Want to learn about marketing for your small business? Browse our guides for information on digital marketing, SEO, social media, email marketing and more.
Chapter 1: Online marketing for small business
How many online shoppers have heard of your shop or eCommerce site? Now, how many do you think have heard of Facebook, Google or Amazon? Ecommerce experts, BigCommerce, explain how you can use those online marketplaces to extend your reach and revenue.
Introducing omnichannel marketing
Consumers can interact with a brand in more ways than ever before. They might browse your online shop, visit a physical store, see a print brochure, hear an ad on the radio, or reach you through an app.
When you promote products through several of these avenues, you’re omnichannel marketing. BigCommerce takes that definition a little further. They encourage small businesses to sell their goods through multiple online channels, including big online marketplaces like Facebook, Pinterest, Google Shopping, Amazon and eBay.
It’s a great business move. Imagine how much extra brand exposure and the revenue it could bring. And best of all, it won’t cost you much effort or money. If you have the right eCommerce platform, you can run all your storefronts from one dashboard.
Why it works for small business
Omnichannel marketing helps you cast a wider net. When people go to their favourite shopping sites – the places they visit most – you’ll be there. It’s accessible, affordable online marketing for small business that will get a lot more eyeballs on your products. On top of that, you’ll take advantage of the reputations those sites have for reliable shipping and trusted payment gateways.
While your personal eCommerce site will always be the main hub of your business’s online activity, it makes sense to try and reach more customers by using popular online marketplaces. Here’s how to do it without creating a heap of extra work for yourself.
Many businesses already have a Facebook page running alongside their own website. As you add content to your Facebook page and build an audience, you should consider how to convert those followers into paying customers. Don’t complicate things by sending them to your website to buy products. Let them make the purchase right there on Facebook.
It’s a really simple way to boost online marketing for small businesses who already have a Facebook page. To set up your shop, go to your company Facebook page, click the Shop section, and add your products’ photos and details. Customers who already ‘like’ your page will see when you upload new products. You can also use Facebook’s cost-effective advertising options to reach new customers.
Putting your products on Facebook can increase sales, boost brand recognition and win you more ‘likes’. It’s relatively easy to make your Facebook shop consistent with your brand through the use of cover, product and profile images.
Tech accessories company, Native Union, saw an immediate impact when they opened a Facebook shop. “It represents an additional channel to help new customers discover our brand,” says owner Tanya Keller. “Facebook drives awareness for our products, and increases traffic to our store.”
If you think of Pinterest as just a home to inspiration boards, think again. With 100 million active monthly users, it’s fantastic online marketing for your small business. You can post products there for members to pin or buy. And buy they do:
- 93% use Pinterest to plan purchases
- 87% have purchased because of Pinterest
Pinterest also allows users to save shipping and payment info, so browsers are only two clicks away from purchasing.
A versatile eCommerce platform will integrate easily with Pinterest. That will allow you to run your Pinterest store and the shop on your business’s website from one place.
Selling on Google extends your reach to customers around the world. It also highlights that you’re a local shop when someone in the area is searching for products.
Baby-goods maker, Organic Munchkin, tripled their revenue stream when they signed up to the service. Founder and CEO Peter Baseio, says it brought in customers they never knew they could reach.
“Google Shopping allows our products to be listed in a more natural format, increasing brand awareness for our niche market.”
When using the service, you get access to a number of promotional tools, such as AdWords, shopping campaigns, remarketing tools, and product ratings.
To get started, set up a Google account, then log into the Google Merchant Center to upload your product details. If you’re using BigCommerce for your website’s store, you can just transfer that same inventory to your Google store. Any changes you make to your website shop will automatically update to Google as well.
Setting up a Google Shop is comfortable with the right small business eCommerce platform.
Amazon and eBay
Amazon is the world’s most popular marketplace, with 45% of shoppers starting their product search there. eBay boasts 162 million shoppers and makes it incredibly easy to sell and track inventory.
One of the difficult things about online marketing for small businesses is finding an audience. You’re competing against big online retailers with huge ad spends and high Google rankings. Using online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, with their built-in audience of eager buyers, can level the playing field.
The Dairy Fairy uses Amazon for search purposes but still pushes their own e-commerce store. Owner, Emily Ironi, says it’s doubled their sales.
“What that tells me is that there’s a whole slew of people who didn’t know I existed until they saw me on Amazon. It’s working way better than a Google search for me.”
She says it’s really important for small businesses to maintain their own retail presence as well.
“I find that it’s still critical to have your own shop too. You have a lot more control over everything – and also your interaction with customers. It’s about finding that perfect balance.”
It’s not as easy to brand your Amazon or eBay storefront as it is with other online marketplaces. However, you can run these storefronts with the same eCommerce platform that you use for your own website – making it easy to track orders and manage inventory.
Make it easy on yourself
Omnichannel marketing sounds great, but how do you keep up with it all? Running one online shop is tough enough.
Fortunately, you can manage multiple storefronts from one place. The Channel Manager from BigCommerce, for example, gives you a single dashboard to control all your storefronts – including your own website and multiple online marketplaces.
