How To Get More Customers – There Is No Silver Bullet

In our humble opinion, a simple method to get more customers in days or weeks does not exist. The truth is it takes time and effort to get the new customers your business needs. Every business is different and there is no secret silver bullet.

You may have attended the latest social media workshop – tried it and got nowhere. Perhaps the advertising rep informed you that you didn’t give your advertisement time to generate results. Sign up for another three months and this time it will be different! Maybe you read that article about the business that used one simple trick to double sales in three months – yeah, right! Before spending any money on marketing it is important to get back to basics.

What makes your business different?

What makes your business stand out from all the rest? What can you do better than the competition? What added value do you offer the customer? Until you have figured this out how can you know what message to deliver to the marketplace? If the message is not clear, the same as everyone else, or just plain wrong then whatever promotional activity you try will not deliver results.

Who is your ideal customer?

What size are they, how do they buy, where are they located, why do they (or should they) buy from you? No doubt there will be various potential customer groups, what are those groups and what is different about them. If you promotional activity is not targeted then it will not deliver results. Who else serves your target customer group and how can you push them back into second place.

What set of promotional tactics is best?

One promotional tool is unlikely to work. What is required is a combination of marketing tools working together to achieve the desired result. Armed with your message the next task is to research how best to get that message to your target customer. Where do your target customers find information? Is it on the internet, is it printed material like magazines or newspapers, is it directories, is it social media or (more likely) is it a combination? Work on the promotional tools that are most likely to reach prospects.

Consistency Is Key

Whatever you do it won’t get more customers through the door overnight; it will take time and effort. If you have done your homework (as above) results will come. It is necessary to be brave and keep pushing on with your plan rather than jump from one great new thing to the next in the hope of fast results. If any promotional campaign is not delivered on an ongoing consistent basis it will fail.

Push Or Pull?

The main tactics used by small businesses to generate sales leads in the shortest possible time frame are telemarketing, advertising (online and offline), and direct mail. Some use Email (using purchased lists) while others still persist with techniques that fell out of favour decades ago like doorstepping.

The goal is of these techniques is to ‘push’ the message out to the consumer to raise awareness and generate sales. For the small percentage of the target customer base that has an immediate need this approach can work.

However, the response rate is very low and therefore the costs are high. There is no long term engagement hence to generate more sales the same tactics must be employed again and again. In any marketplace with a limited number of prospects it generally does not take long to reach a saturation point with steeply declining response rates as a result.

Now let’s assume the focus is only on pull marketing (inbound marketing) activities including social media, website, Email nurture marketing, blogs, articles and Google My Business.

For the much larger prospect base without an immediate need delivering useful and engaging content can keep them engaged and aware of the business until they are ready to buy. Performed correctly it also brings in those with a pressing need.

The issue is the process takes time to build to the point it delivers ongoing results. The fuel for any inbound marketing process is information (content) that may be text, video, photography or even audio. The costs of creating that content to fuel a pull marketing process should not be underestimated. There are also significant resources required to keep a pull marketing process running over time.

For most small businesses the most effective lead generation process is based on a subset of the total range of marketing techniques available. The key is to combine the best pull and pull small techniques for the particular marketplace that deliver the highest ROI.

No two businesses are the same, what sets them apart is different, their message is different, the way they get their message to the market is different. In the ongoing fight to get more customers there is not a single marketing tool that will deliver results for everyone. There is no silver bullet. What is required is a detailed understanding of your business and market, a plan and consistent delivery of that plan.

UK Small Business Directories – Are They Worth The Time & Effort

Is it worth the time and effort to list a small business in one (or more) of the many UK small business directories? In this post, we discuss the major points for and against.

Some business directory listings are free while others charge for add or services. For the free listings, it is important to count the cost of the time and effort involved in seeking them out and creating the listing.

Add on services may (or may not) be worth the extra cost so it is important to make some attempt at calculating an ROI before diving in. Of course, whatever effort is allocated to the activity it must fit within the overall small business local marketing plan.

