A Guide to What You Need to Succeed Online as a Small Business
If you’re a business owner trying to market your company on the internet, in a nutshell, the foundation of your plan must include these four pillars:
- INTERNET MARKETING BUDGET – Without an online advertising budget you’re dead. You need to be willing and able to pay for services and exposure or you may as well close up shop. You have to spend money to make money, and usually the return makes the risk well worth it. You need to look at it as an investment in growing your business, not an expense. All money spent is 100% tax deductible, right off the top, so it’s a no-brainer.
- PLAN – You need the best Internet Marketing Strategy you can afford, one that is flexible and capable of scaling with your needs. Avoid getting stuck in long term contracts and agreements that could potentially tie up your advertising dollars and leave you in a real bind if they fail. I recommend not entering into anything that requires more than a 90 day term commitment. Month to month is the best way to work with every vendor.
- RELATIONSHIPS – It’s a given you are going to need relationships with the best Service Providers available to implement every facet of your online marketing strategy. But how can you know who to trust? You don’t. It’s very hard to tell these days. You need to be careful in your selection. Make the teams you hire for implementation prove they know what they are doing. Look at their results; talk to their clients. Most of the “seo companies” participating in phone and email solicitation should be avoided. Seek out your own pros.
- OVERSIGHT – Expert orchestration and management of every aspect of your plan, and ongoing reports and briefings to keep you posted on where you stand, are a must. You have to know if your strategy is working, and if not, how and where to adjust it. You should also stay aware of any critical changes in the search engine marketing industry. Only someone qualified, like an Internet Marketing Director, can really oversee all this for you. If at all possible, you should have your own independent consultant that works for your best interest and not an agency’s.
Now let’s move on to the components shall we…
Every Successful Internet Marketing Strategy must also include:
- A Brand Name, Slogan, Logo, Favicon, Domain Name, and Social Profile Cover Graphic that pulls everything together and helps make your company standout online and be memorable. I suggest you work with a branding professional to develop these things, unless you have experience or a knack for doing them yourself. Here’s an article with some website branding tips.
- A Website That Puts Your Best Foot Forward & Emotionally Engages Your Target Audience. Your website should express to your end users that which you want and need for them to know about your company and why they should choose to do business with you over the countless others offering the same thing. It should represent you as if you were talking one on one with them, and should elicit them to take action. This is done by making them feel the right kind of emotion. A responsive website design is now also a must. Responsive means your website will automatically conform to and be easy to view on and read in any device a visitor may be using to access it. And your website will require hosting, security, periodic backups, and maintenance.
- Constant Content Creation (Web Copy, Images, Videos). Search engines feed on fresh content. It’s what fuels them. If you’re not constantly feeding them but your competitors are, who do you think they’ll like more? But the content has to be of superior quality, and add extra value above and beyond what is already out there online, or it will be seen as spam and have the opposite of the desired effect. If it doesn’t meet certain criteria, the search engines will either ban or bury it, and then you may as well be dead. That is unless you have a very large bank account and can afford to live off paid ads alone. You’ll also need services to help keep your copy-written content safe from scrapers and thieves online, like CopyScape.com and DMCA.com for example. So not only does your content have to be great, you have to be diligent in guarding it. Tip: Do not ever use stock product descriptions from manufacturers or affiliate content that is already found somewhere else online.
- Ongoing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for All Your Content will be required. SEO is the process of identifying the key search terms people use to look for products and services online and then working those phrases into the right places in your content and site structure (how your webpages are linked internally). It also encompasses using keywords in the ad copy that is displayed in the search results for your pages known as meta-tags (page titles and descriptions). Someone has to know exactly how and where to find and use these key phrases. SEO takes place on and off your site. On site SEO work is what it sounds like, it is performed to the content on your website. Off site SEO work is performed to the content on other sites like social profiles and online directories that link and drive traffic to your site. So just as you must constantly feed the search engines with fresh content, that content must also be optimized to be as effective as possible. Every piece of media you produce should have a purpose, that being to be found and engaged with by a very specific target audience of searchers.
