SEO for Reluctant Small Business Owners

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Common Sense SEO
If you’re like most small business owners, you’re reluctant to spend $500+ a month to hire a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) agency.

Reputable SEO firms provide a host of useful services that can benefit your business, but unless you’re relying on web traffic to woo customers, you probably don’t need to hire an expert to get found on the web.

Here are three “common sense” SEO practices that you can do on your own.

1. Be Local

“Local search” plays an increasingly important role in SEO, especially on mobile devices. If you’re in Somerville, Mass. and do a web search for wedding caterers, you’re likely to be shown a list of wedding caterers near you, even if you didn’t ask for local listings.

Sample "of a "Google 3-pack"Search engines like Google assume that local listings are more likely to be relevant to web searchers. Google frequently features three local businesses at the top of the search engine results (below the ads) in a “3-Pack.” (See the 3-Pack sample displayed here.)

Even if you’re the closest business, however, you may not make it into the Google 3-Pack. According to Google, their local search results are largely based on relevance, distance, and prominence. So if another business is further away, but much better known, they may get featured instead of you.

Getting listed in local online business directories, especially Google My Business, can increase your chances of making it into the Google 3-Pack. Search engines place a high value on reputable business directories, ratings, and social media sites, so it’s worth your time to participate.

Make sure your listings are consistent from site to site, down to the last period and comma. Including photos, having reviews, and providing complete and detailed business information is also important. Here are some tips on how to use online directories to drive website traffic.

Examples of Influential Sites for Wedding Caterers

 

2. Be Relevant

In general, bigger and more established websites have a better chance of showing up at the top of search results than small businesses with smaller, newer sites. This is because they have more relevant content, get lots of traffic, and have hundreds of “authoritative” sites linking to them.

If you want your site to compete, make your content as specific and relevant to your target customers as possible. Create separate pages on your website for each of your major services, products, or areas of expertise.

EXAMPLE: If you own an artisanal cookie business and you’re trying to sell gift packages, create at least one page around giving cookies as gifts. The Dancing Deer Baking Company includes nearly two dozen gift pages on their site, from “Gifts for Fall” to “Gifts Under $35” to “Business Gifts.”

Image of Dancing Deer Baking Company home menu

The advantage to having separate pages for each topic is that you can incorporate very specific key words or phrases that people are likely to enter into search engines when they want to buy that type of product. In addition to images, each page should ideally include at least 300 words.

Creating pages about one or more of the communities where you’re seeking customers is another way to provide relevant information that’s also local. The products or services you offer in each community may be identical. It can be hard to come up with something unique to say about what you do in each town. Try writing about what it’s like to do business in that specific community, your local business partners, annual events, or anything that could interest residents or visitors.

Chances are, bigger, more established websites already dominate rankings for keywords like “artisanal cookies business gifts.” In that case, dig deeper to come with a more unique angle on the topic. Your subject might not get as much traffic as the bigger sites, but it could still be of great interest to your target customers.

For example, a Google search for “handmade rugelach,” turned up 155,000 results, while a search for “rugelach vs. biscotti,” turned up no exact matches. If you wrote an article about the difference between the two cookies, your page could be at the top of the search results.

Sometimes, no one’s written about a specific topic because not many people are interested in it. You can use free “keyword research” and SEO tools to see how many monthly searches are being conducted for that topic. Here’s a list of my favorite free SEO tools for small business.

3) Get Linked To

Along with being local and relevant, having “backlinks” can help get you a higher search engine ranking. A backlink is a link from an external website to your site.

Sometimes the easiest way to get links to your site is to post links to other sites, especially if you have a relationship with those sites. When you’re launching or updating your site, think about whether there are any appropriate pages where you could link to your vendors, colleagues or clients. Many people will automatically reciprocate if you’ve linked to them; others will do so if you ask.

Backlinks from mainstream news outlets tend to carry a lot of authority because they’re well established, have lots of readers, and are considered “objective” third parties. Lots of news coverage is cyclical; the same types of stories get Image of yearly apple picking articlescovered every year, such as a list of places to go apple picking. If you contact media outlets well enough in advance, they might be willing to include you this time.

