Back to Basics #28: Getting the Most Out of Twitter

getting-the-most-out-of-twitter

How many followers do you have on Twitter? Do you talk with other people on a daily basis? Do you get people clicking through to your website or your blog?

If you're feeling a little lonely in the follower department and haven't really seen any new traffic to your site, you're probably feeling a little frustrated. But don't despair--this doesn't mean that you're doomed to remain this way forever!

That's because in this article, we're going to show you a few simple things you can do to get more out of Twitter. None of these tips require a ton of your time and energy. In fact, many of these are simple little tricks that you can easily implement into your regular social media strategy, and you don't have to spend a dime.

So let's take a look at how you can get the most out of your Twitter account!

Fill out your profile completely.

twitter-profile-example

Image courtesy of http://instructionaltechtalk.com/how-to-join-twitter/

This might seem obvious, but it's absolutely crucial that you fill out your profile and don't leave anyone guessing at anything. Twitter gives you plenty of space to make your page unique, so take advantage of that! Create unique graphics to place in your profile picture and header, and make sure you've listed all your important information: Website, location, and a description of what services you provide. Finally, make sure your handle is descriptive of your company. For example, if you're a plumber, choosing a name like plumber50432 probably isn't helpful to your followers. But you could choose ChicagoPlumber or ThePlumbingKing or something like that—you get the picture.

For your convenience, here's a checklist of your profile necessities:

  • Profile picture
  • Header image
  • Bio filled out
  • Website listed
  • Location, if possible
  • Descriptive handle

Find people in your industry to follow.

twitter-follow

A lot of new Twitter users don't want to follow people in their industry or field because they think it's pointless to follow their competition. But that's not true at all!

Twitter allows you to peer directly into the marketing plans of other companies that provide the same services you do. If you really think about it, you'll begin to see how wonderful this can be for your own marketing strategy. Back to our plumbing example: If you see other plumbers tweeting about a brand new kind of sump pump, retweet them or compose your own tweet about the topic. If you see a plumber who links to a creative contest on his or her website, you can use that as an opportunity to use that as a model for your own contest. Take a look at those with the most followers and see how they build their profiles and interact with others. Chances are, you'll be able to learn something and you won't even have to pay a cent!

Make lists of influential people.

This is a great way to make use of all those influential accounts mentioned above. An easy way to collate your most influential accounts is to add them to a list. To do this, go to the person's profile, select the gear icon, and then click “Add or remove from lists”. You can then name and describe the list, and select whether you want it to be public or private. If you're watching your competitors, you may want to change it to private. But sometimes adding people to a public list can be beneficial—they might add you back or other people might subscribe to your list so they can also follow your influential accounts! We've included some helpful (hopefully) screen captures to better illustrate this process:

example-list1

Select the gear icon, then click "add or remove from lists."

example-list2

If you don't have a list created, select the "create a list" option.

example-list3

Name your list, fill out a brief description, and choose whether you'd like it to be public or private. Save and you're done!

Follow back relevant accounts.

follow-back

It's not always going to be you who finds the best accounts to follow--sometimes people will find you, too. Keep track of your followers by using a tool such as Tweepi or ManageFlitter. If you find people who are relevant to your interests, go ahead and follow them back! If they're not, then there is obviously no obligation to do so. We suggest taking the time to block bots as well. After all, they don't add anything to the conversation, and they aren't real fans.

Oh—and while we're on that topic, never purchase fans. Even if you're desperate to look like you have more than five friends (which, let's be honest, we all would be!), don't pay for followers. Just keep finding relevant accounts and following them, and soon you'll get people following you back.

Use appropriate hashtags.

If you think hashtags are just words used as slang, you're in for a surprise! Truthfully, it's not very effective to use Twitter without them. Hashtags are a way for people to find important topics and conversations in real time. Whether you're looking for information on roofing expos or you simply want to chat about the hottest new shade of nail polish, you can probably find hashtags that will appeal to people looking to follow that topic. You can use tools like BuzzSumo to help you find popular topics and coordinate your posts with current and relevant conversations.

Here are some helpful tips to get the most out of hashtags:

  • Don't use too many in one tweet. Two, maybe three tops.
  • Hashtags tend to do better when included in a sentence or placed at the end of the tweet.
  • Don't use any punctuation or spaces. Hashtags only support letters.
  • If the hashtag is long, try making it easier on the eyes by capitalizing the beginnings of words. I.e., #SocialMediaStrategy.

Use photos every once in a while.

twitter_sand_re

People will read interesting text tweets, especially ones with links or hashtags. But think about it: Which would you find more appealing—a plain ol' string of text or something with a bright, beautiful photo by it? Of course your eyes will be drawn to the photo. So take the time to include a photo with your tweets on occasion. You could attach an inspirational quote, a picture of a project you just did, or a new product you're offering in your store. Be aware that photos do count against your character quota, so you'll have to plan for a shorter tweet if you want to use a picture!

Retweet others and ask for Retweets.retweeting

Finally, don't exist in a vacuum on Twitter. No one wants to see a stream of self-promotional spam from a single account. Take the time to retweet others, or tweet interesting articles that you find on blogs and websites you enjoy. A general rule of thumb to follow is that you should stick to 80% tweeting about topics relevant to your business but not necessarily self-promotional; and then the other 20% of the time send out tweets promoting your own business.

You can also ask for retweets! Many people respond to a simple request for retweets—just don't overuse this tactic with every tweet you send out. And be sure to retweet those that you follow who ask for shares as well!

Well, there you have it. With these tips, you'll soon see your Twitter follower count growing and your engagement soaring! You can easily start doing these things on your own, without hiring any special assistance.

If you have any other great tips, leave them in the comments below!

Back to Basics #27: Keeping Up with Seasonal Demands

keeping-up-with-seasonal-demands

Every year, when the holiday season rolls around, businesses large and small alike scramble to keep up with the increased demand for products. Whether they have to hire new seasonal workers or they simply have to carry extra products to ensure they meet demand, small businesses are often stretched thin and the owners are stressed. It's already December, so by some standards, this article is a little late (oops!), but there are still some good tips you can utilize over the next few weeks to make sure you're adequately keeping up with seasonal demands for your small business.

Labor Costs

christmas-shopping

Spending even more money on labor is something that most small business owners shrink away from. It's not a fun prospect—many small businesses already struggle to keep in the black. And while the holidays are a great time to spread the good word about your products and services, they're also demanding. Customers want nearly immediate responses when they have questions, and they want fast product/service delivery. If you can't greet and help all customers during the busiest shopping season of the year, you might find yourself at the receiving end of some pretty scathing reviews. Lots of companies choose to counter this by hiring more staff. For instance, in the retail industry, many businesses must hire greater numbers of workers during the Christmas season to handle the extra work that comes with holiday sales.

For last-minute tips, try:

  • Offering an incentive for workers to come in early or stay a bit late--but be sure to follow through! Coupons, bonuses, and prizes all work well as incentives.
  • Extending customer service hours--even if you take a few calls or answer a few emails on your personal time, your customers will appreciate it, and you don't have to hire the extra help.
  • Setting up a comfortable area for customers to wait in your store. Providing free coffee, water, and tea can help ease tensions. And don't forget to make sure customers understand where and how long to wait.

Putting All the Details in Place

christmas-tree

Many small business owners say that they prepare for the holiday rush months ahead of time. They double-check to make sure their websites are easily accessible, up-to-date, and properly linked to social media accounts; others go a step further and post coupons and holiday deals that can be redeemed online or in-store. Some focus mostly on PR campaigns and online contests to ensure their customers hear about holiday sales on the most popular social media channels; in turn, they hope that the customers will share information with friends to spread the word. Still others prepare written materials to hand out to customers for word-of-mouth marketing purposes.

While some companies choose to plan everything to a T, there are others who choose to do things more "organically". They might opt for casual online events to save on the costs of printing or advertising, or they might try to prepare the best they can without actually crunching numbers or hiring anyone new.

Which method would be best for you? Well, it really depends on your industry and the flow of your holiday traffic. Retail stores might lean more heavily toward hiring staff, while a small, one-person business might simply stock up and hope for the best. Read this thread at The Guardian for some more advice from other business owners.

Stock Up

christmas-business

If you think you can handle the busy shopping season by simply stocking up on inventory and planting your feet firmly on the ground, so be it! If you're more the kind who makes sure all holiday items are in stock well before the holidays and you've already hired all your seasonal workers, that’s great, too. Either way, you should always anticipate a higher demand for products and develop a plan to address that need:

  • Run through your numbers from the year. Which products sold best? Do you have enough in stock now? What if customers would like to have the items shipped?
  • Think about returns and refunds. Will you offer returns or refunds if customers decide they don't want to keep your product? What about gift receipts?
  • Are there any special items you only carry during the holidays? How about services that will need to be provided no matter what time of year it is (e.g., plumbing, emergency electrical work)? How will you handle any extra inventory if you should have leftover products? If you provide services, how can you make sure you are available during busy or inconvenient times (say, the day before Christmas)?

Another tip you shouldn't forget: Make sure your business is fully insured for special circumstances. If you have insurance but fail to update the cover for winter weather-related issues, you would essentially leave your business under-insured. For those who work from home, this can be even more dire: If you store your stock or products in a separate building, you might not be insured if the items are stolen or damaged. That means you'll have to be extra careful in this rainy, cold, and snowy season! So be sure to take the extra steps to ensure you have adequate stock, and that it's fully insured and protected as necessary. This is, after all, one of the worst times of the year to take a financial hit.

 

In the coming weeks, we hope you see a lot of success at your small business. The holidays are a great time of year—for family and friends, and for those of us who choose to serve the public through retail and skilled services. Let us know if you have any other tips that you think others should know about! It's the season for sharing, after all :)

Back to Basics #26: Improving Decision-Making Skills

improving-decision-making-skills-in-the-workplace

As part of our regular back to basics series, last week, we talked about problem-solving in the workplace. This week, we'd like to expand on that and talk a bit about decision-making skills that you'll need as a small business owner. Being able to make sound decisions for yourself and for your employees is a skill you can't afford to neglect. Your company depends on you to make informed, sound decisions without a long delay. It's a tough prospect to consider for some people, because while some thrive on confronting challenging issues regularly, there are many out there who don't enjoy this kind of stress. In fact, they would prefer to run away from it as quickly as possible!

Unfortunately, though, there's no way around tough decision making. You'll have to do it at some point or another, so you might as well get used to it. While that might sound like tough love, we do have some good news: We guarantee that you can learn how to be a better decision maker and feel confident in your decision-making skills.


 

Taking the “ache” out of decision making

decision-making

When trying to make sound decisions, there are a few things that you'll want to keep in mind: you'll want to be objective, think of multiple solutions, and figure out how you can delegate the decision making process.

Being objective

It's easy to run into a stressful situation head-on, feeling furious, frustrated, or confused. But that's no way to approach making major decisions. You'll need to clear your head and focus on the task at hand before you tackle it. In this situation, you'd be making decisions based on subjective reasons (emotional), rather than objective (logical).