- Social Media Profiles & Online Social Engagement with your readers and end users is crucial and creates social signals. A social signal is when someone engages with your content by sharing or interacting with it in some way, i.e. by bookmarking, liking, or re-tweeting it. The more social shares or mentions you have the more it will help your rankings in the search engines because it indicates to them that your content must be useful and of high quality. A share also creates a link back to your site if the content originated on it or links to it, and is a vote of confidence and trust. If you have social profiles, but no connections or engagement, they won’t do you much good at all. A whole novel could be written on social media and engagement. I advise you to learn more about it and why it’s important for your business. You can start by reading these two articles: A Foolproof Guide to the Major Social Media Websites and How to Craft a Social Media Plan of Your Own.
- Online Association & Business Directory Listings (NAP Citations) – It is very important for you to have third party citations on trusted sites. A citation is when another site lists or mentions you, and you need citations of your NAP (name, address, phone number) data to help validate that you are who you say you are and do what you say you do. Great ways to get citations are to get listed on any major industry association websites and online directories. Notice I said major, not spammy sites, but those that are trusted by Google that they are serving up in their results on the first couple pages for the keywords you want to rank for. Stay away from no-name free directories and sites where anyone can add a link. You also need listings in the major general online business directories like your local BBB and Chamber of Commerce, Angie’s List, Yelp, Yellow Pages, Manta and so on. Here is a suggested article for further reading: What are Website Citations and Why Should You Care?
- Community Connections (Local & Industry Related Links) are very much needed and THE biggest ranking factor for the search engines. A link to or from another site creates a road through which web traffic can flow. An inbound link brings visitors in and an outbound link sends them out, and they are trust indicators or votes from one site for another. You have to think of your website as not only a destination, but a terminal or HUB, one that leads to other destinations. All roads leading in, none out, or out but none in, is not natural or desirable and doomed to failure. Your network connections need to be carefully thought out and diligently maintained, which is done via links profile management. And if your products and services are delivered to only a local area, you need to demonstrate to the search engines that you are connected to and part of that community. In this professional’s opinion and experience, it is not natural to have only industry related links as some other SEOs would have you believe. It is very natural and desired to include other local businesses and customers as part of your link networking strategy.
- Online Reputation Management (Customer Reviews on 3rd Party Sites) are a big deal for several reasons. For one, they instill trust from potential clients and search engines and help not only your placement but conversion of more prospects into clients. Why do they need to be on other sites and not just yours? Because people and search engines are much more prone to believe what someone else says about you than what you say about you. But it’s funny, because the search engines don’t seem to be fully able to distinguish between a good and bad review, so even negative reviews can help with gaining rankings – just not with gaining customers. Every good internet marketing strategy must include a plan to actively solicit customer reviews. Just put your thinking cap on; there are many creative ways this can be done, i.e. offering a discount for a review or satisfaction survey offering a coupon for the client’s next purchase. Be diligent in responding to your reviewers as well when possible. Thank them for their positive feedback and return their compliments with some of your own about how great they were to work with, or address their negative feedback with an explanation or offer to make things right. This will create engagement and show potential clients you really do care. Learn more about the benefit of customer reviews in this article.
- Paid Advertising or Pay Per Click Ads (Google AdWords, Facebook and other sites and directories) can be an invaluable way to get in front of your target audience. It is the only way I know of to immediately make an impact on your bottom line by driving sales. Unlike organic search engine optimization which places you in the free section of the search results and can take quite a bit of time and effort to achieve (for each and every search term), with paid ads you can immediately show up across the board for every keyword you desire. However, I strongly caution you not to attempt it without expert help. There are many ways it can eat your lunch and fail miserably. It has to be done right and by someone who knows what they are doing. You may think for example, if deciding to use Google AdWords, that a Google rep (who will help you for free) would be the best source of assistance. This is not the case… one, their job is to make more money for Google, not you, and two, there is high turn over and usually your rep has no previous experience. This can be proven by looking them up online, like on LinkedIn for example. Just the other day I looked up a new Google rep that was assigned to a client who was contacting them regarding helping their AdWords perform better and the guy previously worked at Nordstroms. Hire a veteran that has been in the trenches. Good ones will save you above and beyond what they cost in management fees.
So that’s a general overview of an internet marketing strategy. If these aspects are deployed correctly, they should more than generate enough business to keep your company fat and happy.
If you are looking for help, I suggest you read the Why You Need an Internet Marketing Director page.