The Internet has been around for a while now, yet online marketing is still something of a mystery for many business owners. What’s more, small businesses constantly get calls from faraway companies offering to “drive more traffic to your website”, or “get you to the top of Google”.
For those with limited resources, the myriad of options can make creating and executing a successful online strategy intimidating, even for seasoned professionals. However, when you make the leap into online marketing, even a small, local business can see significant return on investment using the right mix of tools and a sound strategy designed to grow your business over time.
Helping Customers Find You
The first step in any marketing strategy is to have a good web presence. In order for potential customers to find you online, you have to BE online. Most business people know this, but some find it hard to grasp how crucial a good website actually is.
A modern, well-designed website is one of the most important tools a business can have, because it works for you 24/7. For today’s connected customer, your website is your front door, showroom, billboard, and brochure all in one. If it looks clunky, outdated, or confusing, visitors are less likely to trust you with their business, and will go elsewhere instead.
Make sure your website is up to date, mobile friendly, and is built by someone who understands both your customers and your business.
SEO and Online Visibility
If a customer is looking for what you have to offer she won’t open the phone book, she’ll open Google, Yahoo or Bing. Making sure you are easy to find when that happens is what Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and online visibility are all about.
SEO isn’t complicated or mysterious, but it does take time. It involves making sure you have good titles, descriptions, and text on your site that match what your customers are looking for. It’s also important to make sure search engines can easily index your site. If you’re not sure whether this is true for your site, find a professional who can help.
Another great way to make your business more visible online is to claim and manage your business profile on the major search engines. Google, Yahoo, and Bing automatically collect information about local businesses and then display it alongside search results. However, sometimes this information can be inaccurate or incomplete. Claiming your profile allows you to edit your hours, location, products, services, and photos, and also make sure it’s linked to your website. There are online companies that can do this for you, but they typically charge a monthly fee, and the information can go away if you cancel the service. It’s usually best to either take the time to do it yourself, or hire someone who can set the profiles up properly for a one-time fee.
Ignore telemarketers who promise to “get you to the top of Google”. Instead, hire or work with someone you trust.
An effective online marketing strategy involves creating a “sales funnel” that moves potential customers from awareness to engagement to sales to advocacy. For this to be effective, you must target the right customer.
Let’s take a minute to break it down.
Unless you have unlimited resources, you can’t “target” everyone. Before beginning an online marketing campaign, you must first identify and understand your ideal customer. Take some time to think about the customers you currently have, and then write a description of the type of person that is the best fit for your product or service. This will help you plan whom to advertise to. When you are ready to execute your strategy, online marketing platforms like Facebook and Google make it easy to hone in on exactly the type of customer you’re looking for.
People need to know you exist, but also WHY you exist. Paid ads or promoted posts on Facebook can be an inexpensive and effective way to do this. Space and attention is limited, however, so you want to maximize the impact your ad will have. If you have any design or copywriting skills, now is the time to put them to good use. If writing isn’t your thing, find someone to help.
If you have a larger budget, consider text, video, or display ads on a major ad network such as Google. Once you have defined your target customer and region, your ads will be displayed to your audience on any site that participates in that network.
When you advertise, give customers a reason to respond. One of the most effective ways to do this is to use a “lead magnet”. This could take the form of valuable information, a free offer or coupon, or giveaway in exchange for their Facebook “like” or email signup.
Once customers are engaged with you, it’s time to build that relationship through social media and email. Keep in contact with them by providing new information, interesting stories, and useful offers at a pace that is regular but not annoying. Once or twice a week is usually plenty. If you consistently engage with your fans, followers and subscribers, then you will build trust with potential customers and position yourself as an expert in your industry.
Using the sales funnel approach and building relationships over time tends to be much more effective than the hard sell, especially online. The internet is all about connection, and if you do your job right, some of your followers will become your customers. When they do, it’s important to track the results of your efforts. When sales take place online, it’s make sure you are getting good results data by properly setting up website and Facebook analytics. If a customer calls or purchases from a physical location, employees should be trained to ask where customers heard about you, and keep track of responses. Printable coupons can also help you judge the effectiveness of an offer or ad campaign.
Turning your customers into advocates often means simply asking for a review. Reach out to your loyal customers and ask them to rate your business or product on Yelp, Google, Facebook, or Amazon. Some customers may even have blogs, and would happy to feature your product on their site. Take the time get feedback from your customers, and see how much it can impact your business!
There are many great high-impact, low-cost tools available to accomplish your online marketing goals. No matter what type of industry you are in, your business’s bottom line can benefit from a smart, strategic approach to finding and being found by customers online.
(An earlier version of this article appeared in Aberdeen Magazine)