In my last post, I looked at how to understand your website performance using Google Analytics – focusing on the importance of understanding where your online marketing spend is generating the best investment.
Today, I’m taking it back a step, and looking at how a small business can start to decipher which digital marketing channels are available to them, and which ones are most appropriate for the results that they’re aiming for. I’ll be covering the following channels:
It’s been fascinating to see the explosion in demand for digital marketing over the past 2-3 years – it’s definitely no longer a question of why invest in digital, even for the smallest of businesses, but now a case of how much to invest and where to invest to get the most effective return. This tends to be the area where businesses have a lot more questions that need answering before they make a decision on exactly where to get started and spend money.
An extension of this is understanding once you know what areas you want to invest in, where it’s best to start – do you try a DIY approach, employ an in-house team or engage an agency? The answers aren’t always straightforward, and there’s certainly no one size fits all solution, but because I can’t answer everything in this post, I’m going to be giving some hints and tips on the main digital marketing channels that I think small businesses should consider as well as some handy ‘DIY’ recommendations to get started.
Even if you don’t have a website, most businesses today will benefit from having some level of social media presence. It’s fast becoming the primary way that people recommend products, services or companies they have worked with – the new ‘word of mouth’, if you like.
with 1.23bn monthly users on Facebook by the end of 2013 alone, chances are your customers are there and waiting to connect with you
Whether you’re a plumber or a photographer, with 1.23bn monthly users on Facebook by the end of 2013 alone, chances are your customers are there and waiting to connect with you. At the very least, it’s going to be beneficial to set up profile pages on the main networks, and to post regular updates on what’s going on in your business, any special offers you have on, product launches or material that would be of interest to your community. It is important to remember that businesses who just ‘spam’ people’s newsfeeds with their own promotional content tend to have limited engagement from their community – it’s better to mix in content that actively promotes your business with comments and interaction with other topics that your potential user base are interested in.
Some great examples of local businesses doing social media well include the following:
- Rocket & Rhubarb: Facebook – Twitter
- Custom Heat: Facebook – Google+ – Twitter
- Capital Karts: Facebook – Google+ – Twitter
Benefits: Build a community who are passionate about your business; increase your brand exposure; communicate directly with your customers and reach out proactively to potential new customers.
- Consider whether Instagram, Pinterest or any of the other many and varied social networks would be relevant for your business – e.g. these two are great for visual industries and centre around uploading images.
- Take some time to customise your profiles – add images, videos and descriptions to complete as fully as possible. Encourage offline customers to engage with you online – by leaving reviews or comments based on their experiences with your business.
- Discover some of the easy to use tools to schedule and manage your social media updates and see activity associated with your accounts in one place. Simple tools for beginners include Sprout Social and Hootsuite
Make sure you have the resource available to invest some time in maintaining and managing your social media presence – whilst it’s always worth ensuring you have accounts set up for your brand, the value will come when you take the time to engage with your customers and build your community. Businesses sometimes worry about using social media as it’s such a public platform – but if you manage your accounts proactively and focus on offering a great service, the community will continue to build.
Organic search gets a lot of bad press, and can be a really confusing area for a small business to invest in – at Creare we speak to people on a daily basis who have had bad experiences with SEO, and know how difficult it can be to take good business decisions when getting started with this channel.
It’s also known by a number of different names – Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Organic Search, Inbound Marketing and many more, just to cause even more confusion. Essentially, it’s the practice of trying to ensure that your website ranks above the competition in Google’s non paid listings for keywords relevant to your products / services / website content – so anywhere on a search engine results page that doesn’t feature an ‘Ad’ image. With 11.944 bn monthly searches taking place on Google – there’s nowhere better for your business to take centre stage.
With 11.944 bn monthly searches taking place on Google – there’s nowhere better for your business to take centre stage.
Google use an extraordinarily complicated set of algorithms to decide which websites should rank for which keywords – but it’s worth keeping in mind if you’re getting started with SEO that all they want is to provide their users with a result that is the best match for their search query. If you can demonstrate effectively to Google that your website is the best website for anyone looking for your product or service in their area through your website content and structure then you’ll have a head start.
Benefits: Be where your potential customers are looking for you – organic search is a great form of ‘directive marketing’ where you can direct customers who are actively searching for what you offer to the best possible place for them to find out more and get in touch, leading to excellent conversion rates.
- Decide what keywords you’re best to target based on what people in your area are searching for – use Google’s Keyword Planner https://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner and select the option to upload keywords to get search volume.
- Ensure that you have a clearly structured website with landing pages for relevant services you offer – and ensure the content on these pages is relevant, informative and high quality.
- Read the Moz ‘Beginner’s Guide to SEO’ – there’s a lot of bad advice out there, but this is a really good introduction to a topic that’s confusing at best and an out and out minefield of misinformation at worst.
- Consider the technical infrastructure of your website – you may need additional support for this – but basic tips include: ensuring your site runs at a good speed; ensuring urls, page titles and headings are clearly structured and support your keyword strategy without including them at every given opportunity and ensuring the site generally works well from a technical perspective.
- Evaluate your customer experience online – is it easy for people to navigate around your website depending where they first land, is it easy for them to find out more / get in touch / make a purchase, and does it look like a reputable and trustworthy business sits behind it?
