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Please check out this interesting post from Wesley Young of Search Engine Land

While the holiday season is undoubtedly a busy period for small business owners, it’s important to set aside time to plan your marketing strategy for the year ahead. How will you continue to maintain and grow your business in 2014? What plans do you have to keep your business on track and stay ahead of the competition?

Issues related to marketing are top-of-mind for small business owners going into the New Year. In fact, according to Yodle‘s recently released First Annual Small Business Sentiment Survey, 42% of small business owners said they are worried about finding new customers, making it their #1 overall concern. Additionally, 33% of small business owners surveyed said that keeping their current customers is a concern (#3 overall), while 21% of owners cited their competition as something they worry about (#6 overall).

 

Source: Yodle's First Annual Small Business Sentiment Survey, Aug. 2013

Source: Yodle’s First Annual Small Business Sentiment Survey, Aug. 2013

 

As we can all attest, 2013 was a year in which consumers increasingly adopted new technology, search and review tools and social media channels to help drive their path to purchase. This was also a year in which a variety of new marketing tools were introduced that make it easier for small businesses to reach and convert consumers in the places where they are increasingly searching.

Yet, despite small business owners’ concerns about effectively marketing their businesses, many are not making the necessary investments to adapt to today’s fast-paced and changing environment. While the consequences of inaction may seem small now, they will only become greater in the future, threatening the stability and growth of small business owners’ operations.

As you plan for 2014, make your New Year’s resolution to review the 8 simple tips below for building a better marketing strategy for your business — one that puts your customers first and your business second-to-none.

1. Develop A Realistic Forward-Looking Marketing Budget

It’s time to put your money where your mouth is. Small business owners today cite customer attraction and retention as two of their most pressing concerns, but many set aside minimal budgets for marketing.

In fact, 1 in 4 small business owners report that they don’t spend any money on marketing, while just over half (56%) spend less than $500 a month. In other words, only about a quarter of business owners spend more than $500 per month on marketing.

 

Source: Yodle's First Annual Small Business Sentiment Survey, Aug. 2013

Source: Yodle’s First Annual Small Business Sentiment Survey, Aug. 2013

 

Make this the year that you corner off a larger, more flexible budget to tackle new marketing opportunities to better adapt to today’s fast-changing marketplace. I’m not saying you should break the bank allocating funds to marketing. What I do recommend is that you make strategic investments on marketing offerings that better position your business in places where consumers are increasingly going to research products or services and make purchases.

Return-on-investment should be the key factor by which you measure your marketing efforts. However, be sure to give your business the flexibility to try out new marketing opportunities and ideas to see if they stick.

There’s no doubt in my mind that any business keeping with a status quo of limited marketing in today’s changing environment will only hurt their bottom line — and not just in the short run. Small businesses should be making smart investments so they are well-positioned to attract consumers now and in the future.

2. Build A Simple & Effective Website

The website is the central component of any business’ digital strategy; it’s how your current and potential customers can most easily find and connect with you. Given its key role, it’s astonishing that more than half of small businesses owners (52%) said their business does not have a website, according to the Yodle survey.

Make your website a priority this year. Whether you’re just building your website now or looking to improve the one you have, keep these key things in mind moving forward:

  • Make Contact Information Visible & Consistent: Incorporate your business’ contact information (phone number, address, email address, etc.) throughout your site, not just in your About Us or Contact Me section. Ensure that your contact information is consistent with what you have included on online business listing websites.
  • Design An Appealing, Easy-To-Use Interface: Invest in a contemporary website with a visually appealing color scheme and straightforward navigation. It will not only make your website more attractive and seamless to navigate, but will also reflect on the professionalism of your business. Be careful about using features such as Flash which may negatively impact your site’s search ranking potential and which don’t load on some smartphones.
  • Use Defining & Searchable Keywords On The Front & Backend: In drafting content for your website, be sure to incorporate keywords that consumers will most likely use when searching for your products and services. Ensure that your web designer incorporates these keywords into anchor text in page URL links and adds keyword-specific titles, descriptions and tags to videos posted on your website.
  • Keep Current By Regularly Updating Content: In order to stay relevant to those visiting your site (including search engine crawlers) be sure to update your website content on a consistent basis. Develop an editorial calendar to update your site in conjunction with big promotions and sales, events, and other notable activities, or when you introduce new products or services.
  • Monitor Website Analytics: Pay close attention to where your website visitors are coming from, how they’re finding you, and what they’re doing while on your website, so you can consistently update and improve their experiences through tweaks to your site’s navigation and content.

