Blogging is Not Dead. It’s a Vital Marketing Tool.

Blogs increase traffic 77%Blogging has been around since the 1990’s, and the practice has been fairly universally panned ever since. In the early days, detractors sneered that no one wants to read what bloggers ate for lunch (before the rise of foodie blogs proved them wrong). Today, blog belittlers insist that businesses should stop blogging and focus solely on social media.

But the truth is that blogs remain a vital small business marketing tool.

Why Blogs are Great for Marketing Your Small Business

  1. When you write with focused keywords, blogs are great for SEO. Search engines value websites that are regularly updated.
  2. Interesting blog posts provide content for your social media campaigns, while directing customers to pages that promote your brand in the best way.
  3. Packaging one or two interesting blog posts with your promotional emails increase open rates and customer engagement.

HubSpot published a helpful article last year, “21 Essential Strategies for Growing Your Business with Inbound Marketing.” Included is helpful research showing how blogs increase your small business marketing effectiveness, such as:

92% of all online experiences begin with a search engine 61% of people say they prefer content

If you’ve been neglecting your blog, start it up again! Try posting one interesting piece of content each week, including posts, videos or pictures. To keep on schedule, follow my tips for creating an editorial calendar.

The Case Against Bing Advertising

The Case Against Bing AdvertisingBing Ads serve the Bing, Yahoo! and MSN search networks. According to most statistics, these networks account for around 36% of web searches. Basic math indicates that to reach a third more potential customers, you should advertise on the network.

But “searches” don’t equal “individual searchers,” and evidence suggests Bing may have significantly fewer users than searches. I recently discovered that Bing doesn’t throttle search traffic from automated bots that scrape websites for mass amounts of information. Google does. Bing may be becoming popular with firms that deploy search bots. There’s no way to know how many searches are initiated by people and how many are initiated by bots.

Which means there’s no way to be certain if your advertising is being clicked on by a customer or a computer. Small business marketing budgets aren’t limitless, and you don’t want to risk wasting advertising dollars on robots.

So…

Should You Advertise on Bing?

My answer to this question may seem frustratingly obvious: Advertise on Bing Ads if they work, and stop advertising on the network if it’s not working.

Identifying success metrics are critical to determine if Bing Ads are “working” for your small business (or if any other marketing campaign is working, for that matter). Without measurable results, you could be wasting a significant amount of money. Here are some examples of success metrics you can measure from your online advertising:

  • Number of visits from Bing Ads that directly result in sales
  • Length of time Bing Ads visitors spend on your website (indicates if a visit is automated or a real person)
  • Phone calls received from customers who located you with Bing Ads
  • Engagement with interactive elements of your website, like quizzes or polls

For instance, I tested eliminating Bing Ads with one of my clients, and our success metrics didn’t change. We simply spent less of our marketing budget. That’s merely one anecdote, but it serves to show that all small business marketing professionals should scrutinize Bing Ads’ effectiveness.

If you try out Bing Ads, let me know about your experience. Are there any major small business Bing Ads success stories out there?

The Critical Last Step to Launching Your New Website (That Most Small Businesses Forget)

Finishing a significant small business marketing initiative like a website redesign is an exciting time! After possibly months of work and waiting, your new website is ready to be launched and revealed to customers.

Or is it?

The Critical Last Step to Launching Your New Website - TestingThere’s a critical last step to launching your new website that small businesses often overlook: Testing. Before introducing your website redesign to customers, test each and every functionality to make sure it’s behaving as it should. Click every link, fill out every form, watch every video and inspect every picture. Ideally, perform these tests on a variety of devices and web browsers.

Embarrassing mistakes and typos can be avoided simply by taking a fresh look at your completed site. Recently, I found that a client’s social media links were switched. Clicking on LinkedIn took you to YouTube, and clicking on Pinterest took you to Twitter. During a website review for another new client, I found their Google AdWords landing page wasn’t loading, wasting hundreds of dollars in advertising. Attention to detail matters for delivering optimal customer experiences and spending your marketing resources efficiently.