There are hundreds of business directories online. The better known UK business directories include:

Free index

Scoot

Thomson Local

Yell

There are also several market specific directories and local directories that cover a specific area or single town or city. The market specific directories include CheckATrade, VouchedFor and Trip Adviser among others. These offer additional marketing services such as lead generation.

Listings in local directories can be worthwhile for businesses operating only within a specific area. However, in our experience it is a waste of time and effort to obtain a listing in more than three or so of the major small business directories. The market specific directories are a special case discussed in more detail below.

A Typical Search For A Local Service Provider

Type in a phrase such as heating engineer Nottingham or accountant Sheffield into Google and one or more of the above directories will tend to show up on page 1. The question to ask is what competition do they face in online search and what traffic (if any) will they drive to a business website.

In most local service based searches on Google, the paid listings (Adwords) will be at the top of the page. Immediately below them will be a prominent Google My Business panel then ten organic listings before more ads. Among the Page 1 organic listings, one or two local service suppliers websites may show up. There may also be one or more job sites.

It is probable anyone typing a locally based search phrase into a search engine is looking for a solution rather than performing in depth research. Usually, they need someone to fix their problem. In the case of some services, it may be an urgent problem.

They are therefore unlikely to spend lots of time clicking through multiple pages or typing in many search phrases. It is reasonable to assume they are likely to select a listing nearer the top of page 1 of the search results than the bottom.

Someone searching for a solution may click on the Ads at the top of the page but there is evidence most trust the organic results more. Immediately below the Ads is the Google My Business listing.

The benefits of a Google My Business listing are discussed in detail elsewhere on this blog. Given the position of the Google My Business panel, we suggest a listing should be a higher priority than any directory submissions. It may also be worth building a Bing places listing. Both the Bing and Google local listing services are free.

Beyond the Google My Business panel the searcher will reach the main organic listings. At this point, some of those searchers will have been lost to Ads and a larger proportion to the Google My Business panel. From those that remain, we suggest a higher proportion will click a business listing than a directory. A high level of traffic from a directory listing is therefore unlikely but a listing does have other potential advantages.

UK Business Directories Offering Add On Services

Many of the Directory services mentioned above offer a variety of services. Basic listings tend to be free. Most offer the option of a paid listing that delivers a more prominent position. Some Directories such as Yell offer website and review collection services at a cost.

There are also specialist directories such as Checkatrade and Rated people for the Trades and VouchedFor and Unbiassed for services. Some offer a paid subscription model, some charge for sales leads and some offer a combination of the two.

Costs for the specialist directories can run to several hundred pounds per year so it is worth performing a basic ROI calculation before signing up. We tend to work on a five times multiple as a break even point. That is if total marketing cost is £1,000 we expect life time value of the clients secured via that marketing to be £5,000 minimum. But, the actual calculation depends on the type of business.

If paying for traffic to a website then it is reasonable to assume somewhere between 1 in 70 and 1 in 100 visits will result in a lead. In our experience securing a 1 in 5 lead to sales conversion rate is optimistic but it depends on how a lead is defined and the market segment.

If buying leads a 1 in 5 conversion to sales is probably the best to expect but again it depends on the quality of the lead. It should be a relatively simple exercise to perform an ROI calculation based on average lifetime customer value.

Other Potential Advantages Of A Directory Listing

Directory listings have other potential advantages that are not immediately obvious. A backlink secured from a local directory to a local business website can help a small business website rank higher in the major search engines. Just don’t expect links from directories to have a major impact. The days of securing multiple directory links to try to manipulate search results are long gone.

Some directories allow users to leave reviews of the business and reviews (as discussed elsewhere on this blog) build trust and have local SEO benefits. It is possible directory reviews will be picked up by Google and displayed in the Google My Business panel. That said it is often better to secure Google reviews directly.

On the subject of the Google My Business panel company information such as telephone number and address should be consistent across all directories (and elsewhere on the web). If your address is Services House, 23 Business Street make sure every listing states exactly that. Don’t miss the Services House of some listings but include on others. Make sure the main business phone number is consistent with the one listed in the Google My Business listing.

As with any marketing activity, it is essential to decide up front exactly what outcome is expected. It is also crucial to make some attempt at calculating the expected ROI. If services are paid for it is wise to closely monitor results versus expectations and to ensure there is an exit point if the service fails to deliver.