Objective reasoning considers everyone in the office (or at least everyone involved with or affected by the decision) before the decision is made. It is a choice made rationally, without heavy or negative emotions influencing the outcome. It's easy to see why this would be important—it takes the team into consideration, rather than just the decision maker. If you try this method, but still find yourself unable to make an objective decision, you can always enlist the help of trusted colleagues, or you can try backing off for a while (time permitting) to see if your head clears up a bit. You might also try brainstorming or writing down scenarios that you would like to have come to fruition. Then you can choose the best option from these solutions.

To be objective, remember these tips:

  • Am I making this decision while feeling sad, angry, or frustrated?
  • Am I making this decision to benefit myself over others?
  • Am I making this decision to benefit some of my staff over others?
  • How would this reflect on me as a boss? Will my company employees respect me for this choice?

 

Thinking of Multiple Solutions

keep-calm-there-is-always-a-solution

Sometimes, it's difficult to come up with the correct solution because of budget constraints or conflicting interest. Other times it seems like there might actually be more than one correct solution because of the complexity of the situation. In these cases, it might help to brainstorm a bit and come up with a few ways you could move forward. For example, could the problem be solved by asking multiple people to complete a difficult task? Would it be helpful to move people between departments? Perhaps it's best if you hire an extra person to take care of loose ends. If it's a temporary issue, you could always consider an intern or assistant. There are a number or ways you can approach an issue, and if you take the time to consider all of them (or at least as many as you can think of), you'll be able to make the best decision possible.

Alternatively, if your problems are rooted in the motivation, attitude, or productivity department, you might want to try a survey. You can ask your employees what would make work better for them. Perhaps they're sitting in a dreary spot in the office and could do with a bit more natural light. Perhaps they're feeling unmotivated because the office never has any fun activities or a good break area. Simply by talking to them, you can come up with a few solutions and then ask your employees for feedback on your ideas. If you get a majority supporting one idea in particular, you'll know which decision to make!

Remember these tips to help you think of multiple solutions:

  • Brainstorming doesn't mean coming up with complete strategies. It means thinking of different ways of approaching a problem. You can do this, no matter how good or bad the ideas seem at the moment. Just get your brain thinking!
  • Are there ways to make your budget stretch further? For example, if you're considering hiring another person but don't know if you truly have the budget for it, are there other costs you could cut? By adding an extra sum of cash into the equation, you have more opportunity for more varied solutions.
  • Are there creative ways you can approach this problem?
  • Is this problem worth addressing quickly? Or is it something that can be implemented step-by-step?

 

Who can help you?

greeting-customers

Sometimes it's tough to make a decision all on your own. It's necessary at these times to find someone you trust—a creative partner, your assistant, another manager—who you can bounce ideas off of. Remember, when you make decisions, you can always ask for feedback before deciding on anything permanent. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. In fact, your decision might be improved upon when you take another point of view into consideration, and the results of your decision could be even be better than you would have anticipated otherwise.

To start, make a list of the people you can trust to advise you. After all, kings and queens of the past had advisers for a reason! The president has advisers for a reason! You, as a small business owner, can also improve your chances of success by having trusted advisers.

When you're considering asking someone else for help, consider:

  • Is this a problem that involves a specific complaint, such as discrimination, harassment, etc? Is there someone I can talk to about this before making a decision based on my judgments?
  • Is this a problem that could be solved creatively? Is there someone who I can work with to come up with a solution I might not have thought of?
  • Is this a problem I can easily solve by asking my employees what they need? Can I design a quick survey or arrange a meeting to hear their thoughts and suggestions?

In summary, the most important and helpful tips for improving your decision-making skills are: remembering to remain objective about your decision, thinking of multiple solutions to a problem, and asking for help where it's needed. If you practice these tips, you'll soon see that you're making better decisions faster and more easily. Good luck!

Can you think of any other ways to make better decisions? Let us know in the comments!

Oh, and here's a good resource to check out on Slideshare: Problem Solving and Decision Making at the Workplace

Back to Basics #25: Improving Problem-Solving Skills in the Workplace

Back to Basics #25

Part of owning a successful business is being able to make sound decisions--for the good of your employees as well as for the future of your company. Your business thrives in a positive, supportive atmosphere, and if you aren't able to make the decisions necessary to get you to these goals, you're going to suffer financially as well as emotionally. But solving business-related problems is tough. We get it.

What if you're inexperienced with workplace issues? What if the idea of "creative problem solving" sends you running? What if you feel like you just don't understand your employees, your HR department--heck, anyone at all?

In this Back to Basics article, we'll talk about ways that you can improve your problem-solving skills so that you can make business-related decisions with confidence. Let's get started!

The Problem with Problem Solving

problem-solving

When asked about their problem solving skills, many people worry that they don't measure up. If you're the type of person who views their problem solving skills as sub-par, then you know just how much more difficult this can make owning--and running--a business.

But don't worry, there are easy ways to boost your confidence when making decisions. One of the most helpful things you can do is identify one of three types of commonly-encountered workplace issues: communication problems, attitude problems, and productivity problems. By addressing these issues individually, you'll find that the atmosphere overall will improve dramatically, letting you make more sound decisions with a clearer mind and more positive outlook.

communication

Communication problems:

Is there an issue with your messages being received in the wrong way? Have you sent out a memo, only to have people misinterpret what you've said? Do you feel like you can never get through to a certain department? These sorts of problems can be so severe that they can actually contribute to the downfall of fledgling small businesses and start-ups. Don't let communication problems get in the way of your company's overall happiness.

You might want to try:

Having someone edit your emails, documents, and presentations. If you've had that memo problem we mentioned above, this could be the solution. After having someone look over your written material, you can then make sure everyone has seen and understood the message during your next meeting. Listen to feedback and implement suggestions to make sure everyone continues to understand your messages.

Checking your emotions. If your messages are continually being received in the wrong way, you might want to check your emotions. Are you coming off too aggressively? Are you disregarding others' opinions? Are you simply reacting emotionally to a problem rather than coming up with real solutions? We all experience frustration, confusion, and even anger in the workplace. But as a boss, you must set an example for your employees. By keeping your emotions in check, you'll be able to communicate more clearly and effectively.

Listening to others. If you just can't get through to someone, call them in to your office and speak with them honestly and openly. Maybe they have a reading difficulty, such as dyslexia, and simply can't parse your memos. Maybe they struggle with verbal directions and need written or visual directions. Everyone's learning style is different, and by speaking and listening to your employees, you can gain a better understanding of their needs to do their job to the best of their ability.

For more suggestions, try this article: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/common-communication-mistakes.htm

attitude

Attitude problems:

If you've been dealing with employees who just seem to have a bad attitude, then you have a completely different problem on your hands--and a tough one at that. While you could always terminate the employee if things are really bad, there are other ways to try to address the problem before you go overboard:

Take notes. Keep track of the problems the employee presents. When you have collected and notated a few instances, talk to them about their performance and address how their attitude has been affecting others. Many times, an employee will recognize that they have been acting in a negative way, and will try to correct it without you having to take further action.

Agree on a plan. Most of the time, the employee is acting out because they perceive there to be a significant problem (that may or may not exist). Whether it's being interrupted on their breaks, sitting next to a disruptive colleague, family troubles, or general laziness, distractions and frustrations in the workplace can manifest from many different sources. The good news is that many people will try to change when confronted. Agree on a plan of action and ensure the employee follows through with it.

Dispense discipline where needed. If you never follow through with discipline, the problem will not go away. Never wait for it to simply disappear. It won't. Instead, utilize written warnings in a progressive system—First warning, second warning, suspension, termination. Of course, you must make sure you operate within HR's policies.

For more ideas, try these resources:

monkey-productivity

Productivity Problems:

Everyone must deal with the unproductive employee at some point or another. There's just no way around it. Whether you're a small business owner or you deal with large corporations, there will always be employees who just don't want to meet your productivity standards. To solve this problem, you must address it head on. It will never go away by ignoring it. To start, try:

Remind the employee of their job and their importance to the company. Many employees get fed up, particularly in larger companies, where they feel their jobs don't matter. Reminding them that they are indeed important, and stressing the importance of their duties, should help put them back on track again. Many times, they just need to feel appreciated.

Take a look at the job itself. Jobs change over time. Sometimes people end up having to learn skills they never expected to learn and become unhappy that their jobs have changed so much. Other jobs actually become outdated or become obsolete, even while you're still employing the person who does them! Other times, the job itself is boring. Plain and simple. These employees will need a little bit of extra incentive or some creativity involved to keep them meeting productivity standards, and a little bit of motivation to keep them interested.

Managing your own small business can be tough. And of course, despite your best efforts, you're going to run into some problems with things like productivity, bad attitudes, and poor communication. But with a little bit of effort, you'll be able to improve on every one of these problems, and work your way toward a more positive, productive, and communicative work environment.

Can you think of any other problems that you've tackled in the workplace? What methods work for you? Let us know in the comments below!

Back to Basics #24: How to Find Your Writing Voice

finding-your-writing-voice

If you've ever posted an update on a blog (or even thought of starting a blog!), then you've probably thought about how you would like to address your audience. Unless you're writing your own personal diary, it's absolutely necessary to figure out your writing voice—because how you appeal to your readers will have a direct effect on who chooses to come back to your blog, and who decides that it's not for them and navigates elsewhere. Whether you want to inform visitors about how to build and care for pools, or you'd like to provide tips on how to dress professionally for work, a blog can be a great place to start out. In this article, we'll go over some of the basic things you'll need to know to find your writing voice—and be well on your way to blogging success!

 

Define Your Audience

audience

This is probably another phrase you've heard before. But there's a good reason for it: It's the most important step to take before you begin publishing your posts. When you know who you're writing for, coming up with post ideas and defining your goals becomes much easier.

To define your audience, ask yourself:

  • Am I selling a product or service to someone?
  • If yes, what makes my product unique?
  • If not, what am I offering my visitors instead?

Once you know this, then you should think about:

  • What are my audience's interests?
  • What are their ages?
  • What is their education level?

And finally, you'll want to know some important personal data:

  • Where do most of my customers or visitors come from?
  • Are they male or female?

So, let's say you're selling handmade soaps to your visitors. They tend to be casual shoppers who are looking for an alternative to soaps made with chemicals. They are interested in health, beauty, and natural living. Most are female, from the United States, and tend to be from wealthy metropolitan areas. They are educated, and between the ages of 35-50. So with this audience, you wouldn't want to write in an ultra-casual manner like you would with, say, a vaping or e-cig store. That much should be obvious!

That's a lot of information you've gathered! But now, after all that hard work, you also have an incredibly well-defined audience. Knowing these statistics will help you come up with effective advertisements and well-informed posts that your audience will love to share. Plus, you'll easily be able to find topics popular with your audience and build your posts around those ideas. But first...

