When I drive through the small town where I grew up, I always notice the billboards full of familiar faces. These are the faces of small and mid-sized business owners who have built a thriving community within its borders. You see their faces on billboards, hear their voices on the radio and scan their ads in the local paper. But when you look for them online, you often find their national competitors instead.
This is due to a variety of reasons. Some of these business owners will say they don’t believe the Internet is worth the investment because their customers shop in store and not online. A lot of them see digital as something that works against them and only favors the big, national brands. They’ll see a shopper in their store comparing prices to those of Amazon or Lowe’s on their smartphone and see a threat, not an opportunity. Because of this, they’re losing the battle for their backyards.
The truth is, digital marketing presents an opportunity for small and medium-sized businesses to close the gap between their bigger, national competitors.
Today, 93 percent of all sales begin with an online search. Search has become essential to the way we interact with the world around us and the answer to many of our questions. Who was the actor in that TV show we used to watch? Search. Where should we order takeout? Search. How do we get to that fishing resort? Search. Who can repair my windshield? Search. More than TV, radio or print, search has become the primary avenue for consumers to find the products and services they’re looking for. And if you want to be one of the businesses that Google and Bing serve to the consumers in your backyard, you’re going to need a digital media road map to get you there.
A strong and well-thought-out digital media road map is how you share content with customers in real time wherever they are and place them inside your sales funnel and not your competitors’. Every road map is different, but they all start with your website. The foundation of your business’ digital presence, your website is every bit as important as your front office or showroom floor. This is where the majority of your customers form their first impressions of your business, which determines whether you can satisfy their needs.
In order to make a good first impression, your website must answer yes to each of the following questions:
1. Does your website look up-to-date?
Your website doesn’t need to have the newest apps or high-def images, but it does need to look like it was created in the current decade. An easy way to evaluate your site is to look at the sites of your competitors — big and small — as well as some of the sites you frequently visit in your free time that feel modern and effective.
2. Is your website easy to navigate?
Do your visitors need to hunt through a myriad menus and submenus to find the products or services they’re looking for? If customers are having to “hunt” for your content, they’re more than likely going to leave your website and check out one of your competitors.
3. Is your website mobile-friendly?
Last year, Google put the digital world on notice that it would start penalizing websites that aren’t easy to view and navigate on a smartphone or tablet. But getting dinged on your search ranking isn’t the only reason to make sure your website is mobile-friendly. More than half of all Internet traffic is taking place via smartphone or tablet, and those users expect websites to be easy to read and navigate. If they have to spend time pinching and zooming, you can be sure they won’t stick around to see the awesome products or services your business offers.
Once you’ve made sure your website is a quality website, you’re ready to reclaim your backyard!
Search and Social Media
This is a lot easier than it sounds and often takes only a few key investments in your digital marketing strategy. The best two places to start are search and social media. By entering these two digital realms, you’re engaging both your active and passive customers.
I find that the best way for local businesses to go after active shoppers involves a mixture of SEO, SEM and retargeting ads.
For a website with low traffic, I usually suggest a healthy dose of SEM, also known as pay-per-click or paid search. This will give you an immediate bump in the number of visitors your site receives on a daily basis. Mix this with a retargeting campaign, and you’ll continue advertising to those consumers even after they’ve left your website. It keeps your business at the front of their minds. This is especially helpful for businesses that sell “big-ticket items” that consumers are likely to research extensively before making a decision.
However, SEM is not the end-all, be-all when it comes to generating leads via search. No matter how compelling and prevalent your paid search ads are, some consumers will rarely click on a pay-per-click ad and will only trust organic search results. To capture these consumers, you’ll need to invest in an SEO strategy that puts you on the first page of search results for Google and Bing. Through strong use of both SEO practices and content marketing, you can typically expect to see results in three to six months.
With 81 percent all American adults on Facebook, not having a presence on the world’s most popular social network isn’t an option for businesses anymore. Not advertising on Facebook is the equivalent of not advertising on TV during the 1970s or radio in the 1940s. Not only can you reach more people through Facebook than though TV and radio, but you can target your ads to reach those customers in your target audience. These ads are also surprisingly affordable, offering a cost per 1,000 impressions that’s often 1 percent of the cost of advertising on TV. If you’re looking for a way to level the playing field between your local brand and national competitors, Facebook advertising is one of the best opportunities available at present.
There are countless options for your business when it comes to putting together a digital marketing strategy, but there’s one key component that needs to be in place before you start committing time and money to a digital campaign: your brand identity.
It’s those crucial aspects of your local brand that set you apart from your competitors, both big and small. Maybe it’s your commitment to servicing the products you sell, expert knowledge of your business, three generations of family ownership or an unparalleled customer retention rate. Whatever it is that sets your business apart from the competition, communicating that message must be central to any digital marketing strategy and to all your efforts to recruit and retain your customers via the Web.
Your website, SEO, SEM and social media are all just tools in your digital shed, and, without a solid foundation, they’ll never build you a successful digital home. And, without a well-built home on the Web, you’ll never be able to reclaim your backyard.