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When we say “internet marketing” to most small businesses owners, we most often hear “search engine results.” So it’s no wonder that not only do most individuals consider SEO to be the holy grail of pursuit for small businesses and internet marketing, but that they pay good money to anyone who promises stellar and sometimes dubious results.
All too often our team receives forwarded emails from our clients from SEO “snake oil salesmen” offering guarantees to appear in the top three positions for a search term for an unreasonably strange sum. They’ll try to convince website owners that their websites aren’t properly optimized, and that the only way to succeed is by working with their company.
Not only are these statements almost always untrue, but these types of scammers only help to further muddle the truth about what makes “great” SEO, a complex process that we’ve discussed at length here on our blog. Here are four ways to avoid falling prey to the SEO trap as a small business owner or manager.
1. Realize the SEO frontier is just like the old wild west
Unfortunately, the world of online marketing is still in a formative, wild west era where anyone who throws up a banner can present themselves as an SEO expert. Without any sort of accreditation or accountability, unskilled and unscrupulous SEO “professionals” throng the marketplace–much like the miracle cures and soothing syrups used to stake out street corners in early American frontier towns.
While major players in the world of SEO have been actively trying to pursue a set of industry standards, best practices, and accountability, these individuals continue to take advantage of those who aren’t consistently vigilante and constantly in tune with the latest developments in the industry.
2. Recognize mediocre SEO practices immediately
In many cases, small businesses pay out tens of thousands of dollars for search engine optimization, with little comparative impact against what the organic results by the business by their own content marketing would have been anyways. SEO knowledge goes out of date rapidly, and a mediocre SEO practitioner may use obsolete gimmicks such as keyword metatags which no longer bear any weight in SEO, and repetitive content, a practice that actually can do harm to your search engine standing.
3. Understand the danger of unscrupulous SEO “experts” who think they can outwit Google
Even worse than the vaguely incompetent are the would-be wizards. Combining self-importance with the quest for quick money, they boast their unique insider’s ability to outwit the search algorithms. With no frame of reference, a small business may fall for this type of sales pitch, only to suffer drastic consequences a few weeks after the SEO “expert” has cashed their check and headed for the hills.
What kind of consequences? Google is continuously improving its ability to detect manipulative SEO practices (such as stuffing keywords into invisible parts of the website and “cloaking,” producing different page results for search engines and human visitors). Once these bad practices are recognized, Google will quietly impose penalties on a business, and suddenly the company’s website may find that it has dropped to the 50th page of search eresults. If the violations are bad enough, Google may even remove the site’s listing altogether.
4. Recognize good SEO and run with it
In the absence of any kind of external accreditation, businesses have to learn what to listen for when they seek help with optimizing their site. If you start to hear your SEO consultant talking about “fooling” Google, you know that you’ve got the wrong person. Look instead for someone who talks about fresh, original content and who has an interest in learning about the needs of your customers to produce excellent content marketing and link building, the only way to SEO in 2013. While there are some structural “best practices,” having mostly to do with clean code and unique tags, the main way to rise in page rankings is with honest quality. No shortcuts, no tricks, no secrets.
Do you think BWD might make the cut? Let us start working some strategy with you and your business immediately. There’s no cost for a consultation.
Tuesday, March 3, 2013by The BWD Team in Small Business
It’s often true that a website or social profile is the first opportunity for a potential customer to guage the professionalism and value of a business. As they’re viewing your Facebook photos, “about” pages, and list of services on LinkedIn they’ll ask themselves: Does this company look reliable? Do they offer the expertise and craftsmanship that I’m looking for? Is the value any good?
As you can imagine, this huge first impression has the potential to go a number of different ways. To ensure that you make the best one possible, here are eight elements that make up the best small (and medium!) business websites based on our 10 years of work with WordPress and small business clients.
1. A one-sentence story or “pitch statement” above the fold
Come up with a single sentence that answers these two questions: What do you offer? and What’s unique about you? This sentence should be placed where it’s immediately visible, without scrolling or what we call “above the fold” (sort of like the days of newsprint). The challenge here is to choose the fewest words that carry the greatest and most concise meaning.
2. Strategic “calls to action”
As much as you might think otherwise, it’s important to tell the user exactly what you want them to do in a dynamic environment. Identify your conversion goals by identifying behavior that would yield a favorable outcome or goal for your company. Do you want them to: Sign up for a newsletter with their email address? Sign up for membership? Follow through with a purchase? By following through with design elements that are pleasing and eye-catching, you’ll be well on your way towards more revenue and traction.
You might also find helpful: 3 Keys to Beginner’s Conversion Optimization for Small Business Websites (& the Money You’re Losing Without Them!) for more on the subject of calls to action and the field of conversion optimization in web design.
