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.

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.

Bad Social Practices Blow Up in the Middle of the Night

Last night I was on Facebook at 1am  – I know, sad, but also rare. I was unwinding after a long brainstorming session and just surfing around.  Then I see my friend Danny Brown calling out Oracle Social for adding him to a page he never Liked. I wander over to the page and find that I too had apparently “Liked” the page too without my knowledge, and loads of my friends had as well.  The comment section was growing rapidly with others making the same complaint.

So there, for at least 30 minutes in the wee hours of the morning, Oracle Social was growing thousands of Likes per minute, its comment section was blowing up with complaints, and no Community Manager could be found.  The forced followers debated whether this was malware, customer acquisition or even a fake page.  Social savvy people started tweeting and emailing corporate.  Many of us reported the page a spam.

At around 1:30 am I gave up, went to bed, and thought: THIS will be great fodder for Spin Sucks and other blogs with huge PR/Marketer followings.

At 8:15 am I check back in, sure that there will be some resolution: utter silence from Oracle.  The comment section is full of pissed off people, and coincidentally or not, many of them are Marketers who are social ‘experts,’ although they’ll all detest that title.

We still don’t know exactly what’s going on, but we do know one thing: Oracle has dropped the ball on this one in a huge way. People have been on a Facebook Page that bears their brand complaining loudly, and there is total social silence.  Their corporate twitter accounts and email have been contacted: social silence.  Add that to the fact that many of us are bloggers and you have one very loud, pissed off contingent that you have not even begun to dialogue with.

When these PR stumbles happen at large companies, we always ask: what should we realistically expect? What is an appropriate response time?  Some have argued that hours, or even an entire day is ok.  I disagree; even managers of small  Facebook Pages check in first thing in the morning. Saturday morning in particular is a heavy usage time on Facebook and Twitter… is it really possible that no one at Oracle knows about this yet?  I doubt it.

The Oracle Social page is almost up to 1 million likes, from zero last night; sometimes it’s not so great to have a large audience.

[Read more…]

Advice from your customer: Want My Business? Let Me Tell You How Not to Get It

Over the years I’ve had several companies attempt to sell me their products or services. In most of those instances, they failed. It wasn’t the quality of their products that cost them my business (well maybe once or twice). Does Cold Calling leave you cold?The problem was their sales approach. Let me give you some tips if you are really interested in getting my business:

  1. What’s in a name? It is very important that if you want my business, you know whose business you seek. If you are contacting me via telephone, make sure you know how to pronounce my name. If you are soliciting via mailers or email, spell my name correctly. For me there is nothing that gets a hang up as soon, a mailer shredded as quickly, or an email deleted as promptly as getting my name wrong.
  2. Cold calls will get you the cold shoulder. While I understand that sales is a tough business, I’m still not a fan of the cold call. I’m fortunate enough to have someone to screen my calls so I can pick and choose my conversations but others don’t have this luxury. Those poor souls end up trying to quickly and politely say no in hopes that they don’t have to rudely hang up on an overzealous sales person. If cold calls are working for you, kudos, but I know they aren’t working on me.
  3. Unannounced is unacceptable. This is taking the cold call to another level. The sales person dropping by the office without an appointment who wants to see me. While I admire the courage of someone who does this, I can guarantee that you will not get into my office.
  4. Do your homework or you will fail. Do not make a sales pitch to me without knowing my business. I mean REALLY knowing my business. We are in an age where information is abundant and readily available. Before you talk to me, do the research. I’ll be much more open to talking with you if you truly understand what I need.

Now I’m not heartless and I do need goods and services, but like you I am ‘too busy’ too often and I don’t have time to waste.

Let me give you a one final tip on how to get my business. Remember that you are being interviewed. Getting my business is really a job interview. When you come looking for my business, have references and make them good. A list of references is good. Letters of reference from your other clients are better. A personal reference from someone I already know professionally works best.
If you take my advice, I think you’ll find better success not only with me but with other potential clients.

Today’s post is by guest blogger John Errico, an all the time Sports Love & Game Day Stringer for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. His day job is VP of Finance. Follow John on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn ; as of this date he has still resisted Facebook.