Social Media For Small Business – An Overview

Is social media for small business really worth the time and effort? Does it deliver tangible results that matter such as sales, or at the very least enquiries?

It seems every conference and exhibition has a 30-minute slot allocated to a speaker promoting the benefits of social media. Their standard pitch tends to be posting regularly on social media will secure more content views and more followers. This, in turn, will ultimately lead to more engagement and more sales leads.

The above may be a valid process in theory but it assumes:

  • Sufficient potential customers are active on social media.
  • Interesting, quality content is available in enough quantity.
  • The business has the time and resources to publish and engage consistently.
  • The business can project an appropriate brand image/voice.

What’s The Plan?

Before allocating any effort to social media it is important to define objectives. Is it simply to raise awareness? Is it to help build backlinks to the website to help with SEO? Is it to generate enquiries? Or is it to build the business owners profile?

Whatever the objective may be it is important to define what success will look like and measure progress towards that goal. How much time and resources will be required and will that resource generate an appropriate return?

Is Anybody There?

For a local business with a limited potential customer base, the first step is to consider if potential customers are active on social media. If they are active what is their preferred channel? Is it Facebook (most likely), Twitter, Instagram or something else?

In a B2B environment, it may be LinkedIn. If the product or service is aimed at those in their early teens it may be Snapchat. If the product or service is best promoted visually then Pinterest may be best. The challenge is to choose the most appropriate channel and not to spread effort too thinly.

Social Media Content

To generate any reasonable return on social media activity requires content. That content needs to be of value to the target customer base, engaging and of high quality. The content itself can take many different forms.

As discussed elsewhere on this blog content is important to any small business marketing process. It is the fuel for social media activity. The social media plan must dovetail with the content plan to avoid duplicating effort.

Time And Resources

The reality of the situation became clear to me recently when an old business contact became active on Twitter. It was easy to spot the enthusiasm in her early tweets (and yes, she did mention that social media course she had attended!). A minimum of a tweet per day appeared in my feed during the first week.

Fourteen weeks later the tweet rate has dropped to less than one every other week with less than 50 tweets delivered in total. She has secured only 38 followers in that time. Perhaps she jumped in without a plan. Or she may have struggled for content. There are many abandoned social media accounts across the web. The warnings are clear, without a plan and solid commitment it may be best to avoid social media. It may be possible to generate a better return elsewhere.

Voice

Voice is difficult to explain or quantify. The content on some social media accounts just feels wrong. It may be dry and lacking any personality. It may not be engaging in any way.

Content published on social media needs to be social (the clue is in the name). It needs to have some humanity and needs to engage. Both text and images can improve engagement but social media success depends to an extent on the personality of who writes the content.

Organic Reach vs Paid

Finally, it is important to appreciate that organic reach on social media channels is decreasing. This means content (posts) will not be displayed on followers News Feeds as often as they once were.

A paid model rather than an organic model may be more appropriate. That mean sponsoring (paying for distribution) of content. In general, the costs of sponsoring content are not significant.

In conclusion, social media can be effective for some small businesses and a complete waste of time and resources for others. Take time to consider the issues, measure the right outcomes and beware of false expectations.

7 Key Small Business Marketing Ideas

If we assume a small business needs more sales and has a strong product or service offering in place at an acceptable price. Their next step should be to boost the profile of the business in the target area.

So what is the small business marketing process? What specific steps are required to raise the profile of a business in its local area and increase enquiries and sales? Before looking at each of the steps in detail let’s summarise:

GOOGLE MY BUSINESS PAGE – Make sure the business has some presence on page 1 Google. Service the active searchers for goods and services in the local area.

DIRECTORIES – The second line of defence to pick up those actively searching (in buying mode) for goods or services.

WEBSITE – The information hub for the business. More likely to pick up those searching for general information than active searchers. But if those searching for information find what they need and are properly nurtured they may become customers at some point.

LOCAL SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION – The website needs to appear on page 1 Google  (worse case Page2) when a prospect types in a relevant search phrase.

REVIEWS – Build trust. Relevant to both the website and the Google My Business page.