Even if your website isn’t new, take a few minutes this week and check it over. It’s better for you to find any errors than to leave them for your customers.

Small Business Marketing: Mobile-Friendly Website vs. App

With somewhere around half of all web traffic originating from people using mobile devices, it’s certain that small businesses need to engage in mobile marketing. Then there’s the question: should you have a mobile-friendly website or an app?

I’ll make that decision easy for you. In almost every case, small businesses should focus on developing mobile-friendly websites instead of apps.

Why Mobile-Friendly Websites are Better than Apps in (Most) Small Business Marketing

  • Customers are more likely to find your website than your app. Search engines like Google search websites, not apps. Apps require marketing campaigns just to build awareness that they exist– let alone to start building your brand.
  • Apps are expensive to develop and maintain. Unless you expect thousands of users, app ROI will be lackluster.
  • A website is more universally accessible. All customers need is the website address and their favorite browser. For accessibility, you’d have to develop both an Android and Apple version of an app, which creates more complexity and expense.

Undoubtedly, there are lots of cool and useful apps available. And there are lots of companies building businesses around apps. But if the goal of your mobile marketing is to communicate information and engage customers, skip the expense and hassle of developing an app. A mobile-friendly website will work better for you.

 

How to Take a Professional Headshot Photo

Most small businesses feature pictures of their team on their websites, social media platforms or even in their physical location. When customers see pictures of the business owner or your team, they will associate the quality of the picture with the quality of your business. Everything is marketing!

With the popularity of selfies and casual smartphone photography, it can be difficult to get professional headshot photos of your team. Here are some simple tips for taking great headshots:

  • Don’t take a selfie. Even if you can’t hire a professional photographer, ask someone else to take the photo for you.
  • Plan the background. The background of a headshot photograph shouldn’t be distracting. Avoid backgrounds that contain other people or traffic. Easy background choices include brick walls, an interior wall painted a simple color, trees, or other non-distracting natural elements.
  • Think about lighting. For most headshots, it’s fine to use a smartphone or consumer-grade camera, as long as you have good lighting. Ambient daylight will make for the best results, so have fun taking your photo shoot outside.
  • Take the photo straight on. Unless you have an artistic vision that uses unique angles, take the simple approach of having your photograph taken at eye-level, while looking at the camera.
  • Stay focused. Make sure the camera is focused on you and that the picture is clear and sharp.
  • Look the part. Plan your wardrobe, do your hair and smile!
  • It’s great to be quirky, but have a purpose for the composition. Think of settings that are relevant to your brand personality. If you don’t have a lot of time, classic portrait approaches are always great for professional headshot photography.
  • Ideally, the photos of your entire team will complement each other. Using similar angles and backgrounds will reinforce customers’ impressions that you all collaborate.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so take a look at some examples.

Examples of Good Headshot Photos

Good Headshot Photo Example
Incidentally, this is my professional headshot, taken by the amazingly talented Laura Poland of Reflected Spectrum Photography

Good Headshot Example

Good headshot example

Good headshot example

Examples of Bad Headshot Photos

Bad headshot example

Bad headshot example

Bad headshot example

Bad headshot example

By following these tips and putting in a little extra effort, your small business will have team headshots that represent your brand.

How Videos Boost Your Small Business Marketing

Do you know that Google owns YouTube? You probably do. Google owns lots of things and is buying and creating more things every day.

Google has a simple business goal: to take over the world. And one small part of achieving that goal is to make YouTube videos ubiquitous. If you help Google achieve this goal, you’ll be rewarded with SEO cred that boosts your small business website’s search rankings.

