Website Purchasing Information Small Business Needs to Understand

If there’s one thing we understand about Small Business, it’s that money is usually tight, and your marketing dollars are precious. There is nothing more infuriating to us than finding that a new client has been hood winked or website rules for small businesssold a bill of goods by a web developer.  Your website is no joke; it is usually your company’s face to the world.  People don’t look you up in the phone book anymore, they Google you and/or your services.  The single most important thing is that you show up.  The second is that your website is easy to use and immediately tells your visitor how you will help them. But it’s not that simple getting there.  To help you avoid costly mistakes, here’s our list of what you need to do.

  1.  Buy your own domain.  Your website needs a domain – think of it as your online address.  You can purchase domains at Blue Host or Godaddy if you must (we are not fans of their advertising so we avoid them).  There are any number of domain registrants out there, just make sure that YOU own the domain, no matter how much you love your website developer.  Relationships end and businesses close down. It is very difficult to get control of your domain if the company that owns it won’t cooperate.  If you don’t renew your domain yearly you can actually lose control of it if someone else purchases it.  So, register it for at least 3 years and make sure that your registrant has your current email address at all times.
  2. Pay for a decent hosting service.  Your website needs somewhere to sit, which is where your host comes into play.  We strongly advise that you host it with a company you trust that has customer service you can rely on. At Ariel Marketing Group we like to host our client’s sites because it means that we have full access when they want to make changes or have issues. If you have no technical knowledge of web development we highly recommend you do your homework finding the right host.  Expect to pay $25 or more per month for this service, depending on the size of your site. 
  3. Buy a WordPress site.   Yes, we know tons of great programmers who build in php and other excellent languages, and you can buy a beautiful site built on a lot of different languages or platforms, but for small business we think there is no better alternative than WordPress unless you have an ecommerce site with thousands of products on it. WordPress gives you a professional design, built in SEO (we’ll get to what that is in a minute) and you can do most of the updating to your site yourself. That means you don’t have to wait a week to put up a new event or change the wording of a page.  In addition, there are thousands of WordPress designers out there if you have a falling out with whomever built your site.
  4. Maintenance Fees.  Once your website is live it’s not finished. It’s NEVER finished.  Your website is a living, breathing part of your business, and it needs to reflect that.  New events, new products, and yes, blog posts that provide your visitors with valuable information will need to be updated regularly.  If you’ve purchased a WordPress site then you can do a lot of it yourself, but if you want design and layout changes you’ll probably need a programmer.  Hopefully you’ll be using the same developer who built your site, but regardless of whom is making the changes, expect to pay them for it.  We don’t recommend regular maintenance contracts, but expect to pay at least $60/hour for maintenance on your site.
  5. Ranking on Google. Yes, there are other Search Engines out there such as Bing and Yahoo, but Google makes up the huge majority of search traffic.   Just because you have a beautiful website does not mean you’ll show up on any of them when someone searches for you or your product. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and basically means that Google understands what you do and thinks your site is valuable enough when compared to your competitors.  It’s a complex but very important issue.  Hiring a web development company that understands SEO gives you a huge headstart.  If not, you can hire an SEO professional to audit your site and provide you with organic SEO.  Expect to pay $5,000+ for an audit on a fairly large site – less for smaller sites.  The audit helps the SEO expert determine what is wrong with your site, but also what your competitors are doing.  Then, plan on at least $1,000/month for 4 – 6 months minimum to get you up to fairly high ranking, and of course a lot depends upon where you start.   Then you’ll have to pay a maintenance fee to remain in a strong position.  If you’re not on the first page, your site is invisible.

There is a lot to take in, and a lot to pay if you add it all up.  Of course many businesses start without doing all of the above, but if you’re serious about your website and your online presence, you need to understand the costs and the strategy.  We hope that helps you avoid an expensive mistake.

 

Yes, You DO need a web expert.

The bulk of my clients are small businesses with less than 10 employees, and very few of them have a dedicated marketing professional on staff – that’s why they need me.  My job is to maximize every marketing dollar my small businesses spend, because money is always tight.  In general, they trust me and together we get results.

