Tag Archive | "Small"

3 Empowering Small Business Tips for Today, 2019, and a Better Future

Posted by MiriamEllis

“American business is overwhelmingly small business.” – SBE Council

Small businesses have created 61.8% of net new jobs in the US since the early 1990s. Local business is big business. Let’s celebrate this in honor of Small Business Saturday with 3 strategies that will support independent business owners this week, and in the better future that can be attained with the right efforts.

What’s Small Business Saturday?

It’s an annual shopping event sponsored by American Express on the Saturday following Thanksgiving with the primary goal of encouraging residents to patronize local merchants. The program was launched in 2010 in response to the Great Recession. By 2017, Small Business Saturday jumped to 7,200 Neighborhood Champions (individuals and groups that organize towns for the event), with 108 million reported participating consumers spending $ 12 billion across the country.

Those numbers are impressive, and more than that, they hold the acorn of strategy for the spreading oak of a nation in which independently grown communities set standards of living, set policy, and set us on course for a sustainable future.

Tips for small businesses today

If your community is already participating in Small Business Saturday, try these techniques to enhance your success on the big day:

1. Give an extra reason to shop with you

This can be as simple as giving customers a small discount or a small free gift with their purchase, or as far-reaching as donating part of the proceeds of the day’s sales to a worthy local cause. Give customers a reason to feel extra good that they shopped with you, especially if you can demonstrate how their purchase supports their own community. Check out our Local Business Holiday Checklist for further tips.

2. Give local media something to report

Creativity is your best asset in deciding how to make your place of business a top destination on Small Business Saturday, worthy of mentions in the local news. Live music? A treasure hunt? The best store window in town? Reach out to reporters if you’re doing something extra special to build up publicity.

3. Give a reason to come back year-round

Turn a shopping moment into a teaching moment. Print up some flyers from the American Independent Business Alliance and pass them out to customers to teach them how local purchasing increases local wealth, health, and security. Take a minute or two to talk with customers who express interest. Sometimes, all it takes is a little education and kindness to shift habits. First, take a few minutes to boost your own education by reading How to Win Some Customer Back from Amazon this Holiday Season.

AMIBA has a great list of tips for Small Business Saturday success and American Express has the best examples of how whole communities have created memorable events surrounding these campaigns. I’ve seen everything from community breakfast kickoffs in Michigan, to jazz bands in Louisiana, to Santa Claus coming to town on a riverboat in California. Working closely with participating neighboring businesses can transform your town or city into a holiday wonderland on this special day, and if your community isn’t involved yet, research this year can prepare you to rally support for an application to next year’s program.

Tips for small businesses for the new year

Unless your town is truly so small that all residents are already aware of every business located there, make 2019 the year you put the Internet to work for you and your community. Even small town businesses have news and promotions they’d like to share on the web, and don’t forget the arrival of new neighbors and travelers who need to be guided to find you. In larger cities, every resident and visitor needs help navigating the local commercial scene.

Try these tips for growth in the new year:

  1. Dig deeply into the Buy Local movement by reading The Local SEO’s Guide to the Buy Local Phenomenon. Even if you see yourself as a merchant today, you can re-envision your role as a community advocate, improving the quality of life for your entire town.
  2. Expand your vision of excellent customer service to include the reality that your neighbors are almost all on the Internet part of every day looking for solutions to their problems. A combination of on-and-offline customer service is your key to becoming the problem-solver that wins lucrative, loyal patrons. Read What the Local Customer Service Ecosystem Looks Like in 2019.
  3. Not sure where to begin learning about local search marketing on the web? First, check out Moz’s free Local SEO Learning Center with articles written for the beginner to familiarize yourself with the basic concepts. Then, start following the recognized leaders in this form of marketing to keep pace with new developments and opportunities as they arise. Make a new year’s resolution to devote just 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week, to learning more about marketing your small local business. By the end of a single year, you will have become a serious force for promotion of your company and the community it serves.

Tips for an independent business future: The time is right

I’ve been working in local business marketing for about 15 years, watching not just the development of technologies, but the ebb and flow of brand and consumer habits and attitudes. What I’m observing with most interest as we close out the present year is a rising tide of localistic leanings.

On the one hand, we have some of the largest brands (Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc.) losing the trust of the public in serious scandals surrounding privacy, human rights violations, and even war. On the other hand, we have small business owners uniting to revitalize their communities in wounded cities like Detroit and tiny towns like Bozeman, in the wake of the Great Recession, itself cited as a big brand product.

