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Friday Small Business Roundup: Smarter Online Marketing and More

May 24th, 2013 ::

You’re sending out emails, but is anyone responding? If not, Monika Jansen has 9 Easy Ways to Improve Email Click-Through Rates.

What are customer personas and how can they help your marketing? Find out in 4 Easy Steps to Create Customer Personas, by Monika Jansen.

It doesn’t matter how many customers you attract to your business if they never come back a second time. Read Rieva Lesonsky’s post Is Your Business Driving Customers Crazy? to make sure you’re not driving customers away.

If you haven’t updated your business website since 1999, maybe it’s time to read Monika Jansen’s 8 Signs It’s Time for a New Website.

Hiring doesn’t have to mean the same old, same old. For Your Next Hire, Think Out of the Box, by Rieva Lesonsky, shows you some new ways to think about hiring.

Then expand your hiring horizons by reading Rieva Lesonsky’s How to Use Social Media to Find Job Candidates.

Do you own a restaurant? Read Rieva Lesonsky’s post to learn What Matters Most to Restaurant Customers.

How Are Your Employees Using Mobile Devices? See if you measure up in Rieva Lesonsky’s post.

Friday Small Business Roundup: Niche Markets and More

May 17th, 2013 ::

Did your small business have reason to celebrate on Mother’s Day? If you’re marketing to moms right, you did–check out Maria Valdez Haubrich’s post When It Comes to Social Media, Mom Just Can’t Get Enough, for tips on what moms want.

Wondering how to attract more restaurant customers? Read Karen Axelton’s tip in 1 Simple Step That Can Make More People Eat at Your Restaurant.

Do You Need to Hire an IT Expert? Rieva Lesonsky shares the reasons you might want to add an IT person to your team.

No matter who you’re hiring, read Rieva Lesonsky’s post on Secrets to Conducting a Successful Job Interview first.

What You Need to Know About Hispanic Consumers, by Rieva Lesonsky, will give you the scoop on an increasingly important market.

Speaking of niche markets, check out Monika Jansen’s post 7 Reasons Being Niche Will Improve Your Small Business’s Marketing Strategy.

Then improve your business blog by reading–and acting on — The Do’s and Don’ts of a Successful Guest Blogger Program, by Monika Jansen.

Last, but not least, get better results from your content marketing strategy. Monika Jansen shows you how in 7 Types of Content That Search Engines Love.

Web.com Small Business Tip of the Day: Women Breadwinners Call the Shots

May 6th, 2013 ::

Want to target your marketing efforts to the breadwinner in the family? According to The Luxury Institute’s recent survey, women are not only the CEOs of their families, but 41 percent of women included in the survey were also the family breadwinners, contributing more than 50 percent of the household income. However, despite the fact that these educated women are earning six-figure salaries, their top priority is still family. So how do you market to these highly educated, affluent women? Think about their busy schedules and high standards. Make sure your website is attractive, professional, easy to navigate and represented on social media. And finally, consider test marketing to this category to get some helpful feedback on what could be improved.

Web.com Small Business Tip of the Day: What Are Your Customers Doing Online?

May 3rd, 2013 ::

What are your customers doing online? The answer is most likely social media, according to a new survey from Experian Marketing Services, which also showed five minutes of every hour is spent on shopping. A great deal of this social networking and shopping is happening on consumers’ mobile devices, which brings up the question, how are your online marketing efforts doing? Is your business well-represented on local search sites? How does your website look on a smartphone? Are you using social media to announce new products, promote daily specials and communicate with your customer? The truth is there’s probably more you could be doing, so make it a point to find out what you don’t know about online marketing and get your business on the right track.

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)

U.S. Crowdfunding More Than Doubled Last Year

April 23rd, 2013 ::

By Maria Valdez Haubrich

Crowdfunding—a method of soliciting small donations of money from large groups of people online—is growing exponentially, according to new data from research firm massolution. According to the company’s annual 2013CF – Crowdfunding Industry Report of more than 308 crowdfunding platforms (CFPs), CFPs worldwide raised $2.7 billion in 2012–an 81 percent increase compared to 2011.

CFPs successfully financed more than 1 million crowdfunding campaigns, with 95 percent of these taking place in North America and Europe.  In North America alone, crowdfunding volume more than doubled, growing by 105 percent to hit $1.6 billion. This year, massolution expects worldwide crowdfunding volume to top $5 billion, largely thanks to new laws in the U.S. that will enable crowdfunding to expand beyond simply seeking donations or rewards-based contributions, and actually seek equity investments.

