stormyheadshot_portraitJoan Broughton recently interviewed one of our partners in advance of a presentation she was giving to business owners in Petaluma, CA. Here is the interview:

Q: Of all the ways to market a small business—Yellow Pages placement, print advertising, direct mail, email, website, social media—what produces the most “bang for the buck”?

SK: First, a business should focus on its prospective clients and determine what their needs/problems are. Once you have a clear understanding of what your customer needs, you can tailor the content of your website and design your search engine optimization accordingly. That, I think, has the biggest payoff.

This requires more thinking than spending of money, so it doesn’t necessarily take many bucks to get a big bang. Even though it seems elementary, many small businesses don’t think much about the “why” of someone looking for their products and services and the “how” of the process a new prospect would take to find them.

We’re way past the point where it’s cutting edge to have a website. Today a website needs to stand out when prospects go on the internet to solve a problem or find a solution to something, and then it must convert those visitors into customers.

Q: What is Local Search Engine Optimization, and how does it help small businesses?

SK: Search engine optimization is just what it says: optimizing those things that can be optimized to have better placement in search engine results.

There are two basic types of search engine optimization – competing with everybody in the U.S., and maybe the world, and competing in the local market. Most small businesses that provide a service or have a brick and mortar location don’t really need to worry about doing well in the search engines for people who are searching 50 to 100 miles outside of their business location. They only need to compete with other local businesses, which is much simpler.

Search engines treat local search totally different from national and international search and they base it on the terms that searchers use. We all now have mobile phones and we rely on them to do more and more of our searching. Most of the time, those searches are local.

Q: Which small businesses should have a mobile marketing strategy?

SK: Businesses that rely on a spur-of-the-moment decision, such as restaurants, benefit from mobile, as do destinations, such as wineries, museums, landmarks, and historic sites. Community groups, such as churches, temples, meeting halls where people may be using their mobile device to find the location or access an event calendar should consider optimizing for mobile.
These types of business may have 20%, 30%, or more of their searches coming from mobile devices, and the percentage is growing constantly. No business, I think, should assume at this point that mobile doesn’t matter. If your online properties are not optimized for mobile, they should be.

The easy way to find out if your mobile presence needs improvement is to 1) look at your website and do a search for your business on a mobile device. See how easy it is to find you and interact with your website and 2) if you have visitor analytics on your site, check the percentage of visitors on your website coming from mobile devices. It will probably be well over 15%. If you site isn’t working well on mobile, then 15% or more of your visitors, those most ready to buy, are being frustrated and driven away. No business can afford to do that for very long.

Q: How can your clients measure the success of their online marketing?

SK: Instead of just putting an ad in a publication and hoping, there are a lot of ways to track visitor engagement in online marketing. The challenge is to establish what the goals are before you get started and determine HOW you want to track response.

If you have ever done direct mail marketing, you know one of the oldest tricks is creating a box number on the address which is actually a tracking code to see which ad the order is responding to.

When doing online marketing, you can pass information through the web address used, send new visitors to different unique landing pages or put them through to a unique phone number. There are a lot of options. The important step is to figure out what needs to be tracked and then determine the way to do it.

Q: How do you focus a small business’s online marketing so that it reaches the right people, with the right information?

SK: This gets back to the first question. You have to understand who those “right people” are and then focus every single thing you do – webpage content, ad copy, design, where you get your business listed – to laser focus on “You, visitor person, have this problem? WE HAVE THE SOLUTION!!” I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been to the home page of a website and couldn’t figure out what they did or what problems they solved. That is the ultimate marketing fail.

Q: What’s next in online marketing for small businesses?

SK: We’re almost to the stage where most small business people understand that a brochure website isn’t working for them, that there is more to online marketing than that. For most small business owners, that’s a very daunting realization.
I was around back when there were not very many websites and doing well in the search engines was ridiculously simple. Now it is very much a multi-headed Hydra, with so much to know and understand to get people to find a business online and then convert them into customers. And most small business people simply don’t have the time or expertise to improve their situation themselves, because they have a business to run!

There are a lot of service companies coming into existence to address this issue, but small business owners are still going to have to educate themselves somewhat so they can at least be informed buyers of those services. That’s much the same way 10 to 15 years ago that they had to start learning about this new “internet” thing.

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Marc Harris has extensive experience in SEO, content creation, website development and internet marketing. He is a moderator at WebmasterWorld, one of the largest websites for news and discussions geared toward website professionals.