Where your company does business may influence your customers’ take on economics, but overall, the engrossing trend I’m seeing is towards more trust in smaller, independently owned companies. In fact, communities across the US are starting to map out futures for themselves that are as self-sustaining as possible. Earlier, I referenced small business owners undergoing a mental shift from lone merchant to community advocate, and here, I’ve mapped out a basic model for towns and cities to shift toward independence.

What most communities can’t access locally are branded products: imported big label clothing, packaged foods, electronics, cars, branded cosmetics, books. Similarly, most communities don’t have direct local access to the manufacture or mining of plastics, metals, and gases. And, very often, towns and cities lack access to agroforestry for raw lumber, fuel, natural fibers and free food. So, let’s say for now that the typical community leaves these things up to big brands so that they can still buy computers, books and stainless steel cookware from major manufacturers.

But beyond this, with the right planning, the majority of the components for a high standard of living can be created and owned locally. For example:

There are certainly some things we may rely on big brands and federal resources for, but it isn’t Amazon or the IRS who give us a friendly wave as we take our morning hike through town, making us feel acknowledged as people and improving our sense of community. For that, we have to rely on our neighbor. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s up to towns and cities to determine whether neighbors are experiencing a decent standard of living.

Reading the mood of the economy, I am seeing more and more Americans becoming open to the messages that the percentage of small businesses in a community correlates with residents’ health, that quality social interactions lessen the chances of premature death by 50%, that independent businesses recirculate almost 4x as much community wealth, and that Main Street-style city planning massively reduces pollution vs. big box stores on the outskirts of town.

Small Business Saturday doesn’t have to be a once-a-year phenomenon. Small business owners, by joining together as community advocates, have the power to make it a way of life where they live. And they have one significant advantage over most corporations, the value of which shouldn’t be underestimated: They can begin the most important conversations face-to-face with their neighbors, asking, “Who do we want to be? Where do want to live? What’s our best vision for how life could be here?”

Don’t be afraid to talk beyond transactions with your favorite customers. Listening closely, I believe you’ll discover that there’s a longing for change and that the time is right.

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SearchCap: Google’s deal with Mastercard not ‘deceptive’, small business SEO & more

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.



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How Small Digital Publishers Can Grow Their Network and Save Time

Posted by lydiagilbertson

Being a small or startup publishing company is hard. The digital advertising industry is broken. Larger companies like Vox and Buzzfeed are some of the only online publications that can hope to monetize their content effectively. Smaller niche publications often have an even harder time attracting return visitors or getting people outside of their current active users to see their content at all. Already at a disadvantage, most small publications are also understaffed and underfunded. These publications can use content marketing and search marketing concepts within their online distribution strategy to better reach their audiences and to compete with bigger publications.

Platforms as distributors

Somehow, platforms have long been both the saviors and the destroyers of the digital publishing industry. Regardless, they’ve become a necessary evil for the content distribution strategy of almost all online publishing companies. There’s no real harm in trying out different ways to reach your audience, but don’t waste your time on a platform that isn’t growing your audience or enhancing its engagement. The usual contenders being Facebook and Twitter, there are a few more platforms that can be easily utilized towards helping you to reach your audience.

1. AMP

Google’s Accelerated Mobile Page (AMP) project is a complex attempt by Google to make pages load faster on mobile devices, keep users on their platform, and to better engage with the publishing community. Many larger sites report a lot of success using AMP. Smaller publishers may be wary of trying out AMP on their sites, out of fear that it will further overwork their staff or that it requires an intense amount of web development knowledge. However, Google AMP is fairly simple to implement (more on how further down the page) if you’re using WordPress or another common content management system.

Companies using WordPress will have an especially easy time adding AMP to the list of ways they distribute their content. Both WordPress and Yoast have plugins available to put (and manage) your content into the AMP format. Medium is also in the process of allowing its users an easy way to designate AMP content. Here are a few things to keep in mind before publishing your content via AMP:

  1. Make sure it’s in article format. AMP is meant for blog posts and news articles, so don’t try to publish products or landing pages using Google AMP.
  2. Be conscious of the audience you’re publishing for when using AMP. Articles that appear in the Google AMP carousel in the SERP are usually topical and considered “news.”
  3. If your site is struggling with speed issues, AMP could be a part (but not all) of the solution, as it will help your articles load more quickly on mobile devices.
  4. If your site doesn’t use WordPress, implementing AMP might be a little bit harder than just downloading a plugin for your CMS. Find more out about that process here.
  5. Analytics tracking should be included in your overall traffic and segmented to show how much traffic comes from AMP. Find out more about AMP and Google Analytics here.

