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Digital Marketing Survival Guide for Local Businesses

When dealing with your digital marketing strategies, there is a lot to keep in mind. It can get horribly overwhelming to keep track of all of it. So we have created a handy dandy Survival Guide with information, tips and resources for your digital marketing needs.

 Citations

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 Importance of NAP and Accuracy of Citations

Wrong information means mislead customers. Update your citations everywhere if any information changes. It might be worth it to get a tool or a paid service to make sure your details are always up to date – you don’t want to lose customers because they couldn’t get a hold of or find your business.

Importance of NAP on Website

Sometimes having a contact form on the website simply adds an extra wall between you and your consumers. That’s why it’s vital that you have your contact information and address easily visible on your website. You also don’t want conflicting information online – people will believe the information on your website to be more accurate than any of your citations.

Using Schema

Here’s an explanation to how schema does that and why it’s important for SEO. But in a nutshell, schema allows you to give important information to search engine crawlers without having to bombard your visitors with it. Schema can make information on Search Engine Results Pages look professional and tidy and/or take full advantage of Google’s Knowledge Graph, but it mostly plays a part in rankings.

A Few Major Citation Tools

Manually building citations can be time consuming and  difficult to keep track of. So here are a few tools to help build citations:

These really make your job easier, but have varying prices, packages and services. Check out what works best for your business and pick accordingly.

10 Types of Citations You Can Build Yourself

The first type of citations you can build are listings on directories or sites. You can do this manually or by using the tools given above. Of course, the top directories like Google, Bing, YP.com and Yelp are a must. Other citations include niche markets and local directories. Make sure you get your information accurate!

 Secondly, you can create a press release and have citations from news sites and online distributors. Make sure it’s actually news-worthy and shareable to make the most out of the release. If you make content or presentations which others might be interested in, share them on doc sharing sites. For example, SlideShare and Haiku Deck have communities where you can share your presentations and others can search and watch them. It’s a nice way to get some content out and have a presence on a third party site – especially if you’re creating the content anyway.

 You can also use job postings to your advantage. Writing catchy and interesting job postings which give information about your company, its culture, its history and, of course, its contact details not only benefits your hiring process, but also improves people’s expectations of your brand.

 If you want to give a human touch to your brand, take pictures of your work culture, fun trips or even moments in your stores with customers, especially involving in-store promotions; share these on photo-sharing sites like Instagram and Pinterest as well as other Social Media channels to help build both citations and customer relations.

 In general, be involved in your local community. The local Chamber of Commerce is a good start – as well as other local organizations related to your business. If you have a vegan-friendly or organic restaurant, look at your local collectives and farmer’s markets etc.

 Here are four ways you can build citations using events:

  1. Throw your own mixers/gatherings/conferences. The advertising and articles coming from it would be good citation-building.
  2. Otherwise, you can sponsor upcoming local events. That way you can get your name out there in the promotional material and reviews.
  3. If you can’t afford to sponsor, you can also just buy ad space or run events or promotions in association with those local events too.
  4. The most important part of any of the above is sharing media online in relation to the event. Take a video of the keynote speaker, run a contest with customers, maybe add a twist or a company-approved quirk and share away!

 Avoid the shady directories with the $39.95 100 backlink promises or the 10-links-for-$5 fiverr offers. The just don’t work any more. You’ll end up spending a lot more on cleaning up the mess that you spend on creating them.

Optimize Google Plus profile and Other Important Citation Sources

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Get Listed on the Top 30 Citation Sources

Here are some citation sources you should be listed on. This will give you the most reach. Almost all of them should be relevant to you unless you’re not in the U.S.

  1. Google Plus
  2. Yahoo Local
  3. Bing Places
  4. Acxiom
  5. MagicYellow
  6. InfoUSA
  7. CitySearch
  8. Yelp
  9. Yellowpages
  10. Superpages
  11. Local.com
  12. Foursquare
  13. Angieslist
  14. Yellowbot
  15. Yellowbook
  16. Kudzu
  17. Merchantcircle
  18. Manta
  19. ShowMeLocal
  20. Mojopages
  21. Credibility.com
  22. Ezlocal
  23. Localeze
  24. Cylex-USA
  25. Judysbook
  26. iBegin
  27. CitySquares
  28. 2FindLocal
  29. ChamberofCommerce
  30. Thumbtack

Niche Specific Citations

Beyond the ones listed above, explore niche citations; places where experts will discuss or specifics related to your industry will be searched for are great places to have a presence and, most of all, a clear citation. You will have a captive audience of interested people, so reach out to them. This is especially important if your field is technical and jargon would be a barrier for most non-interested parties.