The one area where I get tremendous push back or simply a deer-in-the-headlights look is on website development and SEO.  If you own a small business and don’t know what SEO is, you’re not alone. It’s Search Engine SEO ExpertiseOptimization – if done well you’ll rank high when someone Googles your product or service.  If not done well, you won’t be on the first page of Google and your website is basically invisible unless someone searches for it specifically.

My clients don’t ignore SEO because they’re not bright, they usually shy away from it because they don’t understand it and it seems too difficult.  But it isn’t, and it’s essential.  SEO done well is the GREAT EQUALIZER.  You may not be able to rank #1, but if there are only a few companies doing it really well you can get up to #3 or #4 – all you need to do is get ‘above the fold;’  be visible on that first page without making the user scroll.

Can you do it yourself?  Probably not; not without dedicating inordinate amounts of time to becoming an SEO expert. Which I don’t advise; heck, I”m not even one.  But I have SEO experts on my team who can help you get to that very important ranking.

This post isn’t about selling me, or Ariel Marketing Group per see, although if you need us we’re here. This post is about easing the fear and clearing up misconceptions that hold small businesses back.  If you’ve been looking the other way when it comes to your online potential, stop.  Speak to an expert who can tell you what you need and what it will take in plain English.   It’s not as overwhelming or tricky as you might think.

5 Online Marketing Mistakes Small Businesses Should Avoid

“Everything has changed for small business marketing.” 

If you’ve heard that once, you’ve heard it a hundred times; even on this blog.  And it’s true.  The internet, and then Small Business Marketing Mistakes
social media, have profoundly changed the possibility for small business to reach more people.   If you don’t embrace the changes, what does it really mean to your business?

I’ve been working with small business for over 20 years.  I have had thousands of marketing conversations with small business owners. It is a profound pleasure to help a hard working small business grow and thrive by altering or creating a new marketing strategy and sticking with it, watching the new found revenue literally change people’s lives.  The owner/manager can stop worrying and start brainstorming, and often entire organizations are transformed by the stability that more revenue can create.  It’s what makes me get up every morning; the opportunity to help people and organizations grow.

I have also had the opposite experience too many times to count; discussing what is possible, and often necessary, with the decision maker only to watch them hold back on essential pieces of a plan, knowing they will fail because I’ve seen it too many times.  Half efforts leading businesses back to the same failed marketing strategies they’ve implemented for years.  This is doubly true for online marketing, an arena that so many small business owners still don’t fully understand.

If you want to avoid failing with your online marketing efforts, beware of these 5 pitfalls:

  1. Your website is your platform:    Don’t build your community on property you don’t own.  Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or any other online forum or network is not your community, it is a channel to communicate with them.  Bring them back to your website, your blog, your property.
  2. Your website design is essential:  I do NOT mean that your website needs to be slick and visually cutting edge, I mean that it needs to immediately tell the visitor how you will help or inspire them, or where they can buy what they came for. Navigation is king.  You have 15 seconds to make them want to stay.  Extra tip: your nephew, or uncle, or college roommate may not be the best choice for building this most precious piece of your online real estate.
  3. SEO cannot be ignored:  SEO is what determines where you show up on Google; too many small business owners still don’t understand that their website is invisible without SEO work, and SEO is not free. Are there cases where it isn’t important? Sure.  Example:  A custom home builder who only does 15 homes a year and is booked, perpetually, through referrals.  A website for a client like this is simply an online catalog.  But for the great majority of small business owners, SEO is the un-plundered goldmine of internet leads.  Do your homework. Talk to a lot of people. Educate yourself. There are a lot of snake oil salesmen out there, but you need expert help in this area; it is constantly changing.
  4. PPC is over rated: PPC, or Pay Per Click advertising, gets you into the first 3 or so links that show up in the top, colored box on Google, or in the columns. They are paid advertisements, and each time you click on them you cost the advertising business money; thus, Pay Per Click.  It is the quickest way to get your business to show up online, and, for temporary SEO it can be a boost.  However, it’s a short term fix; organic SEO is where you should be putting most of your efforts because the results are long lasting.  Once you quit paying for PCC, you disappear from that 1st page. Again, educate yourself and hire someone who really understands SEO.
  5. Commitment is essential: This is probably the single most frustrating part of my job, for both on and offline marketing; the client gets excited, commits to change… and then wearies, or becomes afraid, or starts to cut the budget.  They sabotage their marketing plan and then blame it ON the plan when it fails.  Your online marketing efforts won’t be successful if you only work on it in spurts.  There are smart plans that work, but you must stick to them.