2. Medium

Medium is another platform that can help more users to see your content and stay on the page long enough to read it. Like any platform, hosting your entire site on Medium comes with the risk of giving your content to another entity rather than your own website. This is a concern because hosting all of your content somewhere like Medium means it could make changes to the platform that you may not like, or in severe situations shut down entirely (and take your content with it). It also has limited capabilities with on-page ads. However, there are some larger publishers that have been adopting Medium as their main source of content distribution. There are several benefits to doing this:

  1. Medium has a built-in audience of millions of engaged readers.
  2. Most of the content on Medium is high quality.
  3. Migrating your entire site to the Medium platform is actually relatively easy for both WordPress and non-WordPress sites. Be sure to keep in mind that hosting all of your content on a platform can be risky.

Another way to utilize Medium’s built-in audience is to republish your content onto the platform. Medium allows for its users to write content on their platform and then canonicalize to their own website (that’s not on Medium). This allows small publishers to pick which content goes on Medium (much like a social media platform) in order to make sure it’s targeted to Medium’s user-base.

3. Google News

Google News is a section of the search engine results page that focuses entirely on timely news content. In order for many websites to be featured in this specialized SERP, they have to go through the application process and get accepted into the Google News program. After acceptance, the site has to follow and keep a specific set of meta tags up-to-date, only posting timely content designated for the platform. Find out more about how to get accepted into Google News here.

Utilize content marketing tools

Outside of monetization, the number-one hurdle that most small publishing companies face is being understaffed and overworked. One way to remedy this is using tools that help diminish the workload involved in managing content-heavy sites. Here are a list of tools that can help small publishers cut down on their tasks:

1. CoSchedule

CoSchedule is editorial calendar software that minimizes time spent keeping track of all of the posts you want/need to do on any given day. It’s designed for both small and enterprise companies, but is better suited for smaller ones due to its all-in-one approach. CoSchedule allows you to plan your posts in advance and set a time for when to post them on social media platforms, all in a single tool.

2. BuzzSumo

Ideating different pieces of content for your site takes a significant amount of time. Utilizing a tool like BuzzSumo could help you to come up with a ton of different article concepts based on what’s trending on different social media platforms.

3. Canva

Having a small team usually means that your graphic designer is extremely busy (or nonexistent). Making quick graphics and supplementary images for your posts can totally be done utilizing Canva, without bogging down your graphics team with more work than it can handle (plus, there’s a free version).

Focus on your niche

Find your niche and build your audience. Obviously, this is easier said than done. But, it’s extremely important as a small publisher to be filling a void or taking a different perspective in the already overflowing content funnel of the Internet. Find your unique voice and the people that want to hear it. Sticking to your publication’s brand or niche will in turn build you a specialized audience. This allows prospective advertisers to better target and then convert using your content.

Don’t always focus on quantity, but quality

Similar to the last point, in addition to not overstretching your genre, don’t overstretch your posting frequency. Rather than posting more times per day just to meet an imaginary quota, it’s better to create fewer posts of higher quality. Moz did a publishing experiment that illustrates the complexity of publishing frequency and content quality. Pay more attention to what your users want rather than what you assume Google does.

Summary

Being a small publishing company is hard. Most small publications find themselves understaffed and overworked trying to catch up with much larger companies.The best way to try to compete with larger publishing companies is to keep your focus small and to use external applications. They’ll help you save time and make creating easier. Utilize all of the platforms that work for your audience — not just all of the platforms available.

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Organic traffic & link building for small businesses

Link building is often one of the most challenging digital marketing tasks for small businesses. In this helpful how-to, columnist Marcus Miller explores how link building works today and what small businesses can do to get started.

The post Organic traffic & link building for small businesses…



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Meet a Landy Award winner: Noble Studios drives traffic to Tahoe South to win Best SEO Initiative for Small Business

Noble Studios introduced a new approach to blogging and content creation for Tahoe South that resulted in a 134% increase in mobile site traffic.

The post Meet a Landy Award winner: Noble Studios drives traffic to Tahoe South to win Best SEO Initiative for Small Business appeared first on Search…



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How Can Small Businesses/Websites Compete with Big Players in SEO? – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

It may seem like an impossible uphill battle to compete with big sites in the SERPs, but there are benefits to running a smaller site that can make a tremendous difference to your SEO. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains how small businesses and websites can target opportunities the big sites can’t, in spite of their natural advantages.

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about how you, as a small site, could compete against big sites.