SOCIAL MEDIA – For some businesses social media can be their prime lead generation tool. For other businesses a complete waste of time and effort.

OFFLINE MARKETING – Because it’s not all about online. Offline marketing activities can be the prime source of sales leads for some businesses.

GOOGLE MY BUSINESS PAGE

Potential customers searching for a supplier of goods or services in their local area will often turn to friends or family for a recommendation (more on that below). Failing that they will probably scan the first page of the search results, they may even drop down to page2. but they are unlikely to go any further.

There are only 10 organic positions available on page1 Google. With any local search phrase (eg Accountant Nottingham) two or three of those positions will be taken up by major directories (eg Yell) another one or two by introducers (eg VouchedFor or Checkatrade) and possibly one by a job site.

All of the above invest significant amounts of time and resources in digital marketing and it can be difficult for a small business to compete. One tool that can level the playing field to an extent is a Google My Business page.

A Google my business page can give a small local business a presence towards the top of Page 1 Google. Type in a location based search phrase into Google and a map will appear immediately below the Ad block at the top of the page.

The map shows several red dots each representing the location of a local business matching the search phrase. Usually, three of those dots show a flag. A short listing is provided for each of the flagged businesses.Each listing shows the company name, telephone number, opening times and a link to the business website.

To secure a prominent position in the Google My Business listings is not easy (particularly in competitive markets) but it can be easier and cheaper than trying to secure a high position for the business website on Page 1 of Google.

DIRECTORIES

the use of paper directories for small business marketing is in rapid decline (Yellow pages anyone!). However, online directories are still used by those searching for local goods and services. Of course, those searching are most likely to click on a website or Google My Business listing but directories do receive clicks. Listings are often free or low cost.

There is an increasing number of industry sector specific directories that offer various add on services as paid options. These sometimes include sales lead generation. However, it is important to measure the quality of the leads, the potential conversion rate and therefore the ROI before diving in.

LOCALLY OPTIMISED WEBSITE

To succeed in small business marketing it is important to understand where potential customers are in their buying process. If they ready to buy they are most likely to click on the Google My Business listing. If they are in research mode it is more likely they will visit the business website.

Of course, this is a simplified view. The prospect may click through to the website from the Google My Business listing. The prospect who lands on the website may be in buying mode. A recommendation from friends or family may have led the prospect to a small business website.

The key is to deliver the information potential customers need whatever stage of the buying process they may be at. Consumers need to build a level of trust before they will purchase from a supplier. The website should deliver all the information they need to build that trust including reviews and recommendations (see below).

In many cases, a simple website of only a few pages will suffice. The website must be technically correct, be easy to navigate, and deliver a positive user experience. It must be updated regularly with new content.

The design is important but failing on the technical, content or useability part of the equation means the website will not rank well no matter how good the design may be.

LOCAL SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION

A Google my business listing has its limitations. The listing provides the briefest of details and not everyone will click through to the website. Some will ignore the Google my Business panel and dive straight into the organic results.

Driving the business website onto page 1 Google gives a business another chance to secure an enquiry or raise consumer awareness. But to obtain that Page1 position requires some level of search engine optimisation.

Search engine optimisation for a business with a potential national customer base is a complex, expensive, long term operation. Fortunately focussing on potential customers in a limited area simplifies the process.

That is not to say small business local SEO is easy. It takes time and effort and there are a number of tricks and traps to be aware of. However, for many (not all) local businesses the effort involved can pay off and keep paying off over the long term.

REVIEWS

The psychologist Dr Robert Cialdini (and several others) have identified social proof as a key determinant of human behaviour. It is natural for people to seek out the opinion of others before making a decision. This is why publishing positive customer reviews on Google My Business page, the business website and (if appropriate) social media is so important.

As stated above one of the first sources of information potential customers will seek out when looking for goods or services in their local area is the recommendations of friends and family. They may well check out business reviews before making a final purchasing decision.

Reviews also have a secondary impact. One of the many signals used by Google to decide which businesses it should show (and their position) in the Google My Business panel is the number of reviews for that business. Many believe they also assess the proportion of reviews which are positive rather than negative.

