quick response.

To meet those expectations, monitor social media messages closely (or contact a marketing firm that can assist with monitoring). Use an e-mail (that is attached to the social media account) or social media monitoring program to promptly and efficiently monitor messages. Whenever possible, add accurate location hours so customers know when to expect a response. If it is not possible to get the information at the time of the message, let the customer know when to expect an answer to their question.

Choose the customer service provider wisely.

Online customer service is not a task that should be assigned to just any staff member. An error in judgment can cost any company sales, both on individual transactions and in negative reviews. Negative reviews can play a significant role in customers’ purchasing decisions. According to Search Engine Land, research has shown that 88% factor online reviews into their purchasing decision.

As such, responding to e-mails and social media messages should not be delegated to any staff member or intern. The responsible party should be available to answer customer inquiries and knowledgeable in customer service. If there is a lack of available staff, consider outsourcing social media marketing to the experts.

Respond promptly.

Online customer service should not be a task that should be tackled once a day or irregularly. Customers expect a prompt response. On social media, statistics say most customers expect companies to respond within 24 hours on social media in general (and faster on some social media sites). For that reason, online messages and comments should be monitored closely. If the answer to the inquiry is not immediately available, let the customer know that their message has been received and the timeline for a resolution.

Ditch the canned responses.

Nothing can kill the holiday spirit like a canned customer service response. If a customer comments on a social media post, answer like a real human and don’t hesitate to ask them to communicate privately. Canned responses to every comment, such as a repeated “thank you for your comment, blah, blah, blah…” can backfire, especially when the initial customer comment is negative. This approach can anger the customer, making the customer experience a negative one.

Offer an easy solution.

The holidays are a busy season. Make the customer’s experience positive by making the resolution easy and expedient. Unless the resolution requires an in-depth conversation, avoid making the customer call; try as much as possible to communicate with the customer through their preferred method of communication (i.e. social media, e-mail, text message, etc.) A positive customer experience over the holidays can leave a favorable impression that lasts long after the festivities are over.

8 BIG Do’s & Don’ts of Marketing Your Business Online

man laying head on desk confused by online marketingWe get it: online marketing is a dark, mysterious abyss that is new and unknown.  It’s not as satisfying as a sale that is closed in-person.  It’s not as concrete as those in-person interactions that come with a customer that walks in the door of your business.  We’ve heard it all before from our clients.

But online marketing gets customers to your door, both in-person and via the internet.  Online marketing builds trust with your customers before they pick up the phone or walk in—if you take these do’s and don’ts to heart when marketing your business online.

Do invest in a solid website.

A mobile-friendly, aesthetically pleasing, and functional website is worth its weight in gold.  A solid website is the foundation of a strong marketing plan with pages full of information that your audience wants to read—and you want to direct them to (more information on the musts of a solid website can be found here).

Don’t create a website and neglect it.

The days of producing a solid website for the sake of having a website is over.  Nowadays, that website needs to work for you.  It needs to have content optimized for search engines so your website shows up at the top of results and on search engine maps.  It needs to have a solid contact page that you can direct your customers to when they have questions.  It needs to have links to your social media pages so potential customers can continue to connect with you.  It needs to have content that answers your customers’ questions and scores points with search engines (more info on regular content here).

Do get the attention of search engines.

Keep two key audiences in mind when you write content for your website: your customers and search engines.  More than 90% of all online searches start with a search engine so it makes cents (pun intended) to optimize your website content and invest in search engine optimization (SEO).  SEO technology gets your website to the top of users’ search engine results within 10, 20, or 50 mile radius (more information on local SEO in this post).

Don’t start marketing without an integrated plan.

The key is integrated.  Your marketing efforts need to be strategic, and an integrated plan that coordinates your online and offline marketing tactics is key (get started with these tips for drafting a marketing plan for your business).  Draft an integrated plan that is flexible enough to bend with the trends and inclusive enough that your brand message is clearly heard in your online (social media, content marketing pieces, etc.) and offline (post cards, ads, etc.) channels.

Do invest in mobile marketing.

Marketing for mobile devices is not just a fade.  It’s not going away.  To the contrary, smart phones, tablets, and other mobile devices are a wave of the future that we all need to get used to and cater to.  If you have a website that isn’t mobile friendly, it’s time to contact a website design company to get a new, mobile-friendly website (built with these website must-haves) online.

Don’t think you have to reach everyone.

Stop trying to reach everyone; instead target your communications for a better return on your investment.  Who are your customers? What information do they want? Where are they online? Where are they offline?  How can you reach them? The answers to your questions should guide your targeted marketing efforts.

Do outsource your online marketing efforts if you don’t have time.

Even with the best of intentions, many a business owner or manager has run out of time to carry out even the most well-thought out marketing plan.  The internet is full of blogs and social media sites started by businesses who abandoned them because of lack of time.  If you find you don’t have enough time, don’t hesitate to outsource your efforts to the local experts that can meet your needs and your budget. 

Don’t cheat and copy and paste the same text on all your social media sites.

Sorry, you’re not fooling anyone when you post the same text to Facebook and Instagram.  It’s not effective. People can tell you’re haven’t created information specific to them, and it’s not going to perform as well.  If you feel a little out of your league (knowledge and time-wise) on a social media channel, contact a marketing company that can use the same voice as you already use and get results when you feel you’re in over your head.