Author Archives: Adam

Five Marketing Tips for Small Businesses

It’s often the case that owners of small businesses are experts in some practical or physical discipline – architectural design, civil engineering, materials recycling, for instance. They do not have a fancy first class degree in marketing from the department of business at a red-brick university, nor can they afford to hire someone who has.

But then they do not necessarily need one.

Marketing is not rocket science. You can come up with as many formulas and equations as you like and still end up with the same results. The most important thing is to focus on getting the basics right – these are the foundations upon which your business is built, and they are the springboard to its success.

For many business owners, the ability to market a brand or product is something innate. Just look at Alan “You’re Fired!” Sugar or Richard Branson – neither had a formal education, yet both have made a fortune simply by responding to customer demand and encouraging the public to invest in their product or brand.

You see it’s logic – but logic is easy to lose sight of when you’re buried to the neck in paperwork or working all hours to turn around a project whilst juggling the nuts and bolts that hold your business together.

So without further ado, here are five very simple things to remember when marketing your product or service…

1 – Know Your Customer

What do your customers actually want? You might think you know, but have you sat down and asked them? Remember that market research is about more than just counting the numbers – it’s about gaining quality feedback. Understanding the wants, needs, whims and fancies of your customers allows you to tailor your product (or brand) accordingly. Supply their demand and you’re in business.

And if, for whatever reason, your product does not meet their need or tickle their fancy, you ought to be willing and able to change it. You can work your marketing magic, you can do all you can to convince them that what you’re offering fulfils that need, but the plain and simple truth is that, actually, there is no one on Earth who can sell ice to an Eskimo.

2 – Be Different

Have you given your customers a reason to choose you over your competitors? No? Then it’s time for a rethink. One of the worst marketing mistakes you can make is to do what everybody else is doing – the same product, the same service, the same ideas, the same outcome.

Even if you didn’t attend business school, you probably have heard of a USP (Unique Selling Point). So what is yours? What is it that sets you and your products apart?  Once you have identified this; make sure that you include it in all platforms from your website, your Leterheading and invoices; to any advertising your may be doing.   You really must take every opportunity to reinforce it – otherwise your customers might just ignore you.

It’s important to show prospective buyers how the thing you’re offering – be it a boat or a banana – will make a difference to them. You also need to keep in mind the specific preferences of your target market – preferences you should already be aware of having conducted thorough market research (see Step 1). They told you they wanted ethically-sourced bananas, so now you’re selling ethically-sourced bananas – don’t forget to remind them!

3 – Be Clear and Concise

What exactly is it that you’re trying to convey to your customers? What are you telling them about your business and the products or services you provide? If you don’t know then neither do they.

When advertising a product, make sure your message is consistent across all platforms, whether it’s online, in the press, on the radio or via social media. Use the same colour schemes, the same imagery and the same slogans – needless to say, this helps consumers to more quickly identify your brand.

Encourage them to buy what you’re selling by including several different ‘calls to action’ – and try to think of something more original than “Get Yours Today!” or “Buy Now!”.

Most importantly, be careful not to over-elaborate your message; keep it clear, concise and easy to digest.

4 – Embrace Change

Tastes change, technologies change and time moves relentlessly on. Accepting that fact is important if you want to stay in touch with the market.

But to be really successful, you need to do more than just stay in touch. You need to stay ahead. Adapting quickly to new technologies is just the start; identifying shifting patterns and emerging trends is where new customers are won and lost.

Fortunately there is a very powerful tool for detecting such patterns and trends – it’s called social media. Using the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram you can get an instant feel for the market. (Indeed you can see in acute detail what your target demographic is doing, thinking and saying). With each of these platforms you can also create your own trends – trends that can potentially stimulate demand for your products.

In a recent post I also talked about keeping up to date with the search terms (or ‘keywords’) people are using to look for products or services online. You can do this using Google Analytics. Be sure to update your website to reflect any changes you see in the way people are searching.

5 – Follow up on your Leads

So you’ve invested a lot of time and money marketing your products, and you’re starting to generate some good leads. The next and possibly most important step is to follow them up. That may sound obvious – you’re trying to turn a profit, after all – but it’s not always easy.

First you need to keep track of them. Identifying exactly where the leads are coming from will help you determine where to invest marketing resources in the future. Then you need to ensure they do not go cold – the longer you wait to act, the more likely you are to lose the sale. When you do follow up on them it’s a good idea to record any correspondence – in certain scenarios this can help you build a better relationship with your clients.