SOCIAL MEDIA

This is a difficult one. For some businesses, social media activity is a complete waste of time and effort. For others, it can be their prime method of securing enquiries for their services.

There are three major issues to consider. First, and most important, are ideal potential customers using social media and if so which social media channels are they using. It could be Facebook or for a younger audience, it could be Snapchat. For B2B it could be Linked In. If the product is best represented visually it could be Pinterest.

If your potential customers are on social media and it is possible to determine which is the best social media channel to reach them the business owner must have the time (and inclination) to put into having an appropriate presence on social media? To succeed means being active on whatever channel is chosen on a regular basis. Will the significant time and effort involved generate an ROI?

OFFLINE MARKETING

All the chatter may be about online marketing but for many businesses offline is still effective. In this post we have been talking about only one key element of the small business marketing mix, raising awareness. There are many offline tools available to raise the profile of your small business.

To name but a few there is local sponsorship. Perhaps an advertising board at your local football or rugby club. Networking groups may work for some businesses, assuming the business owner is the right type of person. Local advertising can still be effective if the right media is chosen and an appropriate message is crafted. Investing in attending events can work well for specific types of local businesses.

It is worth keeping an eye on what the competition is doing. What marketing techniques are they using and are they successful? Be careful, just because they are investing in technique X, Y or Z does not mean they are generating a return on their investment.

Any small business with a local customer base can implement a successful small business marketing campaign to raise their profile for little cost and with minimal (if any) support. All that is required is the time to learn the tools and techniques involved and the ongoing commitment to drive the process forward.

Small Business SEO – The Basics

There is little doubt small business SEO best practice has changed dramatically in recent years and the rate of change is accelerating. There is a mass of information on search engine optimisation (SEO) available online but much of it is contradictory (or plain wrong).

In basic terms, the www is simply links between documents (pages). It is a huge, and ever expanding network. Search engines are tools that help users find information among the mass of information (pages) within the network.

Given a search phrase the search engine companies (Google, Bing, Yahoo) prime mission is to deliver the most relevant results.Returning search results which do not match the search phrase or are of poor quality is against their interests.

When a user types in a phrase a search engine must select the pages that match the users intent and rank them accordingly. It is important to note it is the page that ranks, not a website.

Google uses several algorithms to determine the most relevant results. It is estimated over 200 interrelated factors influence page ranking.

You may find many commentaries online suggesting factor X is more important than Y which is in turn more important than Z. Almost all of them are complete rubbish, based on guesswork.

Occasionally, you may read a report on an experiment that shows that all any SEO person needs to concentrate on is X to see results (yeah right). In any valid scientific experiment, one factor is changed while keeping everything else constant. With the www and over 200 factors in play that is impossible.

So what do we know? We know a search engine compares words on a page with the words in the search phrase. We know that many pages will have those words and the search engine algorithm must use a range of ranking factors to decide which page to rank.

We know that inbound links to pages are relevant. We don’t know which links count or if they are weighted in some way. If links are weighted we don’t know how that weighting works. All we can do is make an educated guess based on experience.

It is obvious that some pages will always tend to outrank the rest. It does not appear that ranking is simply based on the number of inbound links. It is also clear there are many technical issues with web pages (and websites) setup that can significantly reduce the ranking of that page regardless of how good the content and link profile may be.

All any small business SEO specialist can do is assess the limited information published by the search engine companies, and call on their own experience of what works and what does not. Even then the job is not finished as the best practice will evolve over time.

For a small business with a local customer base the task can be made easier by concentrating on the subset of factors related to local SEO.

How Small Business Customer Service Reviews Build Credibility

To understand the link between small business customer service reviews and more sales consider your own behaviour for a second. When you last purchased a major item what information sources did you evaluate? You probably compared the specifications of the various alternatives and searched out the best price. I guess you also checked the reviews of those who had bought or used the product.

After making a choice you may have then checked reviews to validate the decision. I suggest poor reviews may force a re-think. Evaluating reviews is a powerful driver of human behaviour labelled ‘social proof’ by the psychologist Dr Robert Cialidini.