Big site advantages

Now look, big sites in SEO have some big advantages. Those include things like:

  • Domain authority
  • Quantity and diversity of the links that are coming to them, which bias engines to generally rank their content higher than they ordinarily might if it were on a brand-new site or a smaller site that they didn’t recognize.
  • Trustworthiness. They’ve built brand associations in the space through advertising and through their size and scale and their reputation over time and over years that means that people have these biases towards trusting that brand, liking that brand, buying from that brand.
  • Financial resources that likely you are not going to have as a small website. If we’re talking about Expedia here versus randstravels.com, they have tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars that they can put towards their web marketing efforts and their SEO efforts, and I have, well, my bad self.
  • Ability to invest if and usually not just if, but if and when, if and when something is a major priority. If it’s not the case that something is a major priority, then Expedia is probably not going to invest in that, and this is where a lot of your advantages come from.

Small site advantages

So as a small website:

  • Nimbleness. You can choose to say, “Here are all the things we could be investing in right now, and you know what, this is the highest priority right now,” and a week later decide this is no longer the highest priority. We’re going to change direction and go pursue this instead. You don’t have to check with a manager or a team or a boss. You don’t have three layers of management that you have to run that approval process through. You can be extremely nimble. Small teams can get remarkable amounts done in small amounts of time compared to much larger teams.
  • Creativity. You are allowed to go outside the boundaries of what’s been set. If you have an idea, you can execute on it. If you have an idea at Expedia, you need to get a lot of approval before you can go after it, and you better make sure that all of the rest of your work is done, too.
  • Focus. As a small business, you can choose to focus your web marketing efforts on one specific thing. So if you know that SEO is where all of your opportunity lies, you can ignore your other web marketing channels, you can ignore retargeting for a few weeks, you can ignore your PPC accounts for a few weeks and simply focus on SEO. At Expedia, a marketing manager is going to have a long list of things that they need to do that they are responsible for, and they can’t simply ignore all their duties to focus on something new.
  • Niche appeal. So yes, Expedia built up their brand around travel, and they have associations around hotels and flights and bookings and all this kind of stuff. But you can choose to take a small slice of those for your particular business and say, “We’re going to focus exclusively on this, and we’re going to become the authority in this particular niche,” which gives you a bunch of advantages that we’ll talk about.
  • Authenticity on your side. So a big brand will often have big brand associations. A smaller brand can build very strong positive associations with, granted, a smaller audience, but you don’t need to monetize as many or as fast or as directly as a big brand needs to. You can concentrate on building your brand’s appeal to your very specific niche. If you monetize them well enough over time, you can build a great business, a small business but a great small business.

5 ways to compete

So, five ways to compete.

1. Target keywords the big sites are unwilling, unable, or so far aren’t trying to compete on.

First off let’s talk about keywords. So in the SEO keyword universe, there are going to be keywords that a big brand, like in this example Expedia, is unwilling, unable, or has chosen not to target yet because they have an indirect path to ROI or legal issues or PR issues. Those can be things like:

  • Long-tail keywords. So maybe Expedia is definitely targeting something like “Istanbul city guide,” but they are definitely not targeting something like “best shops to visit in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.” By the way, I looked that up, and I could not find a great list. So if someone wants to make a list of those, that would be real handy because the Grand Bazaar, very hard to find things.
  • Comparison keywords. So Expedia can’t go after their competitors’ brand names, and they certainly wouldn’t choose generally to compare themselves to another brand. So Venere flights versus Expedia flights, they’re just not going to have a page on that. But you can have a page on that, and you can compare those things to each other. That’s an advantage that a small website is going to have over a larger one.
  • Editorial keywords. So Expedia has business relationships with a lot of different hotels. Therefore, it is not in their interest to rank hotels in a particular locale from 1 to 10 or from 1 to 100. As a small website, you don’t have that constraint, and you can go after those types of keywords that your bigger competitors bias against doing, and that can be very powerful as well.

2. Aim for authority and brand association in a very specific niche

So like we talked about, Expedia is focused on travel. But Rand’s Travels can focus on city-specific itineraries or ranking travel destinations or some other thin slice of a niche that Expedia can’t build that same brand equity in.

3. Pursue indirect/harder-to-monetize content

So Expedia knows that they’re generally pursuing not just keywords, but content that helps people buy directly from Expedia, and they’re going to be looking at that path to conversion. But you might say, “I don’t care if it takes three visits or four visits or five visits for someone to convert. I want to build trust. I want to build authority in my niche. Therefore, I can go after content that Expedia would not go after.” They might be hotels, flights, cars, and cities. You might be recommended websites and travel education and news and tactics and tips and neighborhoods.