What is the Focus of Your Blog?

doing-online-research

Now that you know who you're writing for, you need to know what you want to write about. In our example, you'll be writing about health and beauty topics, particularly those linked to skin care—so you can really let your soaps be the star of the show. But even within this in mind, there are still a number of routes you could take. For example:

  • A how-to blog: How to make your own soaps, how to use natural soaps, etc.
  • A sales blog: Tips for better sales with natural products, or you can purchase a soap starter kit and be a part of the soap-selling team.
  • Better living blog: A guide on how to live frugally or lower your carbon footprint.
  • Beauty blog: A blog covering all kinds of new products, with the focus on your soaps and how they'll fit into a beauty routine.

As you can see, it can be a tough decision to make. But once you've chosen a theme for your blog, you'll want to stick with it. It can be confusing to readers to have a blog offering skincare advice in one post, and then how to make your own soaps in another. Chances are, these are two different audiences. (Although of course there could always be some overlap!)

What Purpose Does Your Blog Serve?

kitty-reading-a-book

Now, this might sound obvious, but you'll have to remember why you're writing a blog in the first place.

For many people, they want to start a blog to make an income. Others, however, want to add a blog feed to their existing website for a little extra information. Still others want to have a blog simply for search engine optimization purposes.

We're not here to tell you why you should have a blog—but you should know why before you begin this project! If you're aiming to make sales through your blog, you're going to have a different approach than you would if you were just using it to post occasional how-to articles and company updates.

So before you get posting, be sure to figure out exactly how your blog fits into your business and marketing plan.

How Much Time Do You Have?

scheduling-updates

If you don't have a lot of time to update your blog, you're going to want to keep your posts simple and short. On the other hand, if you have a lot of time to devote to crafting articles, then you may want to write in-depth pieces. You may even want to add beautiful photographs that your viewers will want to share! It all depends on your schedule.

The short, to-the-point articles work great for company updates, brief how-to's, or making a “listicle” that is helpful to your visitors (For example, 3 ways to get snow off your roof without falling and hurting yourself!)

The longer articles work well for those who want to get really in-depth—like photos of those handmade soaps accompanying an in-depth article about the different uses of natural cleaners.

You might choose to mix and match, and that's fine, too. But make sure to realistically look at your schedule before you begin posting. You'll want to stick to the schedule you make, so if you think you're pushing yourself too hard, err on the side of safety and cut back on your posts.

So Now What?

So now that we've talked your ear off about how you can get everything ready for your blog, you can finally take a look at everything you have figured out and decide how you want to write. Your writing voice will probably come naturally once you know who your audience is. Most of us already know what our customers like, and if we don't, we can always ask for feedback to make sure we're doing everything right. Your job now is to make sure that you deliver your own, original, fresh content to your readers when you say you will. Stick to your schedule. Don't mix personal rants with your business updates. If you want to focus on how-to videos, don't throw in an article about why one brand of snow-blower is better than another.

If you're writing for mothers, don't use abrasive language. If you're writing for potential college students, appeal to their hopeful attitudes while assuaging fears of failure. If you're writing for people who test the strength of rebar, don't focus on the difficulties of the job—provide solid statistics and ways to interpret test results.

Finding your writing voice doesn't have to be difficult. It just takes a bit of time and research. And you know what? Once you've been blogging for a while, you will find that you naturally fall into that mindset as you write. Plus, you'll hear from your readers through blog comments, social media updates, or even emails, and they'll give you helpful advice to follow.

The Long and Short of It

To summarize:

  • Learn who your audience is and what they like.
  • Decide which topics will be the most important to your readers.
  • Determine whether your blog will be used to drive sales, supplement your marketing strategy, or simply provide regular company updates to readers.
  • Create a realistic schedule for updates—and stick to it!Use language appropriate to your audience.

Do you have any other tips? Let us know in the comments below!

Back to Basics #23: Managing Your Brand

managing-your-brand-image

You've probably heard the phrases “personal brand” or “brand identity” before. But what exactly do they mean? How does someone put forth a brand identity or a personal brand, and how does it affect your business? In this Back to Basics, we'll talk a bit about managing your personal brand. With a few easy-to-understand tips, you'll know exactly what these terms mean, and how you can leverage the concept of branding to increase your presence online.

Brand Identity

Brand identity is something that you probably already know about—you just aren't aware of it. As an example of brand identity, let's take a look at Coca-Cola.

cocacola

When you think of a company like Coca-Cola, what do you think of? You probably imagine the telltale red and white color scheme, the flowing font, and perhaps even their Christmas ads come to mind.

Well, all of these things are a strategic part of their brand identity. Coca-Cola has done a masterful job at creating an instantly recognizable brand image that people are quick to take notice of in any situation. The company wants to keep your attention, whether you're looking for a vending machine between classes or deciding which sodas to purchase from the supermarket. When you see that red and white, you know it's going to be Coca-Cola, and you're instantly drawn to purchase the product (that is, assuming you're not a Pepsi person!).

Now, all of this doesn't necessarily mean that brand identity consists solely of a color scheme and unique fonts. Logos also play a big part in it. Your perceived company image as a whole is a big part of it, too. Your presence on the internet and in your community play enormous roles. Simply put, when people think of your brand, the images and feelings that pop up are how they perceive your brand identity. You want to create something solid, recognizable, simple, and memorable. You also want to be consistent across all your platforms. We'll get to more of that in a minute. First, we'll talk about your “personal brand.”

What does your personal brand say about you?

Personal Brand

The personal brand is something generally associated with an entrepreneur, but it doesn't necessarily have to be so. Your personal brand can apply to how you manage your employees, as well as how you choose to interact with customers. Basically, your personal brand should prominently display your talents and downplay your weaknesses—customers and employees should feel that you're capable and understanding, rather than unsure or defensive.

Managing your personal brand can be tough, however, especially in online spaces. It's easy for people to slip up and say something they didn't mean to while caught in the turmoil so often found on social media. Your employees might do the same. Why? Because your personal brand often takes a backseat to emotion, especially when things get tough—whether you're responding to a poor review or you're getting just a little too personal with hot-button issues, it's important to remember to keep your cool. You don't want to sacrifice all the hard work you've done on your personal brand only to be embarrassed at comment you made in a time of emotional strain! It's important to keep an eye on how you're coming across online, and to monitor how people are perceiving you. Even the most careful business owners can probably find an area that they need to work on.

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Managing Your Brand in the Community

So now that you know about brand identity and your personal brand, what are some good ways to manage them? We've mentioned the many places you need to include your brand—from your local presence in your community to social media online.

A good way to start is to make a list of your personal values. For example, what do you think is important for you as a business owner? Some examples might include:

  • Providing excellent customer service
  • Responding to customer concerns
  • Providing new and exciting products regularly
  • Delivering news and updates in a timely manner
  • Rewarding valued customers
  • Promoting employees and building workplace morale

There are so many things you could list here. It all depends on what you, as a business owner, feel is the most important thing to you.

You can also talk to your employees about their workplace. Many companies focus too much on the customer and don't bother with assessing their internal company health. When the workplace is toxic or not well run, many people get angry about their jobs. Not only does this result in high turnover (and takes time to train and replace the employees), but the customers can easily end up with the short end of the stick: They might have to wait longer for service or get poor service from uninvested employees. You might think of asking:

  • Do you find your workplace to be comfortable?
  • Do you feel your duties are taken seriously?
  • Is the workplace friendly and accommodating?
  • Do you need help with further training?
  • How do you feel you are doing with your customer service skills?

Et cetera.

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Managing Your Brand Online

Managing your image online is a bit more complex than it is to manage in person. Many times, words that you type online can be misinterpreted—whereas in person, it's easier to clarify your intentions. You can also accidentally post to the wrong social media accounts. You might get too invested in a particularly heated conversation or debate and want to defend your views. You might get a poor review and feel inclined to respond to the reviewer angrily. The immediacy of the internet is what makes all of this so easy—but it's so hard to erase. In fact, it's nearly impossible.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I suited for social media management? If not, do I have the budget to hire someone for assistance?
  • Do I understand the implications of putting negative words and ideas into cyberspace?
  • Do I know how to defend myself without resorting to petty words?
  • Do I have a plan in place should there be a PR crisis?

If you think about these important things before you begin posting, you'll be much more likely to manage your brand in a way that will make your customers happy.

Another aspect of managing your brand online is how you choose to present your business's image. Just like the Coca-Cola example, you need to present an image of professionalism and attentiveness to detail. Here are a few questions you will want to consider if you want to have a healthy brand image:

  • Does my website look professional? If not, do I have it in my budget to redesign it?
  • Are customers easily navigating my website and finding the information they need?
  • Do my social media accounts match the name and color scheme my website?
  • Do I have the dedication to update my social media regularly, and to engage with my customers?
  • Am I using a consistent voice (i.e., serious, casual, technical, etc.) for all of my platforms?

Hopefully this clears up some of the mystery surrounding brand image and management. It's an important thing for business owners to understand, whether you're a Fortune 500 company or a local “mom-and-pop” store. We all need to present ourselves as professionally and openly as possible!

If you can think of any other tips for managing your brand, leave them in the comments below!

Back to Basics #22: Small Business Marketing for Local Storefronts

SMALL BUSINESSMARKETINGFOR LOCAL STORES Here at Internet Local Listings, we focus on helping our small business clients with all of their online marketing needs—social media, websites, and managing local listings for a variety of business directories. This is an important part of your small business marketing plan, because being seen online is integral to your success as a business in the modern marketplace. And, as you know, it can be a bit confusing and time-consuming to handle all this on your own. Having help is a great asset in this case.

However, what we aren't able to help with is the management of your storefront. That might sound obvious, but an important aspect of small business marketing that many people overlook is the effect that a storefront's appearance can have on a customer. You already know that first impressions matter when you're on a job interview or first date, and the same can be said of a customer's first visit to your business—a store's appearance can have tremendous influence over whether a person chooses to return or not. In this article, we'll talk a bit about how appearance can affect a customer's decision to purchase or leave, as well as how keeping your store beautiful can help create more online interactions and engagement.

A Storefront's Appearance Matters.

According to a study done at Retail Customer Experience, more than two-thirds of the surveyed group had avoided a store simply because the storefront was unattractive, outdated, or dirty. Although it might be a bit difficult to make a building look newer than it is (particularly if you share the building with other offices and have no control over renovations), it's always possible to keep the inside of your store looking neat and tidy.

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Image from I Loved New York.com

Keep the Place Smelling Fresh.

Aside from keeping your store's appearance tidy and clean, you're going to want to make sure it smells okay. This might seem as obvious as keeping it clean, but if you're, say, a car mechanic and you're used to the smell of oil, you might not realize how off-putting it can be to some people. While you obviously can't control the smell of the vehicles you're working on in your shop, you can control the smells in the lobby. Brew some fresh coffee. Set up snacks. Keep everything wiped down and clean; keep the doors to the shop closed to prevent extra noise and smells sneaking in. Finally, you may want to use this as an opportunity to promote some great-smelling air fresheners!

This goes for any industry, however. Even if you run a bookstore (and many people love the smell of books), make sure that everything is clean without overdoing it on the “chemical” smell.

The “First Ten Feet” Rule.

