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Web.com Small Business Tip of the Day: Are Big Trade Show Events Worth It?

May 2nd, 2013 ::

Times are definitely changing. Remember the days of setting up a booth at a big trade show to market your business and find vendors?  A new study by the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council and Exhibit & Event Marketers Association (E2MA) says marketers find it more and more challenging to measure ROI from big events. While marketers still find value in events, 40 percent of respondents are cutting back on big trade shows in favor of more targeted events, while 44 percent are choosing to host their own events. If you’re not sure whether a trade show or event is worth it, ask the event organizers for any analytics available and talk to previous attendees and exhibitors for their feedback.


Why Images Matter to Your Content Marketing

April 29th, 2013 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

There’s one piece of the content marketing puzzle that many otherwise smart marketers overlook: the power of images. With visual-based social media sites such as Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr making waves, images are more important than ever. What do you need to know about using images in your content marketing?

Images grab attention. It’s human nature to gravitate to visuals before type, so adding images to your blog posts, email newsletters, Facebook posts or tweets makes them more likely to stand out in the sea of competition.

Images provide the personal touch. These days, potential customers want to know who’s behind the business. Including photos of yourself and your employees with your content makes prospects feel like they know you, and that builds affinity and trust.

Images build brands. Be sure to regularly use images that convey your company’s brand, such as your logo, packaging, or photos of your products and your location. For example, a restaurant’s content strategy could include lots of mouthwatering photos of menu items, customers enjoying their meals or your newly redecorated dining room.

Images also provide an important way to improve your content’s rank in search engines. If you include images in a blog post, for example, be sure to tag the image with the keywords you want your business to be found for when customers do a search.

Where can you get images for your content? It’s easier than ever to capture your own photos using any good smartphone camera. However, there are times you’ll want more professional photos, or concept shots. Don’t just grab something off Google—posting a photo you don’t have the rights to could get you in legal hot water.

You can buy photos for re-use from a stock house such as Thinkstock or Shutterstock, which take care of the licensing issues for you. Just make sure that the photos they provide are licensed for the specific use you need them for. Or, search online for photos available under a “creative commons” license. These are photos whose owners allow people to post them as long as the owner is properly credited and linked to on the site. Flickr is one good site for creative commons-licensable photos.

Image by Flickr user Oyvind Solstad (Creative Commons)


How to Craft Content That Works for Your Content Marketing Campaign

April 24th, 2013 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

The essence of any content marketing strategy is, of course, content. But for small business owners, this is often the biggest stumbling block. Chances are you’re not a writer, so how do you and your team craft content that will work to improve your website’s SEO and drive traffic and sales? Here are some tips.

Focus on quality. You may read articles that give you the idea your content has to be stuffed with keywords. In reality, this leads to articles that make no sense (we’ve all read them—those blog posts that sound like they were written by someone who didn’t speak English). Think about what your audience wants to know, and write articles that answer their questions. For example, if you own a lawn care and landscaping business, your customers might want to know how to keep their lawns green, how to prevent weeds, what types of grass are best for the local climate, etc.

Include both timely and timeless content. You don’t want every article you write to become outdated in a month. However, tying your content to current trends (such as seasons, holidays or hot topics online) does help boost your SEO and make your site seem fresh. Aim for a mix of timeless topics (such as what types of grass are best for the climate, or how often to mow a lawn) and timely ones (such as popular plants this summer, or how to prepare your garden for winter).

Use keywords. I mentioned not stuffing your articles with keywords, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to use them. Figure out what keywords you want to be found for (for example: San Francisco lawn care, landscaping service, best landscaping company) and use those keywords in the headlines, subheads and first paragraphs of your articles. If you use photos or graphics, you should also use keywords in the captions, descriptions and tags of the artwork.

Enlist your staff. If you’re not a good writer, do you have someone who is on your team? Remember, content isn’t just words, so see what kind of talent exists on your staff. You might have someone who’s great at shooting videos or taking photos. Used properly on your website and social media accounts, these can be excellent traffic drivers.

Get professional help. Creating content, especially blog posts, articles and newsletters, can be time-consuming and stressful if you don’t have an experienced writer on staff. Consider outsourcing to a freelance writer or marketing copywriter. You can find tons to choose from on sites like Guru.com, Elance.com or Freelancer.com.