Using a single piece of software for everything makes it simpler to:
- monitor and manage inventory
- keep a single database of all your customers – no matter where they bought your product
No matter where you make a sale, you can process it, fulfil it and track it from one central location. You’ll extend your reach and revenue potential without adding to your workload. It’s the ultimate in online marketing for small businesses that are short on time and budget.
Bring it all together
Integration is critical when thinking about omnichannel marketing. Your eCommerce platform should be able to manage multiple shopfronts – and it should plug into your accounting software too. That way, your revenue and tax data will be processed as you go.
Once you have a system like this setup, a big chunk of your business will be automated. You can stay on top of everything by checking a few dashboards and confirming stock orders.
Online marketing for small business is getting easier
Today’s consumers value convenience and flexibility. No one gives them that more than big online marketplaces which offer:
- trusted payment gateways
- swift delivery
- masses of products
Why not post your products there and cash in on the opportunity?
Just be aware that omnichannel marketing is about more than setting up multiple storefronts. Think of it as creating a brand experience that reaches customers wherever they are. It’s essential to use consistent messaging across channels, giving customers a similar brand experience regardless of how they purchase your products.
Chapter 2: Email marketing for retail stores
Despite the popularity of social media, email is still one of the most effective marketing channels. Often it’s the best way to engage with your customers. So how can email marketing help you increase your retail sales?
Make email work for your retail business
Email is the most reliable method of staying in touch with your customers. Almost everyone who buys from you will have an email address. And that email address will probably remain with them for years. It’s much more reliable than a physical address.
Whether you’re running an eCommerce business or a physical retail store, email can work for you. It’s not just about selling – it’s about creating and building a relationship with your customers. A good strategy can:
- increase sales
- improve lead conversion
- reach new customers
- enhance brand engagement
- deliver customer loyalty.
Eight key ways to build an email marketing strategy
Before getting into about the detail, it’s a good idea to create a strategy. Consider your marketing goals and how you might achieve them through email. To get you started, think about the following points:
- Establish a voice for your business
How do you want your business to be perceived? Serious, light-hearted, authoritative, quirky? Email allows you to build a voice that your customers will hear as they read. Give careful thought to how you want it to sound.
- Build trust with your customers
Consumers are cautious with their money – and their trust. They get dozens of emails every day. That means it’s hard to build trust. But there are ways you can do it and comply with your legal obligations not to spam people:
- Make sure you have opt-in email marketing. Don’t automatically grab email addresses – let people subscribe to themselves.
- Make it easy to unsubscribe. Customers are entitled to change their minds. Show them you respect their decision.
- Explain the benefits for the person signing up, in clear language. Make them understand what’s in it for them.
- Give them a choice about what type of information they’ll receive from you, and how often. This will make them feel like they are in control and they’ll appreciate that.
- Don’t spam customers by emailing too often. There’s a fine line between engaging people and annoying them. According to a survey by BlueHornet, the main reason more than a third of consumers unsubscribe is too many emails. A nice touch is to offer consumers the chance to opt down and get fewer emails. That may prevent many of them opting out altogether.
- Offer relevant information
Understand your target audience and make sure you only send them relevant emails. Doing this well might mean segmenting your mailing list – creating a smaller list from your full customer database. So you’ll need to know how you can use the information in your database. It’s clear that short, targeted emails are more effective than long, general ones.
- Integrate email with other channels
Email works best when combined with other marketing channels. These could include your website and social media accounts. Keep your messaging consistent across all channels. Coordinate across platforms and use targeted ads, social media, your website and paid advertising campaigns. All of these will help boost the performance of your email marketing.
- Measure everything
Emails can be tracked and monitored effectively using smart software. Use analytics and carefully-chosen metrics to understand how customers are engaging with your emails. This data will help you tailor and refine your strategy.
- Track every email
This will help you determine what’s working and what’s not. Key metrics you might use include:
- number of emails sent
- number delivered
- percentage delivered
- number bounced
- number pending
- number opened
- percentage opened
- number of clicks
- click-through rate (CTR)
- number of unsubscribes
- percentage of unsubscribes.
- Ask your customers for feedback
Asking for feedback helps make customers feel more engaged and will help you fine-tune your marketing efforts.
- Analyse your results and act accordingly
Find the best performing segments, the best phrases and the best times. Keep refining your email marketing and watch the results improve.
Once you have a general strategy in place, you can think about the practical details.
Approximately 70 percent of people read emails on a mobile device. Make sure your marketing emails can be easily read – and acted upon – on a small screen.
How to make sure your emails are read – and acted upon
If you fire off emails without thinking about the content carefully, you risk the recipients ignoring or deleting them. Use these tips to ensure you send high-quality emails:
- Personalise your email newsletters
Make sure you include each recipient’s name. This is easy enough to do with smart email marketing software. It will help reassure your customers that the email is genuine and show that you pay attention to detail.
- Hone in on your best customers. One way to do this is by ranking the most profitable and loyal customers. Reward them with a surprise offer or incentivise them to buy inventory that you want to shift.