According to Rick Segel, author of Retail Business Kit for Dummies, you must offer a price-sensitive incentive for customers to continue shopping within the first 10 feet of the door. For example, this could be a special offer you're running, a promotion for your store's top-selling product, or even a poster board offering information on local community events. Whether you're in the business of selling auto parts or you offer home cleaning services, you can always find some related community events or classes that would appeal to your clientele. Don't be afraid to get creative—have some of your customers asked questions about the availability of a specific product? Have they asked where you could learn more about your business? Maybe they just simply get lost on the way to the bathroom! Do whatever you can to help them feel welcome and at home in your store, and they'll be likely to remain long enough to explore. Plus, you may just earn yourself a repeat customer!

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Maintain Your Store's Fixtures.

Sometimes your store is clean, your employees are welcoming, and the place is set up to draw the customers in—but people just aren't staying. You're confused and you're wondering what could be going wrong.

  • Take a step back from your store. Walk into it again as if it were the first time you'd ever set foot in it. Now, you're probably so used to it that this will be difficult for you, but try really hard to place yourself in your customers' shoes. Here are some key things to look for:
  • Are your displays are neatly arranged? Do they look up-to-date? An old, faded poster or a messy stack of “clearance” products might make your store look disorganized.
  • Do the lights seem too dim or too bright? If they're too dim, it might make your store look unwelcoming or shady—which is, naturally, off-putting to customers. If your lights are too bright, it can make customers feel uncomfortable, too, because who wants to feel like they need to wear sunglasses inside of a store?

Finally, make sure your staff is friendly and welcoming.

Make sure there's always a manager or knowledgeable person available to answer your customer's questions. And of course, ensure everyone looks his or her best to keep with the professional appearance you've worked so hard to instill in your store.

The wonderful part of keeping your storefront clean and inviting is that it will cross over into the online realm. People will be happy to leave you positive reviews. They'll want to follow you on Facebook or Twitter to see what your new specials are. They'll refer friends and family. Remember that this is all part of the bigger picture--getting the word out about your fantastic business!

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Small business marketing is complex. It's a mixture of online finesse as well as a little bit of good, old-fashioned business skills. While the marketing experts at Internet Local Listings can help you with the internet marketing part of the equation, we can only offer tips for the local aspect of it! We hope you've found these helpful!

If you have any tips or suggestions, leave them in the comments below! And be sure to subscribe for regular updates from our small business marketing blog.

Back to Basics #21: Thinking Outside the Social Media Box

thinking-outside-the-social-media-box While there are tried-and-true methods to growing your social media following and keeping your customers connected through social media, sometimes your efforts seem to stagnate. Maybe you hit a stride of nice growth, but then discovered that it plateaued. Or maybe you've been on a steady climb, and still see growth happening, but really want to push your social media presence to the next level. Whatever it is, you're ready to try something a bit bolder, a bit louder, and a bit more... well, scary. It's out of your comfort zone, but that doesn't mean that you have to avoid it. Let's talk a bit about what you can do to start thinking outside the social media box and really getting into your stride as a business owner and marketer!

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Find A Few Friends.

No, we don't mean find a few friends like the ones you're already following back, or the ones who are related to you. (Even if your mom is always going to be your #1 fan... sorry, mom.)

What we mean is, find the big names in your industry and connect with them.

Take the time to do a little research around your type of company—who is active on social media? Is there a particularly interesting website or blog that you could start following? Whose name frequently gets brought up in the news? Once you've found these people, start paying attention to what they're doing. They're obviously a credible resource for a reason, and that's more than likely because they interact with fans, provide valuable content, and frequently update their blog and/or social media sites. You're probably trying to do all this already, but when you have a role model to emulate, things get that much easier.

Here are some more helpful tips to try once you've found a few new friends:

Do:

  • Retweet/share/pin their articles.
  • Leave a friendly compliment or start a helpful discussion on their blog posts.
  • Ask them for their opinion on something in your niche.

Don't:

  • Engage with controversial topics with them.
  • Subtweet (that is, tweeting about someone else without actually tagging them) snarky comments or get upset if they don't respond to you.
  • Blast anyone publicly if they don't agree with you.

dummies-self-promotion

Advertise less.

We know what you're thinking: “Isn't the point of social media to help me with marketing and advertising? Why would I want to advertise less?”

Well, because without even being aware of it, you might actually be driving away people with constant self-promotion.

Basically, social media has its own set of etiquette and rules—in fact, each platform tends to have different etiquette standards and rules for connecting with fans. For instance, on Twitter, it's acceptable to post many times in a day—it's fast paced and the information is kept brief, as well as generally unobtrusive. Facebook, on the other hand, tends to show big posts with pictures and videos, and to see a stream of media from the same person or company is aggravating to many users. But if there's one thing all platforms have in common, it's this:

It's a big no-no to constantly advertise your own services.

To keep people from getting irked with your updates, you should always follow the 80/20 rule: Post 80% other content—like industry news, other followers' posts, etc.--and 20% your own content.

Here are some helpful ways you can implement this idea:

  • Don't make your advertising posts hard pitches; i.e., “Click here to buy dog food now!” Instead, keep it light and craft an interesting title to entice click-throughs: “The #1 best thing you can feed your dog: It's cheaper than you think.”
  • Link back to older blog articles. If you have a content marketing schedule, go ahead and tie that in with Twitter, Facebook, and whichever other sites you use. You worked hard on your old posts—so be sure to link them again! This doesn't make it seem like you're “selling” anything, but you're still directing traffic back to your site.

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Show off your reviews.

We've talked before about how important reviews are for ranking. But reviews aren't only important for this reason—they're also a leading influence on how customers perceive your business, as well as how customers choose which business to support. According to a 2013 survey from Bright Local, 73% of consumers say positive customer reviews make them trust a business more. [Edit: Here is the updated 2014 survey!] That's no small number—so it makes sense that you should promote the ones you have!

This should fall under the same guidelines of self-promotion, however. Constantly linking your reviews comes off as spammy and self-absorbed. When you're on social media, you want to present an honest picture of who you are and what your business is about. Occasionally linking a new review and thanking the customer for their time is a good practice to get into—and it's not going to make you look bad.

Try these helpful tips the next time you link your reviews:

  • Place a few testimonials on your site. If you can, take them directly from the source and link back. Testimonials without links seem fake to many visitors—so take that worry off their minds by citing your sources (just like you did in those pesky term papers!).
  • Publicly respond to any bad reviews you receive (unless they are abusive; then it's best to just report or ignore them). By doing this, you show that you care about your customers' experiences and are willing to listen to their complaints and concerns.

stay positive

And finally...

Whether you own a small home-based business or run a local chain of businesses, it's in your best interest to keep a positive attitude. It can get discouraging to to run your own social media sites, and we get that. In fact, we wrote an article about how to handle these feelings of discouragement! But when everything stacks against you and it seems like nothing you're doing is working, remind yourself that this all takes time. Brainstorm ways you can get your voice heard. Talk to friends, family, customers, and other business owners to see what they recommend. Be willing to learn from mistakes and go that extra mile. In the end, you will make progress if you keep trying, and keep an open mind while at it.

Got any other suggestions? Leave them in the comments!

Back to Basics #20: How to Build a PR Strategy as a Local Business

how-to-build-a-pr-strategy-as-a-small-business  

An important part of running your small business is to make sure that you have a strong PR strategy in place. PR stands for public relations, and it is an integral part of defining your target market and reaching them in a positive and effective manner. It's impossible nowadays to run a business and a marketing campaign without considering your approach to PR as well.

If you're new to the idea of public relations, no worries! In this post, we'll talk about some of the basics that you can do to help improve your presence and positive image in your community.

Define Your Audience.

There's no use in trying to market to anyone if you can't decide who to market to. Think about it: If you own a retirement community and you're looking to appeal to new residents, sending out advertisements to college students isn't going to help you very much. This is why you need to define your audience before you begin. Once you have that figured out, you can move on to planning your strategy.

To get started on this, you can take a look at who is already visiting your page using a Google Analytics account. You can find the basics of how to set up an account here. Once you have determined who is interested in your site, you can easily start sorting out your marketing methods to appeal to those demographics.

doing-online-research

Get Online.

With your new audience in mind, go to where they hang out. The easiest way will be to reach them online, although depending on your audience, you may still be able to reach people by cold calling or newspaper advertisements. But for many of us, our audience is online, just waiting to be found!

Consider your brand identity when going online, too. Your company will be associated with your positive image. How will you help your customers remember you? How will you stand out in the crowd? Work this into your campaign. When you’re updating social media, keep a clear and consistent voice. Don't talk about personal things or your opinions on the latest political argument. Keep your words professional—nothing can ever be scrubbed completely from the internet. Don't fall into the trap of getting confrontational or controversial!

Find Opportunities to be Seen in the Community.

For local businesses, an integral part of success is being seen in the community. Whether you're a new business or you've been around for 40 years, you need to be active, visible, and a positive force in your community. People love connecting with local business owners. And if you leave a positive impression on them, you can bet that they'll remember you the next time they're looking for someone who provides your products and services!

A great way to do this is to look for ways to volunteer. Whether you want to donate food to a shelter or donate some money to a cause you believe in, any step toward charitable giving is a positive one. You can take part in local festivals and events by offering coupons to guests, or you can even set up raffles so you can get people excited about interacting with you. Or you could simply help out the community around the holidays, whether you're involved with a parade or a school fundraiser. There are tons of ways to get involved, so get creative!

Find Speaking Opportunities.

Almost everyone hates public speaking. But if you get over your fears long enough to do get up in front of a crowd, you can generate some great exposure for your business. Is there a trade show or conference going on in your town? Look into becoming a speaker for the event—you could be on a panel or even nominate yourself to be the keynote speaker if you feel you have the chops!

Be forewarned, however, that these endeavors take a lot of preparation. Furthermore, you'll have to plan for these events because many are scheduled months ahead of time. But if you do your research and come prepared, you'll find that the results you get can be fantastic.

pressrelease

Pitch Your Story.

Did you know that journalists can be reached through social media? Before, you might have had to call them up, fax them, or email them. But today, journalists contribute to blogs, have social media accounts, and network with other journalists. This creates a number of free opportunities for you to reach out and contact them. Comment on their Facebook posts. Track them down on Twitter and engage them in conversation. Find blogs they contribute to so that you know and understand their work. If they're looking for stories that you think they could use in a story, reach out and give them your ideas. It helps to have a kind of “press release” prepared beforehand so that you can give them what they need with little turnaround--you need to remember that they're very busy and often get pitched to many times a day. Keep in contact with them and they'll be more likely to remember you the next time they're doing a story in a similar vein.

Decide On Your Best Approach.

Okay, maybe none of these things appealed to you. Maybe you're more about writing things on your own. Or maybe you prefer radio to seminars. There are a number of ways that you can get in contact with the public, and the great thing is that they're all still very effective ways of boosting your presence. You may want to try:

  • Writing your own press releases, articles, or even letters to your local newspaper editor.
  • Writing an ebook to appeal to your customers—“how to” tips tend to work well.
  • Volunteering at or sponsoring an event.
  • Signing up to speak at a seminar or convention—or you could even take part in an online webinar!
  • Do press conferences, offer to be on a radio program, or see if you can land a spot on your local evening news.
  • Put together testimonials, positive reviews, and success stories to keep on hand whenever you appear in public. People love inspiring stories and knowing that you're reputable, too!