Here’s a process you can follow for making videos that help your small business marketing efforts:

  • Create YouTube videos that are relevant to your brand and offerings. Make them short and interesting– 90 seconds is plenty of time.
  • Write video descriptions that contain your desired search keywords.
  • Embed these videos in your website, such as in blog posts or on product pages. A great example is on Steve Yastrow’s page for his Ditch the Pitch sales training methodology.
  • Write short, interesting content to surround the video. Again, make sure to include your keywords.
  • Frequently update your site with new videos, so Google sees that you are creating fresh, relevant content for website visitors.

I follow this process with my small business clients, and we see significant success with our organic search traffic. Give it a try!

 

Traditional Website Navigation Isn’t Boring. It’s Easy to Use.

Imagine a car designer saying, “It’s boring to have the brake on the right and the accelerator on the left. We need to stand out! Let’s put the brake next to this cup-holder.” How well would a car like this sell? Can you imagine re-training generations of drivers to drive differently just for the sake of one car design?

Every day, web designers are having the same conversation about website design (admittedly, with less fatal results). They are so bored of putting the “Contact” button on the right side of the menu bar that they forget having these conventions makes websites easy to use.

Sometimes web marketers mistake user habits for boring design. If users are researching dozens or hundreds of websites looking for products and services like yours, they appreciate a site that’s easy to navigate– and they’re only going to visit your site for about three seconds before they decide to stay or move onto the next one.

A website design must show the user what they’re looking for in those first three seconds before any user will take the time to admire beautiful design elements or creative devices. Part of that experience is having traditional elements in expected places. If a user can’t find your contact information, how will he ever call you?

IT Tips for Small Business Marketing

An effective technology setup is crucial for any small business marketing department. Strategy documents, forecasts, design documents and web files are all managed with computers. Here are some tips for helping you be more protected and productive with your IT setup.

Back up your marketing files

The most important thing a small business can do is develop and implement a back-up process. The hard drive containing all of  your marketing information is simply a mechanical device. And like any other machine with moving parts, eventually it’s going to fail. It’s certain that your hard drive is going to crash someday.

Fortunately, back-ups are pretty easy these days. If you use Macs, the included Time Machine app makes it simple to back up to an external hard drive. Windows 7 also has a Windows Backup utility.

For added protection, consider an off-site back-up service like Carbonite. This way your files are protected from catastrophes like fire.

Be smart with passwords

Social media marketing is great… unless your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or blog accounts are hacked and subject customers to spam communications. I hate seeing this happen, especially since creating secure passwords is easy. Make sure you and your employees are considering security when they set up social media accounts. Microsoft has some nice guidelines for secure passwords here.

Buy professional equipment

I’m always amazed when I see a marketing professional editing video or switching between five PowerPoint presentations on a consumer-grade computer. The extra cost of a more powerful computer is well worth the investment when you consider the value of you and your employees’ time.

Go for the big screens

One of the biggest boosts to productivity is adding screen size– whether that be buying a bigger display or a adding a second display. Apple, in an attempt to sell more Cinema Displays, published an interesting study on productivity and screen size. Here’s a graph from the study:

If you don’t trust Apple to be impartial (and I wouldn’t blame you!), the Wall Street Journal also has an article on the topic.

Calibrate your devices

If you are regularly disappointed that the colors you see on your display don’t match the colors on your final printed piece, try calibrating your devices. Calibration will ensure your display is showing colors correctly. X-Rite is one company providing this service with their i1 Display product.

These are just a few tips to get your small business started on your marketing department’s IT setup. The perfect setup for your small business depends on your goals, marketing partners, kinds of productivity you want to optimize for and how much protection is required. I recommend every small business take some time to think about what they really need. Too often, I uncover serious marketing problems for my clients that could have been prevented with a little planning.

Web Design: Why Go WordPress?

In the last few years, I’ve chosen WordPress as the web design platform for the vast majority of my clients’ websites. In fact, a colleague told me yesterday that his web team recommended they rebuild their entire site in WordPress, even though he asked for just a couple new features (the site was originally built using a supposedly more versatile platform).  And yet I still occasionally witness web design professionals scoff at WordPress as merely for bloggers, not for businesses.