Your Website is Never, EVER, Finished

If you get through the grinding process of revamping or rebuilding your website and allow yourself to think “thank goodness that’s finished,”  the likelihood that you’ll be successful selling or marketing online is slim to none.Ariel Marketing Group on website updates

The typical process the owner of a new website goes through is as follows: adulation & infactuation with the new site, moving to a slightly critical reaction upon viewing it a couple of months down the road,  to eventually, full on disgust with both visual and functionality issues. These responses are normal, expected, and frankly necessary. Your website is not like a brochure you print up and hand out …. it should be a living, evolving part of your business, and like your business, growing continually.

This doesn’t mean you have to log on everyday to tweak it, but it does mean that you should think of your website as the internet face of your business; each new development or facet your business adds should be simultaneously reflected on your website. Portfolios should grow and evolve – old jobs, no matter how great, should be taken down and new, fresh projects highlighted. New events or additions to your company should be chronicled on your website, and that great picture of you from 14 years ago, no matter how stunning you look, should be replaced with something that is more representative of who you are now.

The web is constantly evolving – new Social Media platforms are popping up everyday, and as you join these new communities, your website should as well. New collaborative business relationships should appear as links to your site; old, defunct relationships should be eliminated. Your Bio or About Us page needs to be updated – every new award, position, or achievement should be added.

One of the most difficult parts of a great site is getting the verbiage right. It needs to be straight to the point, explaining to the visitor immediately how you benefit them – NO LONG paragraphs please; make it as succinct as possible.  It needs to be updated regularly, because it will become stale just like the other parts of your site if it isn’t refreshed. Refreshing also means taking that next step; add VIDEO to your site and you’ll hold visitors just that much longer. It may mean the difference between a fleeting visit and a new customer.

I am NOT advising you to have a busy, over the top home page that overwhelms the viewer… editing is an important part of the process. I know, it all sounds like an awful lot of work, and it is when you look at it as a composition, but you’re not doing all the work AT ONCE. It is a process, and a very necessary one, but it isn’t a full time job. With discipline (there’s that favorite concept of mine again), you’ll develop a rhythm, it will become second nature, and your site will be as it should – an integral part of your brand, the face and ‘catalogue’ of your company and the first impression many people have of you. Make sure that impression speaks to who you are now, not who you were last year.

This post was originally written in 2010 and updated for today.  The  foundations of a great website don’t change; it has to.

Twitter Lists: The Underutilized Gem to Follow More People Sanely

Twitter best practices seem to confuse a lot of people; ‘experts’ give out all sorts of contradictory advise. One of the most disagreed upon issues is Follow Back Policy. Ted Coine and I have had a friendly discussion about the issue since we don’t necessarily agree. His fabulous post can be found here, and mine, here.

I was inspired to clean up my stream after Chris Brogan’s The Great Twitter Unfollow Experiment of 2011; it had become a meaningless mish mash where I was lucky if I managed to catch tweets that I actually wanted to read. I spent a couple of hours combing through all of the handles I followed and realized that a huge portion of them were people I followed back because I was so happy to have anyone follow me. Since then my stream has become very meaningful. Now almost every tweet in my stream is worth reading, and I spend more time on Twitter because of it.

So, after all of this thoughtful consideration of Follow Back rules that work for me, last week I realized I was completely wrong because I was not using the one tool that made it all possible: LISTS. In a conversation on #dadchat (Sundays at 8pm) with Mack Collier I decided I needed to explore this more and in a big way.

If I’d thought it through thoroughly, I would have made specific lists including one HOLDING that allowed me to review new tweeps and decide after consideration whether I want to keep them. I’m not stopping there. I now have the following lists that will continue to evolve:

1. Digital Marketing/PR Pros: is my most potent list; these are people I follow closely, read their blogs, and have built relationships with that are invaluable to my work.
2. The 12 Most: this is a list I didn’t create but follow because the fabulous 12Most.com community is a huge part of my online life.
3. Clients: There are times I want to communicate with my clients all at once – often to share knowledge or tips.
4. IRL: Honestly, many of my Real Life friends aren’t actually on Twitter and spend lots of time on Facebook for socializing, but I like keeping them segmented here so that I can easily reach out to them.
5. SportsSmarts: Twitter has TONS of sports chat going on; this list helps me zero in on the bloggers/critics I find most worthy of my precious time.
6. Women Leaders: Self explanatory and absolutely essential to my vision of professional sisterhood.
7. Business Heroes: This is my shortest list of Business Leaders I may never meet, but whom I admire deeply and want to emulate.
8. Social Media Favs: My personal favorite peeps on Twitter for whatever reason
9. Holding: People who followed me; I follow back and review it in a few weeks.