3. Ensure Your Website Is Mobile-Optimized

As consumers increasingly turn to smartphones and tablets to search for local business information and to shop products and services, it’s essential that your website is properly optimized for those experiences.

A recent Google/Nielsen study found that 59% of consumers visit a business’ website when conducting a mobile search. However, the vast majority of small business owners — 9 out of 10 — said their websites aren’t optimized for mobile, according to the Yodle survey. This represents a clear gap in small business’ ability to provide on-the-go consumers with a proper website experience, thus threatening their chances for securing business from those visitors.

This is the year to bring your business website into the mobile era. Here’s how to get started:

  • Conduct A Mobile Audit: Develop an audit of your current website to determine what types of mobile consumers are visiting your website, and what they’re generally looking for when they’re there.
  • Build A Mobile-Specific Website: Taking into account the findings from your audit, create a mobile-specific website that represents a slimmed down version of your desktop website. This mobile site should showcase the key topics that mobile users are generally looking for when they visit your site, so it’s easier to find them. For example, if you run a restaurant, you may consider creating a site that highlights the menu, reservations and contact information – and removes other information available on the desktop site that is less important.
  • Ensure Mobile Users Know What They Can Do On The Website: Use call-to-action messaging to make clear what consumers can accomplish via the mobile website. For example, if consumers can schedule appointments or purchase products directly from the mobile site, make that as clear as possible through bold text, buttons and other eye-catching graphics.

4. Build A Complete & Accurate Listings Presence

Whether it’s GoogleBingYelpYP.com, Yellowbook.com or SuperPages.com, small businesses appear on a variety of business listing websites. Ensuring that your business’ listing is complete and accurate plays an important role in determining whether consumers reviewing your listing can move forward with contacting you and making a purchase.

It may be surprising, but a notable share of business listing information is inaccurate. In fact, a ConstantContact survey of more than 350 SMBs earlier this year found that 50% of SMBs have come across inaccurate listings for their businesses. Despite this, nearly half (49%) of those surveyed said they’ve never updated their business listings online.

Spend time in 2014 getting your business’ listings up-to-speed with correct information:

  • Check Up On Your Listings: Certify that your business is listed — and accurately — with services like LocalezeAxiomSinglePlatformYext and Universal Business Listing, since they are the primary listings providers for local websites and apps.
  • Make Your Listings As Complete As Possible: Take a close look at your business’ listings on each of the major local websites to ensure that your information is accurate. Then build out your business listings on each of these sites with any missing information, such as your website address, social media channel addresses, business photos, menus or offerings and the like. This will ensure that your consumers viewing your listings have as much information as they need to make a decision before contacting you.

5. Successfully Manage Negative Online Reviews

Online reviews are playing an increasingly central role in driving consumers’ purchasing behavior. Similar to word-of-mouth, consumers place high trust in the accuracy of online reviews. In fact, a recent Nielsen online study of 29,000 consumers across 58 countries found that about 70% of consumers trust online reviews – making them the third-most trusted form of advertising. Another recent study from Harvard Business School showed that something as simple as a one-star improvement in a Yelp business listing can deliver a noticeable increase in a restaurant’s revenue.

With the stakes so high, it’s important for small businesses to develop procedures for locating and responding to online reviews. Small business owners should spend time mapping out or improving their response plan for online reviews – especially those that place their business in a negative light.

When developing your online review plan, consider the following:

  • Attempt To Prevent Customers From Writing Negative Reviews In The First Place:You should try to stop the problem before it starts by creating an environment where your customers are kept satisfied and that issues are dealt with quickly and professionally. This means ensuring that customers can reach your business directly and that you have policies in place for dealing with common problems related to your offerings.
  • Monitor Review Sites On An Ongoing Basis: Set up a regular monitoring schedule for the leading review websites, and a process for who will review and respond to negative reviews.
  • Keep Positive & Respond Directly: It’s easy to get upset by a negative review, since often your business has a difference of opinion with the customer over what took place. That said, ensure that your core response messages are professional and focus on ways to remedy the problem. As a first step, always try to contact the negative reviewer directly to see if you can remedy the problem.
  • Determine When To Respond Publicly: Set a policy for what red lines must be crossed in order for you to respond to a negative review publicly. Perhaps your first course of action is to ask the customer to take down their negative review. If they don’t, then perhaps the next step is to respond to the review publicly by noting exactly what your business did to address the problem. The course you take depends on the nature of the review and your business’ personality, but having set guidelines in place will help you to remain consistent.
  • Encourage Happy Customers To Leave Positive Reviews: Setup a strategy for encouraging satisfied customers to post positive reviews on the sites most important to you. This can be as simple as sending the customer an email after the transaction that asks them to leave feedback on a specific review website.

