By Sherry Bonelli / Guest Column
As an entrepreneur, you know there are a lot of things you need to think about to keep your business going and growing. Whether you run your business part-time or full-time, one thing all businesses need is a digital marketing strategy.
Promoting your business online is one of the most effective ways to let potential customers know about your company. Here are just a few digital marketing strategies you should include in your company’s digital marketing plan:
A mobile-friendly website
Every business needs a website. Whether you’re running a part-time drop-ship business or a full-time accounting firm, a website is a non-negotiable must-have.
Additionally, you need to ensure that whoever develops your website makes sure that your website is a responsive site. Responsive websites “resize” the appearance of what’s on the screen when it’s displayed on different devices like smartphones, tablets, computer monitors, etc. To see if you have a mobile-friendly website according to Google’s standards, you can run a quick test here.
The good news is you have several options for developing and creating your website. You can hire a professional developer or digital marketing agency who can create a snazzy website using a platform like WordPress. You can also make your own site using a variety of easy-to-use website tools like Squarespace, Wix or Weebly. Many website hosting companies also provide website building tools as well.
One important thing you’ll want to ask and confirm with any third-party website development solution: If you decide to leave their website platform and switch to another content management system (CMS) or hosting company, will that provider allow you to copy your site’s HTML (code, design and all) and move it to another platform and hosting company? If they won’t let you do that, that means you’ll essentially need to build a new website from scratch. This is just one of the many reasons why I recommend building a website on an open source platform like WordPress.
Search engine optimization (SEO)
In a nutshell, search engine optimization (SEO) describes strategies used to help make your site rank higher on search engines when people enter specific keywords into a search engine when they’re trying to find a business like yours.
One word of caution: when it comes to SEO, you must use generally acceptable best SEO practices, because if you don’t, you could get into a lot of trouble with Google and get blacklisted (i.e. your website would get removed from Google’s database altogether).
Here are some basic SEO strategies you should use to better optimize your site:
- Write content around the keywords and keyword phrases that people are searching for. Google generally likes to see “thick content” – around 1,200 words on a page.
- Make sure to include a unique Title and Description tag on every page (if you have a WordPress site, install the Yoast SEO plugin and creating Title and Description tags will be easy).
- Make sure you include your company’s name, address and local business phone number (NAP) in the footer of every page of your site and on the Contact Us page.) Write down exactly what your company’s NAP is, and moving forward this is how your business’ name, address and phone number should appear everywhere See my previous column on this topic here.
- Always include a Heading 1 (H1 tag) on a page. Think of Headings like the table of contents of a book. The H1 is the main point of the page, meaning you should only use one H1. All other topics under that main subject would be H2-H4s.
- Bold the first occurrence of a keyword on a page so the search engine knows that word is significant.
- Since search engines can’t see images, add an Alt tag describing what the picture is a picture of, using keywords when appropriate.
If you want to do your own SEO, more power to you. There are a lot of things you’ll need to learn, so be patient with yourself. If you want a great resource, Phil Singleton has a great book out called “SEO for Growth” that walks you through the most important SEO strategies in easy-to-understand terminology.
However, you’ll probably find you’re busy enough just running your business, so you may decide to hire a professional SEO agency to help you out. But be warned: Good SEO is not cheap.
SEO is a discipline that requires intense knowledge and years of experience. Virtually anybody can put up a website and dub themselves a “digital marketer,” so research and interview the agency or person you’re looking to hire. Look for an SEO professional who has national recognition, speaks at industry events and writes for top search websites like Moz, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, BrightLocal, etc.
If an SEO firm is charging you less than $400 per month for SEO services, they’re truly not doing anything to help you. And if a person guarantees that they can get you on the first page of Google – run away fast. (No one can make those types of guarantees.)
Claim your business’ online directories
Remember the good old days of printed Yellow Pages phone books? Today’s version are online business directories, often referred to as citation sites. These business listings typically provide a company’s name, address and phone number (NAP). Some directories allow you to add more detailed information, like a business description, your hours of operation, the types of payments you accept, etc.
The first two online directories you should “claim” are Google My Business and Bing Places for Business. These are two most popular search engines and they provide qualifying businesses with a free listing that can help improve a company’s website rankings.
After getting listed on Google and Bing, you want to work towards getting your business correctly listed on other quality, authoritative online directories. Vendasta has a comprehensive list of some of the best online business directories you should get your company listed on, available here.
Social media has become a staple to almost every business’ digital marketing strategy. However, not all social media channels are right for all businesses.
For a long time, digital marketers maintained that businesses should be on all the main channels, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn. Now the general philosophy is that you should be active on the channels where your customers are at.
The social media channels you decide to setup for your business also depend on the type of business you have. For instance, if you’re a lawyer, do you really think that someone is going to want to follow your legal Facebook posts? However, if you’re a restaurant and have lots of great pictures of your dinner specials, behind-the-scenes pictures of your staff and chefs, tips on tipping, etc. you will be more likely to have an engaging Facebook page.
Also, be prepared to start paying. More and more social media is becoming a “pay-to-play” digital marketing channel, so set aside a budget for paid advertising on social media.
These are just a few ways you can start promoting your business through digital marketing channels. If you want to learn more, I will be teaching a free Digital Marketing Basics workshop for SCORE on April 5 in Cedar Rapids. To find out more information visit www.scorecr.org and click on local workshops link to register.
Sherry Bonelli, digital marketer and presenter/ speaker, is the owner of early bird digital marketing, a full-service digital marketing agency in Cedar Rapids. Reach her at http://earlybirddigitalmarketing.com