Marketing and staying on top of the latest marketing trends have always been a challenge for small businesses, but those activities have become particularly difficult in recent years. The Internet, smartphones and other technological advances continue to create a plethora of new tactics for marketing a business. Meanwhile, they have reduced the effectiveness of some marketing methods small businesses have traditionally used.
Those facts have created a conundrum for many of the country’s small and micro-sized businesses. With few or no employees, small business owners and independent contractors are tasked with both running the day-to-day operations of their business and figuring out what digital marketing is all about, or which digital media marketing tactics are working for small businesses now. Should they be writing blogs, posting in social media, using email marketing? What about search engine optimization (SEO), paying for ads in search or on social media sites or other digital outreaches to develop an audience and customers? Or why not ignore it all and keep doing business the way they always have?
Digital marketing isn’t really a “trend” anymore. Instead, it has become a critical way of reaching, interacting with and bringing in business in today’s world. Avoiding digital marketing tactics, or making random stabs at using different techniques is a big mistake no matter how small your business is.
That’s because your customers and clients are online – and they are online frequently. A Pew Research study found that 77% of Americans go online daily, and 26% of American adults say they go online “almost constantly.” Digital media usage spans all age groups, too. An earlier Pew Internet report on the use of technology by seniors found that 67% of adults ages 65 and older go online.
The activities they are pursuing on their digital devices encompasses everything from reading emails (the most frequent use) and using social media, to researching and buying what you sell. While they are online, they are leaving digital data breadcrumbs that currently allow businesses to laser-focus marketing on likely prospects in most geographic locations. Additionally, they often volunteer email addresses or cell phone numbers so they can receive information, coupons, and other notices from companies they may want to do business with. If they don’t find you online, their business will go to someone else.
To help you focus your efforts, we asked several experts to talk about what digital marketing tactics are trending and working for small businesses. Here’s what they had to say.
If your primary customer base is local, you need to be found in local search results. That’s true whether you run a small retail store, restaurant, hair salon, or dry cleaner. It’s also true if you are a plumber, electrician, carpet cleaner, or run any other type of business that draws its customers from a local or regional area.
Local search results are the listings that show up when you search Google or Bing to find something that’s typically a local business. The search results sometimes show up with a map with identification “pins” to show the location of establishments nearby. Often there are stars to indicate ratings, too.
Local search has pretty much-replaced ads in yellow pages, weekly shoppers, and small local newspapers as a way for customers (your customers!) to find what they need. Pulling out a smartphone and either typing in a search query, or just asking Google or Siri what they want to know is much easier than flipping through print publications to find advertisers.
How can you make your business show up in those local searches?
For answers, we asked three experts from SearchEngineNews.com. Search Engine News is a community of SEO professionals, top industry experts and business owners that provides resources, advice, and training. The community serves industry professionals as well as business owners who want to do their own Internet marketing or want to know what to expect if they hire a professional to do the work for them. Here are recommendations from three of their experts:
“Invest in Google Local Services Ads,” recommends Casey Markee, who is an expert SEO, writer, professional trainer with SearchEngineNews.com. “These local search ads come with a 'Google Guarantee' badge and denote businesses who have been vetted by Google. They are a paid product and are not available in all areas, making their acquisition that much more valuable. Google is going to continue expanding the cities and regions this product will be rolled-out to in 2019 and they provide top-of-the-page prime placement on mobile. If you are a service-area business or provide local services, this ad product can result in tremendous branding and lead generation potential.”
Community Involvement Is Imperative. "Local businesses need to get more involved in their community in order to get good local signals and local citations,” explains Keith Saye, expert SEO, writer, and host with SearchEngineNews.com. “A solid and building base of 5- and 4-star reviews not only helps in ranking but also in closing sales. With that in mind, a consistent approach to reminding clients where and how to leave reviews will pay dividends for customer-focused businesses who perform well and listen to client feedback."
Your Google My Business listing is increasingly important, Kristi Hagen points out. Hagen is an expert SEO, Writer and Chief Editor with SearchEngineNews.com.
"Google properties are taking over the local search results, so your job is to adjust to the change and take full advantage of all the opportunities Google is giving you,” she says. “Claim, verify and build out every single feature within your Google My Business listing that is relevant. That includes replying to and adding new relevant questions, taking advantage of Google Posts, adding your services menu, as well as any other actions customers can take (i.e. make an appointment). And don't be afraid to use local advertising to stand out on the search result."
Whether your business serves a local area, or you sell or publish information for a much wider audience, optimizing your web site so it gets found by searchers is important. Unfortunately, it’s something that many small businesses don’t do, even though some basic search engine optimization (SEO) techniques are easy to implement. Small businesses that want to learn the basic principles can download Search Engine News’ free guide, The Unfair Advantage Book: Winning the Search Engine Wars.
Small and local businesses have traditionally found that relationship building and word of mouth marketing are what brings in business. That hasn’t changed. But what has changed is the importance of combining offline activities with online communications to build those relationships and spread word of mouth. Providing useful buying information and staying in touch with clients and prospects online have become an important part of the process.
Alignable, an online social and business connection network used by three million SMBs, recently polled more than 30,000 marketing experts in its network to see what marketing tactics they recommend for most small businesses. The poll showed, “The top three marketing efforts that should give small businesses the best results this year are: Social Media Marketing (18%), Content Marketing (15%), and Email Marketing (14%),” says Eric Groves, CEO, and Co-Founder of Alignable. “As an aside,” he adds, “Alignable has found a combination of these three approaches to be most effective for marketing our small business, as well."