The one thing my 20 years has taught me is profound respect for the scrappy small businesses that fight, every day, to exist.  I understand that the key players in these organizations work an insane amount of hours and wear so many hats it’s hard to think straight.  I know time is their most over stressed resource.

I also know how to make their lives easier, their businesses more successful, their company prosper.   None of it is done without planning and commitment to a strategy.  When it’s built and worked properly, it is a tremendously beautiful thing.

Featured image courtesy of www.sxc.hu.

Vulgar language has no place in your marketing

There are 2 writers I admire deeply who litter their prose with foul language. One is the great James Kelman; if you don’t understand Glaswegian dialect, don’t even bother reading, but trust me, he’s brilliant.  The other is a well known blogger who shall remain nameless because I do not want this to be a defense/attack on said blogger.  As I stated, I admire them; they, however, are the singular exception I make for accepting vulgarity in online writing.

I swear a lot in real life; the honest-to-God truth is that my father was a truck driver.  And I spent more than a decade in the carpet industry, where to swear was to speak.  I am not offended in the slightest by cursing in everyday language.  James Kelman’s use of cursing lends a gritty realism that is necessary for his subject matter. The blogger I admire often shocks the reader with their color.  I understand the reason both utilize vulgarity, but before you do, think long and hard.

Here are two reasons I strongly advocate that you refrain from cursing in your blog or marketing materials:

  1. The digital world is anything but private; simply ask Randi Zuckerberg or the Storify Co-Founder who is having his online lunch handed to him for the recently discovered practice of publishing private Facebook posts.  Do you want future clients and/or employers coming across your crassness?
  2. The written curse word usually comes across as lazy and unimaginative.

This image of the incredible Maggie Smith was floating around Facebook this week:

Vulgarity has no place in marketing

 

Violet is, as always, correct.

Cursing is not clever or witty, and it doesn’t make your brand hip or cool.  Your marketing language needs to communicate your message clearly, tell the reader how you will benefit them, pull their heartstrings, or whatever the goal of your campaign is.  Great copywriters can use language to communicate and stir emotions; they do not have to rely upon vulgarity to do so.

The chance that you will offend using crass language is so much greater than anything positive that may come of it… even in your conversational and relaxed blog space.

8 Social Media Housekeeping Tips for 2013

I didn’t write any ‘grand master plans for 2013’ posts this year, but now that we’re into 2013 it’s time for a social media reorganizing post. To get yourself together, here’s a short list of to dos:

  1. Get a new profile picture if yours is older than 12 months, EVEN if you love it. Yes, 2 years ago I had probably the  Social Media Housekeeping by Ariel Marketing Group best picture of me ever for my profile pic, but, I get older every year just like you do. Being honest crosses over to how you look TODAY too. Upload it to ALL of your networks.
  2. Set up your Gravatar if you haven’t already.  “Your Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog.”  Your face is part of your brand, and in the social world people want to know you personally.
  3. Set up or clean up your Brand Yourself  profile.  It can help you improve your Google ranking and ensure that the information is accurate.
  4. Review your Linked In Profile, update your job status, and ask for Recommendations that you think will be helpful explaining how well you do what you do.  Give Recommendations to those whose service you value.  Ignore Endorsements entirely, as they’re a cheap scam and a big mistake LinkedIn never should have made.
  5. Review the number of blogs coming to your inbox, and cull the ones that aren’t absolutely beneficial to you.  There is a lot of great information out there, but you can’t absorb it all.  Staying current on the good ones, and active in their communities is far more effective than trying to be everywhere..
  6. Update every brand page you have, from Facebook to Merchant Circle; even if you’re not active on the channel, make sure your information is accurate.
  7. Change out your Twitter Background if it’s no longer relevant.  Update your lists; review the folks you follow and make sure they’re compartmentalized into those lists.
  8. Do a total Social Media review: if you’re using Social to market, which platforms are working? Which have diminished in value?  Are there new or niche platforms that may work better?

