Guide To Online Marketing for Small Business

There are many benefits that online advertising and marketing have over traditional media such as newspapers, TV, radio and direct mail. These benefits include the ability to track the value of campaigns in real time, the ability to see real data about your ads or website and quickly optimize and change parts that are not successful, or the ability to target local, regional and national markets, just to name a few.

Since each type of online campaign has its own advantages and digital nuances it can be challenging when making the switch from traditional media and into the digital world of advertising. Understanding how your customers use the web is the first step in knowing which type of campaign will give you the best ROI.

The primary types of online campaigns are PPC (pay per click), SEO (search engine optimization), media buys (banners), and Social Media. Before embarking on any of these it is important not only understand your customers (as mentioned above), but also to ask yourself if your website is built well enough to handle the increase in traffic and designed properly to represent your brand?

There are two buckets that online marketing campaigns fall into. The first is paid media; which includes PPC and Media Buys. The second is known as Earned Media; this includes SEO and Social Media. Each type has its own value towards accomplishing your business goals.

Paid Media

Paid media consists of two primary campaign types: PPC and banner advertising. Paid media aligns itself with some of the same basic buying principles that traditional media has developed over the years; buying a set number of spots and defining when those spots are to air (or show up on a site).

PPC (Pay Per Click)

What Is PPC?
Michael Stanczak from Critical Mass Chicago talks about PPC and the benefits a PPC campaign can have for a business.

PPC (pay per click) campaigns, or sometimes known as paid search, operate on a pay per click model, which means you are bidding for space on the page against your competition. A business’s ad will show up at the top of the search results area or in the right hand navigation (as shown in the image below).

ppc results

Even though this is based on a bid-for-placement model, it’s not all about being the one spending the most money. The bid algorithm that determines where your ad finally gets placed is based off a few factors.

  1. The CTR (click through rate) of your ad: The better your ad copy is the more clicks it will get. There are restrictions on what you can say and how you can say it. So it’s best to hire someone who is familiar with the rules.
  2. The quality score of the page the ad sends visitors to: How valuable is the page for the keywords in your ad. For example, if you are bidding on the keyword “spa packages” and you send the user to a page about “spa locations” the relevancy between the two is low and therefor the quality score will be low.
  3. The bid amount: This is simply how much you pay for the ad.

Each of these factors is figured into a master algorithm and a value is output. This numerical value defines your placement among your competition that is bidding on the same keywords. You are unable to see this final value, and can only see where you are ranked. From your ranking you can then analyze and evaluate based on the above factors. Maybe you need to increase your bid, or increase your quality score, or rewrite your ad copy.

Benefits Of PPC Campaigns

  • PPC can be updated in real time and it is completely trackable & measurable.
  • Messaging and target keywords can be changed in minutes and reports can be generated within 24 hours to see how much traffic & conversions were affected by making the change. You can’t do that with a TV ad.
  • PPC campaigns have the ability to gain reach, drive awareness, foster site engagement, and ultimately convert sales.
  • PPC also heavily influences other digital channels such as banner advertising, SEO, Social, & Mobile. This influence is not direct, but PPC is a great tool to define high value keywords to target with your SEO campaign.

Overall, the more chances a consumer has to interact with your brand the better. Setting up PPC campaigns is very easy and can be done quickly. If any business is searching for tried and true method of driving traffic and unique visitors to their site, PPC is the way.

Media Buying

What Are Media Buys?
Leslie Perk, Marketing and Media Associate Manager at Critical Mass, outlines the basics of media buying below.

Digital media buying encompasses more than 27 unique channels, and that number continues to grow at a rapid rate. Display, pre-roll video, paid search, mobile display, buying ads through social network channels, and tablet ads are only a few channels in the paid media distribution. As additional channels are added to the distribution mix, advertisers are becoming more interested in the breadth of the digital media landscape, and they begin to move their media budgets online.

Benefits Of Media Buys
But why would an advertiser want to move his or her advertising online? The easiest answer is data. Because every impression, click, engagement, video view, interaction, post-action, etc. is trackable through ad servers and analytic tools, advertisers can learn more about their consumer than if they ran a print ad or TV spot. To put it simply, advertisers can learn the following information:

  • How many impressions did my banner run?
  • What sites did that impression run on?
  • How many users clicked on it?
  • What did the user do after they clicked?
  • Did they review a product’s details?
  • Did they download information?
  • Did they print a coupon?
  • Did they sign up for an e-newsletter?
  • Did they look on where to buy a product?
  • Did the make a purchase?

