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On the subject of small business

Matt

January 27th, 2010.

Small Business SEO & SEM

lemonadeSearch engine optimisation and digital marketing for small business isn’t easy. For big-brands people love linking to them without them having to ask, even without them deserving it in many cases.

Small business don’t have that luxury, that’s not to say that the smaller guys can’t compete, they just have to work harder and smarter to get their share of attention online.

Some of my favourite small business SEO tips are below, some are mine, others are from people who volunteered their own ideas on Twitter.

  1. Optimise for local search. Figure out who are the authoritative citations within your city – ie touchnottingham.com via @APSG
  2. Concentrate on local search and longer search terms as these give more of a chance with a smaller budget. Google Maps add is a must in your town! via @StuartFlatt
  3. Be active online. Forge relationships with blog owners, find journalists on Twitter. These contacts will be invaluable when it comes to getting coverage.
  4. Write content that’s relevant to your business and your customers & keep it up to date. via @picseli
  5. Get your analytics package in place as early as possible. The more data you have the more you’ll be able to analyse your marketing decisions.
  6. Utilise your current relationships – reciprocal linking is not perfect, but still has a good effect on local search (imo) via @CMaddison
  7. Brand yourself as an expert. Write informative articles about your industry. Post them on your site, ask to have your work published on others.
  8. Try to focus on conversions rather than rankings. Too many small business owners are obsessed with being first, rather than focusing on profits. via @CMaddison
  9. At the very least ensure your page titles are unique and relevant to the content on them.
  10. Don’t scrimp on your website, a less than satisfactory site may save cash in the short term, but it’ll cost you in conversions.
  11. Build your list – capture customer data, segment it, test it and contact them regularly (not too regularly) with useful information, articles, links and offers.
  12. Consider using Adwords for initial data collection / keyword selection – find your best converting/most profitable keywords for under £100 via @CMaddison
  13. Build trust – make sure you’re easily contactable, make sure your site has a prominent address and telephone number on each page, explain why your buying process is secure.
  14. Find out who your competition is, then find out who links to them using Open Site Explorer – get those sites to link to you.
  15. Setup Google alerts for your business name. Make sure you monitor these, it’s a great opportunity to ask for links when people forget, or to network with people who are already talking about you.

Matt

April 22nd, 2009.

Twitter Guide For Small Business

Twitter is very much the flavour of the month at the moment, you don’t seem to be able to turn on the TV or read the papers without it popping up in some way.
Now businesses are being told time and time again that they should be using it, but how can you as a business owner use it to promote your business in a positive light?

What is Twitter?

The basic idea is that users have 140 characters to post their message, and then this message (a tweet) appears to their ‘followers’. When you choose to ‘follow’ people you see their tweets. Conversely when they ‘follow’ you they see your tweets.

Twitter is simply what you make it to be. You choose who you follow, and therefore the kind of updates that you see. For example, if you choose to follow the key movers and shakers in your industry, then you’ll not only keep abreast of the latest industry news, but the chances are you’ll also get to hear about it before anyone else. Not only that, but you’ll also have a direct communications channel with industry figures such as publishers, PRs, bloggers competitors and consumers.

Will it work for me?

Maybe, maybe not. If your customer demographic is 16-40, tech aware and users of social media, then getting a presence on Twitter should be a very high priority. Even if your demographic just targets the 16-40 year old age range then you would still be surprised at the number of your customers and potential customers that are already using the service.

Some notable Twitter stats (Hitwise & Quantcast) –

  • Twitters largest age group is 35-44 years of age accounting for 25.9% of all users
  • 63% of users are male
  • UK Twitter traffic has trebled in 2009
  • There are an estimated 8 million Twitter users
  • 53% Earn over £40,000 p/a
  • 63% Have at attained a college education or higher

First Steps

  1. Sign up for an account. You’ll certainly want to register your company name, maybe even individual accounts for key staff within your company. The main thing to consider here is how much time people can spare. It’s probably better to have several people using a single active account than a few seldom used accounts.
  2. Make sure you add a picture to your account. A clear logo or company name is a must. If you’re registering individual people then a clear face picture.
  3. Add your bio – a clear concise introduction of who you are and what you do.
  4. Follow people interested in your company and your industry. This may include customers, potential customers, competitors or suppliers.
  5. Start to interact. This isn’t a forum for you to post what you’re up to every moment of the day. Ask questions, answer other people’s questions, give opinions, offer tips and advice and post useful links and information. The more useful your Twitter stream, the more followers you are likely to attract and retain. Simply spamming your products and services is likely to lose you all of your followers. Don’t be afraid to put a human face on things and use some personality. People are there to talk and listen to you, not to hear a brand message.
  6. Above all, be sure to have a clear strategy and goals as to what you want your Twitter account to achieve, who your messages to be aimed at, and how you want to be viewed by your followers.
  7. While I don’t want to spend too long on the basic account functions, there are several Twitter guides aimed at beginners, have a read of some of these to get a taste of how the real basics work. Some of the best ones can be found here, here and here.

