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Online Marketing Tips To Grow Your Small Business

I think the thing that I love most about the Internet is that it levels the playing field and allows small businesses to compete on a global level. Unlike in the real world, where the mom-and-pop shop has been replaced by the big, corporate store in your neighborhood, the Internet is a little more accommodating. In fact, having a good online strategy for your small business may help you avoid going the way of the traditional bricks-and-mortar small or family-owned business.

First, an absolute must – get a website! It amazes me the number of small businesses that do not have a legitimate web presence. There’s nothing worse than businesses that appear on Google Local or Google Maps, but don’t have a website for users to find more information. If a person is searching online, then provide the information for them online. If they need to call, it’s generally as a last resort. Why alienate customers before they’ve ever had a chance to interact with you? Not having a website in 2010 is the equivalent of having an unpublished number for your pizza delivery business – it’s just not a model for success!

And, please, please, I said get a website, but don’t just GET a website. Find a good designer and have them DESIGN a website. Although I’m still on the fence and go back and forth, I’m not sure if a poorly designed, ill-conceived website isn’t just as bad as not having one. Think of the website as the entrance to your business. In our wired world, most people are finding you online, before they ever find you in the real world. And, you know the old saying about first impressions…

The great thing about web design in 2010 is that you can build a really nice website for a fraction of the cost from even 5 years ago. One of the hardest things to convince a small business owner without a web presence to do is to put dollars behind a website build. But, let’s say you are a real estate agent who makes approximately $1,000 from each home sale where you provide representation. If your website helps you acquire just ONE new sale per month, the site will pay for itself in five short months and the rest of the income it generates (minus hosting and maintenance costs), is pure income! How awesome is that?

And, when you pick a web designer or company to build your site, don’t forget to choose someone who understands the value of SEO. Building a site that is fully-optimized for search can dramatically impact the success of your online efforts. Let’s look at an example; I searched for “Washington, DC cupcake shop” on Google – here are the results:

Three of the top six listings are for local cupcake bakeries. You know why they showed up? Because someone was smart enough to include search terms that appear in that keyword phrase in the website content. The website is necessary, but the content is KING! There are many, many things you can do to optimize your site for natural search (link-building, site map, etc.), but the content is what’s really going to bring it home. As a small business owner, you probably aren’t well-versed in all the ins-and-outs of website SEO – and you shouldn’t be! Just hire a firm that knows what they are doing and let them do it! I’ve got an SEO firm recommendation for your small biz if you’re looking for one! J

And, if your business makes a product that can be sold online, DO it! There’s no reason why someone in West Virginia, Texas, California, etc. can’t enjoy one of these awesome cupcakes even when they aren’t in DC. See how the Internet can help you take a local business national? Once you’ve conquered that, the next step is the global takeover!

Okay, so you’ve got the site – how do you market it? First, some tips on what NOT to do:

  1. Say NO to banner advertising. That’s more of a brand-building play than direct response and there are much better ways to utilize your marketing budgets and build your brand online.
  2. Don’t try to compete too fiercely for broad search terms, e.g. hotel. If you are a small business owner with a hotel in ONE town in the United States, trust me when I tell you that you don’t want to appear in the search results for that term. It’s expensive and it makes no sense because the people looking for “hotel” aren’t just looking for one in your corner of the country.

My “don’ts” are pretty short, primarily because I prefer to focus on the positive! So, here’s what you SHOULD focus on:

  1. Local search – more than 80% of all in-store visits start online. You know what that means? That people are turning to the Internet to guide not just online purchases, but local, in-store purchases too! If you’ve got a bakery in DC that sells cupcakes, why wouldn’t you want to capture some of that search traffic?
    1. Google Places – it’s not only free to claim your business, you can add your hours, post coupons and get performance reports
    2. ReachLocal – I love these guys because they help small businesses not only manage paid local search campaigns on engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing, but they also have a technology that tracks calls driven by the online local search ads.
    3. Google, Yahoo, Bing and a ton of other online startups have increased their focus on small business and advertising options on the Internet – much of it local, so the options are opening up rapidly for this market segment. Now is the time to define, test and implement an online strategy for your small business!
    4. Social Media – most small businesses benefit significantly from WOM (word-of-mouth) recommendations. I’ve noticed on a ton of my friends Facebook pages that folks are asking for or giving location-specific recommendations.
      1. Crowd-sourced Recommendations and Reviews – what’s better than hearing from other customers about products, services and goods that you are interested in purchasing or trying? A good review on these sites increases the likelihood that you will see an uptick in business. Also, as Facebook’s Open Social Graph (we talked about this last week), infiltrates the Internet, you will begin to see not just crowd-sourced reviews, but crowd-sourced reviews from YOUR crowd – your Facebook friends! Too awesome. A few of these directories where you want to make sure your business has a presence (I wouldn’t recommend writing your own recommendations, but you can certainly direct your patrons there. It’s the feedback/comment card in a new forum!)
        1. i.      Yelp – this is my fave! You can find reviews for everything and they are already pulling in results from your Facebook network.
        2. ii.      CitySearch – they provide a mix of paid placements and reviews. No Facebook Open Social Graph yet!
        3. iii.      MetroMix – this one is a little less crowd-source (okay, a LOT than the other ones). Not as many categories as the other two, but worth listing if your business is in the categories that they do have.
  2. Microblogs, e.g. Twitter – if you aren’t on Twitter, please GET on Twitter! You’d be amazed at how quickly your loyal fans will follow you, re-tweet you and just show love. And, you can show them love by tweeting channel specific deals or inside information that only your followers would know. Or, if you provide a service, use it to establish your expertise by giving out tips and good advice.
  3. Social networking sites, e.g. Facebook
    1. i.      Build a fan page – it’s an easy way to interact with your most active brand loyalists and it works REALLY well for local business. You need a strategy, so again, FIND an agency to at least help you train and understand how to interact.
    2. ii.      Facebook ads – the targeting options are fantastic. Why not test these ads for your target customer? You can drive them to your fan page for special promos or insider information.
    3. iii.      Foursquare – this is the BEST of both worlds! Location-specific social! Establish a presence on Foursquare so that people can check-in! It will display to their followers where they are and maybe inspire a spontaneous meeting at your place of business. You’ve got them in the door – now convert them!

Before I go, a few things:

  1. Don’t be afraid to invest online. Yes, resources are limited, but you’ll get results that are measurable and easier to optimize (improve for the future) from putting those dollars into online marketing.
  2. Engage an expert. If you can’t afford to have them manage your efforts, at least let them build it and train you so that you can achieve maximum success.
  3. BUILD A WEBSITE! I know, I know, I’ve said this before, but it really is the crucial first step that will make everything else possible.

As small business owners, ourselves, we know all about budget limitations and lack of resources like time. But, putting a budget and time into some of these tools listed above will have an exponential impact on your financial success. And, this is just the tip of the iceberg! There’s so much more that you can do for your small business with online marketing. Look out for blog posts dedicated to each of these individual tactics and a few others that I haven’t covered yet.

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  1. Online Marketing Tips To Grow Your Small Business | Subliminal Pixels | Atlanta Online Marketing - July 3, 2010

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