10 Common SEO Mistakes

In many ways, the world of SEO is a bit like the Tudor court. Google is the all-powerful and highly capricious King Henry VIII, the man who makes all the decisions and always gets what he wants. Yahoo! and Bing are his Chief Ministers, Wolsey and Cromwell – they’re not to be crossed either. And you?  Well, you’re the courtier, and to survive in this ruthless world you’ve got to appease the King and his ministers whilst competing with the rest of the court to win their favour. Play the sycophant and you might just bag a seat at the top table for the next big feast.

And so it is with SEO. Do the right things and you’ll be at the top of the search engine results pages; get it wrong and you’ll be heading for a swift exile – or worse, the executioner’s block (Google’s blacklist).

Historical analogies aside, it has to be stressed that playing to Google’s somewhat inflexible rules is the only way you are going to improve your website’s position in the search rankings. Remember, the more authority you hold with the world’s biggest search engine, the more powerful you, as a business, will become. If, however, you cross the line or employ ‘black hat’ practices like some of those listed below, you’ll quickly be stripped of that authority and your website traffic will inevitably suffer.

Outlined here are 10 things you must avoid at all costs if you’re to play the game right.

1. Copying Content.

One of the worst things you can do to your website is fill it with content that’s been lifted straight from somebody else’s. Yes, crafting unique copy is going to take time and money, but stealing it from elsewhere really isn’t the solution. It’s highly unethical, often illegal and completely counter-productive. Sooner or later, King Google will find out you’ve been cheating and will make sure your website is punished.

2. Keyword Stuffing.

Think you can outsmart Google? Think again. Over in Silicon Valley they have all the boffins in the world working all hours to ensure that content over-laden with keywords is ignored (and often penalised). Slip in too many search terms and they’ll know about it.   Write “security fences Kent” a million times on your website and you’ll be heading for the hangman’s noose (so to speak).

3. Broken Links

In a previous post I wrote about the importance of link building in improving a website’s ‘authority’ (and therefore its search ranking). Well, just as good links can boost your position, so too can bad ones undermine it. It’s imperative that you check for broken links on a regular basis. Google and other search engines will simply downgrade any website that has too many.

4. Poorly chosen keywords

This one might seem a bit obvious, but you’d be surprised how many companies get it wrong. I’m not talking about using the keywords “pine tables” when what you actually sell is fluffy kittens – what I mean is the failure to recognise the search terms your customers are using.

Let’s say you’re a window fitter in North London. Describing yourself as a “Window Technician and Installation Specialist in Tottenham” might be technically correct, but it’s certainly not what your customers are searching for. Think about how you would go about finding someone to install your own windows, and if necessary use Google’s Keyword Tool to look up the commonly used search terms.

There is a flip side, of course. If you’re a small, start-up business trying to attract a certain type of client or customer (one that is more likely to lead to a sale), using more specific keywords can actually work to your advantage. More on this in an upcoming post.

5. Ignoring the Data.

You might be tempted to rest on your laurels having successfully optimised your website with a plethora of well-researched keywords. But that would be a big mistake, because the way in which people search for things online is constantly changing. The most important thing is to keep track of keywords that are performing and those that aren’t. You can do this with Google Analytics, a tool that highlights the search terms that are bringing traffic to your website. With this information you can alter or change your website’s content accordingly.

It’s also a good idea to track which of those keywords are bringing in not just traffic but actual paying customers. It’s all well and good using phrases that direct millions of people to your website, but if they’re not buying anything then what’s the point?

6. Bad Inbound Links

Henry VIII was a righteous old fellow, you know (despite the beheadings, etc.). He didn’t like people associating themselves with the impious, the depraved or the immoral (himself excepted, of course). In this respect, as in many others, he was a bit like Google. They don’t like you associating with untrustworthy, disreputable types either. So while having inbound links is generally a very good thing, having them on websites with no authority or those with a bad reputation isn’t – they’ll only drag you down with them.

7. Forgetting to Optimise your Website for Local Search

Small businesses operating within a certain geographic area ought to pay particular attention to their ranking in local searches. If, for example, you run a body shop in Cleckheaton, then you need to be found by customers in West Yorkshire – not by those in West Virginia. By using geo-specific terms (such as “Body Shop Cleckheaton”) in your page titles, meta tags and content, not only will you attract the right people, you also won’t have to compete for position with every other body shop in the world.

8. Repetitive Anchor Text.

In case you didn’t already know, anchor text is this: a word or phrase that, when clicked, will direct you to another web page, either on the same website or another. The search engines like it when this anchor text describes the page that it is linking to because it helps crawlers determine the theme of the page. It also helps them to rank it. That’s why in days gone by, webmasters would cram their anchor text with keywords.

But Google et al are no fools. They quickly wised-up to this black hat practice and put in place algorithms that would automatically treat anchor text with a degree of suspicion. These days you have to be more careful when crafting it – too much of the same and your website will be downgraded.