So how to capitalise on the impact of testimonials, recommendations and reviews to generate more sales. The first step is to actually ask the customer for a review. It is important to ask for a review or testimonial as soon as possible after the customer has a positive experience of the business.

Customers are unlikely to take the time and trouble to provide a review unless it is simple for them to do so. There are many internet based and hard copy testimonial/review collection systems available. They are often relatively low cost items and simplify the process for both the customer and the business.

Reviews should be placed where potential customers are most likely to see them, both online and offline. If potential customers visit the business then the best testimonials may be framed and strategically placed. Online it is important to place reviews on the business website, on social media and most importantly on Google my Business.

Reviews And Google My Business

Any search query such as ‘service’ in ‘location’ will return the Google 3 pack near the top of Page 1 Google. As the name suggests, the panel lists three businesses, their name, address and telephone number. The listing also delivers a website and directions link and a star rating based on positive (or negative) customer reviews. For customers making a decision between three similar listings, the star rating is often the deciding factor.

A click on the business name opens a new window with more information including reviews. Google uses a number of criteria to decide which businesses show in the 3 pack. One factor is thought to be the number (and rating) of reviews.

A place in the 3 pack gives a business the advantage of a listing near the top of page 1 Google. It also delivers the potential to maximise credibility by listing customer reviews and a star rating. The business website may have a much lower position in search (page 2 or below) for the same search term.

There are three main ways to secure customer reviews on a Google my Business page. The first is to ask the customer to log into their Google My Business account and leave a review on the business. Of course, this assumes the customer has a good understanding of Google products and how to use them.

The second method assumes the customer has a smart phone but it is a simpler alternative. In this case, the customer clicks on the Google Maps app and this provides the facility to easily leave a review. The third method is to email the customer a link. Clicking the link allows the customer to place a review on the Google my Business page of the business

However, there are two important points to remember. First, the testimonials must be genuine as false ones can be spotted a mile off and destroy credibility in an instant. Second, the odd bad (not too bad!) review mixed in with the good is not a bad thing as research shows prospects trust reviews more when they see some balance.

Search Engine Optimisation Costs – The ROI Calculation

Recently, while working for a small business client, I received a cold call from an SEO agency. I am always interested in what services may be available in the marketplace so I allowed the agency to go through their pitch. I agreed to accept a monthly search engine optimisation quotation.

Based on the phone conversation I was not expecting much but when the quote came in it was a bit of a shock. To deliver a list of basic SEO services the cost was approximately £2,100 a month!

Obviously, the SEO agency had their targeting all wrong as £2,100 a month is way beyond the budget of my client but the offer got me thinking.

SEO Costs – The Numbers

Let’s assume you install kitchens and your average sale price is £1,000. Assume your profit margin is 40% then you need to make approximately five sales per month to cover (break even) the £2,100 charged by the SEO agency.

How many leads (enquiries) do you need to achieve five sales? The SEO agency is only concerned with driving visitors to your website so to obtain a fair assessment we should only include leads generated by that website.

let’s be optimistic and assume you can have a reasonable conversation with (perhaps even quote) 50% of the leads received. Assume 50% of those conversations/quotes convert to a sale then you need around twenty website generated leads per month to break even.

Again, let’s be optimistic and assume 1 in 75 of those landing on your website make an enquiry then you need 1,500 (75×20) website visits per month to hit the breakeven point. How many visits do you receive now, do you know?

What increase in website visitors is required on where you are now 2x? 5x? 10x? Is that realistic? Think of it in business terms. If someone told you they could double your sales in 12 months you may believe them, if they could present a strong argument but 5x? 10x? I think not.

Now, it is true, the above is oversimplified. If you have a strong website, or nurture campaign, then the 74 website visitors who do not make an immediate enquiry may come back at a later date. Those 74 website visitors are at least aware of your business so the effort involved in driving them there is not entirely wasted.

Branding and awareness are all very well but they are difficult to measure. Vanity numbers such as website visits, social shares, impressions clicks throughs are no more than indicators. All you can really judge on is leads generated, the quality of those leads and ultimately sales.

