Content and digital marketing
It is no secret that the Internet has transformed the promotional landscape for business. There are thousands of companies that rose out of an idea to become industry leaders. Some of those have transformed entire industries. Uber and Amazon, for example.
But, most businesses aren’t Amazon or Uber, and many were founded long before there was an Internet. In fact, some sources say as many as 50% of businesses don’t have a website at all. Others suggest the real number is half that.
For a few, the value having a website brings may be questionable. Corner markets, concessionaires or other businesses that rely solely on foot traffic might argue that marketing online will have little impact. That may be true, although making your business available online may uncover opportunities that may not be obvious through daily operations.
However, let’s focus instead on what’s “in between.” These are businesses that may have been around a long time, or are so small and specialized that the Internet simply isn’t part of their mix. They may not have a website at all, or they may have one that’s old and neglected. For these, it is essential to assess whether there could be missed opportunities for growth and attracting new customers.
Is you company “in between?”
To find out, let’s do a brief assessment. Begin with a look at your competitors. What do they do that you might not be? How competitive is your market? Are you a leader or an underdog? How do your top competitors attract customers? Are you able to compete?
In the old days of phone directory advertising, a general rule was that you had to have an ad at least as big as your competitors in order to compete. Today, an entire generation has grown up without once flipping through the Yellow Pages. Surprisingly, they still exist in most markets.
The online equivalent to that rule is your business must at least match your competitors for branding and prominence online. That means if your competitors are investing in online marketing and a great website experience, so must you.
Internet marketing is here to stay
Perhaps most frustrated are business owners that arrived well before the Internet age. Retailers often have it the worst. In the past, it was enough to have a store front and keep on hand whatever inventory sold the best. Customers looked you up in the phone directory, then called or visited your store. Any items you didn’t have in stock, you could order.
Things made sense, and even if a big-box retail giant moved into town, it wasn’t difficult to see what was happening. Bigger store, more inventory, better prices… At least you could see your enemy and know what to change.
The Internet is different. It’s insidious. Competitors are no longer just down the street, they’re everywhere.
There is no such thing as loyalty
In my Internet marketing workshops, I’ll often state flatly that customers will find your website, make a decision, and buy from Amazon. That is unless you can offer a very compelling reason to buy from you.
Business owners tell me all the time how their customers won’t think of buying from someone else. Here’s a secret. They will not only buy from someone else, they do it all the time.
In business, relationships are as important online as they are in person. The retail environment is different, but people still like to do business with people. Not necessarily ‘people’ in the “we’re friends” sense, but with the confidence of knowing someone that cares will be available if they have a question or a problem.
Building relationships online
You can build real human relationships online. The popularity of online dating should convince you of that. In business, it’s not all that different.
You begin by meeting the minimum expectations of visitors to your website. If you compete with an online giant like Amazon, you’ll need to be competitively priced and offer free shipping. You’ll also need a very good return policy.
You might argue your business is too small for that, and returns can make my merchandise unsaleable. Yup. Deal with it by providing as much detail about what you sell as possible. Make sure buyers know what is good and bad about a given item. Provide a mechanism for feedback and online reviews.
Meeting the minimum expectations of visitors helps level the playing field. That’s just the start. Your website also has to look polished, load instantly on any browsing device and make it easy for people to find what they’re looking for.
Your website is your business
Getting to this point is a big deal. You’ve got your competitive house in order and your website is dialed in. Now all you have to do is sit back and fill orders. Right? Well, no.
When you started your business, there was a lot to do. You had to establish accounting and payment systems, set up fixtures, deal with tenant improvements, HVAC, branding, POS, insurance, inventory, licensing—all before you could open your doors.
Did you ever think to yourself you could stop working as soon as you opened for business? Of course, not. I speak to business owners all over the country and hear the same story again and again.
“I started my website, but nobody buys anything.”
“My website has been online for two years and hasn’t brought me any business.”
“I don’t sell anything online, but Internet competition is killing me. Yes, I have a website.”
Naturally, I ask about the competition and who is responsible for managing the website and online promotion. Usually, no one manages the website, or there’s a “really great web guy” in the mix somewhere. I’m amazed how many times I hear, “my granddaughter is really great with that stuff.”
Excuse me?! A half second after telling me you are getting creamed by online competition, you inform me that your crack digital marketing team is some “web guy” or your granddaughter?
Hear this. Your competitors are wiping the floor with you because they are serious and want the business. If the above describes you, you aren’t serious and don’t really care about the business.
Take charge and stop getting your butt kicked
As can be expected, most businesses do better at some things than others, but the point remains. Your business online has to be nurtured with every bit of the effort you give your bricks and mortar business. Maybe more, depending on your industry.
Most of the business owners I speak with (even Internet-based businesses) are completely hands off when it comes to their websites. They don’t contribute content, provide images or direct the messaging. They only glance at reports, and use the excuse, “I’m not really good at the technical stuff.”
If that’s you, stop. Take charge. You are the expert in your business. It is your company, and you are responsible.
The good news is, the Internet has answers for every possible question you might have about websites and Internet marketing. Next time, you hear or read a nerdy word or acronym you don’t understand, Google it. You’ll not only get definitions, but thousands of explanations what it means and why it might be important.
You’ll find that knowledge empowering, and may even be motivated to learn more.
While you are learning, start writing. Internet marketing people will tell you to blog and post to social media constantly. Yes, frequent blog and social media posts can increase visibility and influence rankings, but don’t just post a lot of random, keyword-stuffed crap. And, please, for all that is holy, don’t pay some online jackass $15 for 300 word blog articles on a subject he/she knows nothing about! You will not be helping your business, and it may even hurt you.
Even if you don’t think you are a good writer, attempt to do it yourself. Start by writing down all the questions you’ve been asked about your business that you can remember. Pick the most frequently asked questions and answer those in as much detail as possible. Don’t waste them on an FAQ page on your website. Provide real details and insights that only the business owner/expert would have.
Whether you use these as page content or blog posts depends on the nature of the question and the structure of your website.
The secret to SEO
The truth is, we just covered it. The secret to SEO, and achieving top rankings for keywords you select, is to publish a steady volume of valuable information aimed at meeting the goals of searchers.
Internet marketers tend to use the blanket term, “content” or “content volume” in this context. Instead, think about providing information people want, can use and are looking for. Content for content’s sake is too dilute. Focus will earn you top rankings and establish you as the thought leader in your industry.
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/forcefeed_swede/with/4843215826/