6. Build An Engaging Social Media Presence

Consumers today spend a considerable amount of time on social media interacting not only with family and friends, but increasingly with brands as well. Businesses in a variety of categories — ranging from retailers to restaurants — are successfully building social media channels to generate loyalty and engagement with their customers and potential customers. In fact, Facebook recently announced that 24 million small businesses maintain active pages on their site.

In developing or improving your social media for 2014, take the following into account:

  • Determine Which Social Media Channels Work Best For Your Business: Facebook and Twitter provide strong platforms to reach the vast majority of consumers with business updates, sales and promotions, new products and services and the like. They also offer the ability to engage in one-on-one conversations with consumers regarding questions, concerns and complaints. Specialized social media sites also provide their own benefits. Pinterest, for example, enables businesses to share visually appealing offerings like clothing, furniture, art and landscaping with a like-minded audience. And sites like YouTube enable small businesses such as a DJ to post videos of their latest parties, or a local bakery to share how they make their favorite bread. As a starting point, spend some time mapping out which channels you want to use for your business and why.
  • Develop An Editorial Calendar To Remain Engaged: If you create a page for your business on a social media network, it’s imperative that you remain engaged and not let the page sit idle. Consumers today expect businesses to update their social media channels several times a week with relevant information. In order to keep a steady flow of updates, develop an editorial calendar in advance so you can map out content and coordinate your efforts. Incorporate compelling photos, videos and other visual content and provide incentives to those following your pages to stay connected.
  • Respond Promptly To Consumer Questions: Consumers view your social media channels as an extension of your digital presence and expect you to respond to questions, comments and other inquiries they share there. So setting up a process for monitoring your business’ pages is key.
  • Share Your Deeds!: Once your channels are established, share your information wherever you can: through posters and flyers, advertisements, your business’ website, etc. Explain to customers why it’s worth it for them to follow you.

7. Take Advantage Of Automated Scheduling & E-Commerce Tools

In 2013, we saw a lot of strong activity on the automated scheduling and e-commerce front. Yet despite the promise of these new offerings, many small businesses have remained on the sidelines. For example, only 39% of small business owners rely on automated appointment booking and scheduling technology, according to the Yodle survey.

In 2014, take the opportunity to reevaluate the benefits of these new tools:

  • Popular local websites such as Yelp, along with local vertical websites such asOpenTableSeamless and GrubHub introduced new offerings that make it easier for consumers to seamlessly purchase products or schedule appointments at businesses from wherever they are. And these offerings are expanding beyond just restaurants to also include everything from doctor appointments to home repairs services.
  • Sites like AmazoneBay and Etsy continued to improve their offerings for digital storefronts that enable consumers to easily shop and purchase from businesses via their desktop, smartphone or tablet.

While there are fees are associated with each of these e-commerce offerings, small businesses benefit from avoiding start-up and maintenance costs to build these systems on their own. The tools also increase efficiency (cutting down on labor costs) and provide great platforms for increased visibility in online search.

8. Use Results Reporting To Inform Your Strategy

The Yodle survey found that more than half (56%) of small business owners do not measure results from their marketing. This means that those small business owners have no baseline to determine how well their marketing is doing or how to set priorities for what else they can or should be doing.

 

Source: Yodle Small Business Sentiment Survey, Aug. 2013

Source: Yodle’s First Annual Small Business Sentiment Survey, Aug. 2013

8 Tips For Planning Your Small Business’ 2014 Marketing StrategyAs you head into 2014, develop a simple reporting structure — perhaps a monthly report that you dedicate yourself to doing — that will enable you to clearly see how all of your marketing activities are doing and their resulting impact on your business.

