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How To Build Small Business Email Campaigns That Get Results

If planned and executed appropriately small business Email campaigns can get results for a relatively small financial outlay. Email marketing has suffered from bad practice, and a bad press over recent years, and this has certainly made it more difficult to achieve success. However, if prepared to work hard and apply best practice it can still be one of the fastest ways to secure sales leads and enquiries.

The most important factors that influence the success of any Email campaign are:

  • Appropriate targeting of prospects
  • Campaign planning
  • Process – inform, relationship build
  • Website as a sales tool
  • Execution – Title, text, timing

Taking each of these elements in turn

Targeting of Prospects

Email marketing is no different to any other marketing technique; failure to target the campaign on a clearly defined prospect base will simply result is wasted cash, effort and resources.  The ideal is to send Email only to an opted in list of subscribers as it is known they have at least some interest and they can be grouped and segmented with some level of confidence. Sending to an unscreened list is highly unlikely to generate the required returns.

Email Marketing Plan

With luck, a great product and perfect execution a one off small business Email promotion may deliver the enquiries required to take the business forward. However, a well thought out campaign over several weeks, or even months, is much more likely to deliver results. It is important to state the required results and put a plan in place to attempt to deliver those results. What message is to be delivered, to whom, over what timescales and how is the message to be broken down into appropriate delivery segments.

Inform Don’t Sell

With luck, a one off sales Email may work but it is highly likely it will only work once. It is important to build a relationship with prospects over time, leading them down the path to conversion and sale. The idea is to inform, educate and build credibility before even trying to sell.

Drive Prospects To Website

It is not practical to try to say too much in any Email (see below) so every effort should be made to drive prospects back to the business website to learn more. This is especially important when it comes to the point of conversion and sale. The website should be an information hub containing lots of useful, relevant content that can be linked to from an associated Email. At the website level the content can be sales related and guide towards closure.

Email Title is key

The Email title is key to the success of an Email campaign as it is directly related to open rates. An Email that sits in the prospect’s inbox without being opened is of no use whatsoever, hence to make any progress every effort must be made to ensure open rates are maximised. Email titles should be short, interesting and engaging.

Email Text

The chances a prospect will read a long Email are remote and if the call to action is at the end of the Email then conversion rates will be low. The text of any Email campaign that gets results should be kept short and punchy. Get to the point early and remember to state clearly what is in it for the prospect. Some suggest that the Email content should be 90 words or less.

When trying to build any small business Email campaigns the targeting and plan are crucial as without them whatever follows is unlikely to deliver returns. While, with luck, one off Emails can generate increased sales the best approach is to build an ongoing process, using the business website as a resource, to deliver multiple opportunities to close business.

What is Google Local And The 7 Pack

In recent months Page 1 of Google has changed to feature a local element. This post considers what is Google Local and the 7 pack and how they can help a business with a local customer base secure more enquiries.

Google+ Local provides business details and information on what Google defines as a local businesses. This information shows up in search results and is directly linked with the Google Maps listing for the business and the main business website (if one exists).

A Google Local page is effectively an mini website and includes information on the business Address, phone number, and reviews. Once a listing has been verified it also includes business descriptions, images, videos, and latest business news.

Google displays local listings on Page 1 according to a number of ranking factors. In the following example all the businesses shown with a letter are displayed whereas all those shown simply as red dots are other businesses that match the search criteria but are not shown. Up to seven businesses are displayed in the local panel on page google local map example1.

 

 

Part of a typical panel is shown below. A click on the business name takes the user to the main business website. The business contact details are clearly shown with the number of reviews (if any exist) a rating and star system. There are a number of ranking factors used by Google when deciding which listings to display but it is highly likely a claimed listing that has a appropriate content and reviews has a much higher chance of display.

Example of Google local listing

 

 

 

No charge is currently made by Google for the service and any local business is free to claim and set up a listing. There is a simple verification process to follow that can take a week or two to complete but once verified any business can go ahead and update the listing. The one critical point to consider during initial set up is the address and telephone details for the business during the verification process must precisely match those given on the business website.

As a standalone entity a Google local listing raises the profile of a business and builds the business credibility via content and its ability to post reviews and testimonials. It can be even more effective as an element of an integrated local marketing process built around a locally optimised website, a formal review collection process, best practice content marketing and a local linking strategy. Future posts will cover set up of a professional Google+ Local listing.

The Value Of Small Business Website Content

The real value of small business website content is not as obvious as some may wish to portray. Simply publishing content on a regular basis will not, on its own, shoot your website up the search rankings. That said there are real benefits to publishing content that may not be so obvious.