Don’t discount blogs and social media. If a blogger has a small readership, but the people who follow that blogger are in your target market, a link to your site could have a lot of impact on your traffic over time. While Facebook posts may not directly help to increase your search engine rankings, they can drive traffic to your website.

Chances are that your competitors have some sites linking to them that might be willing to link to you, too. One way to find potential sites is to look at your competitors’ backlinks. Google a competitor and go through at least a few pages of search results to see what sites are linking to them. (This is also a good way to find online business directories that you may want to be listed in.) You can also use an SEO tool, to get a list of your competitors’ backlinks.

After you’ve identified some sites that you’d like to link to you, think about what knowledge or content you could offer them that might interest their website visitors. Would they review your products or services? Is there any chance they’d interview you for their podcast? Could you write a guest blog post?

Once you’ve settled on something to ask or suggest, check LinkedIn to see if you know anyone who’s connected with that site. If not, send a cold email or call. If you ask enough people, some of the sites are bound to give you a link.

One caveat: When it comes to backlinks, quality is much more important than quantity. It’s great to have as many backlinks as you can, but only if they’re “good backlinks.” A “bad backlink” is a link from a spammy site that’s trying to make money from doing something fake or wrong. Don’t ever pay for someone to link to your site.

If you suspect that there’s a “bad site: linking to yours, use the SEO tools to investigate. Experts recommend that you contact the webmaster for any undesirable sites and politely ask them to remove the link. If you don’t get a response, you can “disavow” those links.

Final Thoughts

Unless you pay to advertise, you can’t grow a tiny seed into a magic beanstalk overnight. For most small business owners, getting top search engine rankings takes time. As more people find your site and learn about your wonderful business, your site will also rank higher in the search engines .

Monitor whether your search rankings are going up or down by visiting search engines in “incognito” mode, but, if possible, use one of the free SEO tools to monitor your results automatically.

And do keep in mind that while the basic principles of SEO don’t change, the search engine algorithms do.  Minor SEO rules get updated all the time, so try to pay attention to search engine news.

Finally, this article doesn’t address the technical, or non-content, aspects of SEO. While you can get pretty far following the three principles described above, there are lots of best practices, tools and techniques that are worth following if you—or someone you hire—is willing and able to take the time. Here’s a great article if you want to learn more.

Relaunching my Website: Lessons Learned

Relaunching my Website: Lessons Learned

Good Egg Marketing specializes in building websites, so when I wanted to create a new site for our own business, I figured it’d be a snap.

If I’d just wanted to give the site a facelift, but keep the same content, it would have been simple. But I was determined to create an easy-to-navigate site with lots of useful stuff and a fun, distinctive look.

Admittedly, I was busy running my business, so I wasn’t working on the site all the time. But all in all, it took over two years to complete!

Whether you’re starting a new website from scratch or building a new one, here are a few tips on how to create or relaunch a site, based on my lessons learned.

Start with Your Goals

I was really clear about what I wanted the new site to achieve and that helped me stay true to my vision throughout the process. Here are my three goals:

  1. Drive traffic to the site by providing useful content that people find on Google and other search engines. Yoast logoOver the years, I’ve written dozen of articles on a variety of business and marketing topics, but I never paid much attention to search engine optimization (SEO). This time, I used Yoast SEO to help ensure that each article focused on a specific topic and keyword.
  2. Encourage people to spend time exploring the website by making it easy to navigate. The content on my old site wasTools and Resources page from Good Egg Marketing Website grouped by date and format—articles, newsletters, and presentations—rather than by topic. The site organization made sense to me—and no one else. The new site organizes content by topic and by audience, so visitors can find what they need faster.
  3. Encourage people to hire us by showcasing our past work. When most people visit the Good Egg Marketing site, they’re already interested in us, but need to be convinced that we can help them. I included testimonials, case studies, and a list of our speaking engagementsTestimonial from Good Egg Marketing Website and clients. The content showcases our expertise; our client roster demonstrates that people have confidence in our work.