I try to review the above once every 6 months, but sometimes things slip by the wayside, so at the start of each new year I focus on updating and refreshing them all.    That way I can charge into the New Year feeling relatively ‘together.’  If I’ve missed any tips I’d love to hear from you.

Reducing Buyer Anxiety Leads to Higher Conversions, Happier Customers

Joe Francisco Medelita Lab Coats and Scrubs

 

 

Our guest blogger this week is Joe Francisco, President and CMO of Medelita.com.  He is a tech savvy businessman who has been building his company using digital marketing as the foundation of his company’s marketing strategy.

Follow Medelita on Twitter and Facebook.

 

In 2011 Medelita was growing our online business, but not as fast as we would have liked. We were still in the launch phase of our business attending over 40 medical conferences in 2011 to introduce our products and brand Medelita Lab Coats and Scrubsto our key customer base; physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, dentists and veterinarians.

Our customers told us we had a great product. We experienced success selling our lab coats and medical scrubs at medical conferences throughout the United States and Canada. Customers were reacting very positively to ancillary services we provide such as free name and title embroidery and custom logo embroidery for group orders. Our goal was to replicate the medical conference experience through our website, www.medelita.com.

We needed to remove the new customer’s anxiety regarding the price, fit and sizing, and make it easy for them to understand the embroidery process. 85% of our orders receive some type of embroidery. 75% of the visitors to our site were new and we needed to convert them. We could not continue to go to 40 medical conferences per year. There just aren’t enough margins in our product to support these astronomical sales costs.

So we set out on another redesign of our site and emphasized “eliminating buyer anxiety.”

How’d we do it?

1.  Complimentary shipping on everything: orders, exchanges and returns. Truly FREE shipping.
2.  Our toll-free number and click-to-chat on every product page.
3.  Built a whole new interface for embroidery inspired by www.indochino.com
4.  Extended our Professional Courtesy Guarantee from 90 to 180 days.
5.  We added a powerful recommendation to our size guide – “Order two sizes. Shipping is free both ways.”
6.  Made returns insanely easy. Including a return label in sizing orders and making label and forms easy to access from customer’s accounts.

We launched most of these initiatives in 1Q212 with positive results:

1.  8 months at historic high conversion rates and a huge November.
2.  YOY traffic up by nearly 60%
3.  Dramatic increases for our brand searches.

Feedback is positive with extremely high Biz Rate reviews, daily effusively happy emails from customers and repeat business. We took what we learned about our customers’ fears and our success in direct selling and applied it to eCommerce.

If Mark Cuban is right, you should rethink your Facebook marketing strategy.

The post Mark Cuban wrote last week about Facebook really resonated with me.  I can’t get these words out of my head:

People go to Google Search with every intention of leaving it. They want to “engage, click an

Cuban was actually ranting about Facebook’s new policy of charging brands to reach the followers they’ve worked hard to collect, but that’s a different story.  What I can’t stop thinking about is:d leave”.  On the exact opposite side of the spectrum, people go to FB with the expectation that it is very likely they will stay on FB for an extended period of time. In fact we spend more than 26 minutes per day on FB. As this study said, FB is an alternative to boredom. FB is far more like TV than it is Google Search.

If Facebook is like TV, should our Facebook ads act more like TV Ads?Is Facebook advertising interruption marketing?

