Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.
There are many online marketing avenues that a local small business could take, but which are essential and stand the best chance of ensuring success? After all, business owners have a limited amount of time to pursue marketing activities, so they need to focus on those that are most productive.
In my view, there are six that qualify. If you put them in play, it’s likely that you will vault your business far above your competitors — many of whom won’t take the time and effort — regarding building a strong online presence.
Here they are, in order of priority.
1. Have a Mobile-friendly, Search-optimized Website
Your website is your home base. And while you don’t need a site that has tons of pages, it must include two characteristics: mobile-friendliness and search optimization.
Most content management systems — WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace, to name a few — include mobile versions of their design themes, which leaves search engine optimization.
In that respect, include keywords in page titles, body copy, and meta descriptions that are relevant and critical to your business. (Google and Bing are smart, but that doesn’t mean they are so smart keywords carry no meaning.)
How do you find keywords that qualify? First, consider your industry, products, and services. What keywords come to mind? Conduct some Google searches and look at that sites that get first-page returns, paying attention to the words they use.
Another way is to employ keyword planner tools, such as Google Keyword Planner, SEMRush, or Wordtracker. The first two are free (SEMRush offers premium plans as well); Wordtracker will cost you $27 per month.
(Note: You must have an AdWords account to use Google’s keyword planner tool. That doesn’t mean you have to use AdWords per se, just that you have an account set up, which you can do here.)
Each of these tools works the same way. Input a keyword that makes sense for your business and each platform will suggest others that are related.
Something else to consider regarding search optimization is that it helps to update your site on a regular basis — once per week at least. The Google spider will index your site more often if it finds new content. That’s where a blog can play a significant role. Most CMS platforms come with a blog component built-in.
Review the following articles, to learn the benefits of blogging and how to begin:
- 5 Tips for Blog Content Success;
- Business Blogging: 10 Steps to Take Before You Start.
Lastly, make sure people can contact you quickly, which means putting your business address and phone number in conspicuous locations across the site, preferably on every page. Also, include a contact form for those who favor reaching you via email. Each person who visits your site is at a different point in the buying cycle, so provide multiple points of contact.
2. Claim and Verify Your Listings on Local and Industry-related Business Directories
This step is just as important as having a website because consumers are often more likely to find your business via a directory than your site.
There are directories to fit just about every industry, so conduct a Google search using “industry name + business directory,” to find those best suited to yours.
Also, claim your Google My Business listing, Bing Places for Business listing, and Yahoo Local listing. (Some people still use Yahoo for search, believe it or not.)
These two articles can help you make sense of the directory listing malaise, and I highly recommend reading them before beginning the process:
3. Ensure NAP Consistency
NAP, which stands for name, address, and phone number, is closely related to directory listings. As such, ensure that the information is consistent across the board. Not only will this help consumers who are trying to find your business location, but it also has a bearing on how search engines rank you.
Related article: N, A, P: The Most Important Letters in Local Search
4. Use Email, to Build Loyalty
Include an email subscription form on every page of your site and encourage visitors to sign up. As you build a mailing list, periodically send out promotional announcements and other relevant content. Keep the frequency to no more than once per week, or you run the risk of burning out your list, leading to unsubscribes and deletes.
5. Engage in Social Media Wisely
For many businesses, social media is a waste of time. Rarely does it contribute directly to your bottom line. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it, just do so with an understanding that it serves certain functions — building brand awareness, fostering customer loyalty and advocacy, and assisting in moving prospects along the path to purchase — fairly well, and others not so well, or not at all.
Engagement in social media carries certain responsibilities. You must:
- Post content on a daily basis. Where Twitter is concerned, you can post multiple times per day, due to its ephemeral nature.
- Create content that speaks to your customers’ interests. People don’t care about companies, one marketing expert said, they only care about themselves, so craft content that addresses their needs and interests.
- Use multiple forms of media. Photos and videos work particularly well. Incorporate them whenever possible.
- Tailor content to the network. Facebook is a true social network. Twitter isn’t a social network but a news and information network. LinkedIn is for business-to-business communication, so it’s not the place to post pictures of your cat!
Sites such as Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, and Slideshare aren’t social networks in the strictest sense but, rather, social “content” networks. They do have social features, such as the ability to follow and share, but I would suggest using them primarily for uploading videos, photos, and other marketing collateral that you then share on Facebook and Twitter.
Google Plus isn’t a place I would spend a lot of time. You can syndicate blog content to the news feed (Google calls it the “Stream”), for search engine purposes, but don’t expect much in the way of engagement.
6. Advertise via Pay-per-click as Necessary
It’s a given these days that, to get any visibility on social networks, you have to advertise. That’s particularly true for Facebook and Twitter.
Facebook regulates its news feed to the point that organic posts on business pages barely see the light of day. Twitter, due to the speed in which stories pass through the news feed, almost demands paid promotion in the form of sponsored tweets and accounts.
If you are a B2B company that has a LinkedIn company page, you might as well sponsor some of your posts, too. Company pages sit so far in the background that they don’t garner much attention.
Google AdWords is another pay-per-click venue, but you should probably outsource management to professionals who understand its inner-workings and who can monitor activity to ensure you receive the best results for your ad spend.
Of all the marketing activities you could conduct online, these are the most essential. You don’t have to do everything at once, however. Start by building a mobile-friendly, search-optimized website, and then proceed through the remaining steps as time and budget allow. Otherwise, some savvy competitor may “take the hill,” see growth in conversions and sales, and leave you to forage for the scraps.