How To Choose Who To Follow

Choosing who you follow is one of the most important steps that you’ll take. These are the people whose updates you’ll be seeing, the people that may choose to follow you back, and the people who you’ll be forming relationships with.

I recommend using tools like Twitter Search, Twellow, and MrTweet to find people talking about topics in your industry.

How To Get People To Follow You

  • Follow people relevant to you, many people follow people back if they are tweeting about similar topics.
  • Leverage non-twitter properties, promote your Twitter account on your blog, emails and business cards.
  • Twitter isn’t a one way conversation, talk to people, and not just to those that are already following you.
  • Make sure you’re following key people in your industry, this is where Twitter ‘communities’ are formed and you need to make sure you’re part of it.
  • Be an expert – be free and easy with advice, tips and answers. Being an expert on a topic isn’t enough, you also need to look like one.
  • ALWAYS make sure your profile is complete with a picture and bio, and preferably have more than a handful of tweets to your name. With an empty profile it’s difficult for people to gauge who you are and therefore hard to make a decision to follow you.
  • Post interesting material – posting great links and info is the best way to build a reputation as someone who needs to be followed rather than be ignored. Make sure it’s not just links to your own site. Make sure you subscribe to the RSS feeds of key industry blogs and news sites. These are a great source of interesting industry links that will provide a great source of message ideas.
  • Organise contests, giveaways and give discount codes, reward those that do follow you.

Ideas On How To Use Twitter For Your Business

  • Getting feedback – Twitter is a great way to get free and impartial advice on product and service decisions.
  • Making connections – Bloggers, publishers, journalists and PRs are amongst the heaviest adopters of social media, and a large percentage of Twitter users fall into this category. If you want to make contact with the influencers in your industry, this is probably the best place to do it.
  • Monitoring Conversation And Opinion – Twitter is a great way to monitor what is being said about your company, products and your industry. Use Twitter search to setup some search queries, subscribe to the RSS feed and receive email updates every time you’re mentioned on Twitter. Then follow those talking about you, respond and listen to what they have to say.
  • Fast access to information – Twitter is a massive source of information and opinion. If you’re following the right people then you’ll get access to news and industry gossip far before its published on any official channels.
  • Customer Service – Many companies are now using Twitter as an informal customer service channel, offering product information, answering questions quickly and fielding queries and feedback.
  • Brand And Personalise Your Company – Not just branding your company and yourself as experts, but also use it as a chance to show off the real people behind the brand.
  • Promoting items of interest – Use Twitter to publicise items of interest on your own website. Be careful here though, there is a fine line between drawing peoples attention to interesting posts and spamming them, so be careful what you post and how often.
  • Giveaways and discounts – Reward your followers by offering giveaways, discounts and competitions. As well as increasing interaction and creating a buzz this will help follower retention and acquisition.
  • Advertise vacancies and recruit staff – Many companies are turning to Twitter as a way to recruit staff. As well as being instant and free, you can guarantee that any respondents will already be interested in your company.

Case Studies

There are a wide range of companies already using Twitter, with a diverse number of aims, some are unsurprisingly better than others.

Businesses That ‘Get It’

  • Zappos – While several members of the Zappos staff have Twitter accounts, the main company account is run by the company CEO. As well as covering the daily goings on at the company, the account is also used for obtaining feedback on website functionality and conducting giveaways. Approaching half a million followers this has to count as one of social medias most successful business users.
  • JetBlue – Use the service to monitor people talking about the airline. Frequently responding to people, engaging in conversation, dealing with complaints and resolving issues in a organised and professional manner.
  • WineEnthusiast – It’s not just big multi-nationals that can benefit. There are many wine bloggers, publishers, journalists and producers already using Twitter. The Wine Enthusiast website has connected with this group of influencers and posts relevant links for them and builds relationships with them.
  • Whole Foods Market - Use Twitter as a way of connecting with their customers. They ask questions, engage in conversation and recommended resources and their podcasts.

In a hat-tip to HR Block, they explain in this interview how they use social media effectively for their company.

Business That Don’t

  • Zenergy Internet Marketing - Directly offering (spamming) your services to other users is bad enough, but to do it without checking who they are, and as a consequence offering them to your competitors is just plain dumb. Pimping your services in this way is the equivilent to going up to people at a party and asking if they want to buy from you, without any form of introduction. You wouldn’t do it offline, so don’t do it online.
  • Skittles – Skittles though it would be smart to publish every tweet that mentioned Skittles on it’s homepage. Of course as soon as this was picked-up upon many people started posting less than flattering comments about the product.
  • Ryanir – After freely admitting that they have no interest in engaging in social media and calling bloggers ‘idiots’ it was a surprise to see a Ryanair account appear on Twitter. In what looks like a failure to establish a presence on the service, the door was left open to imposters to create accounts and pose as the company themselves. Attempts to contact Ryanair and to clarify the situation have failed.

