Small business digital marketing is tough, right?
Unless you live under a rock, you’ll know by now that any growth-motivated and profit-driven small business owner will seek out the best digital marketing practices to make success a measurable reality.
You might have one or more of the digital marketing mix I’m about to unfold but how can you be certain you’re forever ahead of the competition, when they may be better informed?
…after all, you and them both want to reach the same audience, convert them into sales, nurture them into loyal customers, and create ripples to expand your business.
Sure, digital marketing is diverse and can look a bit different based on your industry—but at the same time, there are some essentials you simply can’t ignore in 2016 and onward.
Knowing these digital marketing necessities gets you ahead of your competition, earning you a better chance at making that killer first impression, converting leads into customers/clients.
I'll show you just how.
As a digital marketing agency who has provided digital solutions to small and large businesses for over 16 years, we’re got some free knowledge to share. Let me break down these words of wisdom into five categories:
- Highly Functional and Stylish Website
- Responsive Web Design
- Solid SEO Strategy
- Positive Online Reviews
- Active Social Media Presence
5) Highly Functional and Stylish Website
• Functional and Easy-to-Navigate
Marketing, in essence, is communicating value. The core channel for digital marketing is, for many successful businesses, a website.
A website is a small business owner’s online real estate. It's the commander-in-chief to your inbound marketing strategy.
Its main purpose is to advance the goals of the business by attracting and converting target users. These include but aren’t limited to prospective customers, clients, partners, publishers, donors, and employee applicants.
Regardless of your mode of business, your website NEEDS to be highly functional. This means it has the appropriate landing pages organized in a way that persuasively communicates the info which your target users will find value in, therein prompting a specific desired behavior via a CTA (call-to-action).
The correct written rhetoric, digital media, web architecture, and any needed plug-ins or features will create a fully functional website.
Some web designers and developers make the mistake of becoming a “feature creep” by stacking too many features, buttons, blocks of text, and so on, in a poor attempt to detail everything that anyone might find useful—this is why making an easy-to-navigate website is essential.
A user’s website navigation behavior should be accounted for such that the site is clean, holistic, and easy to use.
Another thought: Does your website's target audience include physically or mentally-impaired users?
Ensure that your website has an ADA-friendly option for optimal user experience.
• Visually Pleasing and Brand-Bolstering
A ton goes into designing a website that looks and feels the right way. As a business owner, you’ll want to create an experience that resonates well, starting from the first impression.
Since your business already has brand awareness, your website’s branding needs to be communicated with the right level of brand image conformity while maintaining a stylish, unique look.
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4) Responsive Web Design
• Designed and Developed For Ultimate Responsiveness
You should know by now that mobile is not going away—in fact, its prominence is increasing in both teenagers and adults in the US...and globally!
Mobile users overtook desktop users in 2014 and with smartphone ownership increasing, better mobile 3G, 4G, & Wi-Fi access growing, and mobile searches going up, it’s imperative to cater to your mobile audience if you haven’t already.
We live in a post-mobilegeddon digital world. Don’t be oblivious like other businesses.
Now, there’s the question of having a separate mobile site vs. a responsive website. If you want to appeal to users on all devices of all screen sizes, then the answer is clear…get a website with responsive web design (RWD).
Even Google recommends responsive web design as the best design pattern.
A quality responsive website will optimize for the best experience for your target users whether they are using Safari on their iPhone, Internet Explorer on their Windows desktop, Firefox on their Android smartphone, or Chrome on their tablet computer.
• e-Commerce and m-Commerce
Do you sell products or services online? Or are considering e-Commerce?
If so, you’ll absolutely need to have your website’s online shopping experience be optimized. Depending on what you sell, your e-Commerce website will require proper store design, shopping cart setup, shipping setup, and an SSL certificate security encryption.
In the same vein, m-Commerce will require the same level of attention. A crappy mobile shopping experience will cause a loss in potential sales. If you’re going to sell online, you’ll need to keep your mobile buyers in mind by optimizing for all devices.
…okay, so maybe e-Commerce isn’t a feasible option for your specific business type. You’ll still want your website to be optimized for mobile experience. Here’s a fun fact: 40% of mobile consumers have gone to a competitor’s website after a bad mobile web experience.
Responsive web design is, simply put, a digital necessity in 2016. Whether you want your target user to call your business, get directions to your storefront, submit an email address, share your blog post, make a purchase, or whichever desired action, you’ll undoubtedly want your website to load fast, align nicely, and structure itself perfectly to the device it’s being viewed on.
Go responsive or go home.
It’s digital marketing 101.
3) Solid SEO Strategy
• Precise Keyword Targeting
SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of optimizing your website’s content to be discovered via organic search engines (a.k.a. Google + other players) by the right users at the right times.
We’ve talked a little already about Google’s algorithm accounting for mobile-optimized sites. This ingredient, along with tons of other factors, is a ranking signal to help Google tell how valuable and user-friendly your website is.
They’re a huge part of SEO strategy. With precise keyword targeting, your target audience(s) can more easily find your business website.