In a previous post I discussed the key elements of a good website and mentioned the importance of building credibility by adding appropriate content. That is only part of the story; content has more value than building credibility alone.

A considerable amount of time, effort and cost goes into developing most websites. Often, more effort (and cost) is then allocated to ensuring the website can be found online via search engine marketing. It is a pity then, if after all this effort, the visitor takes a quick look around the website before disappearing off on another search just a few seconds later.

What is needed is a process to engage prospects and keep them on the site for longer. If prospects find information of value on the website that engages them and solves their problems then they are likely to stick around for longer. In an ideal world they may even call or Email you for more information. Content marketing is the process of delivering that useful, relevant information of interest to an identified prospect group.

Over time as prospects return to the website for more information an element of trust develops. With this in place prospects may sign up for updates by Email, for your monthly newsletter or for a download you may provide. With Email addresses secured it is then possible to communicate directly with potential customers on an ongoing basis. Not with pushy sales information but with more valuable content. This ensures your business is always front of mind and has a level of trust not afforded to competitors.

To succeed the content you build must be of value to your target customer base and it must be engaging. Content can come from a number of sources, many of which may already reside within a business. Case studies on completed projects and how to guides are two examples. A comment on what is happening in the marketplace and trends to look out for are other examples.

Generating content has another indirect advantage as it significantly improves the search engine optimisation of the business website – that is its position in the search engine when a prospect searches for a relevant term. Google, and the other search engines, are now more focussed on how often a website changes and the amount of relevant content of potential value to those searching a website contains.

If a Blog is attached to the website then this is viewed as new content and each blog post can rank on the search engines in its own right therefore bringing in more website visitors. More website visitors equal more potential sign ups (E Mail marketing) and more enquiries and sales leads.

On site SEO is important but off site SEO (building relevant backlinks) is often the major factor that must be managed if a website is to rank well in search. Building high quality links without something of value (content) that deserves that link is extremely difficult.

Content then is important to any website. It builds credibility and ongoing relationships with potential customers. It ensures prospects hang around on your website for longer which gives them more time to take your ideal action and (crucially) it helps drive more visitors (traffic) to a website. There is a direct relationship between more traffic and more sales.

Pay Per Click For Small Business – An Overview

Many small businesses are confused about what PPC is and how it can help their business. This post delivers a short overview of Pay Per Click for small business and some mistakes to avoid.

Pay per Click is basically advertising online but, unlike conventional advertising, you only paypay per click online advertising as part of the marketing mix based on results. That is the theory but in practice it is possible to waste money without any return if you fail to follow some basic steps.

If you look at any page of search results along the top there are a number of listings. Generally, they have a short, clickable, title followed by a web address and two lines of text. These are pay per click advertisements and if you were to click on the listing whoever placed the advertisement will be charged a fee. The fee charged may vary from a few pence to several pounds.

A campaign can be set up to cover only a specific geographic area so the advertisement will only be displayed to anyone searching within that area. This can be a great benefit to any business with only a locally based customer base ensuring that the business does not waste time and money advertising to prospects outside that area.

The main steps to follow when setting up a PPC campaign are as follows:

  • Choose a phrase (keyword) that is relevant to your offer.
  • Build a landing page for your offer
  • Set up a Google Account
  • Start a new campaign
  • Target a location
  • Set budgets
  • Write advertisement

The key to the process is relevance. The content of the landing page (the page pointed to be the advertisement) must relate to the keyword phrase. There is no point selecting a keyword phrase such as ‘leather handbags’ if the majority of the landing page text relates to general ladies fashion with no specific mention of handbags.

The choice of the keyword phrase is critical. It must be relevant to the offer (see above) and there must be an appropriate number of prospects searching for that term in a given month. To keep costs down the keyword must not be too competitive (lots of other sites built around that keyword). There are various types of matching that can be selected on the keyword (e.g. broad and exact) and these must be chosen to give a balance between traffic and cost.

Choose the keyword incorrectly, set the budget too high, target the wrong location or forget the importance of relevancy and a pay per click campaign is likely to be simply a waste of time and money. However, if managed correctly PPC can bring predictable, ongoing returns for any business. Subsequent posts will deal in more detail with the issues surrounding correct set up of a Pay per Click campaign.

The Key Elements Of A Effective Small Business Website

The key elements of an effective small business website should be considered carefully before engaging any website designer. At its basic level a website should quickly inform the prospect what you do and what sets you apart from all the rest. It should also make it obvious how you can be contacted.

Attention spans are short so don’t waste time on a company history lesson. Simply tell prospects what you can do for them and why they should choose you in as few words as possible.