4. Go deeper and provide more value with content than what your big competition can afford to scale

You can invest more in a single piece of content than Expedia or a big brand ever could. So when you take your small niche and you say this keyword or this set of keywords is extremely important to me. This search intent is extremely important. I’m going to create 10x content. I’m going to put 10 times more effort and energy and resources into building that than what my big brand competitor can do. If they are a two-star resource, I’m going to be a five-star resource.

5. Build relationships 1-on-1 that big competition will never invest in

In addition to that element of building better content, you can also build better, more direct relationships with the people you need those relationships with. So Expedia goes through their PR team, and they have their teams of folks that do their relationships. But you can go direct. You can say, “I’m Rand’s Travels. I’m going to go meet with people in Istanbul while I’m there and forge those relationships personally and build those relationships up on social media and have conversations and leave blog comments, and that will reinforce my authenticity and my niche appeal.”

That’s a huge advantage as well, and that can help to amplify the reach of your content and to get you visibility on these keywords and this content that your competitors simply can’t touch because they’re too big. They need to do this stuff at scale. When you need to do things at scale, you simply can’t focus in the same way, and that’s where your big advantages come from as a small website.

Now, looking forward to our comments and hearing more from you about how you’ve been able to compete against the big guys, and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Yahoo Small Business Turns Over Local Listings Management To Yext

Following in the footsteps of MapQuest last year, Yahoo Small Business is outsourcing local listings management to Yext. Late last week Yahoo notified customers of the impending change in email: Yahoo is thrilled to announce that we have partnered with Yext to manage your Local Basic Listing moving…



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A Small Business Owner’s Guide to Local Search Optimization

small business owner

It’s a restaurant owner’s worst online nightmare – someone is searching for a restaurant in your neighborhood and your business doesn’t appear until page 7 of the search results, right below the creepy deli/gas station hybrid three towns over.

According to a 2014 Google study, 50% of mobile users are most likely to visit a storefront within a day of conducting a local search online. Over the next few years it’s very probable that these numbers will only continue to increase. With conversion rates like these, it’s clear that there are revenue driving benefits to optimizing your local presence so that you can be seen online by more of your potential customers.

Small business owners often wear many hats: accountant, business strategist, general manager and marketer. I’d venture to say that search engine specialist likely isn’t at the top of your resume, and it doesn’t need to be if you follow these simple steps to ensure that your local business’s online presence is off to the right start.

#1 – Lock Down Local Directories

Take a few minutes to research what local directories (ex: Yelp, SuperPages, YellowPages, UrbanSpoon, DexxKnows, etc.) are ranking on page one of Google for the keywords you are targeting as part of your SEO strategy. Next you’ll want to identify the top five directories, uncover whether your business is listed on them and take steps to claim the listing or create a new listing for each.

Below is an example of the directories that appear for a local search for “watch repair”. If you’re a watch repair shop in Minneapolis, but aren’t listed on these local directories, or are categorized incorrectly, your business won’t be presented as an option on these sites.

watch repair minneapolis

Tips for claiming and optimizing your local business listings:

  • Standardize your company name. Take the time to ensure your business name is correct and consistent across all listings. This solidifies signals to the search engines that help boost brand-name based rankings.
  • Opt for a local phone number. List your company’s local phone number instead of a toll-free number. Google prefers to see a local number that is consistent with your geographical location.
  • Include keywords. Ensure 1-2 of your priority keywords are integrated into the business description. Priority keywords are generally centered on your main products or services. If you’re a Pizza Hut in Denver, your priority keywords would most likely be “denver pizza delivery” or “denver pizza”.
  • Utilize imagery options. Adding an appropriately sized logo and images of your business will ensure your listings appear official and polished.

#2 – Optimize Google Local Listing

Despite the upcoming changes to Google+ as a social platform, your company’s Google Local listing is still the most important local listing to claim and optimize. This page appears in company-related local searches and in Google Maps results.

cold stone creamery

Tips for claiming and optimizing your Google Local listing:

  • Optimize your business description. Take advantage of Google’s option to hyperlink text within the business description area. Link to your highest priority services pages or products on your website.
  • Be strategic with your login credentials. If you have a company YouTube account, claim your listing using the same Google login. This will allow you to easily feed YouTube videos into your Google Local listing.
  • Upload a high quality banner image. A poor quality image that is stretched or blurry will reflect on the quality of your brand. Aim for an image that’s 2120 x 1192 pixels.

#3 – Encourage Customer Reviews

Customer reviews have a direct impact on local listing search rankings. Moreover, when 73% of searchers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more, it’s well worth the effort to ensure your company offers the third party validation that potential customers are looking for.