As I look at the analytics to see how people are using the site each month, I’ll be able to tweak it to achieve my goals.

Focus on Your Customers

As a marketer, I’m always telling clients to put themselves in their customers’ shoes  and address their needs.

The websites for many marketing company websites lead with who they are, what they do, and how they do it. All important stuff to include, Homepage from Good Egg Marketing Websitebut not at the top of your home page.

Our new site directly addresses frazzled business owners who feel overwhelmed by all their marketing choices.  A series of rotating marketing tips complements a short video that expands on that advice in a friendly, informal style.

Get the Visuals Right

The biggest challenge for the redesign was coming up with a distinctive look. Since marketing services are intangible, it’s hard to find an image that expresses what marketing is. I didn’t want to be yet another site featuring a photo of a flower or a mountain.

After playing with a variety of concepts, including a recreation of my desktop strewn with tools of the marketing trade, I was at my wit’s end.

General layout for Good Egg Marketing WebsiteI finally went to a graphic designer I’d worked with many years ago and started with a clean slate.  She interviewed me about my vision and ideas for over an hour. Ultimately, she came up with a dramatic, abstracted version of the Good Egg Marketing logo–a green egg!–that sets the tone for the site through shapes and colors.

Once she created the basic look for the home page, I was able to write headlines and text that complemented those images and she created additional pages that built on the same format. My web developer was able to turn her images into a flexible WordPress design and everything else fell into place.

Bake Mobile into Your Site from the Start

I knew all along that my website needed to look good, load quickly, and be easy to use on a mobile device. These days, Google and other search engines penalize you if your site isn’t mobile-friendl­y. Unfortunately, I didn’t put enough thought into how the images would work on mobile when we developed the site. Mobile version of Good Egg Marketing Website

We created the desktop site first, meticulously tweaking it to get it to look just right. But when we looked at the site on a cell phone, many of the graphics didn’t line up correctly. We were using a mobile responsive design, but the graphics needed extra tweaking. Ultimately, we were able to create an acceptable mobile version, but it required additional time and expense.

If you look at the analytics for your current site, you can see what proportion of your visitors are viewing your site on a desktop versus a mobile device. Even if you don’t have a lot of mobile visitors now, mobile will eventually take over, so you should bake mobile design into your site from the start.

It Takes a Team

Good Egg Marketing Website TeamJust need a simple site with basic information about who you are, what you offer, and why you’re in business? If you have good computer skills and the time, you can probably create a website singlehandedly. There are plenty of free or inexpensive website builder programs that let you DIY (do it yourself) pretty easily. If you want to create a unique looking site or organize lots of content, however, don’t try this on your own!

I managed the project and wrote the copy, but over the two years, I worked with two graphic designers, three assistants, a web developer/videographer, and a search optimization expert. Instead of bringing these talented people together as a team, I worked with them individually and sequentially. It seemed more efficient at the time, but in retrospect, putting a team together from the start would have saved time and money in the long run.

If I were starting over again, I would also decide which project management, storage, and communications tools I wanted the team to use.  We shared and stored some of our work on Google Drive and Dropbox, but we didn’t use them as consistently or effectively as we could have. In the future, I plan to use Trello and Dropbox for my personal projects, as well as with clients.

Final Thoughts

A good website isn’t static, like a printed brochure. It’s a living thing that you need to keep feeding and buying new clothes.

If you have a well-planned site, you should be able to adjust it as needed without needing a full redesign every six months. But, like fashion, web technology and design move so quickly that it’s inevitable that I’ll crave a new look eventually. When it comes time to build the new site, I plan to reread this article and take my own advice.

How to Use the Power of Symbols

Kate McKinnon wearing pink pussyhat in SNL skit
Kate McKinnon plays a Russian woman surreptitiously donning a pink pussyhat as “Vladamir Putin” brags about the happy population in this Saturday Night Live skit that aired on the night of the Women’s March.

Who would have thought that a pink hat could become a symbol of resistance?