Website design businesses can get caught up in technical and graphics issues and forget the basics. It is important to brief the designer on your minimum requirements. Don’t clutter the home (or landing page) with too many graphics and leave plenty of white space.

Be Clear On Your Objectives

Ask yourself one simple question. When telling your peers about your new website would you rather say:

  • My website is the most technologically advanced.
  • My website looks great – or—
  • My website generates a consistent stream of new sales leads.

It is not always possible to have everything so it is important to make the choice upfront before making the first step in the design process.

It may be your primary lead generating activity does not rely on your website. All you may need is something that builds your credibility. In that case, design and navigation are crucial.

If only enhancing the credibility (brand) of the business is important SEO and calls to action are less relevant. Clear, well written content is essential but the volume of content can be much less than a lead generating website.

If generating leads is the key activity then design issues may take more of a back seat. Three key items need to be in place:

  • The website must receive visitors (traffic)
  • A relationship must be established with those visitors
  • Visits must be converted to leads, or better still, sales.

Only a small proportion of those landing on most small business websites will immediately take action and call.

Some may return several times before making a purchase. Others may click away to check out alternatives before returning and making contact. It is important to stay in touch with the majority who do not convert within the first few minutes or hours.

Website Navigation

After all the hard work involved in generating website traffic, it is a waste if they are lost because they cannot find their way around the site. Website navigation should be as clear as possible.

Links between pages should be added to guide the prospect along a desired path. There should be specific calls to action (see below).

Design is great but if your prospects do not get what you offer and what makes you different within seconds then they are lost. If they have to spend more than a few seconds trying to figure out how to retrieve the information they need you have potentially lost them forever. The information on the website should match the intent that prompted the search.

Website Content

For a lead generating website valuable, engaging content is your most valuable website asset. It is important to build credibility and give prospects a reason to return. A website that is updated often will bring in more traffic.

Content can be blog posts, how to guides, photography, graphics, pdf’s or video depending on what works best for the business and, more importantly, its prospects. An advantage of a blog is it can keep prospects coming back for more as the site is continually evolving.

Anything downloadable can be used to capture prospect Email addresses. This enables ongoing communication and relationship building with prospects.

Reviews And Case Studies

It is important not to underestimate the power of ‘social proof’ (Dr R. Caildini). Testimonials, recommendations, case studies and quality signals such as approvals or qualifications help persuade a prospect to choose one business ahead of the other.

Proof you can support any claims you may make is critical. To build credibility the website should present:

  • Proof you can deliver.
  • A professional image.
  • Industry/market knowledge.

Genuine testimonials can be useful but case studies on what has been achieved for others are more valuable. Industry and market knowledge builds credibility further. Comment on what is happening in the market, perhaps on legislation or a market trend is one option.

Search Engine Optimisation

A website is of little use if it cannot be found when a prospect types a relevant phrase into the search engines. Unfortunately, best practice search engine marketing takes time, experience and effort.

Despite what some may wish to claim there are no quick fixes hence the activity can be relatively expensive. It is a mistake to blow the entire budget on the website design and development without keeping something back for the search engine optimisation activity.

Call To Action

A common small business website design mistake to avoid is the failure to add appropriate calls to action. Make it as obvious as possible what you would like the prospect to do next.

Many of the above elements are interlinked and all can be built into a website design given a little time and effort. A website design specialist will talk all day about the technicalities of website design. An SEO specialist can often become sidetracked by keywords or technical issues and forget the prospect experience. A graphic designer tends to be interested in graphics, not the all-important content. It is therefore important to continually refer back to the main purpose of the website.

An effective small business website should advise what you do. It should show you can deliver on your claims and it should guide a prospect to take the action you desire.

What Is Local Marketing

There are many definitions but exactly what is local marketing? Does it deliver return on investment and, if so, what is the best way to implement a local marketing process?

At its basic level local marketing is about targeting a very specific group of prospects and allocating all resources to securing new customers from that group at the expense of all others. Obviously, the targeted prospects should be those who are most likely to become customers. In the case of many small and micro businesses that group is likely to reside in the area immediately surrounding the business.

Defining The Local Customer Base

Target customers are those who are likely to search for a local provider of product or services online with a location based search term (e.g. Family law solicitor in Leeds). In September 2012 43% of all Google searches were location based. What is more, various studies show that prospects using a location based search term have a higher chance of converting (becoming a customer) than the rest. Local marketing is all about capturing those prospects.

Like any marketing process the key elements to address are segmentation, communication and message. It is essential to precisely define the target customer, their profile, where they are located and their typical buying behaviour. With this information in place it is then possible to define the best way to reach those potential customers (be it online or offline) and the message to be delivered.