Image by Flickr user mrsdkrebs (Creative Commons)

Web.com Small Business Tip of the Day: Content Marketing

April 23rd, 2013 ::

Have you taken the content marketing plunge yet? Whether it’s using content to gain a social media following or posting helpful articles to your website, content marketing is the hot marketing trend everyone’s buzzing about, already accounting for 25 percent of the budget of small businesses with 10-99 employees. But the Content Marketing Survey Report from Econsultancy and Outbrain says although 90 percent of those surveyed believe content marketing will be even more important in the coming year, only 38 percent have a strategy in place. When crafting your content marketing strategy, remember to deliver the content in an informational but entertaining format. Also provide content that focuses on helping your customers instead of selling your product or service.

6 Must-Have Elements for a Winning Presentation

April 18th, 2013 ::

Travis KalanickThe best presentation I ever encountered was at a startup conference in DC almost 2 years ago. The presentation was given by Travis Kalanick, co-founder and CEO of Uber, who was entertaining and had everyone laughing while he shared the story of how he persevered and started Uber despite a hostile regulatory environment.

Travis’s presentation stuck with me to this day. I am sure a lot of other people remember it too, because he got a big reaction. After the conference, he was mobbed with people who wanted to chat with him.

Because being boring – and being bored to death – is something I avoid like the plague, I decided to make a list of all the reasons Travis’s presentation was so darn good. Here’s how to be like Travis:

1 – Love your subject

The more passionate you are about your subject, the more energy you will bring to your presentation. Your knowledge of – and love for – your subject will just pour out of you and wash over the audience. You will engage your audience and really pull them in. In turn, your audience will believe in you.

2 – Understand your audience

The presentation Travis made to a bunch of startup founders was peppered with jargon the community understands and full of curse words. I doubt he’d give the same presentation to potential investors. Instead, he’d focus on numbers – revenue, profit, and loss projections – and use financial terms.

3 – Have a conversation

All of the best presentations I have ever sat through, watched, or listened to included this very important element. I like to be talked to and feel like the speaker is conversing with me. I don’t like to be talked at, which, for me, feels like a lecture. Which do you prefer?

4 – Know your stuff

The more you practice your presentation, the more comfortable you will be with the material and the better your delivery. Travis didn’t have notes. He walked around the stage, telling his story. He knew the points he wanted to make and how to make them.

5 – Be visual

The most remarkable thing about Travis’s presentation was his PowerPoint deck, which contained zero words. It was all images – images that related to the points he was making. This is a brilliant idea, as you want people to pay attention to what you’re saying, not what is written on a slide.

6 – Practice timing

Watching Travis was like watching a seasoned standup comedian who knows exactly how and when to say something to elicit the biggest reaction. Practice your timing – where you should pause, how to deliver a punch line, and the most powerful way to make a point.

Do you have any other tips for an awesome, engaging, and fun presentation?

Image courtesy of washingtonian.com

10 Online Marketing Mistakes That Are Damaging Your Reputation, Part 2

April 16th, 2013 ::
This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series 10 Online Marketing Mistakes

Damaged!Your online reputation includes your website, blog, downloadable content, and social media accounts. Because they are always “on” and ready to make a good first impression, you want them to do you proud and accurately represent the quality of you and your work.

If you missed my first post on mistakes 1-5, you can find it here. Here are the final 5 most common online marketing mistakes that, if you’re making them, are damaging your reputation:

6 – Focusing on sales over relationships

While I am sure that you, your company, your products, and your services are all great, don’t talk about you, it, or them. That’s sales, and I have never met anyone who said, “I love to be sold to!” Instead, show how great you are by sharing your knowledge and helping others. That’s how you build relationships, and relationships drive sales.

7 – Writing vague blog posts

This is probably my biggest pet peeve. Rambling blog posts that circle around a topic and never make a point or reach a conclusion are a complete and total waste of time. Make your point up front, and then write a blog post that supports your point.

8 – Not proofing content

The is my second biggest pet peeve. Keep your spell check and grammar check turned on. In the digital age, you literally have no excuse for spelling and grammatical errors. As for punctuation errors, learn what dashes, colons, and semi-colons are for, and learn how and when to use a comma. If your content is sloppy, what will prospects think about your work?

9 – Not editing content

This is different from proofing content, which is more mechanical. Editing means checking your content for clarity and length. Is your language clear? Can you tighten up sentences or paragraphs and still get your point across? Does your content flow nicely from one point to the next?

10 – Forgetting about your mobile site

How many of you have a smartphone? How many of you read email? How many of you look up a business on Yelp before heading there? Exactly – most of us do. Just last weekend, my husband looked up a restaurant on his iPhone. Their site was not mobile-friendly and was thus impossible to navigate. We decided to dine elsewhere. So, do you have an optimized mobile site yet?