With these tips, you can decide how you want to approach your PR campaign and which options work the best for your vision. All of these tips are free or low-cost—it all depends on how much work you want to put into it on your own vs. hiring a PR consultant.

Do you have any other tips on how to build a PR strategy as a local business? Let us know in the comments!

Back to Basics #19: Digital Marketing for the Holidays

digital-marketing-for-the-holidays Ahh, you knew something like this was coming up soon. It's October, which means that autumn decorations have been on the shelves since the 4th of July clearance rack cleared out (for Americans, anyway). Soon, you'll see Thanksgiving decorations, and then come the December holidays—it's all going to be Christmas and Hanukkah themes until it's almost 2015. And let's not forget about Black Friday and Cyber Monday...

During these next few months, you're going to see a lot of expensive marketing campaigns from big name companies. You'll see sales events, promotional deals, and all sorts of bundles and shipping specials and limited-time releases that your head might feel like its spinning.

And, as a small business owner, you might feel pressured to come up with some campaigns of your own.

But you don't have millions in your budget. And you don't have a lot of time to put something together. So how can you go about digital marketing for the holidays if you own a small business?

lady-oven

1. Make a charitable donation. This is probably our favorite suggestion because it really helps everyone! You get to help others and draw attention to a great cause, as well as draw positive attention to your business.

Whether you choose to donate a small sum of cash or you volunteer your time at a local charity, these types of gestures speak volumes. Make sure it's something that you can get everyone involved with—your team can come up with great ways to make sure it's an event that won't soon be forgotten. But you also can't forget to let your clients and customers know that you're taking part in this special occasion. Be sure to send out a card or email and let everyone know that you're participating in a special charity event, and that your clients are welcome to participate, too!

2. Decorate your social media sites. Another cheap way to get everyone into the holiday spirit! Change your banners, headers, and color themes to reflect the holiday of your choice. You can even change your logo by adding a little Jack-O-Lantern for Halloween or a cornucopia for Thanksgiving. The best part is that you can reuse these again next year—a great return on your very small investment. And when you're finished? Simply replace the logo with your usual fare and you're good to go.

holiday-store

3. Send out special holiday offers via email. This is one that you'll have to be careful with—you don't want to appear as if you're spamming, after all—but sending out special coupons or offers to customers who subscribe to your newsletter can be particularly effective. Make an announcement on your site. Say something like “only subscribers will receive a special deal via email, and they can look forward to receiving it just in time for the holidays.” The incentive can be whatever you want it to be—whether it's a coupon, a special one-of-a-kind item, or a free service. Whatever you can come up with!

4. Start thinking of gift suggestions. People choose different times to do their holiday shopping. While some wait until the last minute (right now would be a good time to capitalize on the Halloween costumes or decorations!), others do so months ahead of time (these people are already keeping an eye out for Christmas deals). You will want to keep your social media sites and blog updated with all the latest deals that would appeal to these shoppers.

5. Make yourself stand out from the crowd. We mentioned at the beginning of the article that you don't have the budget or resources to compete with the big companies. But you can make up for what you lack in budget with quality services.

For example, you're probably a small, local store. You can offer personalized attention to each and every client. Can a big-name store do that? No, they can't. You can also remind people that when they support your business, they're supporting local businesses and real people who contribute to the community. There are so many people looking to switch to buying local now (and sometimes exclusively), so this is a great way to let them know that you truly appreciate their business. If you have years of experience, highlight that. If you have a positive track record for customer satisfaction, mention it. And if you have a great story about how you came to build your business in your town, people will love to hear it. It's all about aligning yourself with the “big guys” in ways that highlight your strengths—not your lack of financial resources.

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By thinking a bit on the creative side, you can come up with some great ideas for digital marketing for the holidays—even if you're a small business without much revenue.

Do you have any other suggestions? Leave them in the comments below.

Back to Basics #17: How to Choose Keywords for a Small Business

how-to-find-keywords-for-small-businesses In our Back to Basics series, we've talked about blogging, content marketing, updating social media, managing your public image, and even how to manage your time by using tools to help speed up your posting and sharing. But this isn't all you need to be doing to make sure that people are finding your business!

Another important part of keeping your campaigns running as smoothly as possible is to keep up to date on which keywords are helping your small business rank. A great way to do this is to use the Google Keyword Planner or KeywordTool.io, both of which are free to use and easy to learn.

Finding Target Keywords

So how do you even know where to start? A good place to begin your research is with your competitors. Now, we're not advocating stealing their keywords in an attempt to out-rank them (some people do this, but it's not really a great way of going about things), but it's a good idea to see why your competitors are ranking so high. Do they have unique keywords? Are they the only providers of that service in your area? Do they have a website that has been up for many years? All of these things can determine how well a site is ranking, and often, with a bit of research, you can find ways to use this information to your advantage.

keyword-planner

To find their keywords, simply enter their URL in the box and see what Google pulls up. You may be surprised at some of the terms people are using to find the competitor's site.

Alternatively, you might want to try entering your own URL and seeing what Google suggests. If you already have content on your site, the keyword planner will list related terms and give you an estimate of their search volume. You can pick a few of these keywords and think of variations for them.

Finally, using keywordtool.io, you can enter a subject—dentist, for example—and it will come up with a number of suggestions based on that keyword. You can plug some of these into Google's Keyword Planner to see how the terms fare in searches.

Checking a Keyword's Effectiveness

So after you've chosen your keywords and used them in blogs, meta tags, and images, how do you know if they're working for your site? Well, a good way to check is to sign up for a free Google analytics account. You can get a code to copy and paste in your site's header section and from there, Google will track information about the visitors that come to your site. (Important: If you know nothing about this, it's best to contact your webmaster and ask him or her to insert the tracking code for you—you don't want to mess up your website!) You can discover how they accessed your page—by organic search, social media links, or links from other pages, for example—and you can see which terms they're using to find you. These terms are going to be the ones you want to focus on. If you see that some aren't getting much traction, try a different variation by returning to the keyword planner and playing around with your options.

You can also try using a search engine to see if you can pull up your page with any terms. This isn't necessarily the most effective way of determining if your keywords are working, though—sometimes it takes a while for the search engines to index everything and determine that your site is relevant. Plus, Google Analytics will show you where your “impressions” are, and these are equally as important to consider. Impressions are terms that the search engines associate with your site. They may not pull up your site until page 8 or 9, but they are there. Sometimes, given a bit more time and effort through blogging and social media sharing, you can move up the ranks for these "impressions" as well.

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Maintaining Your Ranking

Now, before we begin, let us just say that there's no sure-fire way to ensure you stay at the top of a search engine's result page. That's because the algorithms change frequently—most often in an attempt to keep spammers from finding loopholes to abuse. Unfortunately, that means that it will affect you, too, even if you're doing nothing wrong.

But there's good news!

A good way to make sure that you stay in the good graces of the search engines is to update your site frequently. Blogging at least once or twice a week is a good goal. Talk about your keywords and subjects relating to them. Make sure that all your fresh content is high quality, relevant, and entertaining for your visitors to read. By doing all of this, you'll have the best chance of maintaining your ranking over time.

If you enjoyed this article on how to choose keywords for a small business, be sure to subscribe for more updates delivered to your inbox! There are plenty of other articles meant to help small business owners make smart SEO and social media decisions. Or, if you have any other tips, let us know in the comments below!

Back to Basics #16: 5 Ideas for Your Marketing Strategy

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In our Back to Basics series, we’ve covered a wide range of topics, from the basics of SEO to implementing a few reliable social media strategies. But what if you’re looking for more ideas for your digital marketing strategy? What if you want to go above and beyond social media marketing? In this post, we’ll give you five great ways you can improve your digital marketing strategy without focusing solely on social media and local listings. As always, we try to supply helpful and affordable suggestions while keeping the small business owner in mind.

1. Build an app.

You know the line: “There’s an app for that!” Well, there might not be an app for that. There are plenty of ways small businesses can get in on the app craze. If you run your own restaurant, you can build an app to let customers place an order using their phones or tablets. You can offer periodic deals that only app subscribers can access. There are plenty of ways to get creative. And the best part is that now that apps are so popular, you can get one built on the cheap. Check out freelancing sites such as elance.com or fiverr.com to find prospective contractors!

2. Migrate to mobile-compatible platforms.

We can’t stress it enough: If you’re not mobile compatible, you’re falling behind the times. A lot of people are searching for small, local businesses using their phones. They want access to immediate information about the products and services they seek: Business hours, phone number, website, menu (if you’re a restaurant, obviously), and of course the street address. Many look for Yelp ratings or BBB listings. All of this can be found through a quick local search. Make sure that all of your website’s information is up to date and displays correctly on mobile phone screens as well as tablets. You can hire a designer to make sure that your site looks flawless on all devices, or you can sign up for a free site at squarespace.com or weebly.com and choose layouts that are mobile-friendly. (Or, Internet Local Listings offers a free website with our starter package!)

3. Focus on creating good content.

If you haven’t noticed already, social media visibility is becoming increasingly dependent on paid-for advertising. You want more people to find you on Facebook? Be prepared to spend money advertising. You want more people to retweet you? You’ll have to purchase promoted tweets. According to aforbes.com article, it’s only going to get worse. The monetization of social media is inevitable—with the amount of people using the services, companies are eager to shell out money in hopes of attracting more customers.

Of course, this unfairly discriminates against small business owners. Without the budget to push their ads out there, they get buried under the noise of larger corporations. The way around this? Start and regularly update a blog.

Google is always looking for great content. It helps you rank better and it helps keep visitors interested in your site. You’ll never have to pay to write your own thoughts down in a virtual “journal.” So get started with a free blogging platform such as Wordpress or Blogger and make sure that your voice is still being heard amongst the never-ending calls for you to spend money on advertising.

4. Create a podcast.

You might be raising your eyebrow at this one. You probably don’t know how to make a podcast, and that’s okay—not a lot of people do. But that’s precisely why it can put you ahead of the curve. Small business owners can get in on the podcasting craze and reach an audience that their competitors can’t. Run a yoga studio? Talk about the health benefits of yoga, interview students who have seen great health benefits, and give listeners a weekly yoga challenge. Are you an electrician? Talk to your listeners about seasonal electrical tips, how to save money on electrical bills, and how to use your existing décor to spruce up your interior decorating. There are plenty of things you can talk about in a podcast. Make a list of things you are interested in that relate to your field or industry. Then check out sites like RawVoice or Wizzard to get ideas and find out more about podcasting.

5. Hire Digital Marketing for Small Business.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that search engine optimization still delivers one of the highest returns on your monetary investment. Take a look at Moz’s handy-dandy chart here and see which things small businesses could handle easily on their own vs the amount of time that needs to be invested. You’ll immediately notice that SEO is affordable and the results are worthwhile. However, you’ll also see that it requires a large time investment and an expert to help you navigate the subtleties that come with the SEO process. Digital marketing doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, though—you can check out our plans and pricing to see which works the best with your budget and long-term goals.