- Target your emails based on behaviour. Think about your reader audience and their demographics, lifestyle, interests, or their recency, frequency and monetary value (RFM). The latter is one of the most effective targeting methods.
- Focus on your subject line – and A/B test it. The subject line is the bait that encourages recipients to open your mail. Limit it to about 60 characters and use effective words. Retailers frequently use words like ‘your’, ‘daily’ and ‘a extra’. Test your subject line using email marketing software to ensure your emails get at high open rate.
- Use everyday conversational langua.
Always make sure the content you create is written in plain English and is free of jargon. Use short sentences and words that are to the point. Don’t use flowery language or a sales-oriented tone – and don’t be pushy. For most customers, that will be counterproductive.
- Use key dates to send emails at the right time
A calendar will help you send emails at the appropriate times. For example, some retailers do more than 60 percent of their business on certain holiday dates. Back-to-school dates and tax deadlines are also busy times. Think about your customers to work out what other dates might be significant.
- Make sure your content reads well and looks great on mobile devices
Around 70 percent of people read emails on a mobile device. Ensure your marketing emails can be easily read – and acted upon – on a small screen. Ask a competent developer to help you. Be sure to include tracking data, so you know which customers are using mobile devices.
Making email marketing a core part of your business
It’s worth integrating email marketing into your everyday operations – instead of it being an add-on function. You can do this in several ways:
- Send order-related emails
When your customer orders a product, send them a confirmation email. Keep them updated about shipping dates. Use these emails as opportunities for cross-selling – for example, “We noticed you ordered a raincoat, so we thought you might like to see our range of boots.”
- Send milestone-related emails
If you know your customer has a birthday, send them an email and perhaps include a special offer. Customers love personalised emails – they’re a great way to show how much you value them. You could also send an email on the anniversary of when they became your customer.
- Send trigger-related emails
If a customer has an item or items in their shopping basket but doesn’t finish the buying process, send them an email. Offer an incentive like a discount for them to complete the purchase.
Give your customers what they want
Email marketing works best when both the sender and the recipient benefit from it. As the sender, you want to make more retail sales and, therefore, more money. The best way to do that is to give your customers what they want.
So send them occasional, well-targeted, well-written emails offering something of value. Deals, special offers and shopping ideas will encourage your customers to buy.
If you do it well, email marketing will turn initial visits into repeat orders. It will help drive customer retention. And it will encourage customers and clients to stay loyal to your brand. That’s quite an achievement for such a simple – and free – method of communication.
Chapter 3: Small business marketing & how to do it
Customer emails, social media posts and sales receipts are full of marketing data. We spoke to Constant Contact, an online marketing company, to find out how small businesses can make the best use of this data.
Marketing on a budget
Large businesses often have dedicated marketing departments with big budgets, because it’s not enough just to create a product or service – you also have to tell people about it.
Small businesses are at a disadvantage because they don’t have the funds or the staff to run big marketing campaigns. In fact, the marketing manager in a small business might also be the PR manager, customer service representative and advertising director!
Constant Contact says small businesses have advantages in other areas. They can move fast, are nimble, and have access to tools that can help them do marketing on a budget. Connected tools are convenient, using the cloud to quickly and efficiently dig into business data to find useful leads.
You probably already have the information your small business needs to conduct successful marketing for your small business. All you need to do is analyse it properly. Constant Contact has made it easy to stay in touch with your customers and persuade them to become loyal customers.
Five ways customer data contains hidden gold
Everyday business operations generate a lot of data. Emails to and from customers, POS (point of sale) records and social media interactions are full of valuable information. Analysts call some of this unstructured data because it isn’t processed or ‘mined’ for business use.
That’s a shame – and potentially a financial loss – because this information can give businesses a boost. For example:
- Seasonal trends
We all know that t-shirts sell better in summer months and woolly hats sell better in winter. But what about more subtle seasonal variations? What’s the best stock to carry halfway through spring, or at the end of autumn? Do trends follow the months of the year precisely? How much variation is due to the weather? POS data will help you out here, but only if you analyse it properly.
- Who’s buying what?
These days it’s not enough to know that your customers are buying your products. You need to know which customers are buying which products. Age, gender, socio-economic demographics, all of this is vital marketing information. Loyalty schemes can help here, which is why so many businesses use them. But digging into your data will also tell you a lot about customers’ purchasing patterns.
- Multiple purchases – how are they linked?
Your POS system will record every sales transaction, including details of products that are bought together. This can help you create special linked promotions, but first, you have to get that information out of the system and into a readable form.
- Marketing new products
Customers might like your product but want it to do new things, or do existing things differently. Before you start the purchase or design phase for an upgraded model, analyse your customer feedback on social media and email. It will tell you what your customers want, which will save you a lot of time – and help you market the finished product to them.
- Complaints patterns
Are the same complaints cropping up time and time again in emails and on social media? Analysing this data will help you identify problem areas in your business and fix them. Then you can tell your customers about your improved service – which is a form of marketing for your small business.
So looking at business data can uncover valuable insights. It can tell you what types of products your customers prefer, whether they like purchasing in-store or online, what time of year and even what time of day a customer makes the most purchases. It can also tell you why they might return something they bought, and what new stock you should consider buying or creating.