This is just a very short list of many different data points that digital media can track. Data points can vary from what the advertiser’s specific objective is. For example, if a CBG brand wants to track coupon downloads from a banner, media can track that. If an airline advertiser wants to see how many “Getaway Deal” banners yielded a booking, media can track that. If a local supermarket wants to target local consumers and attract them to the store and make a purchase, media can track that. The possibilities are truly endless.

Digital media can also track creative messaging. For example, if an advertiser is running three different pre-roll videos, media can track which pre-roll video yielded the best completion rates, the most social media shares, and the most site traffic. An advertiser could use that data to determine which was most successful, and ultimately use that pre-roll as a national TV commercial.

Even more amazing, an advertiser can track any part of the media campaign, and then optimize that campaign in real-time. An advertiser does not need to wait to receive a post-buy report to understand the campaign’s success. He or she can see the results in less than a day and can change copy, revise a click-through-action, update the click-through URL, etc. all instantly. The campaign budget is thus more efficient, as a revision can happen quickly to improve performance.

Earned Media

Earned media has it roots in the notion of providing value through your website or social channels which in turn earns you the exposure. Unlike paid media, earned media tends to be long lasting with only an upfront investment to build the value through content and information. Earned media can be more complicated, since you’re not simply buying your way into the media, you’re earning it. There are two primary types of earned media: SEO and Social Media.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

What Is SEO?
SEO, also known as organic or natural search optimization, is a business strategy inclusive of publishing, brand building, marketing, and traffic acquisition. It is a long term solution and takes time and energy, but the payoff is huge.

SEO is not about getting a better “page rank”, submitting to social bookmarking sites or directories, adding keywords to a page, or submitting your site to the search engines.

A website that ranks in the top positions will show up in the organic search area of the search results as shown in the image below.

organic results

How Has SEO Evolved?
To understand the basics of SEO it is important to understand the evolution of the search engines (Google in particular) and at a high level, how they judge and rank your website.

Prior to Google: Search engines operated primarily on “keyword density”. Meaning the more times you added a keyword to a page the more relevant you became. This caused sites to create low quality content that in many cases was unreadable causing a bad user experience and garbage in the search results.

  • 1996: Larry and Sergey begin collaborating on a search engine called Backrub
  • 1997: Larry and Sergey decide that the BackRub search engine needs a new name, and the Google search engine was born.
  • 1999-2002: It was all about on-page optimization. Website owners would obsess over their title tags, description tags, headers tags, alt text on their images, keyword density, and keyword location.
  • 2003-2005: It was about anchor text. This meant that if you got enough websites to link to you saying the same thing about you, Google would believe your site was about that topic and rank you in the top positions. This was quickly manipulated by black hat SEO’s who would buy a mass amount of links with the exact anchor text you wanted to rank for. Google discovered this tactic, and sites utilizing it were penalized.
  • 2006-2009: This evolution was all about how authoritative (defined primarily by the number of high quality links you had to your site) your domain was. Getting a link to your site from Harvard.edu made your site seem authoritative to the search engines because Harvard.edu was a highly authoritative site in itself.
  • 2010: The updated labeled MAYDAY was released. This update was intended to drop the rankings of sites that had product pages with low quality content with few links pointing to them. This hit many ecommerce sites that utilized manufacturer’s copy for their product pages. In late 2010 the search engines admitted they used social media signals as part of their ranking algorithm, thus bringing social media to the forefront for SEO.
  • Early 2011: The update that changed SEO forever was released, and labeled The Panda Update. This update focused on devaluing low value, thin and duplicate content. It penalized article directories, large content farms such as those owned by Demand Media, and sites that were duplicating content or whose content did not add in-depth value.
  • Early 2012: Penguin Update: This evolution once again redefined the SEO landscape. The update was intended to punish websites that over-optimized their onsite (content) and offsite variables (inbound links).
  • Penguin Update: This evolution was aimed at devaluing websites and lowering their rankings if they participated in low value link schemes or buying links to try and trick Google into ranking them higher than they deserved.