Twitter Tools For Business

There are many free tools that help to make running a Twitter account far easier for a business. A short list of my favourite ones include.

  • Tweetdeck – This time saving desktop application allows you to save time, organise and group your messages, send pictures, create custom searches and ensures you don’t miss anything important.
  • Monitter – This is great for tracking products, company or brand mentions. Input your keywords and let Monittor do the rest.
  • PollDaddy – Allows you to create polls for your followers. Useful for asking questions and getting feedback.
  • TweetLater – A useful tool that will let you schedule your tweets and it will post them automatically.
  • SplitTweet – This is a must if you’re monitoring several Twitter accounts. It allows you to follow and reply to tweets quickly and easily.

I am a regular user of Twitter and can be followed here!

Matt

October 14th, 2008.

Small Business SEO

Although Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a skill that takes time and effort to master, there is no reason why a small business can’t give themselves an edge over their competitors by putting in place some of the framework that a professional SEO consultant would expect to cover.

In this article I’m going to look at why you, a small business owner needs to consider SEO for their website and some steps that you, or your web developer can put into place that will help ensure your site is performing as well as possible in the search engines.

Why do small business need SEO?
If you have a website then you should at some point have considered how people are finding you online. Relying on ‘push’ marketing factors such as brochures, business cards and flyers is all very well, but you already have had some contact with these targets – it’s not really using your website to its full potential to draw in a previously untapped market.

Over 70% of online sales start with a user conducting a search. If you sell or gather leads online, that’s a huge slice of your potential market that you’re missing out on. Good search engine rankings for relevant and often used search terms will drive qualified leads to your site at a fraction of the price of other marketing methods.

When To Keep Things In-House
Given the skills and the time it’s perfectly possible to conduct a reasonable SEO campaign in-house. If you or your web developer are happy to edit your website, and you and your staff have some time to devote to the campaign, then there’s no reason why you can’t make a success out of things without getting some experts in.

When To Outsource
If your website is (or has the potential to be) one of your major revenue streams, and a budget is available, then you should consider getting some experts in to run the campaign for you. Take care when hiring, make sure you ask the correct questions and ask for references. Our free SEO Buyers Guide should help you out here.
Essentially when hiring an SEO consultant, you’re not just paying for their time and knowledge, but also their experience and industry contacts – it is this that will give you a real edge over your competitors.

Some SEO Tips For Small Business’

Know Your Market
Firstly, before you go any further, you need to ensure you’re targeting the correct people. Is your market geographically based in one country? If so try to ensure that you’re using the correct top level domain for that country, for example a .co.uk domain in the UK, or a .fr in France. Failing that, if you have a more generic .com or .net domain then make sure that your website is hosted in the correct country. This will help to ensure that the traffic that search engines send will be from the market that you’re targeting.

Understand Your Keywords
One of the most important stages for any SEO is understanding which keywords are being used by people to find your products. Start off by brainstorming a list of keywords that you think people may use to find your products and services. Then use a keyword research tool to expand and develop your list beyond those that you have already thought of.

Page Titles/Descriptions
Ensure that each page on your site has a unique page title and meta description. If you’re comfortable editing web pages yourself then it’s not terribly complicated. Otherwise you may want to ask your web developer to do it. The titles and description tags should always be unique and reflect the content of each individual page. Here it’s best use your keyword list in order to understand which terms are most frequently searched for.
Other areas of the page to use your keywords are places like headings, image ‘alt’ text, bold text and the page content. First and formost ensure the pages read well to visitors, avoid stuffing as many keywords onto the page as you can – that doesn’t work anymore!

Use Analytics
You’ll be able to make far better decisions regarding the marketing of your site if you have a solid understanding of how people are finding your site, which keywords and sites are driving visitors, and which visitors convert into sales. Signup for a free service like Google Analytics which will give you all of this information and more.

Consider Your Content
Great content can make it far easier to get a website ranking well. Look at the kind of information that your competitors are offering and improve on it. Try to ensure your site is a resource for everything that someone in your industry will need. Resource sites tend to rank a lot better as people are compelled to link to the information contained on them. Consider adding a blog your website that you can publish and archive regular posts on.

Think Links
Up until now everything that you have done has helped a search engine to understand what your pages are about. The page optimisation and content creation all help a search engine to decide which subjects your pages cover.
However it’s the links that point to your pages that let search engines know how important your pages are, and therefore how highly they should rank on the results pages.
Look for opportunities to get other webmasters to link to you. You may have suppliers or clients that you can ask. You may have industry bodies that link to members. You can consider writing articles on other industry websites or adding your site to relevant directories. The list of linking opportunities is endless.

Local SEO
Add your business to the local search services that the main search engines now offer. This will help return your business when people perform geographic queries such as “London accountant” Go to Google, Yahoo or Live to add your business.

Above all SEO takes time and patience. It’s not something that happens overnight. Over time you will find your efforts are rewarded with high quality relevant website visitors that convert into sales.

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