Search engines see keywords in both your content and META data and use that information to help understand how to rank your website and to whom. Optimizing these elements along with several other internal SEO tactics are grouped under the SEO strategy category of on-page SEO, also called on-site SEO.
Off-page SEO, or off-site SEO, refers to the other category of SEO strategy involving external websites. This largely entails the process of getting reputable, relevant, popular websites to link to your website in a natural, organic, endorsing way. The reason I say “natural, organic” because doing so unnaturally may be considered by Google as link scheming, a black-hat SEO tactic, which is bad.
In other words, your content should be so valuable that other businesses, publishers, bloggers, vendors, or whomever is relevant to your business, voluntarily create backlinks to your website’s content.
But if external websites are going to link to you, they need to first discover you—this is why keyword usage is of great significance in both on-page AND off-page SEO efforts, making it a digital marketing essential.
You should find yourself using keywords in your homepage, landing pages, product/service pages, contact page, and blog posts.
Blogging is great for small business.
Running an insightful, relevant blog does your business good more often than bad, making it a digital marketing must-have.
Always aim to write blog posts that are unique, relevant, interesting, and fresh:
- Using long-tail keywords can help create unique blog content that breaks away from the saturated online clutter in order to get discovered easily. Being a great writer (and a great graphic designer is a bonus) helps produce great content for a unique read.
- Understanding all the ins and outs of your industry, business, and target market will help you create relevant blog content—make it relate to your services or products where possible. Keeping Local SEO in mind also allows you to target your audience by location.
- Writing with an informative, influential, personal touch can help you produce captivating content that holds interest and creates engagement. Writing long-form articles presents a challenge, but in successfully holding the interest of several viewers, the SEO payout is more than worthwhile.
- Keeping up-to-date on the latest industry trends, news, and market needs will allow you to constantly generate fresh, new content. Google sees websites that continually publish quality content as part of the “freshness” ranking signal.
Google can and will index quality blog posts, assisting your website’s SEO and depending on the effectiveness of your blog, dramatically increase business conversions.
• Web Development for Best SEO
SEO involves technical back-end specs that you don’t want to ignore.
A CMS, or content management system, allows you and any staff writers to contribute to your SEO strategy in a quality-productive, work-delegated format—but on top of that, Google enjoys an SEO-friendly CMS such as Drupal or WordPress.
"...at the Adobe Summit last month, Kirill Kronrod, senior global SEO manager from Adobe, shared an example where switching to an SEO-friendly CMS resulted in a 307-percent increase in organic traffic within a year and a 287-percent increase in rankings on Page 1."
Loading speed, which gets affected by CSS compression, image resizing, and much more, is another big factor.
Your site should be developed for optimal loading times so that Google and your target audience (especially mobile users!) will be able to load up your site and acquire information as fast as possible.
A website should also have a XML sitemap for better content indexing, robots.txt setup, absolute URL formatting, and a ton of other things…it’s a long and evolving list that I can’t quite summarize without wanting to make a whole separate blog post.
Run a business website dealing with sensitive information such as login credentials or credit card information? You’ll need an SSL certificate for HTTPS encryption.
Entrusting your website with a skilled web development agency, such as ourselves, can help you hit all major-to-minor factors for maximizing SEO performance while keeping security and performance in mind too.
2) Positive Online Reviews
• Google, Yelp, and Facebook Reviews.
Consumers, and even business key decision makers, look to others for approval.
You can no longer assume that your target users will form an opinion on their own. A 2016 study tells us that 40% of consumers form an opinion by just reading 1 to 3 reviews, up from 29% in 2014.
With the rise of mobile, people can access reviews easily at their fingertips, anytime, anywhere.
Google’s search engine also uses online review quality and quantity as ranking signals, making them a digital marketing necessity.
- Google reviews are arguably the most important because they appear in the Google SERP (after enough accumulated reviews). They are also integrated with Google Maps, making your reviews apparent to any Android smartphone user mapping directions to your company.
- Yelp reviews are very important because well, it’s Yelp, one of the most popular and influential review websites out there when it comes to ranting or raving about your horrible-to-amazing experience at whichever business. Furthermore, Apple Maps integrated Yelp reviews, so expect any iPhone user to see your reviews before traveling to your storefront.
- Facebook is the top social media platform in the US and the world. And after Facebook reviews had been introduced, people can easily give reviews to unofficial and official Facebook Pages, which will then likely appear in the search results for anyone to see.
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So with users able to review your small business at any given time, what can you do besides obviously offering a great customer experience?
Well, you can certainly ask for reviews. As long as you’re following the rules, it’s okay to solicit users for reviews, upon a positive experience.
To optimize your online reviews, you’ll want to continually prospect and select pre-evaluated customers who had a recent positive experience/purchase/encounter with your business. Ask them in a clear, polite, instructional manner, to review you on the website of your choosing.
“Just ask them, you say?”
Yes, ask them.
