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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.

Why Many Small Business Website Services Are A Waste Of Money

The delivery of small business website services seems to attract those who claim to expert when in reality they have very little first hand knowledge of the discipline. This post attempts to deliver some pointers on how to identify the real specialists.

There are those who sell a website on the premise it will generate sufficient sales leads to pay for itself many times over without describing how producing a website will miraculously deliver those leads. They neglect to mention that a small business website is of little use unless it can be found when a prospect types in a relevant search term. This leads to the second problem which is the best way to ensure a website is found is to use Search Engine Marketing and that discipline attracts all sorts of odd balls.

The problem with search engine marketing is it is not an exact science. There are many ways to achieve the same result and the goal posts are moved on a regular basis. What worked in search just 18 months ago will not work today and actually may be counterproductive. Trying to learn from books and other resources is a waste of time as many are out of date by the time they are published.

The only real way to learn the discipline is to be active and to learn by trial and error. Unfortunately many who claim to be experts simply claim to be so to sell something else. As in the above example website providers sometimes also claim to be SEO experts (when they are not) simply because the disciplines are closely interlinked.

A small business website that cannot be found by prospects searching for products or services is a complete waste of money. Similarly, paying for anything other than best practice search engine marketing will not deliver the required results. There is however some simple tests to apply to evaluate suppliers

  • Look the business up online – type in the business name into Google and see where the site ranks. If it is not on page1 it should set alarm bells ringing.
  • To be fair, often a business will try hardest to be found for a particular search term rather than their company name. Right click on white space on the first page of their website and scroll down and click on view source. Look for ‘Meta title’ record the text following these words and type the key phrases into Google. If the supplier website does not show up on page 1 – avoid.
  • Some SEO companies sell a package of services. Sometimes they list things like Meta tag updates, directory listings, article submissions etc or sometimes they sell vague packages like Gold, Silver Bronze. SEO may have worked that way once but no more. Best practice SEO involves getting to know your business and what will work specifically for you.
  • The days when it was possible to hire a SEO agency and leave them to it are gone. Now good SEO is content based and the only way to produce that content is with the businesses input. A level of partnership between the business and the SEO agency is now required.

There are many good suppliers of small business website and SEO services but it is important to have sufficient knowledge to be able to cut through the hype and identify which can actually deliver.

5 steps to small business marketing success

Many of the marketing tools required for small business marketing success are low cost (or free) and, as relatively few businesses have recognised the opportunity, there is a short term window available to jump ahead of the competition and grow sales. So what is the process? What steps are required to raise the profile of a business in its local area and increase enquiries and sales?

Locally optimised website

Research shows that most consumers search for local suppliers of products or services online. It is therefore essential they find a website for the business that delivers the information they require and keeps them coming back for more. In many cases a simple website of only a few pages will suffice, built on a low cost website build package.

Google My Business page

Any new website will find it difficult to immediately appear on Page 1 Google for all of its chosen keywords. A carefully crafted Google my business page can give a local business a Page 1 presence (a mini website) on Google almost immediately and it points directly to the main business website.

Local Search Engine Optimisation

SEO a key element in local marketing successAlthough Google my business is an effective medium term solution it has its limitations which means it is essential to drive the main business website up the search engine rankings. For businesses with a local customer base interested only in customers who make a location based search this does not need to be an onerous or expensive task. The key is to keep delivering new and fresh content of interest to potential customers.

Local directories

Although the use of paper directories is in rapid decline online directories are still used and are a useful way to make sure a local business is found online. Choosing a select few local and major directories and building a consistent NAP profile can be a useful way to drive traffic to a business.

Reviews

The psychologist Dr Robert Cialdini and others 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 and the website is so important.

Any small business with a local customer base can implement a successful local small business marketing campaign 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 marketing process forward. Future posts will concentrate on each of the above elements in turn.

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.

There Is No Simple Or Fast Way To Get More Customers

In our humble opinion a simple method to get more customers in significant numbers in days or weeks does not exist. The truth is it takes time and effort to acquire the new customers your business needs. Every business is different and there is no secret marketing sauce that will work across a wide spectrum of businesses.

Talk is cheap but in reality there is no great new thing that will generate significant numbers of new enquiries. You may have attended the social media workshop – tried it and got nowhere. Perhaps the advertising rep has informed you that you didn’t give your advertisement time to generate results and if you just sign up for another three months this time it will be different.

In our opinion one single tactic will not work and what works for one business will not necessarily work for another. Whatever tactic you apply is unlikely to generate overnight results. 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 bring to the customer? Until you have figured this one out how can you know what message to deliver to the market place? If the message is not clear (or plain wrong) then whatever promotional activity you indulge in will not deliver the new customers you need.

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 that customer group and how can you push them back into second place.

What set of promotional tactics is best?

One promotional tools 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 then develop an appropriate process.

Consistency

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) properly results will come but it is sometimes necessary to be brave and keep pushing as per your plan rather than jump from one (supposedly) 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.

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

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.