 

Is there a digital marketing strategy that you would recommend to a small business owner? Leave it in the comments below!

Back to Basics #15: Do it Like a Small Business SEO Company

small business team seo company By now, you’ve probably read a number of articles about how you, as a small business owner, can learn how to do SEO to benefit your own business. You may have read about how important it is to be on Twitter or Facebook; you probably saw studies claiming that a specific keyword density is key to ranking well; you may even have considered buying links to get more traffic.

It can all be confusing. It can be expensive. And honestly? It sometimes doesn’t seem like it’s worth the effort, does it?

Well, we’re here to help you out. In this post, we’ll show you five easy ways you can get involved with your company’s marketing campaign just like a small business SEO company would do. With these tips, you’ll begin to see results that definitely pay off.

plagiarism comic

Image courtesy of: Olive Harvey College Library Guides

1. Make friends with Copyscape. Are you writing your own content? Have you tried optimizing your front page or started a blog? You'll definitely want to look into using Copyscape. For no cost, you can enter your site's address and Copyscape will scan the web looking for plagiarized text. If your blog or site content have indeed been plagiarized, it can hurt your rankings. Furthermore, if you're using references in your writing, you might want to run your text through Copyscape. The last thing you need is to be blamed for plagiarism from your end. Make sure your content is 100% original all across the board, and you'll be better off for it.

2. Make content easily shareable. When people read an article and enjoy it, they immediately look for the “share” button. They want to tell their family and friends about the great thing they've just read. It would follow, then, that if you don't include sharable links at the end of your post, you've just potentially cost yourself thousands of views. Be sure to make it easy for your visitors to share your content to all the most popular social media platforms, and you'll notice that your content will be shared more frequently. If you need help figuring out how to set this up, there are plenty of tutorials around the internet as well as easy-to-install plug-ins for blogging software such as Wordpress.

3. Get your customers involved through reviews. We've written about this in the past, but it's so important that we feel we should reiterate here: your customers need to be involved with your company through reviews. There's a fine line between asking and encouraging your customers to participate willingly, and pushing your wishes in their faces aggressively. You can encourage customers to leave reviews by putting a sign up in your store, offering a coupon as compensation, or even provide a free service with proof of a positive review. Reviews not only help people searching for your services find your store, they also help you stand out in the crowd. Searchers nowadays rely on sites such as Yelp to help them make decisions about which business they want to give their money to. Don't let this opportunity slip through the cracks—you'll be surprised at how much good reviews can help.

pay per click advertising for small businesses

4. Consider PPC (pay-per-click) advertising. If you're just getting your business off the ground, we'll be honest: It can take some time for Google to start picking it up and ranking it. But that doesn't mean that you can't make the most of the time in between. You can purchase ads from Google for only a few dollars a day and they'll appear alongside search results related to your keywords, helping guide visitors to your site. Google ads allow you to get the word out about your site in ways that organic ranking can't; at least not in the beginning. Check out Google's free keyword planner to take a look at keyword suggestions you can use in your ad campaigns.

5. Try your hand at video advertising. A big part of advertising nowadays is visual. Think about it: If you're on Facebook or Twitter, you probably share images and videos all the time! That's why it's important that you get into the habit of creating media content for your company's social media sites. People are much more likely to share media than they are to read through a “wall of text”. Furthermore, video advertising helps a lot with SEO and ranking. Google gets strong ranking signals from videos and the keywords used in them. Even if you don't have a big media budget, you can still put together helpful “how-to” videos or showcase happy customers recommending your products and services.

You can do it like the SEO companies!

With these tips, you can easily dip your toes into the waters of advertising and marketing. It might sound cliché, but if you don't start small, it'll be too much for you to manage all at once and you'll feel as if you're drowning. You can do it like the small business SEO company professionals by trying these few simple tips! And as always, if you need help and advice, Internet Local Listings is here to help. We offer everything from business listings to custom content to personalized websites! Visit us here for more information.

Any other tips you can think of that we missed? Let us know!

Back to Basics #14: How to Deal with Bad Reviews

thumbs-down-how-to-deal-with-bad-reviews It happens to the best of us: At some point in your small business career, you're going to get a negative review. Even if you try to make every business decision with the customer's needs in mind, and even if you strive to ensure 100% customer satisfaction every day you're open for business, someone will still find something to complain about. From contractors to preschools to salons, no one is immune from the dreaded bad review.

Well, that was a depressing intro. Sorry about that.

So, now that you're feeling deflated and sad, how can we go about making sure that you're a) prepared for the review when it arrives and b) educated with a few basic skills to help you make the best of a bad situation? In this article, we'll talk about how you can best go about addressing a bad review. Of course, we'll also mention a few things you should avoid at all costs--because not every review is worth responding to.

Take a cooling-off period.

When you see that bad review, your first reaction is probably going to be anger. A few thoughts will probably be running through your head: “What did I do to deserve this?” “I don't recall anything like this happening.” “Well, this customer is clearly mistaken.” “They're lying.” “I'm just going to ignore them.” And the list goes on.

Well, any or all of the above may be true, but unfortunately, most small businesses lack the means to prove their side of the story. So in this situation, before you sit down and type a response to the reviewer in an attempt to defend yourself, it's best to just back away and think about what the customer has said. The reviews generally fall into two camps: The people who complain for the sake of complaining, and the people who want to offer constructive criticism.

The people who like to go online and vent about things for no real good reason are nearly impossible to appease. Respond to their complaint and they could berate you. Ignore them and they could get angry that you don't respond at all.

On the other hand, there are always going to be reviewers who have a legitimate complaint. Maybe there was a miscommunication, and it was just an accident. Maybe one of your employees was having a bad day and it ended up affecting their work. Either way, it's your job to consider what the reviewer has said before jumping to conclusions

Most importantly, it's vital that you be able to admit that maybe you really did make a mistake, if there was indeed a mistake made.

Then, once you've calmed down and evaluated the situation, you'll be ready to deal with the bad review in a professional manner.

Determine whether a response is needed.

As mentioned above, some cases will call for a response, while others are best left untouched. Situations where you will just want to ignore a response would be:

  • If the reviewer is using inflammatory language or just trying to pick a fight
  • If the reviewer is ranting about something that doesn't have anything to do with your services
  • If someone is leaving repeated reviews in an attempt to flood your page with negative comments

While most companies make every effort to respond to each review, sometimes dealing with the very angry or hostile reviewers can end up making the experience worse. Knowing how to identify these types of reviewers is a great skill for your company to develop.

In other situations, you'll want to respond to your negative review. Doing so requires you to have professional language and a legitimate apology. Don't just make excuses for the mistake. Acknowledge that this person is trying to constructively help you with your business—they're hoping that by leaving their review, you can see where you might be falling short of good customer service. Then you have a chance to win back business or, at the very least, to show customers how much you care.

bad-review-checkbox

Respond in a timely manner.

There are instances in which businesses take too long to respond to a review. This can actually make a company look bad—like they can't be bothered to address the concerns of a customer. It's best to respond within a week of the initial comment, so check the popular review sites regularly and make sure that you're following up with your customers. 

Next, write a draft of your review. If the review was written recently and you've taken the time to cool off before you reply, it's still best to compose a draft. Have a friend or someone you trust read it through and make sure it doesn't come off as passive-aggressive or inflammatory.

Write a real apology if needed.

There have been a number of articles written on flimsy apologies vs legitimate ones. The intricacies of constructing a PR-friendly, yet personalized apology and follow-up promise to improve is beyond the scope of this article. However, the following tips should prove useful: 

  • Don't make excuses. Treat the customer with respect and dignity. Offering an impersonal and lazy excuse like “well the cashier was new” or “it was rainy that day and some people couldn't make it in to work” is not going to cut it.
  • Explicitly state that you are sorry for the inconvenience you have caused. Not the inconvenience you may have caused, or for the customer's feelings. (i.e., “I'm sorry you feel this way” or “I'm sorry if we offended you.” The customer is telling you exactly how they feel. You need to apologize for the mistakes made on your end, not for how the customer feels.)
  • Follow up with something to make it up to the customer. Whether that's a 10% off coupon, a free meal, or a complimentary service from the owner, any sort of offer to fix the problem will be appreciated. An apology needs to be followed up with the intent or promise to improve, or the customer will find it empty or phony.
  • If the customer doesn't accept your apology, move on. Don't argue. It will hurt that they still don't want to visit your business. But you can't please everyone—and arguing or begging will just make you look bad.

Finally...

Don't send your replies in a private message. Post these apologies publicly. People will see that you took the time to respond and it will only reflect well on you!

See more information on how you shouldn't respond to negative comments here: The Wrong Way to Respond to Comments

Encourage more positive reviews. As we discussed in a previous article, it's always a good idea to encourage positive customer reviews. There is a difference between begging for a review or being too aggressive in your requests vs posting a friendly reminder that you need customer reviews to help grow your business. You can offer an incentive for people who participate and generate more good talk about your company! 

Can you think of anything we missed? Let us know in the comments!

Back to Basics #13: Why Am I Not Showing Up on Google?

woman-thinking-about-seo It’s a question a lot of small business owners have: Why am I not showing up on Google? You’ve made sure you’re listed on all the major business listings, you’ve optimized your posts and images, and you’re still not seeing your name pop up at the beginning of the results. What gives?

Unfortunately, Google is slow at crawling, indexing, and shifting listings around. And it can be really pokey for newer websites. To make matters worse, once you finally get the hang of things and begin ranking, you can easily be derailed by a change in the algorithm, which means you'll have to find a way to crawl back up to the top of the listings once again. It’s not easy, and it’s definitely not fun.

To illustrate our point, we’ve put together an article that should help explain how everything works. To help you understand our process, we’ll use a “garden” metaphor. Your business is like a garden—you have individual plants, or products, that you want to “grow”. But a garden doesn’t produce the best fruits and blooms overnight. It takes time. So let's take a look at our gardening strategy...

seed packets

Step 1: Plan and Prepare. After you’ve signed up with us, you’ll talk to one of our account specialists to make sure we get the correct information for your listing. Generally speaking, this is a smooth process. However, mistakes are sometimes made, and we encourage our customers look over their account information to ensure accuracy. If something’s off, let us know! We’ll get it changed as soon as possible. This sets the groundwork for your internet marketing campaign, so it’s important that we provide as detailed and accurate information as we can.