9. Using the same title tags for every page.

OK, so this one isn’t going to get you blacklisted, but using the exact same text for every page title and meta description is hardly going to help with your page ranking. Name each one after the product or service that it features rather than the name of your company. Not only does this help Google, Bing and Yahoo! rank your pages, it also means users have a reference when bookmarking them or sharing them via social media.

10. Expecting too much, too soon.

Perhaps the biggest mistake you can possibly make when implementing an SEO strategy is to have unrealistic expectations. Thinking that your ranking is going to improve overnight and then discovering it hasn’t will only lead to you commit some of the heinous SEO crimes listed above. Be patient and keep doing things to please King Google and you’ll soon be feasting with the peers of the realm.

SEO Tips for Small Businesses

The boiler has broken down. You need someone to repair it ASAP. What do you do? You call a plumber. But where do you get the number? You find it on the internet. But how? You type “plumber Milton Keynes” (providing you live there, of course) into Google or Yahoo! and see what comes up. You then spend a few minutes perusing the top five or ten results. If it’s a particularly cold day then you probably call the first number you can find from the first name in the list.

And so SEO has done its job – it’s brought you, the customer, to the business which it serves.

Put simply, SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is a strategy for improving a website’s position in search engine results pages when certain keywords are entered. It’s how the plumber won your business. They had probably invested a lot of time ensuring that their website appeared at or near the top of the results pages when the search term “plumber Milton Keynes” was entered. Depending on the resources available to them, they may have even hired an SEO ‘guru’ to do it for them. Larger business will often employ their own team of SEO specialists who spend their days trying achieve that elusive No.1 spot in the Google rankings (which, by the way, is never guaranteed).

Of course, for small businesses this isn’t really an option. The cash flow just doesn’t permit it. And yet a good SEO strategy remains vitally important: if your website isn’t featuring in those first few pages then you’re not going to receive a great deal of traffic, and you’re unlikely to gain many new customers. Worse, you’ll probably be losing out to a competitor who does have an effective SEO plan in place.

So, short of hiring one or two search engine specialists, what exactly can you do to compete? The answer is that nobody really knows, because it’s not entirely clear how the search engines determine which results to show and in what order. However there are a few known SEO techniques that can help, some of which don’t cost a penny.  Put them into practice and you should start to see some results – a higher position in the rankings, more visitors to your website and more custom for your business.

 

1. Build links

Any SEO expert will tell you that link building is one of the most important aspects of a successful SEO strategy. The more links you have going to and from your website, the more likely it is to achieve a higher ranking. This is because Google and other search engines determine your website to be more authoritative and more trustworthy if there are other sites linking to it (and if you are linking away to other quality sites).

Inbound Links

Links that direct browsers to your website are known as inbound links. Of course it’s quite difficult to get these on domains managed by people other than yourself. The best place to start is with the directories – you can add your company details to a number of general directories (such as Google or Yell), and you can also have your business listed on those that are specific to your trade or the industry you work in. This will often involve a listing fee, but the price you pay is far outweighed by the amount of revenue that can be generated from new customers (who are either immediately redirected to your website or drawn to it later on; thanks to an improved results page ranking).

TIP:  Only list your company with directories that are relevant to your business
or which cover a wide range of industries (First Directory, for example). Having
your engineering firm listed on a directory for florists is not likely to pay
dividends.

Another way of creating inbound links is through blogs (like this one) and social media channels. You can find out more about this in Tip Number 3.

Outbound Links

Links that direct browsers away from your website are known as outbound links. These also help to improve your standing with the search engines, though the overall effect on your position in the rankings depends on how important the sites you are linking to are deemed to be by the likes of Google and Yahoo! It’s also important to note that any broken links will actually have an adverse effect on your position (because they make your website less trustworthy). Make sure you go through your website and check that they are all working.

 

2. Regularly update your website with fresh content

In the world of SEO, content is king. Google, Bing, Yahoo! and all the other search engines love it. They adore it. They worship it. Indeed, they give due prominence to any website with a lot of it. But there’s a catch: the content needs to be fresh, original and engaging. If not, the relationship will soon turn sour, and before long you’ll find yourself slipping down those rankings.

Include Keywords

Keyword Stuffing Example

An example of keyword stuffing

One of the most important things is to ensure your content includes keywords that will be picked up upon by the search engines when a search term is entered by the browser. Remember that plumber? He or she probably had “Plumber in Milton Keynes” written several times on his or her website. They may have even included it in page titles, subheadings or metatags. But what they certainly will not have done is have used the phrase “Plumber in Milton Keynes” over and over again. This is more than just frowned upon by Google et al – it’s actually punished. Your website will be pushed way down the rankings.