Each step along the evolutionary path of the search engines had a common string running through it. It was an attempt at increasing the value of the content they have in their index and matching the user with the best content that answers their request.

So what does this all boil down to in 2012 and beyond? Websites need to create great content optimize that content, wrapped it in a great website experience, then market that content and experience through social marketing and outreach programs to gain the trusted and authoritative metrics that Google and your users want

Benefits Of SEO
Along with the benefits of higher click through rates from the search results, long term value, and continued exposure even after a website stops the actual campaign, a 2011 study by Webmarketing123 proved that SEO has the highest return on investment among online marketing campaigns. The study surveyed 500 online marketers and when asked, “Which online marketing channel had the biggest impact on your lead generation goals”, both the B2B and B2C market segments identified SEO (followed by PPC and Social Media).

2 Types of SEO Mentalities

Black Hat SEO Mentality
These sites participate in manipulating the search results through: link buying, comment and social spam, profile spam, link wheels, link farms, scraping content, spinning articles, cloaking, and reciprocal linking. They might get you quick rankings, but the rankings are short lived and their tactics have a high risk of getting your website penalized or banned.

White Hat SEO Mentality
These sites believe link building is about creating great content and a great experience, and then marketing the content and experience, through social interaction and relationship building with relevant sites, blogs, and social networks. They create content that is compelling, adds value, and is unique. They follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines and are ethical with their approach to building and structuring a website. Their tactics have a higher long-term value and create a positive message for your brand or business.

A SEO Competitive Analysis Is Important

It is of vital importance to understand the type of content your competition is creating, what tactics they are using to build links and social communities, and how their strategies are working. Once you understand what value they are providing and how users (and the search engines) are reacting to it you can take what they are doing well, and doing it better.

A favorite parable of mine that relates to the concept of competitive theories goes something like this.

Two guys are in the jungle when they see a lion running towards them. Frantically, one of the men starts putting on his running shoes.
Surprised, the other man says, “What are you thinking, you can’t outrun a lion!”
“I don’t have to outrun the lion,” said the man, “I just have to outrun you.”

When doing SEO, you are not competing against the search engine algorithm; you are actually competing against the sites that are ahead of you in the search results based on specific keywords. So knowing what they are doing and the ranking metrics they have gained will help you understand what needs to be done to beat them.

SEO Strategies To Avoid

There is tons of bad advice around building rankings and driving traffic through SEO campaigns. Below you will find some of the things that on the surface might sound like a good idea, but can actually hurt your rankings, traffic, and brand.

Mass Directory Submission
If you have a website or search Google, I am sure you have seen those ads for submitting a website to 1,000 directories for $99.99. They claim that you can get hundreds of “high quality” backlinks for basically no work.

Reciprocal Links
We have all received those emails from random people asking to trade links. This is an old strategy where people would send out a mass amount of emails to every site under the sun to try and get them to trade links with the purpose of manipulating rankings.

Thin Or Low Value Content
Because of the Panda Update it is no longer ok to create thin low quality content, spin articles, or outsource your content overseas to save a few dollars. The search engines (Google specifically) have become very sensitive to content quality.

Paid Links
There is an ongoing debate about the value of buying links through link brokers or sites like Text Link Ads. Google specifically says it violates their webmaster guidelines. Personally I don’t feel this is a long-term strategy and holds a high risk of being devalued or getting your site penalized.

Keyword Stuffing
This does not help a site rank better, it is a poor user experience, and it can have a negative affect on rankings.

Article Directories
This is an old tactic that attempted to build back links by submitting the same article or a “spun version” of an article to a large amount of low quality article directories. This is not the same as content marketing or guest blog posting (defined here), which is a valuable way to build links and market your business because it’s based on content quality, not quantity.

Social Media

What Is Social Media?
Social media, much like SEO, is an earned media type. This means that it takes more than just setting up a Twitter or Facebook page to be successful. At its core, social media is about building communities around a common idea; the “idea” being your brand or business.

Social media is not about spamming social networks with ads about your products. It’s not about talking only about your products and being a traditional sales person to the community you have built.