Website

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Keyword Research

Keyword Research may be time consuming, but it’s vital. Each page of your website should have tailored keywords so that your pages not competing with one another and so that you can make use of more relevant keywords without keyword stuffing.

Optimized URLs

Url’s should be easy to read and remember for users, it will help your direct traffic. With browsers having autocomplete options, when a returning user types out your url, they should know what the suggested urls lead to, otherwise they will have to re-navigate your site which will lead to worse customer experience.

Meta tags

“Meta” stands for metadata – data about data, and these aren’t visible to users but provide the information that Google uses to categorize your pages. There are four types of meta tags you should pay attention to:

  • Meta Title Tags
    • This is the text you see on the first line and link to the page on the SERP as well as the top of your browser (for Mozilla Firefox and IE).
  • Meta Description Tags
    • These show up as the short blurb under your title tag in the SERP.
  • Meta Keywords
    • This is no longer in use by Google’s algorithms, but used to be a place that keywords could be entered. But the option was abused by keyword stuffers, so it doesn’t hold weight anymore.
  • Meta Robots Tag
    • This is used to communicate with the Google crawlers. These are totally optional, but very useful if you want certain pages treated a little differently by the crawlers – such as not following any links on that page. Read more about them here.

Optimize Website Content

Start with getting your keyword research right. Make sure you use relevant, frequently used terms and that you do not change them afterwards (it resets rankings). You can use Google’s Instant Search and Related Searches in order to see what is most frequently asked in relation to your topic.

You can also use tools like Scribe Content, Inboundwriter, SEM Logic to find keywords that you can include in your content to make them more search/social friendly. Do not just repeat the same keywords again and again based on some archaic ‘keyword density’ parameters to make your content search friendly. Having high quality content will have more long-term positive effects, like being shared or referred back to, and therefore will have a longer shelf-life.

Checking for Duplicate Content On and Off Site

Google is serious about making sure content isn’t stolen. If you want to be careful of the content you put up, there are tools like CopyScape and SiteLiner can help point out content and link issues with pages or sites.

Location-Specific Pages

Creating pages for each of your locations is a great way to ensure relevant landing pages for each location. Don’t have all of those locations listed on one page and avoid simply keeping the same content on each page. If you want to learn about how you can do this, read this Localu guide.

Integrating Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools

Google Analytics might seem overwhelming, but it will be the most honest feedback you can get. If there is too much information on there for you, the parts to focus on are: Visits; Goal Completion; Revenue; Conversion Rate; and for content monitoring – Page Views, Bounce Rates and Average Time on Site.

 Webmaster Tools on the other hand will point out more serious problems, especially on the back end of your site. It can point out errors, duplicates and schema on your site as well as any activity by or aimed at your site which goes against the Webmaster Guidelines. If Google wants to warn you about black hat practices and their subsequent penalties, then it will be done through Webmaster Tools and those are warnings (called Manual Actions) you should not ignore since penalties could include getting you unlisted from Google’s database unless you take action.

User-Friendly Navigation

Making your website easy for users makes sense. If a user cannot find what they need or gets frustrated while trying to navigate your site, they aren’t going to be too happy with your company. The best ways to do this are to improve navigation (make sure all your links work and immediately fix or remove those which don’t, have a sitemap, have a search bar). But other than that, formatting can also help – like making sure links are clear and that colour schemes aren’t jarring or hiding text.

Getting Your Unique Value Proposition Right

Why you? What makes you better than your competitors? Figure out how best to express it – a comparison chart, a promise, a series of awards – and make it clear on your site. Get it right and make it impactful. It will be the bottom line at which customers decide which brand they will go by.

Prominence of Contact Information

Having your contact information clearly on every page is a great way to tell people to get in touch. A contact form might give the opportunity for you to filter their messages, but it adds an extra layer in between you and your customers. If you want them to contact you, make it as easy as possible for them to call or send you an email (or just visit).

