Small business marketing used to mean direct mailings, flyers, and postcards listing the latest deals, promotions and specials. As a kid, I would earn a nickel for every envelope I stuffed for my father’s insurance business and a few extra dollars if I sorted them by ZIP code before I gave them to him. I have a feeling today’s kids aren’t earning their extra change that way.
Because the Internet has changed all that. Today marketing your small business means doing things to help you gain visibility on the Web. It’s about reaching real-life customers through online portals and giving them a reason to come visit you in store. Below are 9 ways small business owners can market their businesses online. Ideally, you’re already doing a combination of these.
1. Search Engine Optimization
I was recently asked to share what I thought was the biggest mistake small business owners make with their websites. My answer was that they ignore search engine optimization. Whether you’re opening a restaurant, a hardware store or a consulting company, you need to invest in SEO. That means making sure your site is set up to be spiderable, that you’re going after the proper keywords, that you’re localizing your content, that you’re creating unique titles and meta descriptions and that you’re following SEO best practices. The importance of SEO to the success and visibility of your we site really cannot be overstated. It’s through proper SEO that customers are going to be able to find out about you. If they don’t know you exist, they can’t do business with you.
2. Social Media
Just because the focus is more on conversations and group chatting doesn’t mean that social media isn’t another important marketing channel for your business. Each time you send out a tweet, add a status update or post something on your company’s LinkedIn profile, you are marketing your business. You’re showing customers a new side of you, sharing the company viewpoint or giving them new insight into who you are. Over time, creating this relationship and constant visibility helps to brand your company in the eyes of your audience. You can also use social media to strengthen the marketing you’re doing offline.
3. Local Listings
Claim your local listings. Claim your listing on Google Places, Bing, Merchant Circle, Yellow Pages, Yelp, FourSquare and on all third-party sites. It may seem like monotonous work, but it’s also very important work. Creating a variety of complete, accurate listings is your key to search visibility. Google, especially, is looking to make sure that the Joe’s Pizza Truck listed on Google Places at 123 Main Street is the same Joe’s Pizza Truck listed on Yelp at the same address. If you don’t know where you’re listed, where you’re not, or what your information says, use GetListed to find out.
Blogging could really be listed up there with social media, but it’s so important I thought I’d break it out into its own category. As a small business owner, there are few better marketing vehicles at your disposal than creating a company blog. Blogging allows you to establish your authority in the market, gives customers a look behind the logo, and sets you up to create valuable content on a regular basis. The search engines love blogs for their fresh content, while customers love them to help connect with your brand.
5. Invest in Reviews
No, when I say “invest” I don’t mean that you should go out and buy reviews. But do work reviews into your business and sales process. Encourage people to support your business by leaving comments and testimonials on Google Pages, Yelp and whatever other review sites have influence in your niche. By encouraging this habit from your customers, you’re also helping to market your business at the same time.
This past spring we covered four ways to market your small business with Flickr. Have you started? What, exactly, are you waiting for?
The same way that users can tap into the power of Flickr, they can also tap into YouTube. By creating video content related to your business – whether it’s how-to videos, product videos or just a behind the scenes view of your business – you not only give yourself another way to market and connect with consumers, but you also boost your SEO power. The search engines love video. They love it so much that video is now appearing on the first page of many search engine results. By optimizing your title, description and tags, and building an engaged set of views, you can dramatically increase the number of people being exposed to your brand.
8. Email Newsletters
Email newsletters give marketers the opportunity to hit consumers where they’re most receptive – their inbox. Whether it’s to keep customers up-to-date on upcoming promotions, share informative articles or just share a bit of news, email newsletters are another powerful marketing tool for those that follow best practices.
9. Online Events
I love online events! I love them because they give business owners a way to connect with their fans and customers without ever having to leave the comfort of their own chairs. Getting involved in online contests, Twitter parties and other online events is a fun (and free) way to boost your brand’s marketing appeal.
Above are just a few ways for small business owners to market their businesses online. What have I missed?