It’s my hope that once you see the benefits of your business’ marketing dollars at work, you will begin to feel differently than the majority of small business owners by being excited — and not worried — about your ability to retain and attract customers in the future.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column

Three Reasons Why Small Business should have a Website-First Marketing Strategy

Checkout this article by Jay Taylor

3 Reasons Why SMBs Should Have a Website-First Marketing Strategy

Jay Taylor, November 19, 2013
7 Comments

Strategy

Many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) tend to dedicate resources to marketing initiatives that drive traffic to their website, yet are willing to devote little investment in the website itself. Why is this?

Why is the tool that is responsible for converting that very same traffic into customers often neglected? It mainly comes down to a lack of understanding regarding how a website contributes to an overall marketing strategy.

Rather than prioritizing marketing channels that drive traffic, SMBs should focus on their website first, and build the rest of their marketing strategy around it.

There are three reasons for this.

Reason 1: Your Website Represents Your Brand

As an SMB in the digital age, your website represents your brand. As such, it should enhance your organization’s image, not detract from it.

If a significant portion of your marketing budget is invested in billboards, television ads, and search marketing campaigns, but you’ve settled for a poorly designed website, not only is the effectiveness of the overall strategy compromised, but your brand perception is negatively impacted as well. This is an important point because a negative perception of your brand can also impact the potential of doing business with a prospective customer in the future.

When prospective customers visit your website after seeing a compelling television ad or finding your organization on Google, the website’s role at this point is to enhance your brand, build value in the product or service you provide, and ultimately convert that visitor into a lead or sale. If the website detracts from your brand and fails to build value, it can actually have the opposite effect and deter the prospective customer from converting.

Reason 2: Prospective Customers Interact With Your Website

When prospective customers interact with your website, they’re engaging with your brand. This interaction between a prospective customer and your organization’s brand further increases the probability that they will do business with you. It is also an opportunity for your website to build value in your product or service.

In order to achieve this level of engagement, your website should have a professionally designed user-interface and well-written, compelling content that caters to your customers’ needs, as well as provides clear calls-to-action.

Conversely, a poorly designed website that neglects to deliver a relevant and compelling message will fail to engage. This lack of engagement can result in lost customers, and again, negative brand perception.

Reason 3: Your Website Facilitates Conversions

After investing all this time and money into marketing efforts that drive traffic to your website, it’s ultimately the website’s responsibility to convert that traffic into leads or sales. This is where a website-first marketing strategy becomes critical. A website that enhances your brand, builds value in your product or service, and connects with visitors by providing them with relevant and useful content will facilitate conversions, and make your overall marketing strategy more effective.

However, missing one of these key elements can have a detrimental impact on your website’s ability to convert. The most effective calls-to-action and enticing incentives will not overcome the negative effects of a cheap website with poorly written content, that fails to connect with your target audience.

Real World Example

To illustrate this concept, let’s use a home builder. In this example, the home builder uses a combination of online and offline marketing to garner interest in one of its newest developments. These efforts are doing a great job of directing traffic to the builder’s website. However, their website has some issues as our prospective buyer is about to find out.

Our prospective buyer visits the home builder’s website for the first time on her iPhone after seeing their billboard on the way to work. She discovers their website is not mobile-friendly, and decides she will try again on her desktop when she gets home from work.

She’s finally home, and it takes the website 20 seconds to load, which feels more like 2 hours. Once the website finally finishes loading, her initial thought is that the website isn’t nearly as attractive as the billboard she saw earlier, and wonders if it’s even the same builder.

She sees they have some floor plans available and decides it’s worth taking a look. However, when she clicks on the floor plan to enlarge it, the screen goes blank. Apparently, that feature isn’t working.

So, she puts her glasses on and attempts to review the floor plans in their minimized state, but it’s too difficult to see the details. She eventually gives up. After all, if this home builder can’t afford to build a decent website, how can they build a quality house?

In this example, the home builder’s previous marketing efforts were rendered useless because the website didn’t represent the brand well, didn’t engage the prospective buyer, and ultimately couldn’t convert her.

Despite their website, the home builder in this example would most likely still sell homes. However, the questions are had the builder used a website-first marketing strategy and invested in a better quality website, how many more homes would they be selling, and how much money would they be saving on other marketing efforts?

Conclusion

Because your website represents your brand, engages prospective customers, and facilitates conversions, a website-first marketing strategy will make your overall marketing efforts more effective.

SCORE Small Business Blog

The following is great information about small business and local searches.