Step 2: Select Your Seeds. Once we have all customer-approved information, we can begin discussing keyword choices. Choose some of your own, and our experts will come up with a few as well. Think of your keywords as the seeds for your garden: once selected, we’ll come up with content that will help people find you using the keywords you've selected. For example, if you’re a roofing contractor, you might want to rank for “roofing”. However, this is a highly competitive keyword, and often it’s just too vague. To get more accurate results, most people will search for something more specific. Our experts will help you find more descriptive terms that are much more likely to get you ranking on the first page.

planting-seeds

Step 3: Plant Your Seeds. Now that you have your keywords selected, our experts will write custom content that helps Google and other search engines associate your chosen terms with your business name. We’ll add detailed content descriptions to localize and promote your business. Your site will be submitted across a wide range of directories, so that no matter how or where people search, they can find your business. It’s like nurturing any plant seed—with regular attention and the proper nutrients, it will grow into a healthy plant. The more time spent on optimizing listings and creating custom content for your listings, the better the results will be! Which brings us to…

Step 4: Give it Time. This brings us back to the problem at the beginning of the article. You’ve done everything you can—now why aren’t you ranking? Well, that’s because you need to give your listing time to “grow”. There are a lot of factors that go into ranking, such as how many competitors you have, how well they’re ranking, and the type of service you provide. If you’re a seasonal supplier, you might have more obstacles to overcome during certain times of the year. However, this doesn’t mean that your listing won’t take root—it will probably just take a little longer to begin ranking due to the decreased demand for services. Consistency and accuracy of listings also plays a major role, as do regular updates. Furthermore, it is impossible to begin ranking overnight. Many people are all too anxious to see their business showing up on Google—and rightfully so!—but unfortunately, it takes time no matter how successful your business already is. You can purchase Google ads to increase likelihood of click-throughs and you can definitely place ads on Facebook or other social media sites, but if you want to rank organically (that is, pop up when someone searches for your products or services), you have to give your garden time to grow.

Grandmother with her granddaughter working in the garden

Step 5: Water with Care. At Internet Local Listings, we keep up-to-date with the latest listings and search engine algorithm changes. What does this mean for your company? It means that when we find a new place to submit your listing, we’ll do it for you. When Google makes changes, we make sure we comply. To bring us back to the garden analogy, it’s part of caring for the plants—weed out bad practices and nurture the ones that are known to work. But keep in mind that with every new or changed listing, it can take Google a few days to approve the changes. There’s no need to worry if you notice your listings have changed—everything should be back to normal soon!

Step 6: Keep Up the Maintenance. As long as you’re in business and want to remain on Google’s front page, you’ll have to keep maintaining your listings. As part of our agreement, Internet Local Listings will take care of this for you. If you need to make any changes to your listings, be sure to let us know and we’ll get your information updated ASAP. If you want to change keywords, we’ll be happy to help you with that, too. It’s our job to make sure that you’re 100% satisfied with your listings across the internet, so we encourage you to reach out and contact us with any questions or concerns.

garden-infographic

Want more information on our internet marketing services? Just visit us at InternetLocalListingsInc.com and we'll be happy to assist you in any way we can!

Back to Basics #12: An Introduction to SEO Hosting

woman-drawing-a-website-edit In other Back to Basics posts, we’ve talked about the importance of SEO, how to implement simple SEO techniques on your site, and how to best work with an internet marketing company to ensure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Something we haven’t gone into much depth about, however, is SEO hosting. SEO hosting is basically a term meaning your internet marketing company will optimize a website that they’ve built especially for your business. It doesn’t require a whole lot of participation from the clients’ end—you can be as involved or as uninvolved as you choose to be, really—but it does require patience and a basic understanding of what role a website plays in the SEO process. So in this post, we’re going to go over the basics of SEO hosting and hopefully help you understand how this process can help get your site ranking higher in the most popular search engines.

SEO Hosting: What is it?

As mentioned above, SEO hosting applies to websites that are built using current search engine optimization techniques. This includes anything from blogging using strategic keywords to optimizing images and videos through detailed “alt” descriptions, captions, and names. If you sign up with a web design company and request that they also manage your site, you should be aware of their content marketing practices before you agree to any long-term relationship. Do you know if they’re optimizing your site for you? Or are they just using stock text and photos without customizing the content? As a small business owner, it’s important that you get involved with your internet marketing/web design company, because unfortunately, there are far too many stories of small business owners completely trusting their marketing team without understanding the basic marketing process, only to end up being cheated out of thousands of dollars because they didn’t know how to tell if something was going wrong. By learning a bit more about SEO hosting and how it works, you can avoid being stuck in this situation yourself.

SEO Hosting: Do you need it?

Even after learning the basics of internet marketing and getting a grasp on how SEO hosting works, you may be asking yourself if you even need these services. And, to be fair, it can be a very big project to undertake, and perhaps it seems as if it's more trouble than it’s worth.

Well, it is a big project to undertake. But you can't afford not to do it.

Because the truth is, if you want your website to be found by potential customers or clients, you’re going to have to learn how to play the marketing game. And if you don’t have the time, desire, or motivation to do so, there is always help available—so really, there’s no excuse to not be involved with SEO hosting in some capacity, even if you aren’t managing it all yourself. After all, you want improve your chances of showing up on the first page of Google and other popular search engines. You need to deliver a great web experience to each of your site’s visitors. You must engage on social media and create a positive atmosphere where customers and clients feel like they can really get to know your brand. And all of these things are extremely important to your customers, so it’s well worth the time and cash investment.

So long answer made short? Yes, you need SEO hosting, and it helps to understand the basics of the process at the very least. No excuses!

SEO Hosting: Who should I look for?

There are a lot of companies that offer SEO hosting. You can find web designers who will optimize your site from the get-go as well as internet marketing companies that can take over the process with an existing site, even if you’ve had your domain for a long time. And don't worry if you have had a site for many years and haven't begun learning about SEO yet--it’s never a bad time to create a marketing strategy, and the sooner you do so, the better off you’ll be.

It’s also important to know that SEO practices change all the time. Google (and other search engines, such as Bing and Yahoo!) adjust their ranking algorithms frequently. What that means is what works for SEO hosting today might not work in a month. Those who specialize in search engine optimization are quite familiar with this aspect of digital marketing and will diligently read about upcoming changes on a regular basis, as well as implement new strategies when the time comes. Someone who doesn’t keep up with new developments in the internet marketing world isn’t someone you want to work with—in fact, they could jeopardize your hard-earned rankings. Google often penalizes sites that abuse older SEO practices, so make sure you and your web design team/internet marketing company are working together to develop accepted, effective practices and you’ll be good to go. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrtweARWFFw?list=UUoyXcgTDuuRojwPEcfNKELw]

SEO Hosting: Where can you find it?

A great place to start looking for SEO hosting is with trusted internet marketing companies. Of course we’re going to showcase our talents here, but there are a number of places you can go to find experienced marketing experts to work with your company. The most important part of this process is determining what your goals are. For example, do you need to start a new website? If so, then you’ll have to consider whether you want to hire an SEO hosting company or a marketing company and website design company separately. Do you want someone to take over the marketing of your existing website? You can still choose an SEO hosting company to make sure your site’s design and implementation is in accordance with best SEO practices; or, you may simply choose an online marketing company to help you with content production, local listings claims, and social media management. You can get involved with the process or monitor it as you see fit. Just make sure that you know who you’re working with and what your goals are before you begin and you’ll get the best results.

With over 50 years of combined experience in the internet marketing industry, Internet Local Listings is a trusted source for SEO hosting across the US and Canada. Some of our specialties include: ensuring local listings are consistent and clearly listed across the internet; writing custom, optimized content to help your listings rank better; and designing and optimizing websites for all of our clients (although we offer premium packages for those who want more control over design and content).

So if you’re ready to take the plunge, click here to learn more about our SEO hosting services with our new sister site, MyBusinessSites.com, or visit our contact us page and send us a callback request. We’ll be happy to discuss your needs at your convenience.

Back to Basics #11: 5 Small Business Marketing Ideas Anyone Can Do

small business marketing ideas Small business marketing is a tricky thing to get the hang of: Small business owners often struggle knowing when or how often to post updates on social media; what to post about or how to gather content ideas; or even when to start blogging or how to connect with potential readers. It can be overwhelming, to be sure, especially when you are strapped for time and have a limited budget. So in this article, we’re going to talk a bit about a few small business marketing ideas that anyone can do easily and cheaply—whether you’re completely new to online advertising or you’ve been trying your hand at it for a while and just aren’t seeing the results that you want.

  1. Develop a PR Strategy. As this article from Entrepreneur suggests, it’s important for all companies, particularly small businesses, to make sure that they have a PR strategy in place. Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to have a large budget or spend a ton of time on it—in fact, small businesses can implement great PR campaigns into their social media strategies. Take the Kleenex example cited in the article: In 2011, Kleenex searched Facebook to find fifty people who posted about being sick. After getting into contact with friends and family members, they sent care packages to the ailing cold-sufferers. The recipients were so pleased that they posted happy pictures of their care packages. Great PR and usage of social media in one shot—and a very cheap maneuver.
  2. Start a podcast. Have you ever subscribed to a podcast? They’re great to listen to on the commute to work or in the morning while getting ready to head out for the day. And they’re also easy to make! As Inc.com suggests, you might want to try interviewing other business owners for their point of view on marketing or advertising. Or maybe you’d like to put together a podcast series of how-to’s—for example, plumbers or electrical contractors do very well with these types of podcasts. You can teach people how to do things they want to learn more about, while still drawing attention to your company. It’s a win-win situation!
  3. Forget advertising like the big brand names. While it’s perfectly fine to draw inspiration from popular advertising campaigns, you have to remember who the big companies are marketing to. They can reach far more people than you are able to, and they have the budget to pull it off. Don’t waste your time trying to dissect everything a large company does---instead, focus on how you can connect with your local customers in the best way possible. You could try hosting a photo captioning contest on Facebook where the winner gets a coupon. You could try running a “special offer” for a day if one of your tweets gets 50 retweets. Maybe sending out a postcard to your loyal customers is a good idea. Think about these types of marketing techniques and choose one that works for you.
  4. Networking with other small business owners. Nowadays, you can easily network online through sites such as LinkedIn. But nothing will ever replace the face-to-face value of networking in person. To meet other people in your industry, attend local seminars. Offer to speak at colleges or other events. If there are conventions in your area, look into speaking on a panel—or if not speaking, attend and ask questions. You could even try going to a book club or submit a press release to your local newspaper. By connecting with other small business owners, you’ll be able to better navigate the local scene and make yourself a go-to brand name in the town.
  5. Claim your online listings. Believe it or not, your business could already be listed on places like Google and Bing. The problem is that you haven’t claimed the listings yet. By claiming your own listings, you let your customers know that you exist, and you provide consistent information so that no matter which search engine they use to find you, your information will always be correct. Furthermore, claiming listings helps with online rankings, and once you are listed consistently across the internet, you’ll see more traffic being driven to your site!

Want more information on small business marketing ideas? Subscribe to our posts via email, or you can also like us on Facebook, follow Follow @InternetListing on Twitter and Pinterest, and circle us on Google Plus! Let us know how Internet Local Listings can best assist you with your small business marketing needs!

Watch a video about this topic and share with your followers!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsWi7OXDW1Y]

Back to Basics #9: Local Listings for Small Businesses with no Physical Address

google-places-for-small-business

google-places-for-small-business In Back to Basics #6, we covered the importance of small businesses being listed across local directories such as Yellow Pages, eLocal, Brownbook, Manta, White Spark, and others. This process is easiest to do for those businesses that have a brick-and-mortar store: A boutique, hair salon, supply store, or car repair shop, for example. But what if you’re a contractor working from your home or you provide virtual shopping services? You don’t want to list your home address because you live there and want to keep that information private—so will you still be able to list your business effectively so that your customers can find you?