Best Seattle Restaurant

Tips for collecting online reviews:

  • Not all at once! Collecting too many customer reviews within a short time period will immediately raise red flags on local directories like Yelp and Google. Slow and steady wins the race.
  • Integrate review requests into your service process. Add “Review us on Google” to your receipts. Add “Request a review” to your service staff’s checklist when serving a satisfied customer. Integrating these requests into the service workflow will ensure a constant stream of user reviews.
  • Accept the good with the bad. You’re going to have a disgruntled customer, and they’re going to leave a bad review – it’s just part of the business. Know that one bad review immersed in a collection of positive reviews is likely to be dismissed by users.

Google allows business owners to respond directly to reviews. Use this feature to draft an attentive, respectful response that offers an apology and helps to remedy their concerns. Potential customers will appreciate your willingness to make things right for unhappy customers.

#4 – Integrate Keywords into Website Meta Tags and Content

Yes, you can do this. No, you don’t need to be a code wizard.

If you have a content management system that allows you to edit the content on each webpage, more than likely there’s an option to specify a meta title and description for each page. When you’re a local business with a service area centered on a large city, adding the city name to your meta titles, descriptions and content will help your ranking for city-related searches.

Here’s an example of how you could incorporate the city name into the meta title of a homepage:

current updated

You should also make sure that your target city is mentioned within the actual content of your website. Include a sentence like this in an introductory paragraph on your homepage.

Bella Bonita

How Optimized is Your Local Presence?

The tips above are the bare basics of local optimization. Although they just scratch the surface of a comprehensive optimization strategy, they serve as an achievable starting point for local business owners that aren’t sure how to approach the topic of local search optimization.

Think you’re getting the hang of this? Take your optimization to the next level by aligning your keyword objectives to your content lifecycle by learning How to Incorporate SEO and Influencer Content.

Header image via Shutterstock

 


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Protecting Your Digital Business: A Primer on Small Business and the Law

tt-johnny-lee

Litigation isn’t something any of us want to think about, but having to put a plan together when the time comes isn’t an option.

Johnny Lee is a Managing Director at Grant Thornton, forensic investigator, and licensed attorney. He shares his expertise with us to help small businesses gain a better understanding of what eDiscovery and records retention is, and why — from a legal perspective — it’s important for us to have a basic plan in place to protect our businesses.

Here’s a short primer on handling electronic records, like email, so we can be prepared.

In this 20-minute episode of Technology Translated, host Scott Ellis and Johnny Lee discuss:

  • What is eDiscovery?
  • If you’re an SMB, why should you care
  • Understanding your risk profile
  • How does email put your business at risk in litigation
  • How does eDiscovery impact a company who is vendor to a company being sued
  • What happens if you find out you’re being sued and start deleting email you don’t want discovered
  • How to put some protection in place
  • How you can use automation to make managing records easier
  • Johnny’s two pieces of advice for any SMB

Click Here to Listen to

Technology Translated on iTunes

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About the author

Rainmaker.FM

Rainmaker.FM is the premier digital marketing and sales podcast network. Get on-demand business advice from experts, whenever and wherever you want it.

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Building Online Marketing Strategies for Small Businesses

Posted by MorganChessman

Building marketing strategies for small businesses is one of my favorite things. In my first marketing role, I worked in the marketing department for a small company before moving on to Distilled, where I’ve been lucky enough to continue working with small businesses that have enormous potential. Despite the various industries, locales, and personalities, one of the prevailing similarities between them is that small businesses often don’t position their company or use the web as effectively as they could. While this is partially due to the time and resource crunch small business owners feel, it’s also because, beyond building a website, they don’t know where to begin. 

It doesn’t have to be so overwhelming though. I’ll walk you through the preliminary steps I take my small business clients through.

1. Define the brand

Brand Images

A number of the small companies I’ve worked with didn’t have a brand. That’s not to say that they didn’t have a name, a website, and a logo. It’s that they didn’t stand for something. 

For example, what comes to mind when you think of Apple? Innovative and well-designed products? Exactly. So many small businesses are built from an individual wanting to work for themselves or because they see an opportunity to improve on an existing product. They figure, build the website and they will come. 

But it’s not that way. You need a brand. As we’ve seen throughout history, the companies that have staying power have a brand, something that differentiates them from their competitors, something that people connect with and, coupled with good products and customer service, something that keeps people coming back.