The SEO Agency Pitch – Smoke And Mirrors

Three other important points to note when assessing if search engine optimisation services will deliver a return for your business. They are, measurement and analytics, the time taken to generate first results and your level of involvement in the process.

The most common tool used to record website visitors is Google analytics. Not all website visits are valid and if you look at only the top level numbers a large proportion of the total may be complete junk. It is relatively easy for an unscrupulous SEO agency to deceive a business owner who does not have a basic understanding of organic, direct and referral traffic.

To generate SEO results takes time and you should not expect any significant results within three months. Remember you need to factor the monthly search engine optimisation costs during this ramp up time into your calculations.

Let’s say you keep spread the total cost of the SEO agency over 12 months. If 3 of those months are the ramp up time (25% of the total) then you need 25 leads per month and around 1,900 website visits per month during the remaining 9 months to break even.

Finally, there is the issue of content. At this point, the discussion can get a little complicated and is covered in greater detail in previous posts. In short, you need to assess what resources your business will need to allocate to the SEO process. Hiring an SEO agency is no longer a ‘hire and forget’ situation and whatever resources your business needs to allocate needs to be factored into the cost model.

Rounding Up

The above does not mean the right type (and size) of business, in the right market, with the right SEO agency in place cannot generate a return on investment on SEO services because they can. If your business can deliver the fuel for the process (content) if you can obtain good quality search engine optimisation services at a reasonable cost and most importantly if you can continue to fund the costs to the point you see a return then SEO can be worth the cost and resources.

There is no recognised qualification in SEO, there is no accepted approach that will work for every (or any!) business. There are some excellent SEO service providers out there but it can be difficult for those with no background in the subject to separate them from those who can simply talk a good game. It is important to remember good SEO takes time and effort and that costs. Often, that cost can be beyond the reach of small and micro businesses. It is, therefore, always best to work costs of what offered back to the number of sales required to break even.

What is a small business in need of more sales but unable to justify search engine optimisation costs to do? If that business only deals with customers in a relatively small geographic area then local SEO may be an alternative. This we will cover in future posts.

Website And Google My Business integration For Local Marketing Success

The challenge for many small businesses with a local customer base is how to secure more sales without relying completely on referrals and repeat work. In this post, we discuss one key element of any local business marketing plan – Website and Google my Business integration.

Research shows that 85% of consumers search for local businesses online (source). Worldwide over 80% of all organic website traffic is generated by Google. According to Advanced Web Rankings,  67% of clicks go to the first five listings on Page 1 Google.

So a relevant page1 presence on Google is of increasing importance to any business attempting to secure new customers in their local area. The key word here is relevant, There is no point at all ranking in a high position for search queries that have no relevance to the business

Google My Business And Website Integration

 The first page of search results for any location based business search such as Accountant location or Plumber location tends to be dominated by directories (such as Yell). Worse still, the top of the page is taken up by paid listings, the Google My Business listings and perhaps also a featured snippet.

To rank a small business website above the directories on page 1 can be difficult (and costly). However, a prominent position in the Google my Business listing pack delivers a position near the top of the page with an obvious link to the business website. For many small businesses with websites languishing down on page 2 or below this is a real bonus as the Google my Business listing effectively delivers a page 1 presence for the website. 

So if it is possible to achieve a position towards the top of Page 1 of the search results with an effective Google My Business listing why have a website at all? The two main reasons are credibility and nurture.

What is a prospect going to do when they first find a potential supplier online? If they have any initial interest they are going to check the business out. If there is no website is that going to raise suspicions? Is the business real? Are they a credible supplier?

The information available from a Google my Business listing is limited. It is not possible to deliver the depth of information required for a nurture campaign or to tempt customers to keep coming back for more.

Although testimonials and reviews available on a Google my Business listing are powerful they cannot deliver the same level of credibility as appropriate content published on a regular basis on a website.

Google My Business – An Overview

Any business can claim a free Google My Business listing and significantly increase their chances of appearing near the top of page 1 Google. In fact, a listing for a business may already exist as Google often creates a listing based simply on the information found on the web.

Google usually displays three local businesses (known as the 3 pack) in a panel, with a map, near the top of page 1 of the search results. Which local businesses are included and their relative positions are decided by a Google algorithm. The algorithm is based on many factors including how near the business is to the centre of the location used in the search query.