Symbols are one of the most effective ways that you can build your brand, convey a concept, or launch a campaign.

A symbol can be a visual image, gesture, object, or idea that represents something other than itself. Merriam Webster describes a symbol as a “visible sign of something invisible.”

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Harness the Power of LinkedIn: Simple Tips to Get More from Your Profile

Power of Linkedin

“I don’t know what to do with LinkedIn,” my clients and colleagues say when I suggest it. Although LinkedIn’s always been a useful way for me to keep up with and expand my network, I admit that up until now, it hasn’t offered much to users who aren’t actively job hunting, recruiting, or seeking new clients.

LinkedIn is about to launch a promising redesign, however, with an improved news feed and some snazzy messaging and meeting scheduling capabilities. With over 130+ million users in the United States (and at least 25 percent of them logging in regularly), LinkedIn deserves to be part of your marketing toolkit.

Here are my suggestions about what to do with LinkedIn.

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How to Increase Your Email Open Rates

Illustration of declining email open ratesEmail is still the most trusted, popular and effective marketing tool available: that’s why our inboxes are stuffed with it. So what’s a good open rate for your marketing emails? Overall, average open rates hover around 21%, but open rates range from 11-27%, depending on the industry, Constant Contact reports.

The only statistics that matter are your own: Is the percentage of people who open your emails increasing or declining? Here are some tips to help you improve your open rates.

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Using Focus Groups to Avoid Mistakes

Illustration of a focus groupIn 2015, Bud Light printed beer cans with the slogan, “The perfect beer for removing ’no’ from your vocabulary for the night.” The marketers who came up with the phrase probably intended to create a fun, lighthearted message, but after protesters pointed out it looked like the company was condoning rape, drunk driving, and other unacceptable behavior, Budweiser quickly apologized and withdrew the cans.

If only they’d run the slogan past a focus group, they could have spared their reputation—and their budget. Chances are that someone in the focus group would have pointed out that the slogan was offensive and Budweiser wouldn’t have printed the cans.

Want to know what people really think about your idea before you launch it? Run it past a focus group first.

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Bring Out the Best: Descriptors vs. Taglines

Hellmann’s Mayonnaise has used the same tagline – ‘BRING OUT THE BEST’™ for decades. The “blue ribbon” treatment in the logo reinforces their message.

One of the most powerful ways to market your business or organization is to create a short phrase to help it stand out. Whether you’re using a descriptor or a tagline, a few well-chosen words can help shape how people think or feel about you.

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A Creative Brief Helps You Create Better Communications

This color filter image of a snowboarder is part of the #PowerUpVT campaign to increase participation in school meals
Graphic designer Katie Rutherford created a series of posters and social media images to persuade Vermont high schoolers that eating a school lunch can help fuel their busy days.

Planning to hire someone to produce a creative piece for you? Whether the end result is a logo, ad, video, or an entire campaign, putting together a “creative brief” in advance can save time, money and aggravation.

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How to Use Marketing Stunts to Stand Out

Marketing Stunt by Rob Greenfield
Rob Greenfield gets himself into some cold water. (Photo by Brent Martin.)

My nephew, Rob Greenfield, is a born marketer and a prodigy when it comes to marketing stunts. His degree is in aquatic science, chemistry, and biology, but at the age of 29, he owns his own marketing company (The Greenfield Group), has a large social media following, and has been featured in dozens of media outlets.

Rob’s primary goal is to inspire social change, not to sell toothpaste or even solar panels, but he’s also developed an impressive ability to promote himself as a brand. The key to Rob’s marketing success is his use of storytelling and stunts to grab our attention. While most of us are unlikely to take up dumpster diving, we can learn a lot from his techniques.

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How to Instagram Like a Pro

Instagram logoInstagram is one of the fastest growing social media channels, especially among young people. Since Instagram is primarily a visual medium for posting photos and videos, many businesses and organizations haven’t figured out how to use it to promote their brand or increase web traffic. Yet, with care, you can pair great visuals with Instagram tools–such as your profile, captions, and hashtags–to grow your business.

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