If you're a small business owner, the idea of taking things in stages is familiar. Everything can't be done at once, so you need some sense of structure to achieve your goals. This is especially true when it comes to small business marketing. The best way to look at it is like a cross country road trip. To make a road trip successful, you have to prepare. But despite all the careful preparation in the world, things will surely change along the way.
Why don't we go on a little road trip? Let's take a look at the five checkpoints on the internet marketing road map and discuss key factors involved in successfully reaching each of them. Ready, set, go!
Checkpoint #1: Filling the Tank and Packing the Trunk
Before starting any road trip, you must fill up the gas tank and load the luggage. In the context of internet marketing, that means setting yourself up for success by getting the basics in order. You'll need the following tools to complete the trip:
- Domain. There is a lot of confusion on the internet about the difference between a domain and hosting. A domain is the actual website address your company will call home. Domains can be bought from any number of companies and should be well thought out. You want your domain to be simple, short, and relatable. Ideally, a person who knows your company name should be able to enter it into a search engine and have no trouble picking you out of a lineup of other domains.
- Hosting. If you think about the domain as the structure of a house, the hosting is what makes it a home. It's the key that opens the front door. It's the furniture and decorations that fill the empty spaces. Web hosting is the place on a server that stores your script, text, images, and other information. A domain cannot function without hosting, and you'll want to do some research when choosing a web hosting service. If you aren't familiar with websites, go with a company that offers excellent customer service and assistance.
- Website Design. If there is one piece of advice when it comes to starting a website for a small business, it would be: don't skimp! Your website is the first thing most customers will see. It's basically a storefront, and you'll fail miserably if time and effort are not put into designing an aesthetically pleasing, simple, easy-to-use site. It would be a worthwhile investment to hire a professional web designer on the front end, which can help you see major ROI on the back end.
- Social Media Profiles. Soon after creating a company or brand name, stake your claim on social media profiles. It may not be possible if your name is common, but find out what is available. The major social media players are Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube. At a bare minimum, work on developing these social channels. Do the homework and learn about each social network. While they all share similarities, each has unique capabilities and functions. At this point of the road trip, you only need to focus on setting the profiles up. You will begin using them at checkpoint #2.
Checkpoint #2: Hitting the Highway
Once you've topped off the gas tank and loaded the luggage, the rubber is ready to meet the road. If you've properly prepared, you can get up to speed in no time. Start by focusing on these four things:
- Content. If you're around internet marketing long enough, you'll hear the phrase 'content is king' a lot. That's because it has and always will be true. To effectively market yourself, developing rich content is critical. In recent months, it has become increasingly important with Google's introduction of their new Hummingbird algorithm. Hummingbird rewards websites for useful, original content that answers questions and provides unique insights. It is vitally important to develop a content strategy for marketing. Without a content strategy, the next three points will lose a considerable amount of their effectiveness.
- SEO. Search engine optimization works alongside content strategy to deliver a one-two punch. You can produce A+ quality content, but without an SEO strategy, no one will find it. SEO allows you to be found in a crowded sea. Think about how noisy the internet is. For any given product or service, there are thousands and thousands of search results. SEO, in combination with quality content creation, will help you rise to the top. There is a lot of debate on the internet about how much small businesses should spend on SEO services. It will take research to discover the best fit for your company.
- Social Media. Remember those social media profiles you created when packing for the trip? Here's where they come into play. You will use social media channels to distribute content and interact with customers. It can take weeks to figure out social media strategies and tools, but it all boils down to a couple of main points. (1) Social media is about interaction with customers. The idea is to have a conversation, not bark at them. (2) Be consistent and don't give up. It's better to never have a social media presence than to jump ship a few months in. Carve out a few minutes each day in the content strategy calendar and dedicate that time to social media. Use the various channels to distribute content and direct people to your website.
- Blogging. By creating a blog, you can tie all three of these things together. A blog allows for the creation of rich content, which can be optimized and distributed to your audience. According to Forbes.com contributor Jim Blasingame, small business owners can benefit from blogging because of these simple truths: (1) Small business owners are experts on what they sell, (2) Customers want access to what experts know, and (3) Customers expect a closer connection to experts. A blog delivers all of this, he says. With Google Hummingbird, the focus for bloggers has changed a bit. You will want to focus on quality over quantity. Search engines reward blogs for relevance and quality.