The current report focused on lending-based, donation-based and reward-based crowdfunding. However, thanks to the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act signed into law last April, which will allow non-accredited investors to make investments in companies in return for equity, equity-based crowdfunding is expected to grow substantially in 2013 and beyond.

The SEC still needs to revise several key sections of the act before equity-based crowdfunding can take place in the U.S. While the SEC has failed to meet deadlines for doing so, the regulations are expected to be set by the end of the year.

What types of campaigns are most likely to get funded via crowdfunding? Massolution identified the five most popular types of crowdfunding campaigns and found social causes still lead the pack; nearly 30 percent of all crowdfunding activity involves social issues.

However, business and entrepreneurship campaigns are moving up in the ranks, with 16.9 percent of crowdfunding activity last year coming from this category. In fact, massolution reports that last year’s growth in lending volumes was primarily due to crowdfunded microloans and community-driven loans to small and midsized businesses.

Films and performing arts accounted for 11.9 percent of all crowdfunding activity in 2012, and music and recording arts accounted for 7.5 percent. The emerging category last year was energy and environment, which accounted for 5.9 percent of crowdfunding activity.

A few interesting trends massolution points out that could have implications for small businesses:

  • Crowdfunding is no longer just for small companies seeking to fund individual projects, but is poised to become a means by which big corporations and even institutions could raise funds. This could mean even greater competition in the crowdfunding space, making it harder for small companies to stand out.
  • At the same time, new platforms are likely to emerge dedicated to smaller companies and even specific industries, which could make it easier to find financing within these platforms.
  • In fact, there’s even opportunity for entrepreneurs to start their own crowdfunding platforms to target underserved niches.

Image by Flickr user James Cridland (Creative Commons)

What Do Women Want When They Shop?

April 22nd, 2013 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

The way women shop is changing, with brick-and-mortar stores no longer the focus, reports the second annual SheSpeaks/Lippe Taylor Women’s Buying Behavior Index. The study polled some 2,152 women in the past two months about their buying habits and future purchasing plans.

The biggest finding? Shopping no longer starts in stores, but online. Asked how they most often research products, some 71 percent of women say they use their desktop/laptop and 18 percent chose a mobile phone or tablet. Just 6 percent said they research by actually browsing in a physical store; amost as many (5 percent) say they ask friends and family.

Where do women most often make the actual purchase? Even when it comes to buying, digital still has a slight edge, with 47 percent saying they most often buy via desktop/laptop. Forty-five percent most often go to the store. Just 8 percent say they most often buy via mobile phone or tablet.

While mobile devices aren’t women’s top choice for making the purchase, they are heavily used for other types of shopping behavior:

  • 53 percent use phones and other devices to find store locations and hours
  • 49 percent use mobile devices in-store to look up and compare prices
  • 46 percent use them to search for coupons
  • 41 percent use them to get detailed product information
  • 24 percent use them to make purchases

If you’re trying to target women with your marketing messages, you’ll want to know when they typically do their research. Most (43 percent) said they research at home during the day; 42 percent say they research at home at night. Just 9 percent did product research at work and only 7 percent did so at home on the weekends.

Women’s purchasing habits don’t just affect the products and services they buy for themselves. Women not only wield major influence over men, they actually buy for them. Asked in what categories they are the primary shopper for their husband or boyfriend, 71 percent say apparel; 69 percent say grooming products; 51 percent cited travel; 39 percent said technology products; 29 percent said financial products and services and 18 percent said cars.

What does it mean to your business?

Online research is a huge factor in the purchasing process for women, with nearly 90 percent of women regularly going online on computer, tablet or phone before they buy. Make sure you provide all the information women need to make their decision, including:

  • Reviews and ratings of your business
  • Local search information about your business so women can more easily find you
  • Search-optimized website that drives women to your site when they use the keywords relevant to your business to search for information

Another huge takeaway? Even if you sell products and services for men, you need to take women into account, since women are buying just about everything for men (and, if not actually buying, most likely having input into the decision). When you picture your target customer, picture his wife or girlfriend, too, and target specific marketing messages to her.

Image by Flickr user Kevin Ryder (Creative Commons)

Web.com Small Business Toolkit: Updience.com (Online Marketing Solution)

April 16th, 2013 ::

Updience.com

The best free marketing tool has always been word-of-mouth, and today, more and more innovative entrepreneurs are using social media to create new ways to spread the good word about your business. Updience.com is based on the notion that your happy customers are the best channel by which to find new customers—and a recommendation can spread your reach to all corners of the world. Simply choose the location of your customers (local, state by state or worldwide). Then choose your target market, whether consumer or business to business, by age, gender and/or marital status. Updience.com will then advise you on how many potential customers you can reach through their site—for free.

 

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)