Local Marketing Process

The marketing process to secure more local customers cannot be build and forget but instead should continue on an ongoing basis. The world of online marketing has changed dramatically in the past 18 months with pull marketing of more importance.

That said, there are elements of online marketing that will work for larger firms but not small local businesses and visa versa. Local marketing is a specific disciple using a sub set of the marketing techniques that may be used by larger businesses.

Fortunately, the online marketing odds are now stacked in favour of businesses trying to source more local customers. Products (often free) like Google My business pages are specifically designed to meet the needs of local businesses. Self build website packages to build locally optimised websites are improving all the time and social media has a strong local element.

Local marketing then is all about capturing those customers specifically interested in suppliers of products or services in their immediate vicinity. It is about ensuring the business is found online if a prospect uses a location based search term. Finally, it is about building credibility and delivering the business message to the target local prospect base on an ongoing basis (online and offline). The tools are there but surprisingly, given the size of the opportunity, many businesses are failing to use them effectively.

Best Website Builder Tools – A Comparison

self build website toolsThis post reviews the best website builder tools for small businesses. Many business owners recognise the value of a website as a promotional tool but cannot afford the cost to outsource the build of a professional website.

Increasingly, the do it yourself approach is a viable option and, with the rise in content management systems and standard themes,  requires little technical knowledge.

So why have we only considered website platforms with content management systems (CMS)? The answer is simple, a website that is not updated regularly is unlikely to be of use to potential customers over the medium to long term. A website that does not change over time will not rank well in the search engines.

Several years ago website designers made a useful living by charging to make website changes (they held the keys). Although, remarkably still a strategy used by some, current practice is to allow businesses to update their own content and to do this they need a CMS.

As at September 2012 it was estimated that over 30% of existing websites used a CMS. Of the three most popular open source website, blogging and CMS tools that are hosted on web hosting services WordPress is by far the most common at over 50% followed by Joomla and Drupal – both at less than 10%.

Drupal and Joomla tend to be the best choice if an E-Commerce platform, an extranet, community webportal or the ability to organise complex content  is required otherwise WordPress is the best choice. It has a number of advantages including

  • Easy to set up and maintain
  • Free (mostly) standard plugins for SEO and to upgrade functionality
  • Huge range of standard base themes
  • No technical or coding experience required.

This makes WordPress an excellent choice for small business owner’s intent on building their own website. The wide variety of base themes means that (unlike Yell and 1&1) the website will look and feel different to that of the competition. Websites are easy to build and once in place build upon and maintain. As WordPress was originally designed as a blogging platform it is simple to integrate a blog page into a website.

Some suppliers like to claim SEO is built in to their websites or ‘out of the box’ unfortunately this is misleading (at best). There are a few technical aspects of SEO that can be dealt with via an excellent WordPress plugin beyond that the main issue is to keep adding content to the website and making sure it changes often.

When choosing the best website builder tools WordPress is an excellent choice. The next step is to optimise the website for local search, link it to a Google my business page and use it to deliver useful and relevant content to prospects but more of that in future posts.

A Stream Of New Enquiries For Accountancy Businesses

Accountants tend to secure most of their business from local clients. Fortunately, there are several low cost (or free) marketing tools available that can deliver a steady stream of new enquiries for Accountancy businesses with a local customer base.

As over 85% of consumers search for local service providers online the first objective should be to ensure the practice has an effective online presence at a high position on the search engines. With this in place the second key objective must be to build credibility to ensure a prospect chooses to call your business ahead of the competition.

Before diving in it is best to spend some time to decide on your strategy. It does need to be a major exercise but it is important to decide on what sets your business apart from the rest, what is your niche, who are your competition, who is your ideal client and what is your ideal mix of clients. Only with this in place is it practical to move on to decide how you will get yourself known, boost credibility, obtain referral business and obtain the steady stream of new enquiries your business needs.

A professional Google my business listing is an excellent place to start as this can deliver a business profile (effectively a mini website) on Page 1 Google. If the business does have a website but it is not on page 1, the Google listing will point to the website and effectively give it a Page 1 ranking. There are many marketing education resources which explain the set up and optimisation procedures for Google My Business

A major advantage of a Google listing is it allows your business to display customer reviews and testimonials that can give a major boost to the practice credibility. Make it as simple as possible for clients to post a review via Google and / or use an offline testimonial and feedback system to gather testimonials that can be published online.

Credibility may be further enhanced by asking key clients, where you have delivered larger elements of work with successful outcomes, to allow you to create a case study. Rather than ask the client to do the work, write it up for them and ask for their sign off then publish the case study both online and offline as appropriate.