Checkpoint #3: Rolling Down the Windows
At this point, you've escaped city traffic and are cruising down the open road toward that final destination. You're nowhere near done, but far enough along the way to breathe just a little easier. Think about advertising like a beautiful person in a red convertible (work with me here.) The car alone is enough to draw some looks, but once the top comes down, everyone's paying attention. When it comes to internet marketing, your content is the red convertible, while the attractive individual in the driver's seat is the advertising. Here are four areas of advertising to explore:
- SEM. Search engine marketing refers to paid efforts to promote business through increased visibility on search engines result pages. Once you've created and published quality content, a proper SEM strategy can help attract visitors. The key to SEM is developing a diverse strategy that focuses on multiple keywords, channels, and concepts. Start with a wide focus and narrow it down from there.
- PPC. As with every marketing tool, you'll need a strategy for pay-per-click advertising. Think about these three points as the foundation for your PPC ad strategy: (1) Establish a budget. From the beginning, know what you can realistically spend. A small business PPC budget could range anywhere from $100 to $10,000. Find a number and stick by it. (2) Develop a list of target keywords. When working on this list, think about things like brand name and competitors. Also, make a list of negative keywords you don't want your ads displayed with. (3) Create quality ad copy. Your ad copy should be compelling and attractive. Remember the acronym AIDA (attention, interest, desire, action).
- Banner Ads. Compelling banner ads should also follow the AIDA acronym. Target particular websites you know customers visit, and develop clean, compelling ads. The key here is keeping things short and sweet. You only have a matter of seconds to convey value to the viewer, make the most of it.
- Video Marketing. According to Cisco, video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic by 2017. What does that say? Video is the future of advertising and content marketing. Establish yourself as an early adopter by attacking video marketing now. Don't wait until it's a necessary requirement. By starting today, you will be better positioned for future success.
Checkpoint #4: Checking the Oil
When on the road long enough, you'll eventually need to stop and check the oil. In the world of internet marketing, this means analyzing the effectiveness of your efforts. There are a number of web analytics tools and site reviewing tools available. Here are some of the best:
- Google Analytics. Google analytics will be your best friend because it's easy to use and free. Use it to see where your traffic is coming from, how long they are staying on site, where they're leaving from, and what they're doing while they visit. Also, use it to review how successful your advertising efforts are.
- Clicky Analytics. Clicky is a favorite among many small business owners. Its main advantage is not waiting a day for information. You can review traffic in real time, which is helpful if you receive a sudden spike in traffic.
- Google Webmaster Tools. Google Webmaster Tools is a vital tool that will help you understand and improve your site in Google Search. See search queries, sitemap data and how many external links there are pointing to your site, plus more. This is also where Google would communicate with you if there were ever any issue or penalties against your site.
- Site Reviewing Tools. Moz, WooRank and Raven Tools are online site reviewing tools that help you see how your site looks to search engines. These tools crawl your site and generate reports revealing errors and fixes.
- Others. There are hundreds of other free and paid analytics tools on the web. The main takeaway is that you should review internet marketing efforts on a regular basis. These tools reveal what's working and what's not.
Checkpoint #5: Sending Postcards
You're really cruising now. You've seen a lot and done a lot, so why not share some successes with your customers? Now is the time to directly target and engage consumers through email marketing and opt-in campaigns.
- Email Marketing. There are too many email marketing strategies to name, but the important thing is to choose one and pursue it. The ultimate benefit of email marketing, as opposed to sending flyers through snail mail, is seeing who is opening that mail and who's throwing it out. One major reason to use email marketing: it's free! If you get really serious about it, you can find good services, softwares, and tools to improve your efforts.
- Opt-In Campaigns. Email marketing can only be successful if you have people to send newsletters and emails to. The best way to build a contact list is to develop strategic and enticing opt-in campaigns. Start with asking customers to sign up for your emails. If it's manageable, think about sending a personalized note to new customers asking if they would like to receive an occasional email from your company. Another effective way is to ad 'signup' buttons on your site's landing pages. At the end of each blog post, develop a call-to-action in which you say something along the lines of "Did you find this information valuable? If so, consider signing up for our monthly newsletter to receive similar information on this topic."
Arrive at Your Destination
Notice there is not a checkpoint #6 by this heading. That's because there is no destination in internet marketing. It's a cross country road trip with no end in sight. Once you reach one destination, you move on to the next. You'll keep driving and driving, picking up insights and experiences along the way. Eventually, you'll find that most of the roads connect and some look quite familiar, but you'll always discover new roads to travel down. That's the beauty of internet marketing. There is so much to learn and do. The key is to pick out the places you want to go and decide which roads aren't worth traveling. Refer to this road map as a guide, but don't worry if you find yourself venturing off the beaten path. No two trips are ever quite the same.
Internet marketing success is waiting for you; will you pick up the map and hit the road?