This may seem like a lot of work, and it IS on the front end, but having those I follow organized makes it easy to follow more people in a more meaningful way. By checking out a list I can clear away the clutter of my many interests to stay focused on the issues or thought process at hand. This will hopefully allow me to push past the mysterious Twitter Follow Limit rules and follow many more people in a focused way.

How do you keep your Twitter Stream organized?

3 Ways to Determine your Web Marketing Budget

If your business survived (or thrived?) 2011, you one of the goals you probably set for 2012 was to “get serious” about marketing on the web. That is a fairly broad goal, and without some boundaries, you will quickly feel overwhelmed.

The first decision you have to make is to determine what you plan to invest. How much time are you going to invest? How much money should you spend? (Equally important, of course, is who should you trust with your web marketing dollars?) For today, let’s focus on your financial budget.

Here are a few approaches you can use to determine your internet marketing budget:

1. Percentage of Past Sales – Cash Available method
Service businesses tend to be especially cash dependent. In these situations, what you should invest is often a matter of what you can legitimately afford to invest. I recommend a marketing spend of 10% of gross revenue for growth-oriented service businesses. Of course, you probably will want some of that money for offline marketing. Given the growing influence of the internet when selecting a service provider, however, you should plan to spend at least 40% of your marketing budget for web-related assets.
Example

A 3-person lawncare company grosses $375,000 in sales each year. (HUSTLE) Using our example above, 15% of $375,000 is $37,500. That represents the total marketing budget of the company. The web marketing portion of that marketing budget is $15,000. (37,500*40%)

2. Percentage of Profits – Cash Flow driven method
Our next example is just as simple, especially if you are focused on selling one particular service or item. In this example, you invest a percentage of your profits from each new sale back into the web marketing activities that generated the sale. This means more profitable marketing activities receive more ongoing investment than less profitable activities.
Example

A carpet cleaning company sells a “whole house” carpet cleaning service for $299. From each sale, the initial owner profit is 20%, or $59.80. The owner wants to grow his share in the local market quickly, and he is reinvesting 35% of all of his profits back into proven marketing platforms. For each sale generated from Facebook advertising, for example, the owner adds another $20.93 into his Facebook account. ($59.80 x 35%)

3. Planned Sales – Confidence required method
This last approach is the way most consultants talk about marketing investment. In this method you review the projected sales and marketing percent of sales required. Then you simply invest accordingly. Most new business owners lack the capital and confidence required for this approach.

Example
A new restaurant is opening in June of this year. During the 4 months leading up to the launch, the owner contracts a web marketing firm to build his website, plan his social media campaigns, and build a launch kit for his business online during the pending grand opening of the restaurant.
Which of these budgeting methods is best for you?
If you are planning to improve your web marketing in 2012, you will need to invest the help of a professional. That professional will need to be given some investment boundaries and results objectives. Which of these budgeting objectives works for your business? How have you determined your internet marketing budget in the past?

by Jeremy Powers
After nearly a decade of branding and marketing for large companies, Jeremy is now Principal at Winding Staircase, where he wants to help you with marketing your company.

Fear Not Technology

I’m a Social Media geek so it may surprise you that I am not always an early adaptor of technology. Of course I drool over the latest Apple offering, but, like so many crazy-busy Small Business owners, I don’t always have time to stop and LEARN the new gadget.

“Comfortable” is highly underrated by tech savvy folk.

Social Media came along and changed this ‘fear stance’ for me. I, like millions of others, quickly grasped that Social Media would allow a direct conversation line with my target audience and current customers, so I jumped right into Facebook, LinkedIn, and then Twitter. Parts of it became overwhelming – I mean, develop a custom Facebook Fan Page on my own??? That’s what programmers are for, right?

