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5 Online Marketing Essentials for Small Business Marketers

Posted on Mar 26th, 2013
Written by Lee Odden
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    As new businesses are started every day across the U.S., many of those entrepreneurs are grappling with the realities of how to market their ideas, products and services.

    Limited resources and an overabundance of options requires filtering and prioritization when it comes to where marketing investments are made, whether it’s content, blogging, social media, or SEO.

    Common questions include: What to measure? What if it fails? What should we outsource?

    Here are a few answers to those questions that I was asked as prep for an interview:

    What advice do you have for business owners or entrepreneurs who are staying out of blogging and/or social because they don’t feel they can produce enough content on a regular basis to keep things interesting?

    I often reply to that by saying, “If a company doesn’t have anything interesting to say, they have bigger problems to solve than where their next blog post is coming from.” That’s a bit of a jibe, but it does reflect the need for a change in perspective. Many companies see themselves as a vessel, with a finite number of ideas and pieces of information. In other words, their view of content is fairly static and self-centered. Once they’ve said all there is to say about their own products and services, the well goes dry.

    This is in contrast to what many successful business owners and entrepreneurs are doing with blogging and content creation. They create a blogging plan with topics and ideas to write about that customers would actually be interested in. They look at blogging as a byproduct of the ongoing listening and engagement that occurs between brand and customers, between brand and prospects and the community at large.

    A change in perspective that allows the brand to see things from their customer’s perspective with empathy can reveal many opportunities for making observations, answering questions and interacting with the community through blog content. Just checking for commonly asked questions that customer service and sales people hear can be a rich source of blogging ideas.

    In addition to a customer perspective and leveraging ideas that come from prospect and customer interactions, social media and web analytics data can provide ongoing information to inspire blog content. Social media monitoring tools can suggest topics related to areas of interest around products and services being tracked. Web analytics can reveal questions people most often use on Google that send them to the company website. Blog posts can be planned to answer those questions.

    Ongoing engagement will mean a never ending source of things to blog about.

    The key to persistent blogging in a productive way, and I’ve been at it myself as a business owner, is to have a plan, be adaptable and use blogging as a platform to share useful information that provides value to readers but also reinforces sales, referrals and social shares.

    When it comes to optimizing websites that have been neglected in terms of adding content and ongoing optimization, where should SMBs even begin? 

    A site evaluation through audits can help determine how much of an asset the website is currently and can be in the future. A SEO audit will cover keywords, technical/code, SEO copywriting, the linking footprint and social presence. Through the audit a sort of GAP analysis can be conducted to identify where the site needs attention for most impact.

    This is an area where we’ve developed a lot of expertise at TopRank Online Marketing and it speeds up the time to see results when there are good processes in place for auditing and benchmarking.

    As an example, a site that has thousands of pages with a simple SEO error of duplicate title tags might be updated using basic programming to extract content off the page (like product names) to dynamically populate title tags. If the site has many, many articles that are frequently found through search and have a good number of social referrals, then embedding social share functionality can increase social distribution of those articles just by making it easy/

    In most cases, the low hanging fruit identification comes from having an evaluation of the website and expertise to determine where to apply resources in order to reach business goals.

    What do you recommend for an SMB that has tried a particular social network out and discovered that it just wasn’t working for them? Is it better to delete the account, continue without much of a presence, or is there another alternative?

    I’d approach that answer a little differently according to what the goal was and what social platform was being used. For example, if it’s Twitter then I might just discontinue manually posting to the account and determine it to be a source of news information. I’d do a relevant query on Google news, take the RSS feed of the search results for that query and run it through Twitter feed and populate the account with news stories once or twice a day. I’d still check the account once a day for engagement opportunities, but I’d probably not kill it if it can continue to provide some value. If it cannot provide value and there is no chance of it being used again, only then would I consider deleting it.

    Now if you’re talking about a blog, then I might absorb the past posts into a resource center format with out comments but still organized by category. It would not look like a blog but more like a collection of articles on topics that would be useful to prospects and customers. Daily or weekly blogging would be discontinued but new articles could be added from time to time and incorporated into a company newsletter or bylined articles in industry media.

    What advice do you have for SMBs who may be unsure of what they should be measuring with social media or which outcome is the most realistico or beneficial for them?

    The first step in understanding social KPIs and business objectives is to establish what the goals are. In many cases, goals might emphasize customer acquisition or revenue.

    There are other revenue oriented goals that can be affected by integrated SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing like the length of sales cycle, order volume, order frequency, per transaction profitability and referrals. Other goals covered in the book deal with increasing the effectiveness of PR objectives like awareness and building thought leadership. Yet others my augment content reach and effectiveness for customer service or talent acquisition.

    The social KPIs worth measuring should help you track progress towards your goal. For example, if you think better search ranking of optimized content will result in more qualified visitors and sales, then the things that affect ranking are KPIs worth tracking such as inbound links, social shares and other SEO metrics.

    If your premise is that the number of unsolicited media pickups will increase if the brand can become present in the social streams and news feeds of key journalists and bloggers that cover the industry, then you’d work social engagement and content into your social media tactics.

    The objective of being visible as an authority on topics of interest to the media that are also of importance to your customers would guide tactics and measurement of progress. Social KPIs might be the number of retweets and shares of your targeted stories, the direct interactions with bloggers and media through comments, shared content and direct messages.

    Ultimately, the success measurement would be the number of times bloggers and industry media mention your company, products or staff on topics being promoted.

    What should SMBs be looking for in SEO, SMM, SEM or other online marketing professionals if they need to outsource tasks they don’t have the capacity to handle in-house?

    The industry is mature enough that outside consultants should be able to show that they have experience implementing solutions and solving difficult problems using an intentional approach vs. social or SEO guesswork.

    In many cases, it makes sense for a SMB to engage a consultant at a strategic level who can provide assistance with overall approach and oversight of implementation. For others, the need for niche expertise is what’s needed. Either way, marketing professionals should be able to listen and understand the nature of the SMBs business problem and offer a thoughtful approach and tactics to solve it. Some things can be done by the SMB and some by the consultant.

    The online marketing world is competitive and consultants need to be more than mechanics of marketing. They need to be architects as well.