Listing your business without an address: Not as difficult as you think.

The great news is that it’s perfectly acceptable to Google to list your small business without an address. Now, this isn’t to say everyone should do this—first, think of your industry. If you have a store, you will want to make sure that your customers can find you; in this case, it's a pretty straight-forward decision--leave your address visible. If you are a mobile notary or car washing service and you have a small office but you also serve your clients away from the office, you may choose to indicate that as well. If you work from your own home, it’s understandable why you would want to keep that information private. So as you can see, it all depends on what you deem to be the best for your particular set of services.

Once you’ve made your decision to keep your small business’s address hidden from Google, the next step is filling out your listing. In the next part of this post, we’ll discuss filling out your Google Places information.

Filling out your Google Places Page information

local-listings-for-businesses-with-no-physical-address

As you can see, when you set up your Google Places page, you have the option to check a little box that says you deliver services to an address. This would be the choice that you would want to make if you wanted to hide your address. If you also serve people from an office, you can select the “I also serve customers at my business address” box to show that you do both.

You can find all of this information on your Google Places page when you edit your address. It can easily be changed whenever you choose—so if you make a mistake or want to come back later and change things, it’s simple to do.

Hiding your address on other local directories

As we discussed, Google isn’t the only place you’re going to want to list your business. Other places such as SuperPages, HotFrog, Localeze, and eLocal will also have options to hide your address. When you claim your business listing, you can opt to leave off your address to ensure you keep your private information private. You may have to do some more searching on these sites—it’s not always apparent right away where these options are.

Now, in the past, there has been some debate as to whether Google will penalize any business that hides their business. Some articles claim businesses that provide services such as plumbing MUST hide addresses or risk disappearing from search results; others claim that every home-based business must keep their address visible or risk disappearing from search results. But these are now old articles, and this system has been in place long enough that it doesn’t seem to be much of an issue anymore.

The important point to remember here is that some business owners need to hide their information for safety or privacy reasons. This should not interfere with your rankings, and it is certainly not intended to be a way to punish small business owners who want to keep their information private. It’s there to protect you—so if you want to keep that information hidden, do not be concerned about it affecting rankings.

Getting assistance with local listings for small businesses

Whether you do or don’t want to hide your business’s address, Internet Local Listings can help you ensure you’re making the most of your listings. We ensure all data is optimized for your industry and listed correctly across all the most popular directories. If you have concerns about privacy, we’d be happy to work with you. After all, everyone should be able to rank on the first page if they work hard enough for it—whether or not they have a physical address to list. Give us a call at (888) 770-3950 or fill out our contact form today to get more information on our services. Let us know what we can do for you!

Back to Basics #8: Social Media Trends: Do Small Businesses Need to Keep Up?

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social-media-trends-for-small-businesses Small business owners: Are you tired of hearing about the importance of social media? Have you started up a Facebook page or Twitter account and decided that it’s just too much effort for too little payoff? Well, you’re not alone. Many small business owners feel that social media trends don’t offer a lot for their companies—what’s popular today might be gone in a couple of months, after all. And who wants to spend a lot of time building up a following just to find out that there’s another new social media network out there?

Unfortunately, you still need to be harnessing the power of social media. Even if you don’t keep up to date with social media trends, you will find that there are certain staples that are here to stay—at least for a few years. And that’s plenty of time for you to invest in your followers and customers to make sure they connect with your company.

The number of small businesses jumping on board with social media trends is only growing.

Did you know that…

  • 88% of small businesses use LinkedIn.
  • 84% of small businesses use Facebook.
  • 74% of small businesses use Twitter.
  • 58% of small businesses use Google+.

(statistics taken from HeidiCohen.com)

And the numbers are only growing. Many small business owners who haven’t begun social media marketing yet say that they plan on implementing a strategy within the next year. Those who already have often say that they want to step up marketing efforts and track results more carefully. If you’re in the former camp, check out our articles to learn more about what social media is, and how to develop effective social media marketing strategies on a small business budget.

Text and photos aren’t enough anymore—you need to try out videos.

Another one of the top social media trends for small businesses is the growing usage of YouTube. Companies are happily producing their own visual content for their customers. According to a small business survey conducted by Verticalresponse.com, 35% of the small businesses they surveyed said that they used YouTube as a part of their regular marketing efforts. With the number of free video creation programs available on the internet now, it’s become much easier for even the most non-artistic person to make informative, engaging, and SEO-friendly videos. You can actually have a lot of fun creating videos for your customers—think of them like visual blog articles. You can talk about a variety of subjects relating to your industry. For blogging ideas, check out our article here and apply some ideas to your video content. The videos don’t have to be stiff and “corporate” in appearance--you can make them as unique as your company.

But what about the competition? How do you keep up?

Yes, it’s true that your competition will likely be using social media just as you are. And it’s also true that as people join social media sites, you'll have more competitors. You'll be competing not only for business, but for your content to even be seen in the first place! Think about it: If the average Facebook user has, say, 300 friends, how many posts do you think they’ll see in a day? A lot. Now think of all the companies they’ve “liked”. There’s going to be a lot of competition to be seen on their news feed.

Unfortunately, as the user base for social media sites grows, the competition levels get continually tougher. And usually the only way around this is to start paying. You can pay for ads to be placed on a target demographic’s page, or you can “boost” your posts to make sure they stay on top of a news feed. You’re certainly not forced to do this by any means—but remember this as time goes on.

Whether you’re new to social media or you’ve been working on it for years, there’s no way around it: small businesses must stay on top of social media trends if they want to see organic growth online. This isn’t to say you must spend 24 hours a day on social media; however, with regular updates and time investment, you’ll see your engagement growing and your efforts paying off.

And if social media trends are just too much for you to handle right now...

If you need help managing your social media accounts, visit Internet Local Listings and take a look at our internet marketing packages. We’ll be happy to help you get whatever you need to be seen online--whether it's social media, a new website, or local business listings!

Back to Basics #7: Website Rank

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Note: If you’re an internet marketing expert, this post will probably not be of much help to you. But you can feel free to check out our other marketing tips and tricks here, or learn about our internet marketing services here.

If you're a beginner, we welcome you to read our Back to Basics series to learn more about internet advertising and small business marketing.

And be sure to follow our blog for posts delivered to your inbox!

Website Rank: Which Factors Are Most Important?

At Internet Local Listings, we strive to help small businesses get more visibility on the internet. Since 2011, we’ve helped thousands of businesses learn more about website rank and the effort and strategy that goes into the process of getting your site to show up on the front page of search engines. As you probably already know, getting a website to rank on Google can be tough—there’s often a lot of competition, and if you don’t know much about running a website, it can be overwhelming to try to figure out the formula to rank—only to find out that there is no magic formula. It takes time and consistent effort.

So if you were to choose a few factors to focus on, which ones should you choose? Which factors are most important for your website rank?

Website Rank Factors

1. Getting your local listings in order. There are lots of places to list your business across the internet. As mentioned in a previous article, you can be listed on places like The Yellow Pages, WhiteSpark, Brownbook, eLocal and more. Between desktop and mobile, local listings found in searches are among the top foundational ranking factors—and seem to make the biggest difference in terms of competition. So if you have a storefront, make sure that you list your business—complete with physical address—across as many free listings sites as you can.

 Some tips to keep in mind for local listings: 

  • Ensure you’re listed in the proper categories.
  • Optimize your listings with keywords relating to the services your business offers.
  • Make sure your physical address matches the city you want to rank in. You’d be surprised at the number of people who forget this.
  • Verify your business listing wherever possible. There may already be existing listings that you can claim once you verify yourself as the business owner.

2. Updating your site frequently. We’ve also mentioned this in previous articles, but it’s so important to remember that it needs to be mentioned again. Many small business owners think that blogging is pointless and don’t bother with it. This is one of the things that hurts their website rank the most. Google looks for relevant search results. So think about it: if a site never updates, why would Google consider that relevant? It’s gathering dust, while other sites work hard to provide fresh data and content. Of course it’s going to rank those higher than it would a site that hasn’t been updated since 2007.

Some tips to keep in mind:

  • You don’t need to blog every day to provide fresh content for Google. However, you should aim for at least once a week. A great way to make sure you do this is to sit down and write about 100-150 words a night. By the end of the week, you’ll have 500-750 words to put into a blog post. When you break it down like this, it becomes a much more feasible task.
  • Talk about topics relevant to your business. Many business owners give personal status updates—their new puppy, their Easter dinner, etc. And while it’s important to give your customers that personal connection, it’s not going to help your business rank. If you’re a pet groomer, talk about the Westminster Dog Show. Ask people to send in pictures of their pets after visiting your store. There are plenty of ways to get creative and still help your website rank higher!
  • Posts with images tend to do better. Make sure you include a nice featured image at the top of your post and name it something descriptive—Google prefers posts like this.

3. On-page SEO is still relevant. There’s been a lot of debate on whether or not on-page SEO will matter in the future. Skeptics say Google will always try to shut down efforts to game its algorithms; fatalists claim SEO is dead and there’s nothing that can be done about it. As long as search engines try to return relevant results, SEO will not die. The rules will change, and the game will get tougher, but there’s always going to be ways that improve your chances of being placed higher in search results. Everyone wants their website rank to improve—that is something that will stick around for years to come.

You can do on-page SEO by updating content, ensuring the “about us” and other static pages (i.e., “products and services”, image galleries, etc.) are optimized, and your site is easy to use and easy to navigate. Make sure your site loads quickly and that your customers can always find a way to contact you, whether by email, phone, or a contact form.

Some tips to consider:

  • Define your keywords before you even begin building your website. Know what your services are and how you’re going to advertise them. Consistency is key to getting your website rank higher.
  • Develop a plan B in case your first attempt doesn’t turn out well. Many times, you simply won’t see results for a specific keyword. SEO isn’t magic. There’s no way to guarantee results. Instead, switch to another option and try again.
  • Remember to include links on your site—to your other pages, to helpful sources, to your sponsors and suppliers. This is an important part of on-site SEO because Google wants to see sites that contribute valuable information. The whole point of the internet is to find and follow links!

No matter where you are in your website marketing process, the most important thing to remember is this:

You must have patience.

If an SEO company tells you that you’ll be ranked overnight if you use their services, they’re lying. If a friend tells you they got their site to rank in a week, they’re using illegitimate tactics. Google rewards sites that use honest, consistent, and quality SEO practices. Your site should be among them. You owe yourself that.

Furthermore, Google changes its algorithm often. Even if you rank highly right now, you need to stay caught up with the algorithm changes and make adjustments when needed to keep your website rank secured.

As always, we hope this has been helpful to you. Remember that Internet Local Listings offers a wide range of internet marketing services, from free websites with the purchase of an SEO package, to directory mega-boosts and social media management services. Feel free to browse our site or contact us here for more information. We look forward to helping you make your site the very best it can be!