Full blog can be found here – http://blog.score.org/2012/vernon-wanner/the-content-of-a-local-search-listing/

In our post  Get Your Small Business Listed on Local Search Engines,  we stressed the importance of having a local search listing and provided a tool to discover where you are currently listed, whether you’ve claimed the listings, and how to find out what the listing says about your business.

Local search engines already have information about your business.  The likely source of that information is the old yellow pages content compiled by InfoUSA and Acxiom.  It is ironic that the phone book’s Yellow Page information is becoming functionally obsolete, but the best path to a “do nothing online listing” is to have a simple, basic Yellow Pages listing.  Of course the superior approach is to develop the local listing yourself, and then go straight to the search engines  and  place the content.  Each search engine has a local listing center where the business owner can log in, claim their listing, and keep their business data up to date.  Submissions are generally free, and you have complete control over changing the listing.

For Google, the local listing center is the Google Places page.

Company/Organization

This will be the title of your listing.  You will need to think in terms of keywords that you want your business to rank for.  If you are Jean Simpson and own a wedding apparel shop in Chicago, you will want your title to be “Jean Simpson’s Chicago Wedding Apparel,” or similar.  As space permits, you should possibly add phrases like wedding shoes, wedding dresses, and other related keywords.  In other words, “ Jean Simpson’s Chicago Wedding Dresses and Wedding Shoes.”  Don’t go too far, though.  Too many keywords will be viewed as spam.

Business Address

These are the basics of street, city, zip, etc.  Be sure this address data is the same as the data on your web site, and in any Internet Yellow Page listing you may have.  Identical addresses from different places are viewed as validation by the local search company.

Main Phone

List your local phone number here.   Local phone listings provide confirmation that you are indeed, located where you say you are located.  Do not use an 800 number for your main listing.  Instead, put the 800 number in the additional phones block, if there is one provided.

Very Important:  If you have multiple locations with multiple local phone numbers, you should prepare a listing for each location.

Email Address and Web Site

List your business website URL, and your primary email.

Business Description

Prepare a 200 character description of your business.  Prepare it concisely and carefully with your businesses main keywords in mind.  You must write the description in such a way that it makes sense to a human reading it, and that it also allows a search engine to index it according to keywords.  Do not stuff additional keywords here.    Keywords in the business description are important, but keywords within the Title take precedence.

Marker Location

The local engine usually provides a small map with a marker.  They will place the marker based on the address you provided.  However, it is up to you to verify if the marker is correctly located, and to relocate it if needed.

The process for claiming your listing will be covered in my next post.  Claiming your listing can be done through phone verification, so it is relatively easy and not time consuming.  Because we are preparing all the content, we will continue as if the listing had already been claimed.  Claiming your listing is very important, as it prevents others from editing your information without your permission.  Once your listing is claimed, you can finish the important details that are listed below!

Business Categories

The categories you use to describe your business are critical to determining what local keywords your business will rank for.  Do keyword research upfront, and determine what keywords will bring you traffic, as well as what keywords accurately describe your business.

The local search engine will suggest categories for you.  Examples are Churches, Restaurant, Graphics Design, etc.  You don’t have to use the categories suggested, but if they match to your business, then please do use them.

Hours of Operation and Payment Types

Provide your hours of operation for all 7 days of the week.  List your acceptable payment methods such as Cash, Check, Credit Card, etc.

Photographs

Local search engines want to build as complete a business profile as possible.  Providing relevant photos of your business, your products, and your services (to the extent possible) will help build a credible profile and will help you rank better locally.  Most search engines allow up to 10 photographs per listing.  Use them all.

It is even to your advantage to have the 10 photos in Google be different than the 10 photos in Bing, or Yelp.

Videos

Just like photos, videos help you build credibility and expand your profile.  We suggest you prepare 3 to 5 videos in mp4 format that you can upload to the local search listing centers.  You should also place these videos on your YouTube channel, and search engine optimize them on YouTube.

Wrapping It Up

You now have the basic content you need for multiple local listings in multiple search engines.  Your process going forward will be to:

  1. Set up an account at each local search engine.  Examples would be Google Places, Bing Local, Yelp, Best of the Web, CitySearch, and/or whomever else you chose.
  2. Set up an Excel spreadsheet listing the search engine address to access the account, the email you used, your username, your password, categories, business description, and anything else you wish to track.  Believe me, you will forget what you have done, and it will be time consuming to backtrack and update your listings when you need to.  Write it down NOW!

In my next post we will walk through the process of setting up a local listing in Google Maps/Google Places.

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