Groves explains that "Alignable's small business marketers favored Social Media Marketing because it can be laser-targeted to reach key audiences and it's generally affordable for most small business owners. Content Marketing was praised as one of the best ways to generate leads and new business by showcasing an owner's expertise and energizing inbound marketing. And finally, updated Email Marketing is still very popular, because it remains a very cost-effective outbound marketing option."
In addition to those strategies, many businesses are finding it pays to interact more directly with customers or engage them in a conversation.
“Focus on channels with high engagement,” advises Larry Kim, CEO, and founder of Mobile Monkey, a Facebook Messenger marketing platform. “Cut channels with low return, like the Facebook newsfeed. Businesses on Facebook are watching engagement drop, competition climb, and ad costs increase.”
What should you use instead? Facebook Messenger, which is used by more than 1.3 billion people worldwide, is much more likely to get good results, Kim suggests.
“On the rise is chat applications. We see open rates as high as 80 percent with Facebook Messenger marketing.” He adds that “there's a power period for every channel and the next few years are going to be the chatbot marketing era.”
One reason chatbots are becoming important marketing tools is that people like them. Facebook reports that the majority of people who message businesses say that being able to message a business increases their confidence in the brand.
Another reason chatbots are coming into wider use is that there are now products that make it easy and affordable for small businesses to implement chatbots. Mobile Monkey, for instance, offers a free chatbot builder that you can use to easily create campaigns and automations on Facebook Messenger without writing any code.
In addition to Mobile Monkey, there are many other companies that make easy-to-implement chatbots for use with Facebook Messenger as well as on your own website.
Podcasting – recording interviews, tips and hints, and other information and making it available to download on the web – has been around for many years but has recently been growing in popularity.
Today, according to a CBS News poll two-thirds of Americans listen to podcasts once in a while, while 23% listen several times a week. While the most popular podcasts are music podcasts, other podcast niches attract millions of listeners. According to the Q3 2018 Nielsen Podcast Insights; A Marketer’s Guide to Podcasting, there are 58.9 million households that include a technology podcast listener, 57.2 million with a listener to health and living podcasts, and 52 million who have someone that listens to business podcasts. And those are just a few of the many niches. You can find podcasts in every field.
Shawn Collins is the Co-CEO of Affiliate Summit, the premier affiliate marketing conference, and one of the top marketing conferences of any type. He and his co-founder, Missy Ward, launched Affiliate Summit in 2003 with an event that attracted 200 attendees. Today, Affiliate Summit attracts thousands of attendees at a series of conferences in the US, Europe, and Asia. More than 6,000 people recently attended Affiliate Summit West 2019 in Las Vegas, NV.
One of the methods Collins uses to build awareness for Affiliate Summit is podcasting. He hosts This Is Affiliate Marketing, a podcast that’s about people in the affiliate marketing industry.
"I've been using podcasting as a marketing tool for my small businesses for well over ten years,” says Collins. “It's super low cost, easy to learn to do the production part and a great way to reach your audience. The format of my current podcast could be applied to most any business - I line up interviews with people in my industry, but I don't ask them about business. Rather I go through their social media and ask them questions about their favorite music, first jobs, pets, etc. It's a great way to create and strengthen business relationships, plus sharing that deeper insight with others in the industry."
Podcasting is reasonably easy to do, but there are some tricks of the trade for managing the workflow, producing podcasts that sound good, and building an audience. There are a number of excellent resources that can help small businesses learn how to do podcasting and use it to grow their audience. Two of the best courses are:
Mastering Audio Podcasting, offered by David H., Lawrence XVII, a veteran actor (most people know him as one of the creepy evil villains on NBC's Heroes), voice-over talent (lots of audiobooks and most recently in Cars 3), and one of the very first podcasters, with over 12,000 podcast episodes to his credit, going back to 1995.
There are a multitude of marketing methods that are trending for small businesses, and they are trending because they work. One of the most important and affordable for small businesses is online lead generation, which is often used in conjunction with content marketing giveaways. Building good sales funnels for following up on, upselling or even down-selling leads is the way many Internet entrepreneurs have built their businesses. There are many other ways small businesses use online tools to bring in business. Some have shared what works for them in this Internet Tips article.
A “trend” is the general tendency, behavior or direction something is taking. In other words, it’s something a lot of people seem to be doing or talking about. To figure out what’s going to work for your business, think about who your customers are, which customers you might be missing, and how they want to discover and shop for the things they need. Then choose the digital marketing strategies that are likely to get your business seen when your customers are looking for you.
One last tip: don’t let all the digital marketing options overwhelm you. For maximum effectiveness, you may need to combine several tactics, but the way to get started is one step at a time. Learn about and try one tactic, test it, and measure your results and see what you can do to improve results, then do the same with other internet marketing techniques.
? 2019 Attard Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be reproduced, reprinted or redistributed without written permission from Attard Communications, Inc.
About the author:
Janet Attard is the founder of the award-winning Business Know-How small business web site and information resource. Janet is also the author of The Home Office And Small Business Answer Book and of Business Know-How: An Operational Guide For Home-Based and Micro-Sized Businesses with Limited Budgets. Follow Janet on Twitter and on LinkedIn