This can often entail writing a nice, succinct, personal email with clickable hyperlinks to the review site(s). After perfecting your written email, send it to the user at the time where he/she seems most happy and willing to give you his/her two minutes to put in their two cents—a star rating and commentary that potential customers can and will absorb before making any big decisions.
If you deal with a lot of customers regularly, automating the process with a follow-up email might do the trick.
Also note: you don’t want to accumulate a ton of reviews all at once—a sudden wave of 5-star reviews in a short period of time is more of an indicator of spam than authenticity.
Bottom line…focus on getting several, quality online reviews over an elongated, continual period.
• Industry-Specific Review Sites, Maps, and Listings
Sure, Google, Yelp, and Facebook reviews are usually the most important.
But what you might have not realized is that depending on your industry, you might be looking at one or more websites as the top influencer(s).
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With tons of online business directories, review/rating sites, and navigable maps that cater to specific categories of business, yours may be influenced by sites you haven’t yet become aware of.
The underlying lesson here is that, in addition to offering a great customer experience and asking for reviews, you must research, discover, and capitalize on the online places that people can opinionate your business publicly.
Learn which ones hold the highest potential influence over your business and work to garner positive reviews before getting negatives ones. *gasp*
Maybe you simply don’t care about online reviews?
Well, if a fraction of your potential customers do, they may just end up flocking to your competitors who’ve already got their foot in the door.
1) Active Social Media Presence
• Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn
You need social media. It’s a digital marketing necessity.
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If you run a business, you’ll absolutely want the “big 4” social media platforms set up and fully optimized with your company’s NAP (name, address, phone number) where applicable.
Since I’m assuming you’ve got your Google My Business verified (do it now if you haven’t already), you should have your Google+ account already created as well. For Facebook, you’ll want a Facebook Page set up and optimized. Your business should have a Twitter account created and a LinkedIn company page set up as well.
I won’t go into every detail with optimizing your individual social media accounts but they definitely will need rich written descriptions/taglines with targeted keywords.
You’ll also, of course, want to showcase a great profile photo, cover photo, and any other digital media and branding elements that are immediately apparent to visitors.
Create some consistency across your platforms (such as your value proposition and logo image), but also bring in unique creative presentation with each platform.
Social media is where you let your small business’s unique personality shine, so it’ll be up to you with how you decide to do that.
New to social media? We’ve got several detailed blog posts on everything social media.
• Unique, Interesting, and Fresh Content Creation
Having an active social media presence requires content creation.
Content is king, remember?
If your business runs a blog, as it should, sharing blog posts to its social media accounts at high traffic times is a common, working strategy. Sharing other content from your business website such as products/service landing pages, deals, news, employee spotlights, and awards are also things to consider.
Sharing external content from other relevant news sites, blogs, and publishers is encouraged as part of a great social media strategy. Finding that balance of internal vs. external content can vary based on your business type and audience—so experiment and track engagement accordingly for each platform.
Using selective hashtags, tagging/mentioning other related businesses/users in posts, joining social media groups, asking users to follow you via good timing and placement, including share & follow buttons on your website and blog, incentivizing users to promote your business on your behalf, and giving special attention to specific users are all great ways to increase your small business’s social following, engagement, and business conversions.
Just as in your website's off-site SEO efforts to build external links to your website, you'll also want relevant social media accounts with large followings to share your posts, thus generating backlinks to your website.
If you have trouble creating and sharing unique, interesting, and fresh content on your business’ Facebook Page, I’d recommend reading our recent blog post detailing several tips for increasing Facebook Page engagement and followers. A lot of these tips can be applied to other social media platforms too!
Looking to schedule social media posts, track click-through-rates, and see other social analytics?
Well, there’s a few great social media management tools to pick from. Using Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, Google My Business Insights, and LinkedIn Analytics are useful and free to use as well.
Other Digital Marketing Essentials for Business
Email is still a great way to reach target users, build relationships, and create business conversions.
• PPC Ads
Got an ad budget? SEM (search engine marketing) often simply refers to PPC (pay-per-click) ads + SEO. PPC helps small businesses target online users with text and image/video ads via precise search queries, locations, demographics, psychographics, behavioral info, and other social data.
Popular PPC ad types include that of search engines such as Google Adwords, Bing Ads, and Yahoo Gemini as well as social media ads such as Facebook Advertising, LinkedIn Advertising, and Promoted Tweets.
If you've got a huge budget and are targetting Generation Z and Millennial mobile users, check out Snapchat 3V Advertising.
• Other Social Media Platforms
There are plenty of social media apps, networks, and platforms that may be especially applicable to your small business.
If forum/community conversation, creative imagery, short videos, long videos, or other digital media types fit well with your brand's positioning, then learn all the ins and outs for the respective platforms. Observe how your competitors use them too for clues on how to step your game up.
Don’t just acquire the digital marketing necessities—master them and constantly study to stay ahead of the competition.
- Need a new website or a redesign? Help with any of the digital marketing essentials?
- We are WordPress, Drupal, and open-source technology experts – contact Dorey Design Group today!