Small Business Marketing in 2017

Changing Times

“The times they are a-changin’” (-Bob Dylan, 1963). One of the most famous lines in rock history is as true today as it was over 50 years ago. Even more so, if that’s possible. This holds true for every element of our society, and especially in small business marketing. Change is exciting. And changing times create opportunities.

Look what marketing was like thirty years ago. The small business had to pay for a spot in the local Yellow Pages. They ran regular ads in the local newspaper. They put ads on the local radio station. They sent flyers to potential customers in their local markets. Most small businesses were somewhat confined to their local markets.

Expanded Market Area

The web has allowed a range of businesses to expand their market areas. Thirty years ago my family was in the building supply business in a small town. We would have customers that wanted specialty products, like custom designed arch windows. The fact that we knew where to find carpentry shops that would create these items gave us a competitive advantage. Our builder client didn’t know where he could get the work done. So he ordered it from us. Now, the builder who needs the window can search for carpentry shops and find them on the web. Then he can make the purchase and cut out the middle man. Today, this happens across a wide range of goods and services.

The Local Information Shift

As time passes fewer people are using the Yellow Pages. Local newspapers are losing subscribers. Local radio stations must create a local element to retain existing listeners. When the members of our communities are looking for goods and services, most go to the same place, the web. Many of these newspapers, radio stations and other mediums have tried to make their place on the web with websites and social media. The effort is failing to attract followers and advertisers. When the public is looking for goods and services it goes to the search engines instead, even in their search for local goods and services.

Continued Transformation

Web Changes

Ten years ago PC sales were hitting records. More and more people wanted a home computer so they could have access to the web. Millions of businesses were designing websites for those devices to provide information and to influence their share of the market. Today, PC sales are declining while the public has found less expensive and more convenient products in mobile devices.

This is a bar chart showing the decline in PC sales.
PC sales are in decline (Statista.com).

The traditional website has had to be redesigned to fit these devices. The “mobile first” strategy is taking hold. It will be considered the norm very soon.

Another element that websites must accommodate today is the offering of interactive capabilities. Al Agrawal, a contributor at Forbes.com, gives some valuable advice: “Think of ways to get readers to actively participate instead of passively consume. Interactive content can include assessments (such as the classic Cosmo Quiz setup), polls, surveys, infographics, brackets and contests” (17 Marketing Trends to Watch Out For In 2017 – Forbes) Participation is a way to connect in a proactive manner.

Change is Constant

Don’t expect the changes in small business marketing to slow down any time soon. Our capabilities in information handling continue to increase. Moore’s law certainly appears to be holding true today. That is, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles every two years (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law). This allows us to put more information into the market place through a growing range of mediums.

Be a Leader

Small businesses that don’t change will fall behind. This has been the case for centuries. Keeping up shouldn’t intimidate you. Through vendors, trade associations, trade journals and research of your competitors you can stay aware of the latest changes. Trade contacts should help you make educated decisions concerning the changes you decide to make. And those changes will make you a leader in your market.

The Ecommerce Website

Selling Products Online

Many small businesses dream about taking their products to the world through ecommerce. If you have a unique product then this can create exciting possibilities. If you have a product that is carried by many other businesses, then you will need to find a way create more value than your competitors. Otherwise you will be competing solely on price.

The “To Do” List

There are several bases that need to be covered to get your site off the ground and selling products online. As with any website you need to purchase a domain name and point it to the server where you will have your website.

Set Up Secure Hosting

The hosting for your business’s website needs to be on a secure server. This insures that credit card information and other personal data of your clients are not compromised. Your hosting service will provide instructions for setting up a secure server.

Choose a Shopping Cart

There is a wide range of shopping cart services available. One of the best ways to choose a cart is to set up a demo account for several and go through the process of setting up your products on them. This will give you a good feel for the shortfalls of those carts and help you make a better decision in choosing. This will require some time, but it is well worth it.

These are logos of ecommerce shopping cart services.
There are many ecommerce shopping carts available.

Different carts work well for some products and not well for others. If your items have a lot of size options, color options and other variables, then you need to make sure the cart will work with all of the options you need for your market.

