Starting any business is a daunting task filled with long hours, hard work and frustration. That work can often pay-off with amazing results, which is why small business ownership is the American dream. It’s no wonder though, that during this initial process many new business owners aren’t thinking about their marketing efforts. Sure, they know they need to marketing their great product or service, but they don’t have the time – and sometimes the know-how – to properly launch an online presence. I’d like to share a few tips on basic SEO and social media marketing tactics that can help any new or growing business. Hopefully these can save some precious time for these busy entrepreneurs, and might just help them weather the initial storm that arrives when launching their business.
Search engine optimization and social media marketing have become forever linked, so this isn’t an ‘either / or’ list of tips. These are core recommendations that should always be executed and will get you moving in the right direction with your online marketing efforts.
Page Titles & Meta Descriptions
Once your site is live and running – actually doing this prior to launch is ideal – you need to write specific page titles and meta descriptions for every page on your site. The page title is the text seen in your web browser’s tab, but it’s also the text that makes up the blue link in search results on Google and Bing. The title tag is still one of the main factors a search engine has in determining the topic of your page. You want to limit the title to about 65 characters and make sure your main keyword phrase is at the beginning of the tag. We’ll get into keyword research and targeting in the next tip. The meta descriptions isn’t used as a ranking factor by search engines, but this content is major factor in whether a potential visitor will click-through onto your site from the search results. The meta description is the non-clickable text listed under the page title in search results. The description should be treated as a way of validating the great resource your page is as well as serving as an ad for potential visitors. You should include the keyword phrase your page is targeting as well as some descriptive text as to what the visitor can expect to read if they click your link. The last piece is a quick call-to-action or incentive for clicking on your listing. Keep these to under 165 characters, and I actually strive for about 150 to keep them clean and punchy.
Keyword Research & Targeting
As you’re writing page content and perfect titles and descriptions, you want to make sure you are properly targeting each page on your site. Let’s say for example you are a small boutique shop in DC and you sell handmade jewelry. Your homepage would likely be targeted with the keyword phrase, “Handmade Jewelry”. From there, each sub-category or page on your site would be uniquely targeted to let the engines know exactly what each page is about – “Blue Handmade Earrings – Handmade Jewelry – Fake Shop in DC” comes to mind as a properly targeted page. Obviously the page content should match your title targeting to give you the best shot at ranking well for that term. If you’re in a competitive space, you want to research very specific and unique page targeting ideas so you can set yourself apart from the competition. Also, keep in mind that you want to target your pages for keyword phrases that people are actually searching for already. Google provides a free keyword research tool that shows you how many people are searching for your keywords.
Avoid Duplicate Content
Search engines hate duplicate content. If two pages on the same (or other) site are close to identical, then the engines have a hard time figuring out which page to rank above the other. Rather than figuring this out each time they encounter duplicate content online, they often choose to penalize sites with duplicate pages, and even duplicate blocks of content. For new sites the biggest offender is usually duplicate page titles, but we’ve addressed that already. If you haven’t re-written your page titles, take a look at how your blue links look on Google. Go to Google and search for “site:fakewebsite.com”, substituting ‘fakewebsite.com’ for your domain name. If any of your page titles are the same or similar then you must start cleaning those up ASAP. Also, if you have the same content on your homepage and on other pages – like an ‘about us’ page – you really should write unique content for each page. Using the same “site:” search you can search for blocks of content that might be duplicated throughout your site. For example, your search on Google would look like; site:fakewebsite.com “duplicate content I’m searching for”. Keep the paragraph you are searching for in quotes to get an exact match. If you find any, clean it up!
So, you’ve just launched a shiny new business and you’ve heard social media is the place to be to attract new customers. Well yes, it can be, but you have some legwork to complete first, and there’s good reason to do so. Registering for social media profiles is a great way to get started in online reputation management. As long as you’re committed to being active and engaged on social media sites, then search engines will take notice and favorably rank your social profile pages for searches for your brand name. The big three right now are Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Now that you’ve gotten your feet wet with SEO, your web site is probably ranking #1 on Google for your brand name (if it’s not, you have some bigger SEO issues – yikes). Adding your social profiles to the top few listing on search engines adds instant credibility for your business and best of all; it keeps your competitors as well as any negative reviews off of page 1. This is critical. You must do what you can to influence the online conversation about your business.
Engage – Cautiously
This tip should really be “Listen, then Engage”. I don’t recommend jumping feet-first into social media without listening to and monitoring the conversation that’s already happening. Start following influencers in your space – the credible voices in your industry. Follow potential customers and anyone that’s participating in conversations that are relevant to your business. Once you’ve gotten a pulse on the atmosphere, start participating by sharing content from others, commenting on their posts and tweets. It’s generally a good rule of thumb to follow a 3-to-1 ratio of sharing/commenting other peoples content to sharing your own. For small businesses with new websites, social media can be a great way to attract visitors as well as search engines to your content. Tweeting your great new blog post on “how to make handmade earrings” will alert your follow and the engines that there’s new content to consume. Also, your passionate customers will help share your content and your great businesses story. This is priceless.
Web analytics might seem like an advanced topic for small business owners, but with free tools like Google Analytics and a WordPress web site, anyone can track their site visitors. I highly recommend all new businesses start with a WordPress site and use Yoast’s Google Analytics for WordPress. Understanding how visitors find your site and what they do while on your site will become the foundation for your online marketing efforts. Ask yourself what are the actions you want people to take while on your site? These actions will become the Goals you track in Google Analtyics. OK, so that might be a little more involved than many new businesses expect, so we’ll save the deep-dive for another post.
Quick Bonus Tips – Advanced Tactics
- Register for Google and Bing’s Webmaster tools. Why? The search engines will tell you what might be wrong with your website. They literally give you SEO tips.
- Set-up Google Alerts for your business name & keywords. Why? This can serve as the basis for monitoring online mentions for your business. Has someone posted a negative or positive review of your company? Now you know and can respond if needed. These alerts can also be used to track your competitor activity online.
- Learn publicity and public relations basics. Why? For all the marketing you do, you will never tell your story better than a fanatical customer.
I hope this can help some small businesses get started with their online marketing. Please feel free to post any follow-up questions in the comments.