Call To Action

If you want your customers to do something, say it! Plenty of times potential customers will simply skim content and move on to something else or just not take any action. You’ll have to coax action from them by telling them what to do immediately after giving them the information they need. Once you describe your product/service, say “Try it now” or “Click here to start” (though those are very generic – try to offer some incentive).

Do Not Neglect ‘Thank You’ and 404 Pages

A page to make and a page to avoid. Thank You pages may seem simple, but they offer a sense of closure for any sort of transaction. They’re also polite. Plus, it’s a good place to have your tracker for conversions since customers would have had to finish their transaction in order to get to that page.

404 Page Not Found is annoying for any user. It might just cause them to give up on your site. If you see a broken link or a page that is down, fix it immediately! You can find 404 pages by using your Google Webmaster Tools. You can also design your own 404 page – it can be a lot less frustrating or jarring for a user to see, especially if well-designed.

Online Reviews and Reputation

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Importance of Reviews for Online Visibility

Reviews are now one of the first filters for users. Anything below 4 stars out of 5 earns a suspicious glance and might be seen as a little risky. Now a lot of searchable directories or online marketplaces allow you to sort by highest rated, meaning that a low review leaves you virtually invisible. Not keeping up with your reviews can let them run amok. Keep reviews monitored and respond frequently to them to help keep your community happy.

Importance of an Online Review Process

Have a review process to ensure that reviews are being responded to. It’s a good customer service tool to understand how people feel about your business in general, things you can improve etc. It also ensures that unhappy customers are catered to. Use this opportunity to thank your fans, convince others to give you another shot (and make sure you do it better the next time) and can be a great guide for making changes to your website/product/service/decor.

Tools for your Online Review Process

  • GetFiveStars.com
  • Synup.com
  • Grade.us
  • ReviewTrackers.com
  • Brightlocal.com
  • Freereviewmonitoring.com

 Content Creation

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Importance of Regular Content Update

Regularly updating content has multiple good effects, the most important of these being staying relevant. Especially when it comes to keywords the ones on the static pages of your site should also be static – but trends are not static. If a term you used to use has fallen into disuse or a new trend in relation to your field has cropped up, having new content allows you to enter the race to rank for those terms. It keeps your site updated and frequently crawled and (depending on the quality of the content) noticeable on Google and it helps you keep up with your ever-changing consumers. In fact, these trends can even help you decide what type of content to create next.

Types of Content you Need

Variety is a safe bet initially; you can reach to wider audiences by diversifying the types of content you make. Infographics for social media shares, video tutorials for informational sites, even tools for potential customers looking for something related to, but not exactly your product. After each type of content, start monitoring your traffic and figure out what content would be the best for your business and be regular with those types of content. But don’t stop experimenting if you can afford to – you may just find something better or a new platform may come up for you to use.

Different Types of Content a Local Business Can Produce

It might seem difficult to think of what sorts of content to actually create, but as a local business, here are some formats you could consider creating:

  • Blogs
  • Articles
  • Service/Product Pictures & Short Videos
  • Customer Testimonial Videos
  • Emailers
  • Press Releases
  • Community Event Related Updates
  • Social Posts for Engagement
  • Cover local news and events
  • Review other local businesses and services they deal with

Videos

Videos can seem big and scary, but a small business can actually use videos to mix up the types of content they make. You can make product demo video, service videos, customer testimonial videos, events videos, helpful tips videos, workplace culture videos, cooking videos etc. All of these are relatively accessible with a good camera and some tools like VideoScribe (for whiteboard videos). If you’re not into making your own videos, you can make animated ones using tools like PowToon.

Prominent content marketplaces

Outstanding content  can have far-reaching benefits; from ranking in search, branding and creating community, it all needs a foundation of good content. So when it’s most needed order a piece of content from a good writer from a known marketplace like these:

  • Textbroker.com
  • Webcontentbroker.com
  • crowdcontent.com
  • iwriter.com
  • writeraccess.com
  • thecontentauthority.com
  • zerys.com
  • writeraccess.com
  • scripted.com

 Prominence of Social media

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Bottoms up approach to social media

Jumping into the Social Media scene blind can lose you a lot of time and money. A more logical approach would be the find the audience first, then figure out how to reach out to them. Think about the following questions: Which channels do they frequent? What do they want to see? What do your successful competitors do?