3. Show off your products or services
Customers have wanted to see what they’re buying since the dawn of the first thrifty bazaar merchant, and this preference hasn’t changed just because marketplaces have moved online. Graphics, photos, and other types of images are simple if you’re selling a physical product (hamburgers can be downright gorgeous onscreen!), but even if your product is a service, you can still come up with screenshots or great ways to frame your work. Use your creativity to decide how to feature visual content, and here are some examples to get you started:
- For software, include screenshots for each feature framed in a mock computer screen
- For a dog walking service, show some great shots of you or your employees enjoying your time with your client’s precious pets
- For a hair salon, include photos of your fabulously satisfied clients and their final dos
- For a small bed and breakfast, feature some of your best rooms and amazing breakfasts by appealing to their stomachs and hearts!
4. Video is a main course, not a frivolous dessert
A 30 to 60 second video with interesting content will keep users on your page, and videos can fluently demonstrate aspects of your product that words and pictures alone can’t describe. As a result, videos should never be buried on inner pages and should definitely be featured above the fold on your front page. You can easily host the video on YouTube or Vimeo to keep costs super low, and work with a fellow small business production agency to produce a video that’s high quality and affordable.
Need more convincing? Cisco systems has found that 40% of consumer internet traffic consists of video watching. They predict that this percentage will reach 62% by 2015. YouTube recently announced that it has reached 3 billion views per day.
Would you like to pursue a project like this but don’t know where to start? Give us a ring!
5. Highlight your phone number and location!
Whether or not you maintain an actual storefront, potential customers will want to make sure you’re serious about your work by quickly identifying a location and address. And if you do maintain an actual storefront, make sure your contact information is immediately visible. Users will rarely take time out of their precious search for their new favorite dinner spot to figure out where the heck your cross streets are located. A highlighted phone number and quick and easy directions for any business can be enormously helpful, and often makes the difference in a final sale.
These details are especially important in mobile settings–even if you have the same version of your website for both desktop and mobile–as users may be on-the-go and in desperate need of your details. If you fail to provide them with this information quickly and easily, customers will simply move onto the next option.
6. Give potential customers a quick taste
If you’re selling a service or piece of software, provide an easily accessible demo or trial for your product. If there’s no way to provide a taste, clearly outline and feature past case studies, successful portfolio examples, and testimonials from happy clients. Your potential customers will be much more confident moving forward if they know your products and services are valued and well respected by others, and you’ll be able to set a competitive price as well.
7. Write an informative “about” page
People visiting your site will look for the word “About” in order to learn more not only about the company but the people who make their purchased products or services happen as well. Use an about page as a chance to personally connect with customers by showing where you work, how you work, or some details about what type of company culture you maintain.
8. Always, always, always: produce fresh content
The most important for last: Back in the early days of the web, businesses could simply create static pages that were essentially online versions of their brochures, and they’d be set for a few years. Today, search engine rankings and SEO are dependent on how frequently new content is posted on a domain. In addition, high quality content that is sharable and highly sought after will provide plentiful inbound links and traffic. Watch your analytics closely to see what type of content produces the best results–such as increased traffic or more customers–and produce more of it.
You might also find helpful: 4 SEO Reasons your Business Should Have Started Blogging Yesterday or our excellent introductory “course” for small business owners: an Introduction to the Art of Link Building: the Gold Standard in Internet Marketing and SEO.
Would you like to get your business started on a great path based on any one of these eight elements? Just send us a message and we’ll send you a proposal asap.
Monday, February 2, 2013by The BWD Team in Design
We’ve had the absolute pleasure of working with home chef Alex Mosko the past few weeks to create all of the strategy and production materials for his latest web project, “Town & Cooking.” Town & Cooking will feature an amazing digital setting for beginner and advanced home cooks alike to get comfortable with cooking by better understanding the basics such as “how to brown butter,” and “what type of eggs should I choose?” in the form of amazingly simple tip-cards attached to posts and recipes, in addition to a massive recipe database using our latest exclusive plugin for clients to take advantage of Google’s rich snippet data for recipes.
While there are a ton of awesome parts to this project–including the use of the revolutionary content e-commerce platform, Tinypass–we wanted to share with our readers what it’s like to first develop some initial direction for a logo, pick through the options, and then come out with a final winner.
Setting “the mood”
Since developing the perfect logo for a small business can be a definitely personal affair for an owner or other stakeholders, the BWD team takes the time to fully explore what the business means to them, the type of tone they’d like to set, and what tickles their visual fancy. To do this, we often set a collaborative mood board with a client, as seen above. In the case of Town & Cooking, we highlighted some of the bright and crisp kitchen inspiration that Alex had initially mentioned in our discussions that came across as friendly and unique.
After all different types of discussions with a client, our team truly start to draw out the magic of what we think they’d like to visually include in their brand. This process can take as long as a client needs, and often involves great discussions with clients, looking at lists of visual website details that they like from other businesses, working along side them in their offices, or even taking a walk with them to gather a better sense of their intended tastes.