Once you have this knowledge, you can set up intelligent marketing campaigns to sell more of your products or services. But first, you must extract the information you need.
What tools are available?
Small businesses can access many sources of data, including sales receipts, Facebook Insights, and Google Analytics reports. Ideally, you’ll want to integrate your own sales data with customer data. That will give you the best possible insight into the way your customers behave and let you use that knowledge in your marketing campaigns.
This data can be treated as financial information because it’s telling you how and when money flows through your business. So it makes sense to use your accounting software as the hub to store and manage data for marketing purposes.
That might have been difficult just a few years ago, but cloud-based accounting software has changed dramatically. The best cloud accounts packages today will let you plug in hundreds of additional software tools. Some of those are designed to help you handle customer marketing.
So you might end up with an accounting system that’s linked into a CRM (customer relationship management) package, data mining tools, reporting software and marketing programs. And all of it is based in the cloud so that you can access it anytime and wherever you happen to be.
Communicate with your customers
Once you’ve extracted valuable customer information from business data, how do you use it? Quite simply, to understand what your customers want and then give it to them – and tell them about it! Let’s take the example of a local hardware store:
- Follow seasonal trends
By looking at seasonal purchasing trends for items such as barbecue grills, outdoor rugs and sun cream, the hardware store owner can determine what kinds of items sell the best, such as gas grills versus charcoal grills, at what time of year. They can then make sure their inventory matches demand.
- Offer helpful free information
The hardware store owner can also use this information in a marketing campaign, perhaps by creating an email newsletter that highlights popular seasonal items. They might include some tips on how to create the perfect summer party because that adds value through content and fosters customer loyalty.
- Match offers to buyers
This could be taken further, with special offers to encourage purchases of select items. For example, the retailer could create a targeted campaign to gas grill owners offering discounts on propane, and to charcoal grill owners offering discounts on charcoal.
You might not have time to do this for all the products you sell. But you can still have an effective marketing strategy by focusing on doing one thing well. Try sending out monthly email newsletters with valuable, engaging content. Curious to find out about the top ten tips for successful email marketing? Read more in part two of this guide.
The top 10 must-have tips for email marketing
Part I of this guide focused on small business marketing on a budget and the tools to do this. There are many different marketing ways to your customers, ranging from direct mail to telephone calls, online banners to radio ads, and Facebook to Twitter. But businesses often see high returns from email marketing.
As Constant Contact says, that’s because people regularly check their email and spend a lot of time in front of it. Sending an email is cheap, too, but how do you get your message across effectively?
- Build relationships with your readers
Not all of your readers are the same. Some may be lifelong customers, while others will be new to your business, so segmenting your email lists is very important. Have a goal in mind when you send an email, whether it’s attracting new customers to your store, driving traffic to your website or simply raising awareness. That goal should dictate how you craft your message. Take your time to think this through, so your customers feel connected to you.
- Start small
Don’t send your first email newsletter to your entire mailing list. Start small, with perhaps a few dozen or a few hundred recipients. Then watch the response. If it’s okay, send it to more people. If it’s not, tweak and test out a new version.
- Make it easy to opt-in and opt out
Email marketing is permission-based. That mean customers have indicated (through a sign-up form on a website or a number of other ways) that they want to receive emails from you. But they might change their mind. As important as making it easy for people to receive your emails, you must also make it easy for them to opt-out or unsubscribe. Be sure to follow their wishes, or risk being labelled a spammer.
- Personalise your emails
If half your customers are middle-aged women, then there’s no point sending them emails offering cheap football boots. Or is there? If their children play sports at school, they could be just the customers you’re looking for. This is why business information is so important. Never make assumptions. Use the data to find out what you need to know, then send the right offers to the right customers.
- Use good content to keep your readers engaged. Think of the recipients of your emails as more than customers. Think of them as readers too. Give them a narrative, a story about the products you’re selling. Help them to engage with your products, to find a way to weave them into their own lives. Your emails should not just be used as a sales vehicle but also as an opportunity to foster relationships. Be sure to include helpful hints and best practices that will bring value to your readers. Keep your content interesting and fresh, and always relevant. You will build an engaged audience of loyal customers this way.
- Strike a balance with length
It’s important to find the sweet spot in terms of the length of your emails. You need to figure out what will be most effective for most people on your list. Keep in mind that a lot of emails are read on mobile devices, so you’re working with less real estate. On the other hand, an email can be too short. If there isn’t sufficient content to grab your readers’ interest, they’ll move on to the next email. It’s all about testing out different options to find a balance that works for you and your readers.
- Get the tone right
There’s a fine line between marketing emails that add value and are welcomed by the recipient, and ‘spam’ or junk mail which will be deleted immediately. Don’t go over the top with exclamation marks and wild claims. Try to use a friendly, authoritative, but not arrogant tone. Your goal is to get the customer on your side and keep them there.
- Offer something of value
There’s nothing wrong with simply listing your products and their prices. That’s useful information for people who are already looking to buy. But you can go further, to convert those who are undecided. Offer discounts for people ordering in response to your email. Two-for-one deals, discounts on multiple purchases, free shipping for orders over a certain value – there are plenty of ways to add value and get your customers to spend more.
