Small business marketing has always been a matter of getting as much mileage as possible out of a few targeted activities. In the days when traditional media dominated the local landscape, businesses might have placed one yellow pages ad a year and focused the rest of their budgets some combination of newspaper, radio, and television advertising. With comparatively few outlets to choose from, local marketing naturally fell into a relatively manageable set of activities.
Today, the opportunities for online and offline marketing are much more complicated, and the danger is that small businesses will spread themselves too thin, trying too hard to stay up to date or to chase after every opportunity to gain exposure. This danger is especially pertinent given that many online marketing activities are free or very inexpensive. As a business owner, it costs you nothing to create a Pinterest account, post photos, and try to gain an audience; but how do you know if the time spent is worthwhile?
Businesses don’t have any more time on their hands now than they did in the days of traditional media, so it’s critical to focus attention on a few of the most effective marketing activities and to adopt a strategy that allows you to keep your marketing efforts consistent without taking too much time away from the day-to-day demands of running a business.
What I’m calling the “five places” method is a simple way to organize one’s efforts based on an inventory of what matters most for your business. The key here is that active participation on the part of the business owner or a trusted representative makes a huge difference in marketing effectiveness. You can delegate some activities to an agency, such as designing your website or building citations on local directories; but at some point the business must put in the effort to build audience.
So the idea is to choose five places where the types of customers you want are most likely to find you online, and make sure you’re doing something every week on at least one of those places to show loyal and potential customers that you’re interested in gaining their attention and winning their business. The five places will not be the same for every business, but you’ll want to try to fill in something for each of these categories.
Place #1: Your Website
Though consumers may discover you on other sites, mobile apps, and the like, your website is the place where anyone who wants to learn more about you will eventually end up. Your website needs to be informative, engaging, and optimized for mobile, and it must contain all of your contact information. Once those basics are covered, your job as a business owner is to update your website on a regular basis with fresh and interesting content, usually in the form of a blog. If you’re a landscape designer or an interior decorator, post pictures of recent projects or testimonials from happy clients. If you’re a retailer, post specials or gift guides for the holidays. Use your own expertise as a business owner to create meaningful and relevant content.
Place #2: A Local Search Site (aka Google)
Yes, there are other sites out there that offer local maps and business listings, and a big part of effective online presence is making sure your business is well represented on as many of those sites as possible. But we all know that most traffic will end up with Google, so if you’re going to choose one local site as the focus of ongoing weekly activities, Google should be your default. Once you’ve gained access to your Google My Business profile, and dressed it up with a nice cover photo, and checked to make sure all your basic information is accurate and complete, your weekly activity should focus on posting new content and looking out for signs of engagement. Luckily, much of the effort you put into creating content on your website can be applied here and elsewhere. As far as engagement, check to see if customers are asking questions on your Google Plus profile or posting reviews. Make sure to answer all questions and respond to any negative reviews constructively.
Place #3: A Social Site
Google Plus is a social site, of course, but the main point of being active there is to increase your chances of exposure in Google Maps and organic search. A “purely social” site like Facebook has a totally different usage pattern and should be approached as a separate marketing activity. Users visit social sites to engage with people and places they’ve chosen to link themselves to explicitly, whether that means clicking the Facebook “like” button or following someone on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Pinterest. Rather than trying to gain an audience on all of these sites, the smart business owner will focus on just one of them and pour a lot of attention into posting regular content and responding to users. Which one to focus on depends on what kind of business you are. Many businesses will naturally default to Facebook, which is not a bad choice; but LinkedIn is better if your clients are other businesses, and sites like Pinterest and Instagram will give you better exposure if your business is highly visual.
Place #4: A Review Site (aka Yelp)
As with Google, Yelp is a special case. Most local businesses stand a chance of being reviewed on Yelp, though some categories like restaurants and storefront retail are more active than others. You should make sure your Yelp profile contains accurate information including hours of operation. Check your Yelp profile regularly to see whether new reviews have been posted. Any negative reviews should get a polite and constructive response.
Place #5: A Niche Site
Many business categories have one or more niche sites that consumers will visit or be driven to via Google search, for instance in order to compare local providers of the same type of service. A good example is Avvo for attorneys or Healthgrades for medical professionals. Because these sites encourage detailed comparison shopping, it’s especially important to do what you can to stand out amongst competitors. Avvo for example lets attorneys create a free profile listing practice areas, payment types, languages spoken and other useful information. As with other niche sites, Avvo also lets consumers post reviews.
Keeping your focus to the five places that matter most for your business will help to ensure that you won’t be overwhelmed by the demands of online marketing, so that you can maintain a steady stream of activity, gaining audience share and building consumer loyalty over time.
Damian Rollison is vice president of product and technology at Universal Business Listing, a company dedicated to promoting online visibility for local businesses. He holds degrees from University of California, Berkeley and the University of Virginia, where he worked at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities. He can be reached via Twitter.