I’m sure you’re thinking, “Well that’s all fine and good, Morgan, but I don’t know how you go about building a brand.” That’s fine. There are people who make careers out of building brands you could contact, market research surveys you could pass out, and focus groups you could run, but, realistically, small businesses don’t usually have the financial resources to invest in these strategies. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a brand though; you’ll just have to run a lightweight brand building exercise which goes something like this:

1. Think about your origin story

Ask yourself: “Why did I start this company? What am I proud of?” Oftentimes what drove you to start your own company and how it’s reflected in your business practices is what makes you unique.

2. Talk to your customers

Ask your customers: “What do you like about our company? What don’t you like? Why did you choose us over our competitors? What are your pain points?” When you listen to customers talk about your business, you’ll have a better understanding of the aspects of your company that resonate with people and what should be reflected in your brand messaging.

3. Do competitor research

Take a look at your competitors’ websites. Ask yourself: “What are they doing well? What aren’t they doing well? How do they talk about their company?” You’re looking for holes in your industry, a way to make your company different than your competitors.

4. Compile all information and develop a brand

Once you’ve researched your origin story, competitors’ tactics, and customer sentiment, it’s time to start building a brand. What from your origin story and customer conversations stood out and got you excited? How can you talk about those things in a way your competitors haven’t? Once you have that figured out, you have a brand position.
Let’s make this final step more concrete with an example. I worked with a tech consulting and recruiting firm that had a history of success in the immediate area, but was looking to attract people from the greater region as well as gain new client companies. In order to stand out from the other technical consulting firms and get people excited about working for them, we knew that they had to have more than a website that stated they were a consulting firm. They were going to have to develop a brand. We ran through the steps above with the following takeaways:
  • Origin Story: The owner started the company because he liked working with really competent developers, and realized that the best way to ensure he did so was to start his own company.
  • Customer Research: Customers preferred going with this particular company because the quality of work was always so high. People liked working for this company because there was always a lot of challenging work.
  • Competitor Research: The rest of the companies weren’t run by people with technical backgrounds. This company was, though, and as a result was able to do more rigorous testing and find the best people.
The main theme here was that the company only hired the best (origin story), because they had the technical chops to know who the best were (competitor research), which meant that this company’s employees did exceptional work (customer research), which in turn made sure they landed challenging contracts (customer research). 
Due to this insight, we positioned the company as the elite option, heavily citing the fact that only 4% of people could pass the technical interview—to work for this company was to work with the best and that to hire them was to have the best working for you. This resonated well with both target audiences, and they saw a heightened brand awareness with both potential recruits and clients.

2. Review the website content and language

Although most small businesses have websites, it’s necessary for owners to take a step back and review the website through the eyes of a consumer. Too often people assume that website visitors have a certain level of company knowledge, or that they speak the same jargon. That’s not always the case. For example, the aforementioned tech company originally wrote so vaguely about their services using insider jargon that neither target audience understood the company’s mission. Once the text was rewritten with specific consumers in mind, people started coming to the owner and saying “Now that you’ve redone your website, I finally understand what your company is about.” In order to not find yourself in that position, ask yourself:

1. Does the website have the information my target audience needs?

A company website is useless if it doesn’t have the information your target audience needs. On the most basic level, this should include what your company does, in-depth product or service information, prices associated with your services, and contact information.
It’s actually astonishing how often companies, both large and small, don’t do this.
Just the other day, I was looking at marketing software and even now I couldn’t tell you what their product does. If they had taken a step back and assumed that people didn’t know what their company did, their website would be more effective and they’d likely increase leads.

2. Am I using the language my target audience would use?

Oftentimes, we get so wrapped up in our industry that we forget that others, especially customers, don’t necessarily use the same terms as us. By using terms that are different from those of your target audience, your organic traffic will suffer and your website won’t be nearly as effective. When you talk to your customers during the branding exercise, see what terms they use. Use keyword research to validate your findings and use this language on the website.

Remember that your brand position is at the heart of this language and content. You want to talk about your core competencies in a language that’s accessible, but through the lens of what makes you different. The tech consulting firm I worked with, for example, rewrote their text so that there were pages dedicated to both their recruiting and consulting services. Both of those pages used the terms that those specific audiences would use, spoke in depth as to what these services were, and did so by concentrating on the ‘elite’ factor in a way that appealed to both sides. The content and language need to be there for your audience, but use the defining aspects of your brand to spice it up.

3. Develop overarching marketing strategy

So at this point, you have a website that reflects your brand and differentiates you from your competitors. I’m going to assume that your website is already
optimized for search engines and that you have a good user experience. You’re done, right? Yes and no. You could be done if you’re not relying on online to be a huge source of business. If you are counting on online, it’s time to start working on your overarching online marketing strategy.