- Track email responses
With the right software, email marketing lets you track your campaigns’ response by embedding unique links into each message. Some of the response metrics might include:
- Who opened your email.
- Which links in the email were clicked.
- Who forwarded your email to others.
- Who shared your email on social media.
- Which emails led to sales, online reviews, event registrations and other destinations.
This will provide insight into the type of information your audience is most interested in and gives you a benchmark to improve upon every time you hit ‘Send’.
10. Don’t spam!
Sending out email ‘blasts’ of generic, over-the-top sales text is a waste of time – for you and for your customers. You’ll lose existing subscribers faster than you can sign up new ones. Effective email marketing takes time, thought, and consideration. You must be focused on building relationships.
Email communication is a good way to hone your marketing skills. Once you’ve mastered it, you can move on to other outlets, such as social media and mobile marketing. Although the platforms might be different, many of the skills and tactics required are the same.
Understand what your customers want
The two main goals of marketing are to get repeat business and to win new customers. Even small companies can do this successfully, with the right attitude and the right software. The key is to understand what your customers want and then tell them that you can provide it.
Once you get used to analysing and using business information for marketing purposes, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it. “Insight” is the right word for this business knowledge because, without it, you are blind to the behaviour and needs of your customers.
The best combination of cloud software and marketing strategy will give you hyper-targeted marketing campaigns that hit your customers at the right time, in the right place and with the correct information or offer. Marketing for your small business has never been more effective.
Chapter 4: Selling products to retailers is getting easier
Wholesaling to chain stores used to be impossible. They wanted big brands and lots of product. But selling products to retailers is getting easier for small businesses. Laura Curtis of Malvi Marshmallow Confection has done it, and she says not to be afraid of the big guys.
Chain stores have mellowed
Laura’s small batch Malvi Marshmallow Confections are sold in big retail outlets like Anthropologie, Dean & DeLuca and Wholefoods. They approached her – and she says small businesses will be surprised how easy big retailers can be to work with.
Retail futurist, Howard Saunders of 22nd and 5th says the retail world changed a lot after the global financial crisis and now is a good time for small producers.
Common concerns when selling products to retailers and chain stores
Wholesaling your product to a chain store might seem scary. You’re probably worried that you’ll have to:
- give up all your information and ideas
- deal with a team of lawyers
- watch for hidden costs or tricky fine print
- give big discounts and never make any money
In reality, chain stores understand the benefits of partnering with small-batch producers like you – and those benefits are not all about price and profits.
Why big retailers suddenly care about brands like yours
Howard says small brands hold real appeal for modern consumers. Today’s customers are interested in authenticity – they want products “with values, not just value”.
As a result, chain stores are looking for artisan and craft products from local producers. It gives them kudos and brings shoppers into their stores.
The real value is your story
Big retailers don’t really need your product. They have plenty on their shelves already. And Howard says they’re not going to make much money selling your goods, either. Your real value to them is your brand.
If you plan on selling products to retailers, make sure you leverage your backstory. It doesn’t matter how small you might be – if you’re unique and exciting, you make their store more inviting.
“Small batch producers think they have to look big and sophisticated and already out there, already corporate – actually that’s not what the retailers want at all,” Howard explains.
Don’t waste your time trying to look polished. Focus on developing a compelling brand story:
- Be local
Do you use local materials or ingredients? Are your goods made using regional techniques?
- Find your artisan angle
Is there something unusual about what goes into your product or how you make it?
- Stay real
Try to make your packaging look and feel hand-crafted – you want to differentiate yourself from glossy mega-brands
How to approach a chain store?
Before launching Malvi Marshmallow Confections, Laura had worked as a buyer for retailers. As someone who’s been on both sides, she gave us some tips on how to get started.
- Find the right person
Check out a company’s website and use resources like LinkedIn to identify the right person to target within that organisation.
- Go to them. If you can, try visiting the chain store’s head office with samples. But make sure you email ahead to make an appointment.
- Get your product out there. Try to build some buzz around your product by selling at local markets, seeking endorsements from your customers, and staying active on social media.
Laura got a deal with Whole Foods when one of the company’s marketing chiefs spotted her product at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. You never know where your break will come from, so the simple message is get out there.
Tips for negotiating with chain stores
If a big retailer is interested in your product, you’ll need to negotiate a supply contract. Don’t be nervous. Many chain stores are ready to give you a solid deal. Treat it as you would any negotiation – be flexible, open and mindful of what you need out of the contract.
Laura and Howard shared some tips:
- Don’t lose sight of profit
Chain stores give your brand great exposure and credibility. You may be tempted to discount your product to get on their shelves. That’s ok – it’s a negotiation, after all – but make sure you stay profitable.
- Be wary of process changes. Retailers may ask for small changes to how you pack or label your product. That can seem like a simple thing to do in exchange for a deal, but Laura says it can really slow your business down. She turns down chain stores that ask for it.
- Tell your story, Recognise the value you bring to the chain store. Your brand helps broaden their appeal, so take time and effort over how it’s presented in store.