So I paid lots of guys lots of money to do all sorts of ‘programming’ for me. I got the iPhone and figured that part out, but as far as any sort of coding or programming I stayed FAR away. And I waited to buy most new gadgets until I had to…. Mostly because I didn’t want to slow down long enough to learn them.

But a funny thing happened over the past few months…. Out of necessity and opportunity I was FORCED to learn some basic coding for a website and I realized how un-scary it really was. With growing courage I learned more, and then more and I realized that simply because I was an English Lit freak from childhood did not mean that I couldn’t learn this new language. That’s all it really is – a different language, but not an unintelligible one.

And gadgets are not so tough either, as long as we slow down, give our self a moment’s peace and figure them out. The good ones free up our time and make life easier. The really good ones are intuitive and easily understood.

So for all those times you DIDN’T make the change (and that’s right I’m speaking to YOU dear client, who is STILL using AOL as your web browser), think again. Updating from Word2003 is really not so hard, and lots of new tools are at your fingertips. If you’re still using Outlook Express, or even worse, no email management program, make it a goal to get Tech organized this year too. And while we’re rolling, be brave and explore my short list of tech/software that can change your life:

1. Salesforce.com: If you have more than a couple salespeople THIS is your tool.
2. Basecamp: If you have multiple project with lots of employees or subcontractors involved on different aspects of the project, this is INSTANT ORGANIZATION.
3. GotoMeeting is an indispensible tool for busy, geographically challenged small business owners.
4. GotoMyPC: If you’re sick of saving everything to your desk top and laptop or having to stay at the office to finish work you’d like to do from home, this program allows you to keep everything on one computer and LOG IN from wherever you are. Believe me, when your laptop dies you’ll be THRILLED.
5. Carbonite: there are lots of other programs out there to back up your files online, but this one is SIMPLE and then automated so that you never have to worry about backing up again. When your desk top dies you’ll be even more thrilled you did it.

So take an hour out of your schedule and explore how these tools may CHANGE YOUR WORK LIFE.
Life will not slow down because of technology, but you’ll be able to handle it more efficiently. Trust me.

My Brief & Humble Kindle Fire Review

I’m not viewing the KindleFire as an iPad killer; I tend not to make predictions against Apple. I’m not an iPad owner simply because the price tag is a little high for me considering it wouldn’t completely replace my laptop. So, to clarify, I’m writing this as a Non-iPad-user-not-so-wealthy-small-business-owner.

Here are my thoughts:

When I first opened the box I thought: I LOVE the look – like a sexy, mini, affordable iPad. However, as an avid reader and Kindle lover, I know I won’t be ditching my older version because this glossy new version will NOT work on the beach, or anywhere else you have glaring sunlight. I instantly thought of those very clever Kindle ads where the smart woman sits poolside reading, while the stereotypical not so smart male asks “How can you read that out here?”

Starting it up was a breeze. The instructions were clear and easy to understand. Once I turned it on all of my previous Kindle purchases were available to download from ‘The Cloud.’ (That term always makes me smile; before “The Cloud” we simply called it The Internet.)

Although I love my old Kindle’s non-glare, very book-like visual display, the clear, popping colors of the Kindle Fire made me actually browse the Magazine section of the Newstand. Still, reading a 7 inch magazine wasn’t attractive enough to get me to buy.

Despite other reviews I’ve read I found the Fire quick and responsive, and the menu straight and to the point. My four year old deftly figured it out and started playing games.

So you know how the rest of the evening went after that last comment:

We immediately ordered Alladin and she watched the entire thing on the tablet never once complaining about the size. My first complaint is that the max volume is not quiet loud enough if you are in a noisy place, but I suppose there are headphones for that. My second complaint is that naturally there is no app. For GotoMyPC, a service I use religiously.

My daughter and I spent the rest of the weekend fighting over who got to use the Kindle. It satisfied my primary need, allowing me to jump onto the internet instantaneously. I won’t be taking it to client presentations – I always find the iPad ridiculously small for that – and it will go IN my laptop bag WITH my laptop, not in place of it. But for $200 I say “run and buy one.”