What do you do to make sure your online reputation shines?

Image courtesy of timelineimages.com

10 Online Marketing Mistakes That Are Damaging Your Reputation, Part 1

April 15th, 2013 ::
This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series 10 Online Marketing Mistakes

Damaged - ouch!The online reputation you have can make or break your brand. You can only physically be in one place at a time, but online, you are in several places at once and accessible 24/7. Your website, blog, downloadable content, social media accounts – they are always “on” and ready to make a good first impression – or are they?

Here are the first 5 (out of 10) common online marketing mistakes that, if you’re making them, are damaging your reputation:

1 – Not updating or maintaining your website

Because your website is your digital calling card, it is incredibly important to make a strong first impression. Keep your website fresh with new information – new projects, clients, testimonials, press mentions, maybe a Twitter feed.

Web design and development best practices and must-have elements have changed a lot in the past couple of years. If your website includes Flash or is more than a few years old, consider having it redesigned.

2 – Using auto-play video

If you have a video on your website that automatically plays as soon as someone lands on your site (or Web page), for the love of all that is good in the marketing world, please turn it off. It is annoying, and it definitely will not win you any friends.

3 – Neglecting your social presence

Once you start a blog and make your presence known on Facebook, Twitter, etc., don’t stop. The whole point of “going social” is to be social – to have conversations, answer questions, help solve problems, provide resources, and ultimately build a community. You can’t build something by taking frequent and extended vacations.

4 – Over-communicating

This can be interpreted in two ways: sharing too much, and sharing too often.

By sharing too much, I mean sharing personal information that is totally irrelevant and inappropriate or sharing professional information that is angry in nature (like complaining about a bad client).

By sharing too often, I mean posting company-focused news/updates on Facebook and Twitter more than once a day. I have noticed that a social media marketing professional whose brand I “like” on Facebook does this every day – she sends out at least 3 posts on Facebook back-to-back every evening. Hello, un-follow button!

5 – Over-automating social media

When Twitter was first adapted by the business community, it was popular to auto-send a Direct Message to new followers. Amazingly enough, people and brands still do that, even though the practice is highly frowned upon. Do you automate your phone calls to your spouse, mom, or kids? Of course not – you’re not a robot. Well, you shouldn’t do it to your social media followers either.

Do you see these mistakes being made? Which one bugs you the most – and why?

Image courtesy of timelineimages.com

What Can Content Marketing Do for You?

April 15th, 2013 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

“Content marketing” is a hot business buzzword these days—and for good reason. The practice of creating online “content,” whether it’s articles and blog posts, social media posts or online videos, can bring a small business big results. If you’re skeptical about whether content marketing can really help you—and whether it’s worth your time—check out BusinessBolts’ Content Marketing Survey Report.

This study specifically focused on how small companies use content marketing and what the payoffs were. Here’s what they found.

It doesn’t have to take a ton of time. The average small business in the survey spent between one and five hours per week on content marketing.

It makes a huge difference. More than three-fourths of small business owners say content marketing improves their website traffic. Seventy-one percent say it boosts their position in search rankings, 70 percent say it improves awareness of their brand, and 59 percent say it increases their sales.

Have I sold you yet? If you’re ready to try content marketing, you should know that articles and blog posts were the most common type of content, used by 74 and 64 percent of small businesses respectively. This could include articles on your own website, on someone else’s website or on your social media accounts.

Less common, but also effective, were email newsletters and online videos. It’s important to note that the highest-earning businesses in the study were more likely to use these types of content marketing.

Content marketing isn’t always easy. It takes time to create good content. Here are some of my ideas for simplifying things:

  • Delegate to someone on staff. Not all business owners are great writers or have the time to write content. Put someone else in charge—you can still come up with ideas, or they can interview you or others on your staff to get fodder for content.
  • Consider outsourcing. It’s possible to find copywriters or bloggers who will create content for a reasonable price. This can be a smart move if you can afford it. Which brings me to my next point:
  • Don’t be stingy. The BusinessBolts study found the businesses that spent more time and more money on creating content, as well as on advertising and marketing in general, had higher incomes. Content marketing pays off.
  • Use podcasts or videos. These can be simple to create and since no writing is involved, they’re often faster. Again, interviewing someone on your team about a topic of interest is a natural for podcasts and videos. This also adds variety to your content and helps your site rank higher in search engines.