I disagree with Cuban that Facebook is just a time-waster; people spend time on the network to connect with family and friends, for entertainment, for product reviews, political discussion and for a zillion other reasons.  We ENGAGE  on FB; it’s a whole lot more than just plunking your rear down in front of Jersey Shore for some good old fashion television escapism.  Watching  TV is a passive experience, unless you’re in my family and you enjoy shouting at Jeopardy.

But Cuban’s right, using Facebook is not the same as searching on Google.  Your Facebook follower is not on the network to seek out a product; flashing PPC ads won’t work – they’re far too intrusive.

So, if we agree that a Facebook user is engaged and interacting, unlike TV, but not specifically ‘shopping’ for something, like someone using search, how do you craft an effective post to grab their attention without being annoyingly intrusive?  And that is the $64,000 question.

The answer: differently than either TV or PPC.  I know, some help that is, right?

It’s a difficult question to answer because there are a whole host of additional questions that have to be answered before you even begin to get creative:

  • Who is your target customer?
  • Are they on your page?
  • What other networks do they hang out on?
  • What problems can you solve for them?
  • What are their biggest complaints about what they’re using now?
  • What have they reacted to positively in the past?
  • What pisses them off about Social Marketing?

Creating any effective ad is tricky, difficult work. Crafting an effective one for Facebook can be even more complex because the space is still so new and ever changing.  The honest answer is that you really have to know your customer to get it right.

Should You “Dabble” in Social Media?

A smart marketing friend and I have had a few discussions revolving around the question:Dabble in Social media

What is the proper response time for Social Media complaints?

He has stated a few times (and I’m paraphrasing here, because he is fully capable of making his own argument) that our expectations are too high; we, as in the social junkies, expect responses within hours if not minutes.  There are situations that are too complex, and companies that are too busy, to fix a problem or get an answer to you in a matter of hours.

I agree wholeheartedly with that thought process: some problems are complex and require time to sort out.    However, I do not think there is an acceptable excuse for not RESPONDING quickly, as in within hours. His question for me then was “‘What if company x is just dabbling in Social Media.’

I had to think on that one.

OK, I’ve thought.  Here’s my answer:

You should not dabble in Social Media.

I understand that not every small business owner is internet or tech savvy; some of us are just too busy getting work done to maintain a Small Business Facebook Page or Twitter account and respond within hours.  If that describes your business approach to social media, my advice is: get off of the social networks.

Here’s why: having a Social Profile means that your social savvy customers will find you there, and when they do, they’ll expect you to use it as a channel of communication.  If you are only going to check it infrequently, you are opening yourself up to unintentionally disappointing your customers who reach out to you via your page or profile.  It’s like setting up a voice mail at your business and only checking it weekly.

Do I think really Small Business should abandon social marketing? Absolutely not. But if you can’t commit to checking your social pages and profiles at least a couple of times a day, then perhaps you should rethink your social existence.  It is supposed to be a 2 way conversation, and if you’re not listening and responding, they’ll stop wanting to talk to you at all.

THIS is how you do Social Customer Service

A friend of mine had a very valid complaint about FB iFrames.com’s website auto-playing music, so she did what many irritated customers would do these days: she posted her complaint on the FB iFrame Facebook Page.

What happens next you can see for yourself:

Customer Service on Facebook

FBiframes responded to her initial complaint within 7 minutes, and then apparently fixed the problem within 20.  When I looked through the complaints posted by others, it appears that it is their regular practice to respond within a couple of hours (often much more quickly) to any post on their wall.

I’ve had many discussions with marketing friends of mine about what is a decent response time when someone complains online, and we often have differing opinions.  I’ve been told on more than one occasion that the expectations of social marketers is unrealistic; companies at times cannot immediately respond.   I disagree with that thought process.  It may be that your company cannot fix the problem within a matter of hours, but if you are going to play in the social arena, you need to be listening when your customers complain and at the very least, respond within hours if not minutes.

Is that an unrealistic expectation?  I don’t think that’s a marketer’s call to make.  Social connectivity has changed what your customers expect, and responding in lightening speed to at least let them know they were heard certainly may stop them from looking for another, more responsive, competitor.