Social media can be an awful waste of time and effort but Accountants should at least have a profile on Linked in which can be used to publish case studies and information useful to potential clients. It may also be linked to a website (if one exists) or a Google listing.

The above may well be sufficient to deliver the required stream of new enquiries for Accountancy businesses and almost all of it can be achieved without expert marketing support using in house resources and low cost (or free) internet marketing tools and services. All that is needed is a marketing process and the will and resources to deliver against that process on a ongoing basis.

Organic SEO for small business – Why there is no quick fix

Don’t shoot the messenger but when engaged in organic SEO for small business there is no quick fix. It is true, for a small business website targeted on a local customer base a lot can be achieved in a relatively short period of time but with the initial surge over what follows takes time and effort. That said, the medium to long term returns on that effort should not be underestimated.

Google is the largest search engine and what they (and the other search engines) are looking for is quality content that helps, informs or educates. They are trying to interpret searcher intent and rank pages that satisfy that intent in a high position on Google.

A valid view could be that it has taken the search algorithms some time to catch up with this stated aim and quality content is far from the only ranking signal, the basics are still vitally important but Google has made major strides over the past 18 months (Penguin and Panda) with Penguin 2.0 due within days

Dubious organic SEO practices – particularly related to link building – have, and will continue to be penalised. The way forward is to create quality content (as defined above) and to publish that content on your own site while not forgetting quality local link building and the value of reviews and citations.

If sub-contracting small business SEO activity the implications for search engine optimisation service providers are profound. It will no longer be possible for a business to hire a SEO agency to improve the position of their website on the search engines then simply leave them to it. What will be required going forward is a partnership between the business and the SEO agency where they both contribute to the production of valuable information (content) in all its forms.

There is little doubt a Google update is coming and there is evidence it will again go after dubious link practices and poor quality content, demoting sites using these practices and promote those delivering quality content.

Without content it is difficult to build high quality links. Content can be used to fuel EMail and nurture campaigns. High quality content distinguishes a small local business form its competitors, it builds trust and keeps the business front of mind. All positive marketing activities but the time and effort involved should not be underestimated.

When introducing a new small business website there is always an initial surge of interest and activity. In the early days organic SEO for small business can all seem relatively easy with positive short term results but as discussed above ,beyond that initial surge the only real way forward is based on the creation of content. Results will come but it takes time. It is important not to become discouraged.

6 Ways To Generate Website Traffic

Your website may look exceptional, be technically smart and have great content but if there is no focus on how to generate website traffic all that effort will be wasted.

Google Search Queries

Ensuring a website is found in search is perhaps the most obvious route and one that drives over 80% of traffic to a website (source). A website should be built around keywords so when a prospect types a relevant search phrase into Google, or the other search engines, they should arrive at your website.

Of course almost all keywords will be sought after by more than one business so there will always be competition. Appropriate search engine optimisation or pay per click (see below) are the two main routes to ensure your business appears higher than competition for the same keyword. Search engine optimisation tends to be the cheapest route over the medium to long term but it also takes significantly longer to generate the required website traffic.

Video

There is a mass of published research that shows the human brain is able to absorb (and understand) visual information better than it is the printed word. Video is therefore an excellent medium to get your message across and if placed on a website is an excellent way to improve the position of the website in search engines.

The second largest search engine in the World (after Google) is You Tube. A You Tube video on your product or service with a link back to your website is a great way to generate website traffic.

Blog Posts

Ideally a blog should be attached to your website for maximum SEO benefits. Blog posts are relatively short comments (usually 400 words minimum) on issues of interest to potential customers. These posts can rank on the search engines as stand alone items and, if read, drive traffic back to the main website.

Blog posts providing detail commentary or instructions on a particular issue may generate backlinks and therefore improve SEO. Posts also deliver the opportunity to cover a wider variety of keywords delivering further SEO advantages.

Articles

Basically the same format as blog posts but they are not attached to a website but published elsewhere on the internet on good quality article directories, forums etc. Again, there are SEO benefits of producing articles but the prime aim is for them to rank on the search engines, be read, interacted with to drive traffic.

Social Media

Blog posts and articles can be published on various social media channels to further expand your potential audience and generate more website traffic..

Pay Per Click

Potentially a faster route than organic SEO (see above) to be found against specific search terms (keywords) typed into a search engine. Choose keywords, write a short advertisement around those keywords and pay only when a prospect clicks on your Pay Per Click advertisement and is taken to your website.

The above represents only a short overview of potential methods to generate website traffic. The detail of how to build and apply each technique is more complex but not beyond any business intent on taking the task on in house. All that is required is content (the key to each technique) commitment to learning and delivery on a consistent basis.