Like with SEO, social media requires competitive analysis, but it also requires a deeper understanding of where you users are participating. What I mean by this is Facebook or Twitter is not for every business. A business needs to understand its users and where they are online, and then create a space within those social networks to give your key demographic a place to interact with your business.

Interacting With Your Communities
This part is important, because people are going to talk about your business online no matter if you participate in the conversation or try to ignore it. Some of the most successful companies who have built great followings in social media all have a few things in common.

  • They produced great content and share it inside their social communities.
  • They interact with both the good and the bad that is being said about them online.
  • They have persistence when it comes to building their social communities and participate regularly.
  • They keep the balance between pushing their products and providing valuable information.

Remember, build communities through helpful interactions and provide value through great content that is compelling, adds value, and is unique. Don’t be afraid to share a better product or help another business if they create a great piece of content. Creating a community around your business as a resource will have a much larger payoff than simply pushing products and lots of “me talk”.

Content Is King In Earned Media

In the online world the notion that “content is king” has been around for many years. No matter which channel you decide to pursue you will need to create high value in-depth content. The online users of today expect high value content and a great experience, or they will go somewhere else.

Types Of Content:

  1. Marketing: This content is what makes up a portion of your product or service pages. But remember they also need to have unique value added informational content on them.
  2. Branding: This is mostly your home page and the about us page. This essentially is the “me talk”.
  3. Informational: This is where most of the value lies. This type of content needs be in-depth and provide additional insights beyond the obvious. This type of content can come in a few different forms.
    • Videos
    • Lists
    • Articles
    • White Papers

Creating Content

In traditional media, a company could create the same article or piece of marketing material and put it in many different types of publications and newspapers thus increasing their reach.

The fundamental problem with taking this approach online is that the search engines are trying to eliminate duplicates and serve up the top 10 pieces of diverse content (on their front page) that match the searches query. They will very rarely put two articles that are close to identical on the first page.

As outlined in the evolution of SEO section of this article, the search engines are trying to find and present the content that is of the highest value for the users search term.

What Defines Value?
The search engines have done tons of analysis across all websites and found patterns in what users like and what they don’t like. This data helps inform how they rank pages based on what users have said they find value with.

Tips For Creating Valuable Content

  1. Content with videos will attract 3 times more attention.
  2. Content with all three media types (videos, images, and lists) will attract almost 6 times more attention.
  3. Contrary to common beliefs, large posts seem to attract more links and attention than articles with 900 words or less.
  4. Content with between 1800 and 3000 words will attract 15 times more attention than articles with less than 600 words.

7 Questions To Ask Yourself About Your Sites Content

  1. Did an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well write the article?
  2. Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  3. Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  4. Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic, or are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  5. Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  6. Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  7. Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?

Your Website

Your Business Is Judged By Your Website’s Design and Content

So you have decided on one or more of the above marketing channels to start your outreach online. Before getting started it is important to take a look in the mirror and examine your own website design, content, structure and value proposition.

Whether or not a business owner wants to admit it, their business as a whole is being judged by the design and value that their website brings to the user. Having a poorly designed website or one that is nothing more than a template approach that cost $29.99 though an online service can reflect poorly on your brand, business, and the trust your visitors have in your website and business.

10 Ways To Build A Great Reputation And Be Successful Online

  1. Write in-depth and valuable content and provide value.
  2. Build a great website experience.
  3. Use media buys to build your email lists and brand.
  4. Use PPC to discover high value keywords to target on your website.
  5. Guest post on high value and relevant blogs.
  6. Build communities in the social media sites where your consumers participate.
  7. Participate in Q&A websites like Quora.com by providing insightful answers to others questions.
  8. Don’t make your users think when they get to your website, make it intuitive.
  9. Listen to user feedback and address both the positive and negative comments.
  10. Respect the user as if they were standing in front of you.

In Summary

The Field of Dreams idea that “if you build it they will come” does not work anymore. It takes hard work to build a business online, build your brand, earn traffic and drive sales. The online consumer expects to be given quality information, respected and listened to; which is no different than if a person walked into your business and talked to you face to face. The time investment might be heavier on the front-end, but the audience, loyal customers, and payoff for doing it well is far beyond what any traditional media type can offer.

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