Developing and creating online marketing strategies can be challenging for small businesses. Small business owners often lack the large resources medium and large business organizations have at their disposal. However, this does not mean small businesses should simply ignore marketing their business online. One of the biggest pitfalls small business owners fall into is investing into website development, launching their website and then doing nothing else with it.
Simply having a web presence is not enough in today’s markets. Even though it might seem overwhelming to devote time and resources to content marketing strategies, if you break it down into smaller steps and tackle these one at a time, you will be on your way to improving your online presence and tapping into your website as a valuable marketing tool.
Step 1: Identify Your Brand
A brand is not necessarily your company name, logo, or the products and/or services you sell. Branding is distinguishing your small business from all other competitors in your market segment. Correctly branding your business starts by discovering what it is you stand for and being able to relate it to your actual products and/or services.
Sound confusing? Look at it from a customer’s perspective. Ask yourself what comes to mind when you think about Sony. Do high quality and reliable consumer electronics come to mind? Precisely, and this is branding. Many small businesses were started simply because the owners saw a problem they could improve upon and took advantage of the opportunity. Use this as your platform to develop your brand and use it as something to connect to your customers to build relationships and a strong customer base.
Step 2: Build Your Brand
Building your brand starts with thinking about why you went into business in the first place. This is often what makes your business unique and sets you apart from your competitors. Use this as your brand story on your website for people to read. Next, listen to your customers. Your customers are a wealth of information you can gain valuable insight from and why they prefer your business over others, as well as what it is they do not like about your website or business. Use this information to your advantage and reflect these positive points as part of building your brand and an opportunity to address and rectify concerns.
Do not overlook researching your competition. See what their websites look like and the content they contain. You might notice certain things they are doing better and other things where they are falling short. Pay attention to how they describe their company and its values. The purpose of checking out the competition is to find those areas where they are falling short and use these to your advantage to start setting yourself apart from them.
Now that you have conducted research in these areas, use the results to create your brand image messaging. Take your brand story, customer feedback, and competitor analysis and look at those points and aspects which clearly stand out. Are you doing things your competitors are not? What does your company do better? Figuring this out gives you the starting point and foundation for branding strategies.
For example, you noticed there were no other businesses offering customized widgets in your area and this was the main reason for starting your own business. From your customer research, you discovered the reason people like doing business with you is because you treat them with respect and seem genuinely concerned about their needs. Your competitor analysis showed other widget suppliers’ websites were focused entirely on their products and not customer service. From this, it is easy to develop your brand by pointing out your business offers customized widgets, you have a high customer service satisfaction approval, and as a result, you offer something your competitors do not: a truly personalized experience for each and every one of your customers.
Step 3: Update Your Website and Content
Once you have identified and built your brand, it is time to put it into words and place it on your website home page. Make sure what you are writing is able to be understood by your target audience. You would be surprised by how many small businesses assume people already have an understanding of their products and/or services, so they tend to use industry specific jargon. This is a serious error on their part.
It is better to not make assumptions when writing your website content. Ask yourself, if you were a potential customer, and had no prior knowledge about the business, product or service, would you be able to understand what it was your business does and what it sells from what is written on the website? If the answer is no, then you need to make the language more user friendly. On the other hand, if the answer is yes, then you are good to go and can move onto reviewing the rest of your website content.
Do not be afraid to ask others to review your site content. All business owners have some level of bias when it comes to their specific products or services. It is, after all, their business, but this can lead to using language or jargon not everyone easily understands. Ask vendors, friends, relatives, and customers to all give you feedback about your website and its content.
Step 4: Develop Your SEO and Marketing Strategies
SEO strategies involve optimizing the content on the website for the major search engines using current guidelines and practices. The easiest way to ensure this is to verify the content on your pages is original and unique. If you are not entirely sure how to optimize your content, it is better to seek outside help from a qualified SEO company. Search engines impose strict penalties against online businesses following unsavory SEO practices. After your website content has been optimized, you can start developing your marketing strategy.
There are numerous ways to market your website to attract potential customers. Search engine optimization is just one of these because it is used to rank your business in the search results. Initially your rankings may not be as high on the list as your desire, but with a bit of patience and persistence, it is only a matter of time before things start improving. In the meantime, consider other marketing techniques which can be used to drive people to your website, as well as further improve your search rankings with the major search engines.
- Original Site Content: Search engines base rankings on the quality, not quantity of content found on the website. The key to using a content strategy to market your business is to provide industry relevant information, but in such a manner as it is different from what is already on your competitors’ websites. You could also write about how your products or services solve problems for your customers or how your business presence makes your community better.
- Paid Search Results: Google places paid ads at the top of the search rankings. This is one way to achieve top rankings quickly. However, keep in mind there is a cost based on the keyword phrase used. Very competitive keyword terms have higher rates and fees than other ones. In addition, you need to actively monitor paid marketing search campaigns to ensure your business is generating traffic and obtaining the best return on the investment.
- Social Media: Currently, seven out of the top ten search ranking criteria are derived from social media. Do not overlook social media sites as a valuable marketing tool. A word of caution: one mistake small businesses make with social media is attempting to create a presence on every single social media site. This approach stretches your ability to update content too thin. Instead, focus on one or two major social media sites that cater to your particular audience. For example, Facebook is the perfect platform for business-to-consumer marketing, while LinkedIn is more appropriate for business-to-business marketing.
- Email: Email marketing is one of the cheapest forms of marketing for small businesses. The goal of email marketing is to further develop existing relationships by providing value-added email messages. People are more likely to open and read emails when the subject line has a tag like, “30% off all products.” The goal is to offer people something of value or information to make their lives easier.
- Localization Marketing: Most small businesses service a particular area and use their website to get people to visit their stores. Do not overlook the value of incorporating localization strategies into your online content, but be careful to not merely put a list of areas your service as search engines look negatively on this. Instead, include local terms in the written content, such as “Current move in specials for our apartments in Toronto are…” By placing local terms within the content, it is indexed by search engines and improves rankings for local search results.
- Promote Your Website: This may sound redundant, yet promoting your website pays off. Work with other local business and community forums where you are able to provide written content in local online and offline newsletters and other publications. Develop offline relationships with other businesses in your area in non-competing industries that can be developed into online strategies in the future.
Developing effective marketing strategies for your small business can seem overwhelming at first. There is a large amount of effort which goes into building a strong business presence both online and offline in the local community. Rather than attempting to do everything all at once, break your marketing efforts down into smaller, manageable steps. Remember, you do not have to use every single marketing strategy or channel and only need to concentrate on those most appropriate to reach your target audience.