As a consultant, the #1 request I get is, "How can I get a presence online?" Many business owners are now feeling the pressure from market demands to be online. Having a plan for online marketing is essential for many, if not most, businesses. BUT if you do not first understand the fundamentals of online marketing, you could be setting yourself up for digital failure. With that, here is my ever growing list of essential marketing rules for business going online.
1. Own Your Online Property
It is very common for small businesses to hire a 3rd party company to develop their website or social media pages. There is nothing wrong with that, and I would even encourage it for many businesses out there. But DO NOT let that 3rd party company own your property. For instance, a company can develop your website, but you need to have full rights and ownership to everything (passwords, content, photos, backend coding, etc.). You want to find a company that will waive legal rights to the website, and instead give it to you, the business owner. This also applies for domain names, Facebook accounts, stock photo accounts, email addresses, and any other online platform. You want to make sure have intellectual property rights to everything online that you publish as a business.
2. Market With a Purpose
Any business consultant would tell you to physically market with a purpose, wether it be a target area to pass out flyers, what content to put on your business card, or even the color designs of your signage. Having a purpose for your marketing applies not only to just physical, but especially online marketing. Ask yourself this question: Why are you doing this? Why do you want to be online? You cannot manage what you cannot measure, so be sure you have a measurable goal and purpose before you set out to conquer the digital world.
What should be your purpose of having an online presence?
- To Brand Your Business - The process of getting your name out into the public and get word of mouth to start spreading in the area.
- To Produce Sales - The actual sale occurs online through a marketplace or a checkout cart, not by a phone call to the business owner.
- To Generate Leads - If someone sees you online, that person will have an incentive to give the business owner a call, and make the sale outside of the website.
- To Add Credibility - This is the idea of showing off your resume, successes, and add credentialing to yourself, to better sell yourself to your clients.
3. Manage Your Reputation
By having an online presence, you have a lot of flexibility as to how your business is perceived. You have direct access to the photos you post, the text you write, and even the responses to negative online reviews. Because of this power, you NEVER want to give control of your reputation management to someone else. Business owners should know how to manage their business themselves. How do you do that? You can Google yourself and see what pops up (positive reviews, bad BBB rating, negative comments, etc.).
When you Google your business, make sure your browser is in "Private" mode, because Google remembers things you type into their search bars on your computer, and that could skew the results. For example, if you are constantly typing in your business name and clicking on your website, then Google remembers that and your website will appear higher up because of it. In "Private" mode, it is as if this is the first time the computer has done a Google search, the results are not skewed, and it is like a random person searched on Google.
As a business owner, you should stress the importance of leaving reviews for your business. Once your business is registered with Google (GYBO.com), this gives people the ability to leave you a Google review and rating. This is very important as it helps your SEO and gives your business more credibility when someone Googles you. You also want to get customers to review and leaving ratings on your Facebook page. You should always be asking for your clients or customers to leave you reviews. Find creative ways to do that. Maybe put an iPad on a stand at your retail center, give free incentives if people leave you reviews, etc.
4. Understand How Online Ranking Works
In regards to SEO and Google ranking, there is a lot of confusion out there. It does not help that there are many companies that offer help getting on Google's first page for a hefty fee. The majority of these companies are scammers, so be weary of solicitors who sound too good to be true. Google ranking is all about content. Content is not photos or videos (because Google cannot read pictures or videos), but rather it is the text on the page. Your text on your website is the most important when it comes to Google search. What makes good content on your webpage?
- Content should be understood – All text on your webpage should be conversational. You should not use big words. Google does not want a college paper. The perfect grade level of simplicity should be between a 4th – 6th grade reading level.
- Content should be updated – Making changes to your webpage every day doesn’t necessarily improve your SEO. But rather adding new content and pages. That is why Blog sites do well with updated content; it is new text.
- Content should be unique – Google will know if you have copied and pasted from another website. Even if the content is the best content ever, if it is copied, Google will penalize you for it. Even things as copying item descriptions from your vendors will hurt your SEO.
5. Avoid Scams
Unfortunately, there are many horror stories of business owners falling for online marketing scams. There are "fake" businesses that contact you, attempting to entice you to purchase something in an effort to help your online marketing. These can be very tempting, especially if you are new to online marketing. Here are a few of the most common scams:
- The Guaranteed Ranking Scam: This is when someone says they can guarantee your Google listing will be on the first page. DO NOT listen and purchase their services. No one knows the exact Google algorithm for higher ranking, not even the majority of people who work for Google. No one can guarantee you a higher ranking. Higher ranking comes organically with time and effort from the business owner.
- The Domain Purchase Scam: This is when someone tries to guilt trip you into purchasing every single domain out there. The most common domain is .com, but there is .org, .net, .biz, .ch, and a whole bunch more. It is not essential for your website to have every single domain; just the .com. It does not matter if someone tries to scare you into thinking a competitor will purchase the .biz or .org of your website, you should not listen to them.
- The Phone Book Scam: This is when someone says if you will be in their directory, they have a special partnership with Google and can get you listed higher with them. It is called a phone book because when ads are sold into the Yellow/White Pages, your ad will be seen by special group of people (geographic area). If someone calls you and asks you to pay to be a part of a special directory, do not listen to them and hang up the phone. If you follow rules of generating good content on your website, you do not need to be a part of these kind of groups online.
- The Paid Local Listing Scam: NEVER let anyone register your local listing for you. And NEVER pay someone to do this for you. This is specifically for the Google "Get Your Business Online," which is the process of claiming your business listing on Google. This allows you to create a Google+ page for your business, put you on Google Maps, and gives you website tools like Trends and Analytics. Do this yourself as a business owner. It is free. Do not let anyone else do this for you.
- The Pay Per Click Scam: This is similar to the Guarantee Ranking Scam, except that these individuals will actually get you on page 1 of Google....via Pay Per Click Ads. Pay Per Click Ads are those websites you see listed first on Google, with a different color box around them. These websites have paid Google to be an Ad, and they will only be charged money by Google when someone clicks on that Ad. If you want to set up a Pay Per Click Ad, you need to do that yourself or get a trusted Marketing Firm to help you.