Enter Your Products

The most time consuming part of building an ecommerce website is often entering the products into the database for the shopping cart. Most shopping cart services have this down to a very simple process. Even so, if you have several products, each with many options, then the number of SKUs can jump quickly. Creating these in a shopping cart can require some time.

Collecting Money

There are two primary ways to collect money for your online sales. First, you connect your secure website to your bank account. Your transactions will process from the website. Second, you need to set up PayPal to give site visitors another option for payment. Clients that do not know you or your business may be reluctant to turn over credit card information to your site. If you don’t accept PayPal, then it could cost you significant sales. Make sure the shopping cart you choose accepts PayPal.

Connecting to Your Bank

Your shopping cart needs to be set up to transfer funds from your customer’s credit or debit cards to your bank account. To get this set up you need to get instructions from the company providing your shopping cart. It will require you to get some information from your bank that directs the payments to the right account.

Review Your Ecommerce Site Regularly

Your shopping cart needs to be reviewed regularly. When you have a change in a product, like the colors available for a shirt, you need to update it promptly. You don’t want to be contacting customers and telling them that you don’t have the item they just purchased. This will cost you repeat business and will likely keep other people away from your site.

Affordable Websites

Small Businesses Need Affordable Websites

Too many small businesses got burned on their websites years ago. They were led to believe that a simple site would require a costly investment, an investment so high that many decided to go without. Those that took the risk got burned. Over time the costs of sites have gone down. Part of that is due to more competition, part is due to improved technology and a lot is due to the improved awareness of business management.

These photos are of businesses that use websites.
Different businesses have different website needs.

What Does A Website Cost?

This is the primary question we are asked when potential clients contact us. But before we can give them a number, we need some details. A website that has a single page with a few images and several paragraphs of text can run as little as $300. A site that sells 100,000 products online, posts regular blogs and manages social media can cost millions to build and requires the hiring of several employees to maintain it.

What Do You Need?

The first thing you need to do is determine what kind of website best meets your needs. To do this you need to answer some basic questions. And the primary one is “What is the purpose of the website?”

Determining the Purpose of Your Website

Different businesses have different motives for creating a website. Some use it as a tool to communicate with clients and/or employees. Others use it to promote their business. And some creates sites to do both. The sites required by most small business fall in three primary categories. Those categories are information, marketing and ecommerce.

Different websites have different functions.
Business website categories include information, marketing and ecommerce.

An Information Website

Some businesses simply want to use a website to get information to their clients. For example, a window treatment business may want to post PDF files that give the customers instruction on installing products. Creating such a site requires some effort on the way the website works and the process for posting content. Something like this could be done at low cost in a blog format.

A Marketing Website

If you are promoting goods and services on your site then one of the best places to start in determining what you need is other websites in your market. It is ideal to have the best site in your market. But, some businesses cannot afford to make that investment. Even so, it is a good idea for a business to create a site that is compatible with others in its market.

An Ecommerce Website

Selling products online normally requires the most significant investment. If it is managed properly in the right market, then it can also provide the greatest rewards. Creating such a site requires the design of a marketing website, the installation of a shopping cart and the process of posting products on the site. Deciding to create an ecommerce site should be reviewed carefully before putting significant resources at risk.

Starting Small Can Be a Good Option

For a business that has no history with a website, a relatively safe possibility is to start with a small website. From a single page site to one with several pages, a custom website can be created without putting too many resources at risk. And as you see the need you can always grow the site over time.

SEO and Social Media

Do Social Media Posts Impact Ranks?

There is a lot of debate on whether search engine ranks are impacted by social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others. Those who argue that is has no impact are very naïve. Even if the posts to social media have no direct influence, they will likely generate traffic from the posts back to the business’s website. And that can have a significant influence on the rank of the website.

So, social media activity will have a positive impact on ranks if it is properly managed. The only question is whether the impact is direct or indirect. Posts should point traffic to your site. That would improve your ranks. Visitors that like your posts could link to your posts from their business websites, blogs or other social media. Those links will definitely improve your ranks.