Small business lead generation – The Numbers

When deciding on the most appropriate small business lead generation techniques there is a decision to be made between push and pull marketing. This post compares the two approaches.

Push marketing small business lead generation techniques

The main tactics used by small businesses trying generate sales leads in the shortest possible time frame are telemarketing, traditional advertising in local media and networking. The objective is to ‘push’ the message out to the consumer to raise awareness and ultimately generate sales.

For the small percentage of target customers that have an immediate need this approach can work well but it is important to weigh the costs against the short term returns. The majority of prospect will not remember the business over the medium to long term hence only short term returns are relevant.

The returns on advertising and direct mail are well known. For every hundred prospects reached perhaps one sales lead will be generated and that assumes the advertisement is appropriately targeted on the correct potential customer groups, has a well crafted message and a professional design. How much is the advertising, what is the cost of design and creative, how many leads are historically converted to sales are all important questions to ask before attempting to calculate the true ROI.

With telemarketing success is again directly proportional to the targeting. Where has your prospect data come from, is it first or second use, is it relevant to your target market, does it meet the required legal standards.

To take on the telemarketing task in house will not, in general, deliver the best ROI . Fitting in calls round other duties does not tend to work well. A high number of calls is required to deliver any meaningful results. Telemarketing is a skill and those with those skills are not as easy to find as may be imagined. That said, finding good telemarketing agencies can also be a major problem.

Telemarketing can be used at various stages in the sales funnel from generating raw leads through setting appointments to closing sales. The skills required increase and the success rate decreases as you move down through the sales funnel. As a guide, If setting appointments, a good telemarketer may manage to set 3 to 4 appointments in a full days work, given quality data to work with. To calculate the ROI it is then important to quantify the quality of those appointments.

Networking can deliver good results but again those results tend to be short term (will someone you meet at a networking event really remember you in 6 months?). The major issue is can you network with enough people to generate any real returns? Be honest with yourself do you have networking skills? Be aware, most networking meetings consist of lots of wolves chasing very few sheep.

The Alternative – Pull Marketing for lead generation

Now let’s assume the focus is only on pull marketing (inbound marketing) activities including social media, website, Email marketing, blogs, articles and Google My Business. A prospect typing a location based search term (Tax Accountant in Nottingham) into Google is actively looking for a product or service that may be addressed by your website, web based content or social media.

content as the fuel for a small business lead generation processFor the much larger prospect base without an immediate need delivering useful and engaging content, via the internet, and/or EMail can keep them engaged and aware of the business until they are ready to buy. The issue is delivering the right information to the correct target market and the costs involved.

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 small business lead generation pull marketing process should not be underestimated. There are also significant resources required to keep a pull marketing process running over time.

The real advantage of inbound (pull) marketing is it engages those customers without an immediate need. Best case perhaps a maximum of 20% of the available customer base have an immediate need, pull marketing allows a small business to keep engaged with the remaining 80% until they are ready to buy.

The key to pull marketing is to identify the activities that generate the highest ROI and to focus efforts there and there alone. Otherwise the time involved is not sustainable for most small businesses

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

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.

Outdated Small Business Marketing Techniques To Avoid

When trying to attract more customers It is all too easy to be seduced by small business marketing techniques that appear to offer fast results with little effort. In our experience there are several sales messages that should set alarm bells ringing, they are:

  • Any guarantee to deliver a Page 1 listing for a website on the search engines.
  • Anything ‘custom’.
  • Gold, silver or bronze anything (particularly SEO).
  • Websites with built in SEO.
  • Any individual (or business) claiming “every business should embrace social media.”
  • Any suggestion you should broadcast your sales message to a purchased Email list.

These sales messages are flawed because:

  • Page1 against what search terms (keywords)? If the keyword has low competition (few sites trying to rank against the keyword) it will be relatively easy to rank on Page1 against that keyword. That is great but if few people search for that keyword (no traffic) what is the point.
  • Custom tends to mean expensive, difficult to change, and locked in to a single supplier.
  • It was once possible (in principle) to deliver a set number of “standardised” SEO services each month to improve a websites position on the search engines but no more. The World of SEO has changed.
  • Websites with built in SEO can only deliver a small part of the solution. Good SEO is far more complex than any simple, out of the box, solution.
  • To suggest any small business marketing technique will work for all businesses is wrong. Social media may generate for some small businesses but certainly not all. If your prospects are not using social media what is the point. Research customers and the channels they use (if any) before diving in. Research shows less than 5% of all B2B sales leads are delivered by social media.
  • Email can be an excellent marketing technique for any small business but there are two key problems – the quality of the list and ‘sales messages’. Deliver pushy sales messages and even if the prospect reads your message it is likely to end up straight in the trash bin. Many purchased lists include general Email addresses that are unlikely to reach the target and also tend to have a very low open rate.

Unfortunately in the effort to find more customers there is no overnight solution. Only a solid plan based on the best set of small business marketing techniques for the particular business situation will deliver results over the medium to long term.