So let me tell you why WordPress is usually an amazing choice when you’re considering redesigning your website.

  1. It’s free and open-source, with a large, active community constantly improving it.
  2. It’s a Content Management System (CMS), meaning anyone in your company who can use Microsoft Word can update the website.
  3. It’s incredibly versatile, whether you want a sparse, minimalist website or one that has all the bells and whistles.
  4. It’s expandable. Need a new page? No problem. Want to add some new capability? There’s no limit.
  5. It’s easy to make WordPress SEO-friendly.
Check out WordPress’s featured sites to see what the platform is capable of.

Blogging for Small Business

Advice for small businesses thinking about starting a blog

There is an abundance of hype around blogging. Some people claim to have made a fortune with their blogs, while others assert blogs are frivolous and a waste of a business’ time. For most small businesses, the truth lies somewhere in between. A well-designed and regularly-updated blog can be a great addition to your marketing mix and sales-generating activities.

This article will explain the pros and cons of blogs for small businesses and give you some expert tips for publishing a successful blog.

Why a blog is great for your small business

  • Blogs are great for search engine optimization (SEO). You can incorporate your keywords, the content changes regularly, and other websites will likely link to your posts. Search engines love all of these things.
  • If you do it right, you will become a trusted resource for your desired audience. Trust will lead to customer relationships. Relationships lead to profit.
  • When a potential customer contacts you after reading your blog, you have the advantage of being a partner instead of a vendor.
  • As an expert in your field (hopefully), you should easily be able to create content of value for your desired audience.

Why blogs are terrible for some small businesses

  • You have to update a blog frequently for it to matter. If you aren’t updating once a week, any readers you gain will lose interest. Dormant blogs also do nothing for your search engine rankings.
  • Your blog must be interesting to your desired audience, or you will be writing to an empty room (forgive the mixed metaphor).
  • Blogging is a long-term part of your success. There won’t be immediate gratification, but as you build a reputation and body of work, you will see results.

Things successful bloggers know

Make your blog an integral part of your website. Don’t create a blog that no one can find. Replacing your home page with your blog is often a good solution for small businesses, especially if your home page currently says something generic like, “Welcome!”

Investigate blogging software to find the right option for you. For my clients, I use WordPress blogs. The software is easy to use and highly customizable—and free!

Blogging requires discipline. Make a schedule and stick to it. Create an editorial calendar. Set apart time each week dedicated to writing. If you have trouble doing this, find someone who will hold you accountable.

Get a professional editor who knows your goals. Regina Spektor has a song all about editing, and she sings, “You can write, but you can’t edit.” She might as well be singing to the world, because behind every great writer is a great editor. If you want proof, ask for my original draft of this article.

Work on finding “your voice.” Every great writer has a distinctive voice. Writers aren’t born with these voices; they cultivate them. A professional editor will also help with your writer’s voice.

If you have trouble getting started writing, or your sentences come out in an incoherent jumble, just start typing exactly how you talk. Imagine you are talking to a friend, potential client or your aunt—whatever makes you comfortable. Consider getting a voice recorder and speaking your posts before you write them.

If you want other bloggers to visit your blog, post links to articles and to comment, you have to do the same for them.  It’s as simple as the biblical advice in Proverbs, “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly.” Just replace “man” with “blogger.”

Learn about (or hire someone who knows about) search engine optimization. All the concepts from my post on growing visitors to your website apply. If you do SEO right, your blog will be tailor-made for helping the people searching for your products and services to find your website instead of your competitors’.

Write really useful articles for your desired audience. For example, if you are a caterer, consider writing about the top five appetizers to impress guests rather than the latest innovations in keeping food warm. A caterer wants potential clients to find her blog, not necessarily industry-insiders.

Thinking about starting a blog for your small business but still need more advice? Feel free to give me a call or email me with your questions—513.833.4203 or amanda@zooinajungle.com