Search engines and social media logos

Set Up Blogs to Post to Other Social Media

Blogs should be designed to post automatically on social media outlets. Tools are available that will do this every time you activate a post. This will reduce the time that must be invested in your social media efforts.

What Are Your Competitors Doing?

One factor that should influence your use of social media is how your competitors are using it. Many businesses think their competitors are not. And many of those are mistaken.

About 81 percent of small and medium-sized businesses are now leveraging social media for sales and growth. Don’t get left behind. Aside from being seen on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it’s more important to understand how to utilize their features efficiently to better serve your customers.

SEOExpert.com

Whether your competitors are using social media or not, you should seriously consider using it. If they are not using it, then you have a chance to get ahead of them. If they are using it, then you are already behind and you need to try to catch up.

Social Media Does Have An Impact

As you can see in this post, social media does have an impact on your search engine optimization efforts. One thing you can count on over time is that the algorithms will change. So the impact of social media will also change over time as well. And I will bet that its influence will increase.

Search Engine Rank Reports

Know Your Search Engine Ranks

Businesses need their websites ranked in the search engines. Quality ranks can steer valuable traffic to your website and that traffic can turn into sales. In managing your website you need to track your search engine rankings.

A Daily Report

Services are available to monitor your ranks in the search engines. They check your positions daily and provide you with the data the next day. Basic services can check the ranks of websites in Google, Bing and Yahoo.

The first thing you need to do is to determine what phrases you want to track. Once these are entered into the system, you can obtain valuable data on your ranks and learn the popularity of the phrases you have chosen. This is what a report looks like:

This is a search engine rank report

Rank Tracking

Your ranks are checked and recorded daily. You can review your ranks and compare them to those of a day ago, a week ago, 30 days ago, 90 days ago or to the time you started tracking them.

Search engine rank report options

Your search engine rank records allow you to see how well your businesses SEO efforts are working.

Targeting Words

A key element in tracking your ranks is determining what words to target. Initially, businesses target phrases that are the most obvious to be tracked. But, over time, analysis can help them find new phrases that will get more desired visitors to their sites.

Learn What Is Being Searched

Services are available that help you expand the phrases you target. A keyword suggestion tool can take a phrase and expand on it. Then you can track the suggested phrases and get an idea of how often those phrases are requested.

You competitors’ websites can give you more ideas. When you look at your competitors’ sites you can come up with more phrases to track. Reviewing their meta tags, headlines, page titles and other content can be very valuable. It can provide insights that will change your targets. A tool called the “Keyword Spy” can be very helpful.

This is the keyword spy tool.

Changing Targets

Over time you will drop phrases that are of no value and add phrases that carry more weight. After you have started tracking and have expanded on your targeted phrases, you need to evaluate what phrases need your attention. A phrase that rarely gets requested is not worth putting much effort into. But you don’t necessarily want to track very popular phrases. Odds are those are being targeted by many other businesses. So getting ranked in them will be difficult. If you are targeting a phrase that is searched very often but is too hard to get ranked in, then you should drop that phrase and spend your time targeting a phrase that you can get a beneficial rank in.

Track Your Competitors

One thing many businesses don’t think about doing is tracking the ranks of their competitors. Comparing your ranks to their ranks can provide some valuable insights. Your rank improvements should be compared to theirs. If your ranks are improving slightly but theirs are improving more, then you are losing ground.

Two rank reports compared

Improving Traffic Over The Long Term

Search engine rank reports are essential in keeping track of your website’s positions. And they are a good tool to keep a check on your business’s SEO service. Improvements in your ranks relative to your competitors will benefit your business. This should be your goal for the long term.

Why Business Websites Must Go Mobile

How Did We Get Here?

In June of 2007 Apple announced the first iPhone. Since then, the race has been on by various manufacturers to win market share in the mobile device markets. Almost overnight the websites designed strictly for the desktop lost significant value. As time passed, more aggressive businesses were redesigning their sites to accommodate the desktop as well as mobile devices.