 A common way of thinking of it is that Social Media is a cocktail party and no one wants to be pitched and sold to at a party. You need to be an interesting conversationalist, just like everyone else, but your bottom line is to sell. So it’s all about brand impressions and identity on Social Media. This means well made content, business pages, promises kept and no spamming.

Platforms available for local businesses

Social Media channels such as Facebook and Twitter aren’t the only platforms available to you. Every niche has a community and those communities can be found online. Look for those channels for your business – including professional channels, customer discussion forums, product/service review forums etc. and figure out how to be active in them. Build your customer base and trust by being present or a thought-leader, but not dominating in these channels.

Using Social Media for customer service

Almost any channel can be used for customer service. Any Social Media or forum with commenting or two-way communication can and will be used to leave reviews or grievances about your company. Remember to have your aforementioned Online Review Process.

Remember that customers’ basic expectations from your business will not change just because you are on a different social media platform. They still want to be able to trust you,  find your content relevant to their needs, and engage. Don’t make promises and big gestures you can’t deliver on.

Paid Ads

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In many industries, paid search is a very important strategy that can drive customers in an efficient, quantifiable manner. But, as a local business, you need to be aware that you’ll need to stretch your significantly lower PPC spend to get better results.

There are many different “networks” when it comes to paid search, and here are the most important of them.

Search Network Ads on Google (Recommended: $500 – $1000/mo spend)

Google is numero uno when it comes to search traffic and driving you the kind of traffic you need. And, if nothing else, you should at the least be running a campaign on the Google search network. When you set up a campaign, you’ll need to choose the “search network only” option.

Set a campaign budget that you’re comfortable with, for best results, your campaign budget shouldn’t be lower than $25/day; at the same time, ensure that you’re not spending too much time upfront. With paid search, you’ll need to optimize and slowly ramp spending to get it to a point where it’s performing optimally. Here are some tips:

  • You can choose to advertise on Google “search partners”, but we’d strongly recommend you do this temporarily and pause the partner network if it doesn’t perform well.
  • Segregate your campaign to multiple ad-groups; these ad-groups should ideally reflect the different services you offer. For instance, if you’re a plumber, you should have your ad-groups as plumbing, heating, drain cleaning etc.,
  • A collection of keywords make up an ad-group, make sure you add relevant keywords to each ad-group you’re advertising on. Be wary of the different match types available on Google Adwords.
  • Create ads for each ad-group. These ads will need to be interesting enough that prospective users will want to click on them.
  • Ensure that you have conversion tracking set-up and Google Analytics linked to your Google Adwords account.
  • If it’s your first month, you can make use of Google’s Adwords coupon which gives you a coupon equivalent to your spending in your first month (up to $150) to spend in your second month.

Search Network Ads on Bing / Yahoo (Recommended: $200 – $500/mo Spend)

You can also run your ads on Bing and Yahoo. You will need to set up your campaign on the Microsoft Bing Ads Portal to advertise on both search engines.

Follow the same steps that you did with Google Adwords, though the interface might be different, the process is mostly the same.

  • Keep in mind that you’ll need to consistently monitor your Bing Ads network; if it doesn’t convert well, pause.
  • Benchmark your Bing cost per lead versus Google cost per lead and ensure that the gap isn’t too wide (50%+).
  • Remember that Bing Ads will plateau because they have considerably lower market share (10%) compared to Google (75%).

Remarketing via Google (Recommended: $200/mo budget)

Remarketing is running targeted ads focused on customers who have visited your website and shown interest in your product.

You can create a remarketing campaign using the same Google Adwords interface, and while doing this, ensure that:

  • You set up a remarketing segment on Google Analytics and this segment doesn’t include anyone who has already contacted you or left a lead
  • Your remarketing campaign is targeted to your specific geography of interest

While running remarketing campaigns, we’ve also seen that there is a considerable conversion rate improvement when using banner ads over text.

Facebook Advertising

While Facebook advertising appears to be a great option considering the very low cost per clicks, this doesn’t work for many industries. While it performs very well for others.

It’s very easy to get started with Facebook, simply click on the “Ads Manager” tab when logged into Facebook and create a campaign to get going.