Google’s guidelines exist for a reason – don’t stray too far from these, as while the return on investment from successful SEO can be unrivalled in other channels – there is a risk of penalties / algorithm updates leading to loss of traffic and rankings if poor SEO practices are used. This can cause long term damage to your domain – so if you’re serious about investing, make sure you do your research.
Paid search – also known as ‘Pay Per Click’ or ‘Google Adwords’ – is exactly what it says on the tin – setting up an account with Google that lets you appear in their paid advertising slots for relevant keywords. Bing also run a sponsored ad program – but Google Adwords is typically the most widely used platform, and is Google’s own primary revenue stream, generating USD 42.5 billion in 2012.
Adwords is an excellent platform to get started with digital marketing, particularly as it has been designed to be accessible for businesses who are just getting started – it’s by no means just aimed at businesses who are investing megabucks, as evidenced by programs like Adwords Express which has been specifically developed for local businesses. It’s also possible to work directly with a representative at Google to get your account set up, as well as being able to work with them on an ongoing basis to maximise your returns.
Google also run a ‘Partners’ programme for their Adwords service which has been created as a list of ‘recommended providers’ for businesses to use when looking for someone to run their paid search campaigns for them.
One of the many reasons Adwords is great is that the level of transparency and control allows you to use it almost as a testing ground, where working on a trial and error basis will allow you to continue to develop and improve the return on investment that you get. Talking about control – you have full visibility of all areas of your campaign down to how much you are willing to pay per click, when you want your adverts to display, where geographically you want them to be visible and what copy you want to include in your ads.
Benefits: Adwords is another great form of directive advertising, and whilst paying on a cost per visit basis can get expensive it’s a channel that gives you instant visibility and can be very tightly controlled.
- Use Google’s Keyword Planner and select the option to upload keywords to get search volume and start to add keywords to your campaign.
- If you’re looking to advertise specifically on a localized basis – Adwords Express is a great starter service run by Google and is very simple to set up
- Create ads and campaigns on a wider basis using the main Google Adwords Programme
- Create campaign ad groups to allow you to manage your different campaigns effectively and show relevant adverts based on the keywords that are being searched.
- Make sure you’re using ‘negative keywords’ effectively – as in Google’s example, if you are an optician you don’t want to appear on searches for ‘wine glasses’ or ‘drinking glasses’ – just eyeglasses
- Consider your landing pages – conversions will be higher and your quality score will be improved if you are directing users to a page that is relevant to the keyword that they have searched.
Adwords can be expensive – like, really expensive with some keywords in the insurance industry carrying an average cost per click of over GBP 50.00. Your spend can also run away with itself if you’re not managing your account closely and setting the necessary controls, so always worth getting professionals to take a look if you have the budget to invest.
Last but not least, email marketing is another excellent digital marketing channel for small businesses to consider developing a strategy for, and can also be managed relatively straightforwardly with limited experience.
There have been loads of studies carried out on the effectiveness of email marketing – and some of the most insightful statistics include the fact that 44% of email recipients made at least one purchase in 2012 based on receiving a promotional email, and that 77% of consumers prefer to receive permission based marketing communications through email.
44% of email recipients made at least one purchase in 2012 based on receiving a promotional email, and that 77% of consumers prefer to receive permission based marketing communications through email
In particular, email marketing is fantastic when it comes to improving the life time value of your customers, and encouraging your existing customer base to stay aware of your business’ products and services, special offers and ongoing relevance to them as a base of people who have actively engaged with your company. Some of the best uses of email marketing for different small businesses could include the following:
– Cross Sells / Upsells – if someone has bought a wooden floor online or some tiles, it makes perfect sense to follow up with an email marketing campaign that offers relevant additional products such as adhesive or grout and can result in an additional sale.
– Annual / Periodic Purchases – if for example, you run a garage or a hairdressers and your customers buy from you at regular intervals such as an annual MOT or a quarterly cut and colour, use email marketing to proactively encourage them back to you at the right time for them.
Email marketing again isn’t just for big companies or established online retailers – it’s a great way for you to engage with your client base and offer them unique information, offers or opportunities to reconnect with your brand.
Benefits: Consider innovative ways to create further traction with your existing customers – what do they need and what can you offer them by way of the fact that you already have a personal connection with them in place.
- Ensure that you have a facility – ideally online but offline can work as well – to capture customer email addresses and to allow customers to opt in for ongoing communication via email on the details they have provided.
- Plan your campaign – what is the reason for your email and what are you offering to your users that adds value for them? What is the call to action and desired end result and how will you measure this?
- Get started with a basic professional email template and management program such as Campaign Monitor or Mail Chimp – both are really easy to use and perfect for any business to get started with email marketing.
- Subject lines matter – open rates can increase by a huge percentage if subject lines are kept relevant, engaging and often if they are personalised to the person you are communicating with.
- Analyse conversions – do open rates improve if your emails are sent at certain times or on certain days of the week? Consider when your customer base are going to be online, engaging with email content and in a position to make a purchase decision.
- Is any automation possible as part of your strategy – time can be saved and relationships strengthened with scheduled welcome emails, purchase follow ups and ongoing more generalized updates.
Ineffective email campaigns can often be seen as ‘spam’ and if sent out to unqualified email databases, or containing content that simply isn’t relevant to those you’re sending it to, open rates will be low and engagement with your existing client base could be jeopardised.