Image by Flickr user mkhmarketing (Creative Commons)

Content Marketing Is Marketers’ Top Focus for 2013

April 12th, 2013 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

Content marketing is surpassing social media as the number-one marketing focus for businesses this year, a study by CopyPress reports. The Copypress 2013 State Of Content Marketing Study asked marketing decision-makers to pick one “leading focus” for their marketing efforts. In 2012, 18.9 percent of marketers named content marketing, ranking it behind both email and social media and tied with SEO. However, in the 2013 survey, the number of marketers who said content marketing was their leading focus climbed to 34.8 percent–making it the top priority for the greatest number of respondents, ahead of social media and email marketing. Social media is a focus for 24.7 percent of respondents, SEO for 14.6 percent and email marketing for 10.4 percent.

The survey also asked marketers which specific types of content had the best return on investment (ROI). Articles, video and white papers topped the list:

  • Featured articles – 62.2 percent
  • Videos – 51.9 percent
  • White papers – 45.6 percent
  • Photos – 37.8 percent
  • Interactive media – 36 percent
  • Sales copy – 29.7 percent
  • Infographics – 27.9 percent
  • Buyers’ guides – 21.6 percent

Here are some of the challenges marketers faced with regard to specific types of content:

Video – Although video was widely considered to have high ROI, most marketers also felt that this was among the most difficult types of content to create. When pressed more specifically, they seemed to feel that video was too expensive.

White papers and articles – Authorship was a main focus for these types of content. Two-thirds of respondents thought it was important for content to have a specific person’s authorship, as opposed to being generically “from” their business. In general, this means they felt it was important for white papers or articles to be bylined by high-profile people in the company and industry, whose prominence would help in search results. However, only 42 percent were willing to pay more for content authored by high-profile individuals.

What do these trends mean to your business?

  • While video can be expensive if you turn to outside sources to create it, it doesn’t have to be. Videos filmed with a basic video camera or even those filmed on a smartphone can be of adequate quality if the information conveyed is relevant, interesting and useful and the presentation is lively and professional.
  • You may not be able to afford to pay a well-known individual to write content for you, but by writing enough content yourself and promoting it on your website, blog and social media channels, you can eventually raise your own profile as an author. With changes to Google’s search algorithms making authorship more important in search results, this criterion will matter more in the future.

Image by Flickr user Richard_of_England (Creative Commons)

“Buy American” Is Still a Selling Point—If You Know How to Sell It

April 11th, 2013 ::

By Maria Valdez Haubrich

Are you hoping that the “Made in America” label will help your product sell better? Chances are you’re right. A recent Harris Interactive survey found support for buying American products across a wide swath of age groups, both genders and both political parties. However, it’s important to define what “American” means when it comes to a product.

Being made in America is the biggest deciding factor in whether an item is considered American. Three-fourths of respondents say a product has to be made in the U.S. for them to think of it as “American.” Being produced by a U.S. company or being made from parts manufactured in the U.S. was important to about half of consumers; being designed by an American was important to about one-fourth.

What type of people care about buying American? Just about everyone. However:

  • The older people are, the more importance they typically place on buying American. Respondents age 48 and up were most likely to say buying American is important; 18- to 35-year-olds were least likely.
  • Women were more likely than men to believe it’s important to buy American.
  • Republicans and Democrats, however, were equally likely to believe it’s important to buy American, and felt more strongly about it than did Independents.

What types of products are people most likely to want to buy American? Major appliances (75 percent), furniture (74 percent), clothing (72 percent), small appliances (71 percent) and automobiles (70 percent) were the categories for which respondents were most likely to say it was “very important” or “important” to buy American.

What are people trying to accomplish when they buy American? The most important reason for buying American was to “keep jobs in America,” which 66 percent of respondents rated “very important.” Next on the list was “supporting American companies” (cited as “very important” by 56 percent). Safety concerns about products made outside the U.S. were a very important reason for buying American for 49 percent of respondents.

Less important reasons for buying American were:

  • Quality concerns with products assembled/ produced outside of the U.S.
  • Patriotism
  • Human rights issues with products assembled/produced outside of the U.S.
  • Decreasing environmental impact since products don’t need to travel as far. However, even this factor—the lowest on the list–was rated “very important” by 32 percent.

Clearly, buying American is still a priority for many people. If you decide to use this as a selling point, be sure that you:

  • Are honest and accurate about exactly what “Made in America” means in terms of your product.
  • Emphasize the factors that matter to customers, such as keeping jobs in America or supporting U.S. companies, in your marketing.

To fine-tune your marketing message, drill down into more details about specific consumer groups’ opinions at Harris Interactive.

Image by Flickr user donkeyhotey (Creative Commons)