The Mobile First Concept

In recent years it has been suggested that websites be designed with their primary focus on mobile pages. This makes sense considering that today more websites are being viewed on mobile devices than on desktops. Some ask “Why do you do this?” The answer is quite simple. Business needs to focus on their greatest market share. And today, more pages are being viewed on mobile.

Different screen size devices.
Mobile Devices Are Replacing Desktops

The Coming Shift

In the near future there will be an even more significant shift in web usage, out of desktop computers and into mobile devices. Not long ago households saw the PC as a necessity. It was their only connection to the web. Today many of those PCs are aging out and they are not being replaced. Web goers are getting everything they need from their mobile devices. So they have no reason to replace their PCs.

Handling Change

Recent generations have done well managing the changes in their lives caused by the web. Just look what has happened over the last 60 years. Baby boomers had to deal with the c prompt (C:\>) at their desktop computer. This brought on fear, literally! Members of that generation were either enthused about the power of the PC or they were frightened by it. They wondered “What do I do if this expensive machine breaks? I’m dead meat!” Today the Baby Boomers are handling their smart phones with ease.

Generation-X witnessed the advancement of the PC and the introduction of mobile devices in their primary working years. They saw the change as positive and were not afraid for it. They have managed it well.

Next, the Millennials came into the workplace with knowledge of how to operate a PC through most of their lives. The mobile device was viewed with less fascination then the preceding age groups. It was considered a normal part of their lives. They will hardly notice the shift.

In comes Generation-Z.  Born from the mid 1990s to the early 2000s, Generation-Z has had access to the Internet most of their lives.

“Today’s teens had phones when they were in elementary or middle school, compared to high school or college for their older counterparts. And that shift is already shaping behaviors. Teens are moving from texting to messaging apps and from shopping on desktop computers to shopping on their phones.” (think with Google).

The baby boomers, Generation X and the Mellennials will all see the ease with which Generation-Z is able to fill their wants and desires with their mobile devices. They will envy that expertise and confidence. And many of the older age groups will make an effort to increase their knowledge and expertise. And they will do it with ease.

The Change In Retailing

The business world is beginning to get the picture. On April 7, 2017, Bloomberg reported that “America’s Retailers Are Closing Stores Faster Than Ever” (Lindsey Rupp, Lauren Colenam-Lochner and Nick Turner – Bloomberg). And this is happening for a good reason. Consumers are getting more satisfaction with less effort when they purchase on the web. Why would anyone drive to the mall to purchase a high quality pair of binoculars if they feel there is a good possibility that they may not find what they want? If they order on-line, their options will increase and the headaches will decrease. Businesses that want to keep up with their markets will need to design and create new display and delivery systems that will satisfy Generation-Z and be friendly enough to entice the Baby Boomers to join the party. Everyone in between will fit right in. The size of that market should blow us away!

Website Management

Good Website Management Gets Good ROI

When a website is managed properly it keeps operating effectively and it attracts new visitors on a regular basis. Search engines penalize sites that are not operating effectively.  And websites with out of date content will turn the visitors away. These errors cost the site future traffic because the visitors decide not to return. Proper management of your website insures that you don’t run into these problems and increases the return you will get on the investment you put into your small business website management.

Keep Your Company’s Website Operating Effectively

Websites that are neglected often suffer in performance. Links to outside websites can disappear. Visitors that click on a broken link are taken to a page that doesn’t exist. This is frustrating and reduces their desire to return to the site. When the search engines see a link like this going no where, they penalize the site and it’s rankings will go down.

You need to monitor your site on a regular basis. Websites that are not monitored can run into server problems. The site could be down and the owner of the site will not find out until many visitors have had problems with it. This will cost you clients, it shows neglect on the part of the company and it can be very embarrassing. It can also totally remove you from the search engines.

Keep The Website’s Content Up-To-Date

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Content Is King” many times. This is especially true with your website. Content needs to be easy to comprehend. Graphics need to be easy to understand. Text, for most businesses, needs to be written with simple and short phrases. MBA professors say it should be written at a tenth grade level. This appeals to a large audience.