Retailers are your partners – everyone should win
If you’re a small business, don’t overlook chain stores as a wholesaling option. Selling products to retailers of that size may have been challenging in the past, but all that’s changing. It’s an excellent opportunity to gain visibility for your product and grow your business.
You’re never too small to think about big retailers.
Chapter 5: SEO for small business
As a business owner, you must understand that ranking highly in search engines is vital for your website. In fact, it could be your golden ticket to immense profits. But how? The answer is search engine optimisation (or SEO).
How SEO improves your website’s visibility
SEO is the process of making your website visible in search engine results pages (or ‘SERPs’ as they’re often called). And what a process it is. The Google algorithm considers over 200 factors when determining what websites to show for a specific search term.
It all starts with your website. Google sends out automated ‘robots’ (also called ‘spiders’ or ‘crawlers’) to visit every accessible page on every website across the internet. These robots gather information on each webpage and store it all on the many Google servers located worldwide. This way, when someone searches for a term related to your site, the Google algorithm goes to work, processing all the information that has been collected from your site and similar sites. It then determines which areas are most authoritative and relevant to query. The results are presented in the form of an ordered list, with the best options at the top.
To simplify things, think of the web like your local library. Your site is a new book that has just arrived, and the librarian is the Google robot. She gets familiar with your book and determines the most logical section to display it in. A visitor comes to the library, and they aren’t aware your book exists, but they’re interested in the genre or topic. So they head to the relevant section, explore the different titles and eventually decide to check out your book because it’s just what they’re looking for. Success!
SEO is constantly evolving
Website owners have been thinking about how to make their sites rank in search engines since the rise of the internet in the 1990s. Along the way, some SEO practitioners figured out ways to trick the algorithm into thinking their site was more relevant and authoritative than it actually was. This type of optimisation was coined ‘black hat SEO’. It quickly became frowned upon due to the negative experience it created for web users. Some SEO techniques were originally acceptable (known as ‘white hat’) but moved into the black hat category as they became overused or as the web matured.
Search engine algorithms are consistently updated to make black hat techniques less effective. SEO is always in a state of evolution – so it’s important to remember that what mattered a few years ago could now be less effective or thoroughly discouraged. If the Google crawlers identify black hat SEO on your website, your site could be penalised and drastically drop in search engine rankings. The best way to avoid black hat SEO is always to ask yourself if you are improving your site’s experience by providing valuable and original information. If the answer is ‘yes’, you can feel confident that your website is search-engine friendly.
Seven ways to optimise your website for search engines
If you ever tried to learn about SEO, you’ve likely heard dozens of different things you should do. It can be overwhelming trying to figure out where to start.
The best place to begin is with the list below:
These are the queries that your prospects would likely search for when looking for your type of business. Start by coming up with the obvious ones and then use a keyword research tool to identify other terms that could direct people to your site. You can get an idea of how competitive terms are and how often they’re searched for and go from there. Once you have your keyword list determined, you need to make sure these terms exist throughout your site.
It’s important not to overuse keywords – search engines will penalise any content that looks spammy. Aim for roughly 2 percent keyword density.
- Page copy
It should contain your keywords but be sure not to overdo it. The Google crawlers read text just like us humans do, so it’s more important that copy is readable and well-written. Many people use their keywords too much in their website copy, thinking they are really letting Google know what terms they want to rank for. In reality, they are writing poor copy which makes for a bad experience on their website and can actually hurt their site’s ranking. Before you publish a new page, double-check your copy. If your grammar school English teacher wouldn’t like it, neither will search engine crawlers.
- Title tags
This is the copy that appears as the clickable link in SERPs and in the tab of most web browsers. It acts as the title for each individual page so it carries a lot of weight with search engines. You’ll need to make sure each title tag is unique, contains relevant keywords and follows a consistent format across your site. It’s best practice to include a keyword specific to the page. If you have space, you should also include your brand name. It’s best to use a hyphen (-) or a vertical bar (|) to separate keywords from your brand name. Keep copy to under 55 characters to make sure it’s not too long to display.
- Heading tags
There are six different heading tags you can use (from H1 to H6). H1 is the most important heading tag to search engines and should be applied to the page headline. It’s essential not to use the H1 tag more than once per page, as it could result in an over-optimisation penalty with Google. The other title tags can be used multiple times on a single page. On a page that contains a lot of copy, the H1 tag can act as the headline and H2s can be applied to each sub-headline. This format sends signals to the search engine crawlers, while also making for a robust user experience by breaking text into separate sections.
- URL structure
URLs present another opportunity to showcase your keywords to search engines. Be sure they’re included in the resource path – or the part of the URL that comes after the domain name or /. It’s best practice to use all lowercases and hyphens to separate words when optimising URLs. Here’s a good example: rockyardshoes.com/running-shoes.
Search engine crawlers can’t see images like humans, so they rely on the code behind the image to understand what it is being displayed. They gather information from the alt tag, image title and filename.