Be Original

Another thing the search engines hate is copied content, so don’t be tempted to use somebody else’s work. Not only is this unethical and in some cases illegal, it’s also completely counter-productive. Spend some time writing new articles, blog posts or just general information about your products or services. And if you don’t have anything new to say then try recycling some old content. Re-word paragraphs, change the structure and add new photos – it all helps to freshen up your website. Do this on a regular basis and your position in the results pages should improve.

Don’t Force It

Always keep in mind who you are creating content for. It’s all well and good trying to appease the mighty search engines with paragraph upon paragraph of keyword-driven copy, but never lose sight of the people who really matter: your customers. Content that appears forced isn’t likely to impress or engage them, which defeats the object of bringing them to your website in the first place. Think carefully about what you upload and the way in which it is presented and you’ll soon be converting browsers into buyers.

Continue reading “SEO Tips for Small Businesses – Part 2”

 

SEO Tips for Small Businesses – Part 2

In the first part of “SEO Tips for Small Businesses” we covered the need for Search Engine Optimization and our first two tips:

  • Build links
  • Regularly update your website with fresh content

‎Continue reading three more important pieces of advice…

3. Recognise the Importance of Social Media

Social Media

Recent years have seen social media channels like Facebook and Twitter revolutionise the way in which organisations interact with their customers. They can now instantly publish information about new products or services, generate interest in their brand through regular posting and get a feel for the market by simply monitoring what’s going on in the social media community.

If used in the right way, a social media account can also improve your ‘search-ability’. Indeed, making a post on Facebook or ‘tweeting’ on Twitter has become a key element in many businesses’ SEO strategy. This is because search engines like content that is shared, ‘retweeted’, re-blogged or otherwise. So if, for example, a ‘tweet’ containing a link to your website is ‘retweeted’ by 50 people, the robots at Google, Bing and Yahoo will deem your website to be more authoritative and therefore more worthy of a higher position in the results pages. The influence (i.e. number of followers) of those sharing your content also plays a significant role in determining your website’s authority.

Of course the best thing about social media is that it’s free. You can create an account and begin posting immediately. There are a number paid services which can help you boost your following, but these are not essential.

Blogging and Bloggers

A blog can help your search engine ranking in two ways. Firstly, if incorporated within your website it gives you a handy platform for creating fresh new content, the benefits of which are outlined in Tip Number 2. Secondly, if created as an external microsite it can be used to link directly back to your products and services in a way that is both discrete and effective.

Of course, the blog itself needs to have a decent following (or ‘authority’) for this to have any significant SEO benefits, which is why many companies will pay for a more established blogger to do the link-building for them. That person will usually get paid for every click a link receives.

For small businesses this may not be a viable option. An alternative would be to send out one or two products as giveaways and allow bloggers to review them.

 

4. Sign up to Google Analytics

Google AnalyticsOne of the keys to successful SEO is to know which techniques are working and which are not. This allows you to adjust your strategy in order to get the best results. Tip Number 4, therefore, is to register with Google Analytics – an online application that gives you a clear indication of how your website is performing. It shows you how users are interacting with your website, where they are landing, where they are leaving, and where they are coming from in the first place. Perhaps most importantly it shows which keywords are bringing users to your site.

This is all valuable information that helps you to better understand consumer behaviour. It also enables you to fine tune your SEO strategy. For example: if your website is receiving a lot of visitors from one of the online directories you registered with, then you’ll know to register again next year. If you see that a particular page is causing a lot of visitors to leave your website, then you know you’ll have to review its content. If you notice that most visitors are being drawn towards one particular product or service that you offer, then you know it’s worth your while promoting it.

Remember that the market is very much a moveable feast and the behaviour of consumers is constantly changing. That’s why the performance of your website must be constantly monitored rather than periodically checked.

 

5. Follow the guidelines provided by Google – and be patient

If there’s one thing you’ll have gathered from this blog post so far it’s that the search engines are the ones who call the shots. It’s their algorithms that determine your position in the results pages, so ultimately you have to do what they say whether you like it or not!

The best course of action (in lieu of bringing them down from the inside) is to follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines – these provide detailed advice on the kind of SEO practices that will improve your rankings and the kind that will lead to a penalty and subsequent exile from the upper echelons of the results pages.

Search engines (and particularly Google) are notorious for changing their algorithms, so it’s advisable to keep checking the guidelines and reviewing your SEO strategy accordingly.

You also need to be patient. Don’t expect all your hard work to deliver immediate results. It can take weeks or even months for your website to start climbing those rankings. But if you stick at it and avoid bad practices, it will happen.