  • Ensure that your campaign is set to CPC. CPM ads don’t convert very well for local businesses
  • Make maximum use of demographic and geographic targeting; look at lateral targeting including likes, education etc.,

The important thing about Facebook is to test quickly and stop advertising if you don’t see the traffic converting. DO NOT start Facebook campaigns in order to get more likes, that’s the last thing you’ll want to be spending money on.

Lead Generation Services

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There are a lot of services on the internet which helps to connect businesses with potential customers. Websites such as Thumbtack create this sort of marketplace by allowing customers to put in their location and needs which are then sent to relevant, paying businesses/experts as a potential job/customer. There are even various ones for specific services – such as home-related services, tech services etc.

Keep in mind, however, that these services are geo-sensitive. Not all of the well-known lead generation services will be available in your area. Additionally, smaller, lesser known services may not give you exactly what you need. The best advice I can give is that you do your research on the services available to you and do a test run of a couple of them before diving in wallet extended.

Email Marketing

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If the only thing that comes to mind when “email” and “marketing” come together is “spam” in your mind, you’re not thinking about it the right way. Newsletters, offer emails, even community updates are all email marketing. It’s more of a retargeting strategy than something that will get you new customers – because you need their emails to begin with; organically, that is – never by email lists, that’s a one-way ticket to becoming spam. Another key aspect of email marketing is making “Unsubscribing” easy. This might seem counterintuitive, but trapping someone is not going to make a happy customer either.

Figure out how much traffic you get from emails by having unique url’s you can track using analytics. That way you can see what formatting your customer base likes – lots of images, exclusive email offers, consolidated news etc. And, most of all, what the email title and short blurb (the first line which is previewed on a lot of email sites) should convey.

Local Connections and Linkbuilding

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Local connections are the new links, both in structured and unstructured format. Linkbuilding still works and  when done right can give you immense competitive advantage. Here are some tips for local relationship building.

Engage with local bloggers. Comment on their stuff and see if you can write a guest post or collaboration. If people listen to their opinions and read their blog, it would be useful to show up on it a couple of times.

The businesses around you can also be a useful connection. Finding businesses which are complementary to yours will create a sense of community in your area. Perhaps there is a coffee shop near you where your customers can wait for their order to be completed – get in touch with that coffee shop and maybe you can have a mutually beneficial relationship with them. 

Reviewing other local businesses or local vendors or professionals you have worked with – plumbers, janitors, doctors, dentists, construction company, contractors, stylists, designers, artists etc – can not only help you be part of the community, but if any of them need your service too, they might be more inclined to review you (and be nice about it).

Your local newspapers, radio stations, tv channels and journalists probably wouldn’t mind you handing them something newsworthy. If there is something unique about your business or yourself or an employee, then you can make it news. Get in contact with them for the opening of a new store or an event.

In fact, throwing or hosting a local event would also be a good relationship builder. We already discussed that events can help with online citations building, but they are also very useful for business relationship building. You can throw a mixer or, if you have the space, allow organizations to use that space routinely (some good ideas might involve physical fitness – like a community yoga class, or more professional organizations like a Toastmaster’s meeting). Alternatively you can sponsor or support local events, especially charity events, for some good karma.

Your local schools can also be a place to participate. Holding a student sponsorship program for the local schools or colleges will get you a lot of brownie points. Alternatively, becoming a regular speaker at one for your field of expertise can also help get your name out there as a thought-leader (and may even help with recruitment).

Basically, take a genuine interest in your local community. You want your potential customers to like you, so go do nice, neighbourly things and be a part of it.

Noor

I work as Growth Marketer at Synup, an integrated dashboard to make life easier for local marketing consultants, agencies and brands. I am tinkerer with a passion for building things and finding out new (and ambitious) ways of fixing problems. You can follow me @nooruzzonline

2 comments

  • Great guide — I can see a lot of work has been put into this. Why am I the first commenter?

  • Fantastic Digital Survival guide Synup! Very well done. One comment: the budgets you’re recommending for PPC are very subjective, and can vary quite dramatically. $500 – $1,000 on Google may work for a small percentage of SMBs, but targeted geo and category can impact this greatly. I’ve seen $300/mo. budgets work, but often $3,000 budgets are required!