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Effective Digital Marketing for Small Businesses is More than a Website

websites for small businesses

Lately, in speaking with small business owners I’m hearing a pretty common theme about their marketing frustrations and plans.

The owner knows the business needs to be online to generate leads from online marketing initiatives, they understand that a website is crucial to those efforts, and that’s where the conversation screeches to an abrupt halt. “That’s it, right? All I need is a website and my business will suddenly be going gangbusters!” Well, if you look online at the millions of websites out there that have failed, you’ll quickly realize that just having a website isn’t the key to success at all. Not by a longshot.

Building a website and just leaving it to sit there, hoping new customers will magically flock to it, is basically like buying a new, high-performance car, putting one gallon of gas in it, and then never filling it up again. That car is going to run like a champ – until the gas runs out.

Having a total online presence is your company’s marketing fuel

The concept of having a total online presence is where small business owners get confused and frustrated with trying to make online/digital marketing work for them. The fuel for online marketing success is composed of a number of tactics, but it all starts with content. Content can include a whole range of communication mechanisms such as blogs, web pages, videos, infographics, audio, images, emails, directory listings, social media posts – really anything your business publishes to educate prospects and customers about who you are, who you serve, and why they should learn more about your business and buy from you.

What do I mean by making digital marketing work?

Digital marketing isn’t just about generating leads, although this is the most important aspect of a marketing program for nearly all small businesses. In most situations, getting a direct lead isn’t the typical outcome of successful digital marketing. The desired outcome should be focused on creating or increasing company awareness, and building engagement on a pre-sale basis (enabling the prospect to opt in for more information, attend a webinar, view a video, etc.)

Today, the consumer is in control of the information they want to see. Interruption, or outbound, marketing is not the most effective ways to reach your market, nor is it the most cost effective. Think of your customers as being on a journey to solve their problems. On the road to becoming customers, they will go through stages in their process including Know > Like > Trust > Try > Buy > Repeat > Refer during their relationship with your business… or with your competition.

Your customers are looking for you

The relationship with new customers begins before you have any inkling they’re in the market for what you’re selling. Prospects are learning about your company when they look for your product or services on search engines, social media, word-of-mouth referrals, digital referrals (reviews and ratings), and all the other channels consumers use to find information.

Here’s the deal: Your digital marketing isn’t just about you providing prospective clients the best information about your services once they’re already on your website. Your digital marketing process is all about attracting prospects to your site in the first place!  That means you need to show up where people congregate, which primarily means search engines and social media.

Building a great website is only the first step in the digital marketing process. Of course, it’s a vitally important step, but it’s the beginning, not the end game. Once potential customers have found your website, you need to encourage them to stick around because they find value there. I’m not talking about a 10% off coupon for joining your mailing list (although that’s a good tactic). I’m talking about content. You need to maintain a blog on your website that engages prospects and feeds them information that only you can provide.

If you’re sitting there thinking, “No one would read a blog about my business,” then I have a challenge for you:

  • Think of the number one question customers ask you most often (or the number one problem you solve for customers that you wish more people asked about).
  • Type that question or problem into Google’s search box.
  • What are the results? Blogs? Competitor’s sites with information that you could have written better? Your site?

People are looking for answers to the problems you solve. But if they don’t know how to, or can’t find you, they’re headed to your competition. Your static, never-updated website that provides your phone number and address won’t get you to where you’re answering these questions. It takes consistent, high-quality content addressing the questions your customers have to make your website a digital marketing machine. That’s what effective content marketing is – the fuel to keep your car running fast and smooth helping you better serve and grow your target market. Digital brochures won’t get the job done, your website should be a living/breathing, 24×7 sales representative for your company, engaging visitors to connect with you and educating them about how your company can solve their problems.

If you’re in a service business (attorney, CPA, electrician, roofers, etc.), look closer at the search results and see how many of them come from directory sites such as Avvo, Angie’s List, Houzz, Yelp, BBB. I’m willing to bet that at least a third, if not more, of the results for common searches in your area (e.g., “best roofer in [your city]”) are from these aggregation sites. These lists are another valuable avenue for you to build a relationship with customers.

So where do you start?

First, you have to know who you’re targeting (your potential best customers). Then you must know which problems you can solve for these markets and tell the story of why your business is the one they should choose (differentiation and messaging). Then you need a strategy for creating a Total Online Presence that includes your website as the hub of a wheel with spokes that drive customers and prospects to your “digital doorway” – blogs, directory listings, optimized web pages, search engine optimization, email marketing, social media marketing. Finally, you need analytics and metrics to measure progress and plan for the consistent expansion of your successful efforts.

None of these tactics can stand alone anymore – the digital space is just too competitive to not take care of all the spokes of the wheel.

It never really ends

So yeah, there’s no, “one and done” in effective small business marketing. Even if you’re doing a great job ranking for the search terms you want and generating high-quality online leads, you can always do better: expanded search terms to rank for, more products and services to promote, new target markets to expand to.

A word of caution, however: Your competition will come after you once they see your success, so you have to keep the tank full in your shiny new car to keep the other guys from catching you.

The good news

Lest I make you even more frustrated or confused about how to get ahead of your competition online, I have a couple of pieces of good news:

First, you don’t have to be on every social media site, blog three times a week, and run thousands of dollars of digital advertising to get ahead. You need to focus on your strengths, your core target markets, and the channels that make the most sense for your business (there’s a good chance right now that Snapchat probably isn’t one of them). Do less and do it better, is key to getting off to a good start.

Second, there’s lots of help out there. I’ve discussed how to hire the help you need, but there is no shortage of information online teaching you how to improve your online marketing. And, I can help you, too. If you’d like to discuss a complete audit of your existing online presence, including a roadmap for what to do next that you can take to anyone to implement, then let’s talk.