The initial logo and design stories
The fundamentals of design are always about connecting various aesthetics through all of the senses available to us, we choose to present initial design presentations as “stories.” Quite often these stories are accompanied by abstract or detailed descriptions of the inspiration used for each story, in addition to the types of emotion the designer has intended to draw out. Here’s what we came up with for Town & Cooking after this important period of collaboration:
Thursday, July 7, 2012by The BWD Team in Marketing
Online marketing is an absolute must for any brand, whether they’re well-established, just starting out, big, or small. Luckily, online marketing is not only becoming “smarter” by providing viewers with advertisements that are relevant therefore leading to more clicks, but it’s becoming more efficient and affordable for the average user as well.
One of the leaders in this type of ad-network service is Google, and now that you actually know what the difference between Google AdSense and AdWords, let’s take a look at why AdWords is an important tool for marketing your brand–of any type–online.
First: Paid vs. Unpaid Digital Marketing?
Digital marketing is split up into a variety of sub-categories, but an obvious one is paid vs. unpaid. While AdWords falls into the former category, it’s important to realize that there are tons of free digital marketing solutions as well, including solutions we’ve discussed before such as Facebook Pages, Twitter, and more, especially via social media.
Like a lot of other ad networks out there, AdWord’s pay-based system charges on a per-click basis, not per-view. This ensures that you’re getting great value. Remember that paid options like AdWords should be combined with a comprehensive non-paid–mostly social media-based–strategy to create a great external marketing strategy online as well.
Why use AdWords?
AdWords is the perfect solution for managers of small brands and business owners who want to externally market their digital presence for affordable rates.
One of the greatest benefits to using AdWords is that Google has one of the largest databases of advertisers publishing ads. The result is that AdWords can uniquely provide your advertisements to the individuals out of millions who are the most likely to click on them. Google’s database tracks factors such as product, service, industry, geography, gender-focus, age-focus, and potentially many more that are kept secret and to ensure that AdWords stays ahead of its competitors. This provides a great opportunity for small business owners, bloggers, and more to target some potentially great new customers.
Plus, there are zero-startup costs to using AdWords. Just set your daily limit and your credit card will be automatically charged when your balance reaches approximately $350 or 30 days have passed, whichever comes first. With AdWords, you end up only pay for clicks, nothing else.
Users of AdWords can also choose to pay for text link ads or display ads, so you’re never limited. As we’ve mentioned before, text link ads are those ads that are simply plain text, while display ads are generally images and a bit larger in size depending on your strategy.
What do I need for the perfect AdWords campaign?
We’ve found in the past that the best, revenue-generating results come from a mix of text and display ads.
While creating a text ad might seem simple enough, it’s important that you carefully choose your keywords and composition. You’ll be fighting against tons of other ads on the page, so it’s important that you stand out. Our team regularly works with our clients on word choice, length, and more.
Display ads are obviously more involved in terms of composition, and the best ones require a definite artistic eye, like that of our world-class design team. Our display ads generally have a clear message, beautiful graphics, and a great call-to-action that gets viewers clicking.
Want to get started on your own AdWords campaign or a more comprehensive external marketing strategy? Contact us and a member of our team will be happy to draft up a proposal for you ASAP.
Thursday, November 11, 2011by The BWD Team in Digital Experience
The world of publishing is rapidly changing, with an increasing emphasis on digital publishing as opposed to more traditional print publishing. Companies must establish a strong online presence in order to compete in this new, digital world world. A strong online presence may begin with a creative and compelling company website.
To stay ahead of the competition, small businesses should choose to work with an agency, such as Blog What? Design, to create a custom website as opposed to attempting to take on the task in house, ending up with an inferior product in the process.
The Benefits of Working with an Agency
- Experts in Website and Graphic Design – Creating a website by yourself is a challenge, especially if you’re not well-versed in web-site or graphic design. Agencies such as BW?D are composed of trained and educated designers and artists at your service. Your web presence is key to the success of your business. Your website needs to provide the proper and appropriate amount of content, while conveying your company’s personal brand.
- Know the ins-and-outs of Social Media and SEO – Establishing and implementing a social media strategy for your small business is extremely important in today’s competitive publishing world. This is what agencies are for! BW?D will work with you on a personal level, getting to know your brand, and creating a social media plan using many different networks. Agencies are also specialists when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is what drives the placement of your company’s website in search engine result pages, and ultimately, you want your website to rank at the top.
- Brand Strategy – Your brand needs to speak to its customers. A brand is a product or service that is recognized and trusted by its customers. Therefore, the products or services are often used, bought, and talked about. Digital brand development is a vital aspect of current digital marketing tactics because of the importance of differentiating yourself online from other small companies. BW?D is an agency, which understands how essential digital brand development is, and offers industry and competitor analysis as part of your businesses brand strategy.
- Clean Code – You’re running a small business – you don’t have time to learn clean, efficient markup, the latest CSS tweaks, and especially the complex code behind your website! Let the experts take care of it. Agencies know how to create clean and efficient code. BW?D offers services such as custom coding and feature solutions, and code modification and repair.
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