This is the part that tends to feel the most overwhelming for small businesses. With so many different avenues out there, it can be stressful knowing what to pursue. My first piece of advice? Don’t pursue them all. It’s okay not to. You’re a small business owner with limited resources, so only go with the ones that will have the biggest ROI.
So how do you know which ones are worth your time?

Content strategy

In the online marketing world, content is king. Google wants you to deliver value to your site visitors and unique content is one way of going about this. Building a content strategy isn’t easy though. You don’t want to write the same thing that everyone else in your industry is writing about. There’s no unique value in that, and because your site likely isn’t strong from a domain authority perspective (yet!), you’ll usually find it difficult to rank against the big sites who are writing the same content. 

Instead, you’ll need to take stances on issues or solve your clients’ unique problems, giving them a reason to keep coming back to your site. If you can do this, great, but don’t just write content for the sake of it. If you’re a small ice cream shop for example, it’s going to be difficult to write content that’s on-brand and relevant to your audience. In this case, focus on other marketing strategies.

Paid

Doing paid, whether search, display, or social, can be really effective if done correctly. The downside? It can take a lot of time and money to monitor and improve on your campaigns. Highly competitive terms can have extremely high cost-per-click (CPC) rates, and the cost-per-action (CPA) is usually even higher. For example, terms in the insurance industry can have CPCs of $ 50 in a search environment. 
In order to be as cost efficient with this strategy, you’ll have to constantly monitor your campaigns and see what is working well and what isn’t. Even though it can eat through your time and money, it’s a good option for people who aren’t showing up in SERPs or driving traffic from other avenues.

Social

Social can be a really effective way of engaging consumers and building brand loyalty, but I normally only suggest starting a social strategy once a company has built out their brand and website. You’re going to need unique content, images, or deals in order to have a social marketing strategy. It’s often easier to start in other areas and build a catalog of resources before you launch into social.
Once you have content to share, decide which social platforms best fit your company’s mission. For example, LinkedIn and Twitter are usually better for B2B while Facebook is better for B2C. Just like you don’t have to chase every marketing strategy, you don’t have to have a social campaign for every platform. Concentrate on the one or two that will best reach your audience. Make sure the content you’re sharing will do well on that platform. For Facebook and Pinterest, you’ll need image based content while Twitter and LinkedIn will be best for article-based content or quick updates.

Email

Email marketing isn’t an effective method of gaining new customers, but is a great avenue for businesses trying to increase retention or brand loyalty. If this is your goal, make sure your emails contain value. For example, you open email from your doctor’s office reminding you about an appointment or from a local ice cream shop that offers discounts because these emails contain value. When people open these emails, their lives get easier or they’re given something that gives them tangible value. It’s vital that your email marketing communications do the same whether it be content or deals.

Local

If you’re a small business using the Internet to drive traffic to your store, I absolutely believe you should be invested in local. While there’s the initial time investment to get it set up, there’s a minimal time investment needed to keep it up-to-date.

Promotions

At Distilled, we have a whole team responsible for reaching out to bloggers and publications in order to get our clients and their content featured in the right places. Their work not only helps build brand awareness but, when our clients’ work is covered and linked to, also has the added SEO benefit of natural links and, in turn, a stronger site.
Most small businesses don’t have the resources for this kind of promotion, but if you want your brand and organic traffic to grow, it’s vital that you partake in a variation of this. Instead of scoping out bloggers and target publications like the New York Times though, start small. Build relationships with other businesses in your area or be active in industry specific forums. Building those relationships and positioning yourself as a thought leader will help your business as well as your own name grow which can then result in brand awareness and links. For small businesses, it’s important to network even in a way that isn’t necessarily ‘online first.’

Small Business Branding advice

There’s a lot that goes into marketing for any size company, but it can be particularly overwhelming for small businesses which have limited time and resources. It’ll be a lot of work, no doubt about it, but will feel a little more manageable, even for one-person teams, if you take it one step at a time.

Start by figuring out what makes your company different and communicating that. In my experience, this alone will put you ahead of many of your small business counterparts. Then it’s time to think about your customers’ needs and how you’ll address them. Having content that’s valuable to your customers and their problems, content they’ll actually want to consume, is a huge part of the battle.
Now that you’ve got the content, decide which marketing strategies will be most likely to help you reach your target audience. Just remember that you don’t have to overextend yourself and use every possible marketing channel to do this. So: Brand. Language. Content. Share. You’ve got this.
Tell me about your small business branding adventures in the comments below!

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