There’s a lot of hype about how great the internet can be for your business, but this fails to take into account the incredibly high demands on a small business owner. Everyone wants more customers, but not if it means spending an additional 20 hours a week on marketing, or spending more than you can afford on advertising. The key to improving your online marketing is to keep an open mind about what customers like about your business. Take what you see as the real value in what you do, apply it to the following five key marketing areas, and pay careful attention to what works and what doesn’t. You might be surprised at what you find.
1. Search engine marketing
It can be pretty disconcerting doing a Google search for what you think is your flagship product. Alongside major companies with massive marketing budgets, you’ll probably find much humbler competitors ranking well in normal search results (also called ‘organic search’). How did they get there?
The answer is through search engine optimization (or SEO), which is the practice of writing your website’s content in such a way that search engines sit up and pay attention to it.
If you’re entirely new to search or are confounded by how it works, the place to start isn’t with SEO, but search engine marketing, or SEM. This is basically the online equivalent of a paid listing in the Yellow Pages. Services like Google’s AdWords let you buy a keyword or a term like ‘mowing services Sydney’. When searchers use this keyword to find a site, the first few results are AdWords listings. They’re at the top and to the right of the page over a faded yellow background. To many, they look like the top-ranked search results, but they’re actually paid advertisements.
The first step in any online marketing strategy is to draw up a list of keywords that potential customers might use to find your business on Google. Having done this, head to Google’s keyword tool, and see how well these terms align with the ones that are eliciting the most responses in search. This will not only give you an idea of which keywords perform best but will also show which are the most competitive. Focusing on less competitive keywords that are still relevant to what your business offers is often the most cost-effective way of getting more visitors to your site.
Before bidding, it’s also essential to sign up for an analytics package so you can track any incoming traffic your ads will generate, as well as which ones result in sales. Google’s Analytics software is the most popular option, as it’s free and very effective. Adobe’s Omniture is a more in-depth alternative, but you have to pay for it.
Businesses should start with SEM for two reasons. Not only is it the quickest and simplest way of getting to the top of the search results (albeit for a price), but it’s also the quickest way of finding out which terms work for your business and which don’t.
For more information on what it is and how to use it, read Nett‘s article on Why you need SEM.
2. Search engine optimisation
While advertising on search does result in a higher rate of qualified leads, appearing on the first page in the natural search listings will generate a much higher volume of traffic to your website. These results are the links that Google deems to be most relevant to a searcher’s query. If your business ends up with a top search ranking for a particular term, it presents a more credible alternative to the ads served alongside it.
First, it’s important to understand that SEO is very competitive, and is a relatively slow process, to begin with.
“SEO takes time,” says Michelle Gamble, ‘chief angel’ at SME marketing agency Marketing Angels. “It’s difficult to get to the top of Google from day one when you’re first launching a site. If you’re not immediately on that front page, then, in the short term, you need to do at least some search engine marketing or advertising.”
As with SEM, keywords are the bread and butter of SEO. The keywords that appear on your site, and the way in which they appear, are the main thing Google’s search algorithms use to determine whether or not your site is relevant to a search query.
If you want to target different keywords for different products, don’t simply jam as many of these as possible into the copy that appears on your homepage. This kind of keyword abuse will not only work to alienate visitors to your site but could end up adversely affecting your search ranking.
Instead, create a separate landing page for each keyword or search phrase you hope to target. The URL (uniform resource locator – the web address) of such pages should describe the content a visitor can expect to find there. Some content management systems use numbers in the URL as a default to differentiate different pages, and this is counter-productive in search. If it’s a page about a particular product, then the URL should reflect that: ‘yourbusiness.com/productname’ as opposed to ‘yourbusiness.com/post/13672.html’.
Keywords should also be used liberally throughout the website’s copy (writing). They should appear in page titles and title tags, in the alt-text on images, and in the meta-descriptions that appear in the HTML on each page (for more info on how to do this, read Nett‘s guides to doing your own SEO & getting SEO right the first time)
“Having a hyperlinked site map on your website, and making sure you send an XML sitemap to Google as well, will also help,” advises Gamble.
Google’s main goal is to link people searching for something with relevant pages. Search engine algorithms can’t read the content on your website, but they can count the number of keywords it uses, as well as the incoming links it generates, and use these factors to determine whether or not your site is relevant to visitors.
The best way to make your site relevant to the keywords you’re targeting is to produce content based on them. Starting with the keywords that you’ve noticed generate the most interest, draw up a series of topics that you think will answer questions prospective customers might have.
“The first thing is to start by looking at your target market, and looking at what’s going to be significant to them,” says Gamble.
“It’s going back to your target market and looking at what’s really significant to them. What can you provide that’s useful? If you’re a builder, for instance, you might record some simple how-to videos. They might show people how complex it is to do something and why they should get a builder in.”
Having blog posts, whitepapers, or videos that address your target market’s concerns and questions are likely to increase the time visitors spend on your site (and thus your brand exposure). Also, these visitors will be more likely to share your content with their contacts, thereby building links to your site, which can help with SEO.
4. Email marketing and social media
There’s a lot of writing about how wonderful social media and email marketing can be for your business, but these tools aren’t much use by a small business with no content to offer. Ensure that you’ve settled on a content strategy before you start putting a monthly email together or signing up for a Twitter account.
A contact list is essential for email marketing, and there are laws around the methods of obtaining email addresses for marketing use. If you already have a list of customer email addresses, that will prove a good place to start. When acquiring larger numbers of email addresses, it’s important to understand the difference between express and implied consent. For more on email marketing, read 10 common mistakes in email marketing.
For small businesses, social media basically provides a more nimble alternative to email marketing. Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ all offer an efficient, personable, and cheap way of sharing content. The key to success here is to lean away from using a promotional tone in your updates. Social media is just that: social. Use it to position your business as a friendly entity with great advice to offer.
Alternatively, a number of social media platforms offer a pay-per-click form of advertising similar to Google AdWords. For more on advertising using social media, read Social media advertising for small businesses.
5. Public relations
Media exposure is enormously beneficial for small businesses. Not only can it help to build your credibility, but it can bring links from established media outlets to your site, which, as mentioned above, helps your organic search rankings.
“PR is a really good method of marketing your business online because it generally gets you in the press without you having to pay for expensive advertising,” says Gamble. “People trust articles, often, more than they do ads.”
Before you start drafting a press release, it’s important to research the publications you’d like to be seen in, so that you have a clear idea of what kind of story would be relevant to their readers.
“Make sure that you really think about all of the different angles that you can develop stories around,” advises Gamble. It’s important that any media releases you send out frame a genuinely newsworthy aspect of your business, rather than simply promoting a product.
Alternatively, business owners can use PR services like Sourcebottle as a way of finding journalists looking for comments in their particular area of expertise.
“The other thing is to offer to provide your writing expertise for free,” suggests Gamble. “A lot of businesses look for people who can become regular bloggers or columnists and things like that.”
To find out more about doing your own PR read Nett’s guide to DIY public relations.