There is no guarantee a business will always appear in the three pack but it is possible to optimise a listing to ensure it has the best chance of display. The first step should be to claim a Google My Business listing if one already exists (the information pulled into the listing by Google can be incorrect) or to create a new listing.

The Business Website 

A proportion of prospects will find a business and make contact immediately but a much larger proportion are likely to make multiple visits over an extended period of time before making a decision. A Google my Business listing is effective in securing enquiries from those ready to make an immediate decision but it has limitations when it comes to building a longer term relationship.

A website is therefore required to build a profile and content that will engage with prospects and build a relationship over time. Content added to a website on a regular basis that either builds credibility (like case studies) or ads some value to the customer can potentially bring prospects back to the website when they are ready to buy.

The content may be in the form of text, video or graphics the key point is it must develop and change over time. Possible sources of information could be how to guides, before and after videos, industry news and comment and product photography (particularly if it shows product applications). 

There is little doubt every business with a local customer base should make online marketing one of its priorities. A Google local listing is a quick and relatively easy way to quickly obtain a page 1 listing on the search engines. When used in conjunction with a locally optimised website and best practice content and search engine marketing then more sales leads can be expected to follow.

NEWS – Of A Google Update Plus A Short Rant

You may have read some chatter about an update to the Google search algorithms over recent weeks (it was jokingly christened FRED). Bit of a strange one this as Google denied any update had taken place initially but later (sort of) confirmed it.

The update was sometime around 7th / 8th March so if you have noticed a drop in rankings, and more importantly traffic to your site, at or around this date it could be as a result of the update. According to Barry Schwarz, who tracks these things closely the update appears to have targeted poor quality sites populated with more than an average number of Ads.

Now here’s the problem, there may (or may not) have been a major update to the search algorithms that may (or may not) have impacted on the traffic to your site but how do you really know. Was the drop due to the update or one of the other (could be as many as 200) factors that impact on a site position in Google search.

Much of the talk about algorithm updates is irrelevant to the average business website owner. It is best just to ignore the chatter and continue to implement best practice. It may not be quick, but it is safer and much more likely to deliver results in the medium to long term

 

Don’t Underestimate The Value Of Your Small Business Reputation

Compromise your small business reputation just once and it will be almost impossible to recover. Building a consistent, long term small business lead generation process is a marathon not a sprint. It is all too easy to get impatient and inject a pushy sales message or two but to do so can destroy all your hard work up to that point.

Let me give you an example from personal experience. I always set aside time every day to read blogs and articles from authors I have grown to trust over the years. For many months I had regularly read the blog of one company (let’s call them Company X). I was evaluating the company as a potential supplier of a marketing tool and I found their blog informative on a number of marketing issues.

Recently it was obvious Company X had decided to cut down on the resources required to keep their blog up to date and guest posts were more and more common. Given the amount of resources required to run a content marketing process that was understandable, to a point. Unfortunately for them they had not allocated the resources to quality check those blog posts.

On reading the blog one day it was obvious the guest post author had very little actual experience of the subject. He was simply regurgitating the standard information (much of it actually incorrect)  that could be found online. A quick check of his various online profiles and, his website destroyed his credibility further. It left me feeling disappointed and more than a little annoyed that a company I had trusted until then could serve up such rubbish. The damage was done and, as it transpired, irreparable.

When the posts from Company X appear in my blog reader they are now routinely deleted. I could be deleting the best, most relevant information out there. It could be the last piece of the jigsaw that persuades me to buy, it does not matter. As their business reputation is destroyed. they now have no opportunity to even get out of the starting gate, and yes I did buy that marketing tool I mentioned but from their competitor.

Are Company X going to lose sleep over my lost sale, well no but I would bet I am not the only one. A huge amount of effort obviously went into their blog before they tried to take short cuts and lost their quality control. The results of much of that effort, I guess will now dissipate over time.

It can be tempting to cut corners or to slip in a pushy sales message but next time you are tempted think long and hard about the potential damage to your small business reputation and its potential long term impact on sales.