Text that is out-of-date can be a big killer for your website. When a site visitor sees content referring to a two year old event like it happened yesterday, then the visitor see’s laziness on the part of the business. And the business will loose credibility. The search engines can also pick up on out-of-date content. When they do it hurts the website’s rankings.

Website management includes a wide range of services

Monitor The Website’s Performance

Web analytics Is a key element in the management of your website. It comes with some awesome tools that allow you to track various performances on your website. After it is set up a company can track those performances to see how well the site is operating. A vast range of data is available that allows you to find the strengths and weaknesses of your site. For example, you can determine what pages visitors are viewing and how much time visitors are spending on each page. This can allow you to determine what pages need improvement.

Management Pays For Itself

Small businesses get back what they put in website management many times over. A little effort can go a long way. If you need help with website management then give us a call. We will help you create a program that will pay for itself.

Website Investment for Small Businesses

Websites Are Affordable

Businesses can pay a wide range of prices for their websites. As with any investment, websites need to bring more revenue in to a business than they cost to create and maintain. For a major retailer selling thousands of products online, this investment is millions of dollars. And the return those businesses get from those sites is well worth the investment. For a small business providing just a few services the same holds true, just at a lower level, a much lower level.

A Small Investment

Most small businesses can afford the small investment required to get their company online. Our company has created attractive sites for as little as $300.00. These are usually unique businesses that simply want the credibility that comes with having a web address to put in their other promotional material, such as their print advertising. The businesses potential customers see a web address and it gives them a little more confidence that the business is credible. They may go look at the site, they may not. If they do look at the site it can be a single page that is attractive and provides general information about the company. This is a benefit. It can generate a phone call or an email inquiry. That can lead to a sale.

This is an example of a single page website that we designed for a small business in Hawaii.
We Created a Single Page Website for this Hawaiian business.

Avoid “Cheap” Websites

The site shouldn’t look cheap. When you use cheap web design, you loose credibility. Visitors to those sites see poor photos and poorly written text, then they elect to avoid that company. Our services will keep your site out of the “cheap” category.

Maximizing Your Website Investment

In determining the amount of funds a business is willing to put into any investment, it should try to maximize it’s return on that investment (ROI). To do this requires analysis of how much money will be brought into the firm by various levels of investment. In the case of a website, the question becomes “Should we build a small, medium, large or super large website?” With the help of a website designer you can come up with the various costs of different sites. Then you need to make a determination as to what kind of marginal revenue those different sites will generate. The one that generates the most is the one the business should choose.

Back to Affordable

Businesses have a wide range of possibilities in creating their websites. And, as you can see, websites are affordable. The questions truly becomes, “Can your afford not to have one?”

Redesign Outdated Websites

Many Small Businesses Have Outdated Websites

Over ten years ago many small businesses were creating their websites with a lot of excitement. They were excited about getting on the web and gaining new business from those sites.  Today, too many of those businesses have lost that enthusiasm and have done very little to keep their sites up-to-date.

The Old Desktop Design

A decade ago the premium website was designed for desktop devices. But in January of 2007 Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. And we all know what happened after that.

Mobile phone visitors were able to view websites on the small screens of their phones. In the early years those websites were hard to work with on a smart phone. This created a problem for some small businesses and an opportunity for others. Those that didn’t redesign their websites lost mobile visitors. Businesses that invested in site redesigns picked up those visitors.

Website redesign in the early years was expensive. It required web designers with special skills. In effect, two websites had to be created. One for desktop devices, one for mobile devices.  As a result, many businesses did not update their sites.

This is an outdated website

Small print on mobile devices is hard to read and must me manipulated.

Redesign is Cost Effective

Today website redesign is not nearly as expensive as it was years ago. Software and code improvements have been created to make website pages automatically adjust to the viewers device. Businesses that have outdated websites need to consider redesigning those sites. This will improve their search engine positions and will help them acquire new visitors. And it won’t cost as much as it did several years ago. Improvements in technology have caused the cost of website design to go down.

This is a redesigned website.
Mobile friendly sites are easy to read on various screens.

Learn more about website redesign.