- Alt tag text is the copy shown in place of an image when it can’t be displayed – perhaps it failed to load, or the user is visually impaired and uses a screen reader. You should provide a brief explanation of the image for alt tag text. For example, ‘Woman wearing running shoes’.
- Image title is the copy that appears when you hover the mouse over an image. The copy should build on the description the alt tag text provides. Think of it like an image caption. For example, ‘Orange running shoes for women’.
- Filename is the name applied to an image when it’s saved. For example, image337.png isn’t great. But running-shoes-women.png is. Take a moment to make sure it is descriptive and only use lowercase text and separate words using hyphens.
- Meta descriptions
A meta description may seem daunting – but it’s just a name for the two lines of text that appear in search engine result pages under the clickable link and URL. If you don’t provide Google with a meta description, then it will display random text from your page that may mean nothing to a user. Meta descriptions no longer factor into search engine rankings, but they can help encourage searchers to visit your site by providing a preview of what’s in store. It’s best to keep the copy under 150-155 characters and to include a call to action. For example, ‘Start your free trial today’.
Updating your website usually requires editing HTML code. However, many modern content management systems, like Squarespace or WordPress, enable you to build and edit a website with no coding knowledge.
Commit to SEO for the long haul
Once your website is optimised for search engines, you’ll need to form an on-going SEO strategy. This is the hard part of SEO, but it’s what will separate you from your competitors. Think of it like going to the gym. You need to devote time and energy, stick to a plan and patiently wait for results.
Three ways to provide visitors with great content
For the people at Google, the internet is all about the exchange of information. This means that the Google algorithm places a lot of weight on the quality of the content on your site how often you publish it.
Content is a blanket term that refers to the descriptive copy on your webpages, in addition to blog posts, articles, case studies, videos, infographics, slideshows and so on. Anything that provides valuable information and is accessible to search engine crawlers is considered content.
The key to producing great content for SEO purposes is to make it fresh, relevant and unique.
- Publish fresh new content frequently. This shows Google that your website is still active. Old content quickly goes stale if it’s in a prominent area of your site.
- Keep content relevant
Your content should be related to your website and what your business offers. Don’t stray off-topic. It could confuse search engine crawlers, as well as visitors to your site.
- Always be unique. You should present information that is not available on other websites or at least in a different form than it exists on other websites. Never copy and paste content from other sites onto yours. It will do more harm than good.
The importance of inbound links
Links on other websites that point back to yours are known as ‘inbound links’ and play a huge role in obtaining favourable search engine rankings. If the web is all about exchanging information, then inbound links are virtually other sites endorsing what your site has to say.
Not all inbound links are created equal in the eyes of Google, though. A single link from a major website like nytimes.com or bbc.co.uk can provide value equivalent to a dozen links from average websites.
Creating great content and obtaining inbound links go hand and hand. When you write a great blog post or guide, it’s going to influence Google crawlers. It’s also going to impress visitors to your site, who will want to share it on social media and link to it on their own websites.
Be visible to local searchers
If you run a brick-and-mortar business, you want your website to convince people in your community to visit in person. Optimising your site to appeal to people close to you is known as local SEO.
Be sure to include your location in your main keywords. If you run a seafood restaurant in Boston, you’ll want to be sure that your website is visible to local searchers seeking a seafood restaurant. You’ll want to optimise around the term ‘seafood restaurant Boston’ in order to let Google know where your restaurant is located.
It’s also essential to sign up for a Google My Business account. This ensures that your business contact information is consistent across Google search, Maps and Google +. It also gives your business a greater presence in search results. Your customers can leave reviews, which naturally attracts new customers.
SEO will help your website succeed
As you can see, putting in place a strategy is essential if you want your business to succeed online. If you constantly improve your website and publish great content then you will have a better search engine ranking than your competitors. It’s that simple.
Chapter 6: 7 digital marketing strategies for your business
Marketing online can be a daunting prospect. Facebook, Twitter, websites, viral campaigns, Google+, email, blogs – there’s a lot to consider. So here’s what you really need to know about digital marketing.
1. Learn by example
Like any aspect of running a small business, digital marketing is all about effort – the more you put in, the better the results will be. You don’t necessarily need a huge budget, but you do need the drive and desire to try new things and learn from the results.
One of the best ways to start is by looking at the digital marketing strategies of companies that are already doing well to see what you can learn.
Investigate companies in your industry and those with brands you admire – Apple is a popular choice, for good reason. Also look at companies that have a strong, loyal, online following because they must be doing something right.
2. Understand your audience
Digital marketing is like conventional marketing in some ways. The goal is to get your potential customers to engage with your brand so that you can sell your product or service to them.
You can’t do that without understanding the people you’re trying to sell to. So take the time to do it by:
- Asking for feedback on your products or services – and make it easy for people to respond.
- Engaging with your customers wherever they are: in discussion forums, social media and via email or blog comments.
- Embracing complaints – our guide ‘How to handle customer complaints’ offers valuable insight into what you could be doing better.
- Conducting market research to learn more about your customers’ needs and wishes.
Armed with all this information, you’ll be able to run targeted digital marketing campaigns with a high chance of success.
3. Communicate with your customers
Different methods of digital marketing work well with diverse audiences. For example, younger customers tend to prefer mobile apps with ‘push notification’. This is where you send information about new offers to a customer without a specific request from them. Older customers are more likely to prefer email – but not the unsolicited kind. Here are some tips for making the best use of different communication methods:
75 percent of adults online say that email is their preferred marketing method, so this should be a fundamental part of your digital marketing strategy. Think carefully about your emails’ structure, from the subject line – which should be a strong call to action – to the content and the design.
You could have a blog on its own or as part of your website. Either way, it’s a useful digital marketing tool because it offers a personal insight into your business, making it feel more human and approachable. It can also provide a platform for feedback from your customers, helping them feel more emotionally engaged.
It costs money to have an app written for your business, but perhaps not as much as you might expect. Smaller businesses often have apps, which they use to send special offers and updates to their customers.
- Social media
A presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and other social networks will help raise your profile. It can also help you engage with your potential customers and learn from their feedback. It can be time-consuming work, though, so begin with one or two networks. Don’t spread yourself too thin and start by going where your customers already are.
- Viral campaigns
A viral marketing campaign is where a small marketing project spreads far further than its intended audience. Some companies try to force their campaigns to ‘go viral’, but this is a risky business. If the wrong message goes viral, it can hurt the company, so be careful.
Use tools such as Hootsuite, Sprinklr and Sprout Social to monitor your social media and other online activity responses. And keep at it – a Twitter feed or Facebook presence that starts busy and then tails off into silence is not a good advertisement for your business.
Search engines love good content – it’s like Google juice to them.
4. Understand the power of Google and SEO
Search engine optimisation, or SEO, means making sure your website ranks well in search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo and others.
SEO is a moving target because search engines often change the algorithms they use to rank websites. But you don’t need to know everything – you can achieve a lot if you cover the four key areas we’ve highlighted.
Search engines try to provide search results that are useful to the people who use them. So the best way to get good SEO results is to help the search engines achieve that goal. Here are four important areas to consider:
Your website should have pages that cover the basics like an overview or welcome, ‘about us’, contact us, what you can do for your customers and why they need you. Once you have those basics in place, you can expand your site over time.
Use analytics to discover the most popular landing pages on your site – the pages most visitors come to directly. Then you can make sure those pages are full of rich content that encourages sales activity.
Search engines love good content – it’s like Google juice to them. If you can write about your business in an interesting, helpful and informative, way, you’ll be rewarded with better search rankings and better traffic. If you can’t do that yourself, pay someone who can. It’s worth the investment. Read our guide ‘SEO for small business’ to find out more about how to ensure your website ranks well in search engines.
Gone are the days when businesses could get to the top of search results simply by packing their web pages full of keywords. These days, if you try ‘keyword stuffing’ on your site, it will probably be penalised or removed from listings altogether.
Keywords do still have their places. Use them in page meta-tags, as category tags and in page titles. But use them sparingly and sensibly and choose ones that are relevant to your business. Services such as Google’s AdWords Keyword Planner and Google Trends can help you.
Make sure your site can be viewed on different devices and browsers. Check it on a smartphone, a laptop and a tablet, and any browsers you can find. Does it work well on all of them? If not, get your web developer to fix it so that it does. Your website should be accessible to everyone, whatever device they’re using.
If you do SEO properly, most of your web traffic will find your site via a search engine (such as Google). That means free sales lead for your business, so it’s essential to get it right.
5. Let your customers build your brand
Your customers can do a lot of work for you. For example, some sports clothing or luxury car brands are so well-loved, the customer ‘wears’ the company’s logo with pride. You can do something similar online, with your own brand.
For example, in the US, Fiskars makes scissors which are popular with scrapbookers. Fiskars and Brains on Fire went into the scrapbooking community and found members that were using Fiskars scissors. With these members, they created the ‘Fiskateers’, a group of brand ambassadors for Fiskars.
With a little effort and the right reward structure, any small business can do something similar online – and let the customer spread the word.
6. If all else fails, pay
Although you can get great digital marketing results with effort and time, sometimes it’s worth paying to get a quick result.
PPC (pay per click) online ads are targeted at specific audiences based on their keyword searches. PPC ads might be expensive, but they can work well:
- You only pay when people click on your ads and visit your website.
- You can track the source of each click in detail with tracking code.
- You can target a specific audience or niche.
- You can test out new keywords for relatively little cost.
Look at Google’s AdWords or Bing Ads (for MSN and Yahoo) to find out more.
7. Focus on sales
Ultimately, digital marketing is all about sales. It doesn’t matter how well you plan or design your marketing campaigns if they don’t increase your sales figures. Consider using marketing automation products to help you compare and rank the success of your campaigns.
Use quality accounting software to keep track of your online marketing expenses and compare them with increased sales revenue. If something’s not working, change it. Remember, you can track your online campaigns’ performance in detail using unique URLs alongside Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics.
Keep refreshing your marketing campaigns, testing new ideas, and watching e-commerce companies to find out how best to promote your products. Stay active and never stop learning.
The digital environment is continuously changing. If you’re nimble and determined, your small business will get the best out of it.