When running a business, one of the most important branding and marketing strategies is to create an informative, effective website. How can you decide if your business is better off with a template or a custom-built website? First, think about the goals, budget, and scope of your campaign. For example, if the main objective is a quick, low-cost redesign or creating your first website, a template-based website could be beneficial for your business. However, while many business owners create their own websites using templates through sites like Weebly or GoDaddy, these templates may hinder your overall marketing strategy if your company is looking for a more comprehensive set of services. Continue reading “Should You Choose a Custom Website or Template Website?”
The most prosperous time of year is approaching: the fourth financial quarter and the holiday season. How can your business capitalize from the holiday rush? Start planning your holiday marketing efforts now! Use your business’ social media sites, online marketing, and public relations efforts to build a comprehensive holiday marketing plan. Continue reading “Start Planning Your Holiday Marketing”
In May, Google rolled out its newest search engine update, the infamous Penguin 2.0. Since 2011, Google has released several algorithm updates known as Google Panda and Google Penguin to ensure that the highest quality websites are ranked highest in Google’s search engine, and spammers are penalized. Continuing this trend, the goal of Penguin 2.0 has been to optimize the Google experience for searchers and ensure honesty and transparency in Search Engine Optimization.
The Google Panda and Google Penguin updates targeted “thin sites,” which have little original content and rely more on advertising and duplicate content to maintain a ranking in Google’s search engine. More specifically, the Penguin 2.0 update targets webspam, which usually occurs in the form of keyword stuffing and backlinks from disreputable websites rather than relevant and high-quality sources. Penguin 2.0 penalizes these “black hat practices” by lowering the websites’ rankings on Google and thus decreasing traffic to the sites. So far, Penguin 2.0 has had a significant impact on 2.3% of all English-language websites, and webmasters are taking notice.
Unlike the previous versions of Panda and Penguin, Penguin 2.0 changed Google’s algorithm rather than just refresh it, meaning that these are changes that are here to stay. Keyword stuffing, high volumes of spammy backlinks, and low-quality content are no longer effective methods of Search Engine Optimization and will, in fact, be punished. This means that SEO cannot take any shortcuts and must be built on quality, transparency, and honesty.
In order to follow these three principles, we recommend that you plan a long-term, rather than a short-term, approach to your Search Engine Optimization. Most importantly, make your site an authority in its area by creating and frequently updating high-quality content directed to your specific audience
To avoid sounding like webspam, don’t pad your website with the same keywords and phrases. Instead, use natural variations of words and phrases relevant to your site’s topic. If the content is original and of high quality, the keywords and audience will naturally come and the site will be higher in Google’s search results (blogs are a good way to continuously post high-quality new content and generate repeat visitors).
In regards to link-building, focus on quality rather than quantity, and ensure that the only backlinks to your site come from reputable sources, such as Google, YouTube, and social media sites. This may require you to consistently update your anti-spam practices and follow relevant tech news.
Over time, these tools will help you build your online brand and engage with your audience in a direct and honest way. By taking this simple, transparent approach, you can increase your website’s ranking on Google, drive more traffic to your site, and avoid the wrath of Penguin 2.0.
If you are interested in creating a new website or optimizing an existing site, contact us at 1-855-PRMG-123 or email email@example.com.
Recently, Adobe Systems abandoned its development of making Flash accessible on mobile devices. Since no Apple device uses Flash, Web developers are debating whether or not to use Flash at all when embedding videos into websites, blogs and Web pages. On top of the problems Flash creates in regards to optimizing a Web page, the concern of not being able to reach Apple users is huge. With millions of iPhones and iPads sold each year in the United States alone, your business could be missing out on a huge number of potential customers and clients by using Flash to build your website.
This article will explain the benefits and disadvantages of using Flash and other alternatives such as embedding YouTube videos or video objects.
YouTube — The advantage of choosing to embed YouTube videos on your website, rather than Flash videos, is that you can reach every user. No matter what Internet browser or mobile device you use to get onto the Web, YouTube videos are accessible. Bringing YouTube videos to your site can connect your website with the most popular online video community. YouTube offers free hosting for a large number of videos, multiple embed options and top-quality video and audio.
Incorporating YouTube videos into your website can also enhance your overall social media marketing strategy. By having a unique YouTube channel for your company, with videos that can be embedded on your website or blog, your business can tap into one of the most popular services available on the Web. This video sharing giant encourages visitor interaction by allowing viewers to “like,” favorite, share or comment on videos, giving businesses another outlet to interact with their audiences. You can also add friends through YouTube and users can subscribe to your channel. Subscribers will receive email updates each time you post a new video. You can embed a YouTube video into your website or blog by following the instructions here.
However, a disadvantage of using YouTube to embed your videos is that your videos will not be hosted on your server. Instead, you are relying on YouTube’s server. If YouTube is down or experiencing high traffic volume, it will delay the playback of video on your website or cause it not to load altogether. Your video will only load as fast as YouTube is able to load. Another disadvantage is that there are many companies that block their employees from using YouTube while at work. According to a report released by the International Business Times, YouTube is the third most blocked website at workplaces. Especially for B2B companies that are looking to reach other professionals, this can be a major downfall.
Video Objects — By embedding a video object on your website, you can have the video file hosted on your own server. This will give you more control and you won’t have to rely on a third-party server such as YouTube. The benefit of using QuickTime, for example, is that the software is compatible with Apple mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads. However, there is still the issue of not being able to reach all users. For example, if you embed a .mov file, the user would have to have the QuickTime plug-in already installed on their browser in order to watch the video. Apart from mobile devices such as iPhones, most users have Flash installed on their browser rather than QuickTime.
Flash — The main issue with Flash, as we mentioned earlier, is its inability to play on mobile devices. Flash also acts as a roadblock to search engines, so it does not help websites with search engine optimization. However, Flash is still the most widespread video solution. Flash will work for most users and it is recommended as the best cross-browser solution for embedding videos. To still reach the majority of viewers, but also give others the opportunity to watch your video, we recommend using website code to detect if a user has Flash installed. If Flash is detected, the Flash version of the video will be shown. If Flash is not installed, your website will display a YouTube or QuickTime movie instead. This provides a simple alternative for iPhone and iPad users.
12 Tips to Help You Survive and Thrive in a Double Dip
I thought it might be helpful to revisit an article I wrote on the “Top 10 Tips for Marketing in a Recession” in January of 2009. While many of the suggestions still apply and I remain optimistic about the long-term prospects for the U.S. economy, I believe that the economy of today is the new normal in the face of a number of economic hurdles, including high unemployment, international financial unrest and a depression in the real estate market. It is my personal opinion that things won’t change significantly, at least until business confidence can be restored with the election of a new President and Congress in the Fall of 2012. These recommendations suggest that while it is necessary to market, you must do so with the idea of slowly maintaining and growing your business, while continuing to overcome a myriad of external challenges.
Starting a Business in a Recession — If you are thinking about starting a new business in a recession, you are not alone. Small businesses are often the greatest generators of new jobs. This is one of the reasons why the unemployment rate remains high in the United States. Often, when people are laid off, they take the opportunity to start their own business. However, think hard before you start a business, especially if it is a restaurant or a retailer. For example, the highly competitive restaurant industry sees 27% of restaurant startups fail within the first year, according to a 10-year study by Cornell University and Michigan State University. If you are looking to open a restaurant or retailer, make sure that your business will be unique and that you are confident that there will be a demand for your product or services. Think along the lines of necessities, including health care or products like coffee. For example, think of the Dunkin Donuts and 7-Eleven franchises. Another essential point to keep in mind is that before you start your new business, you must set aside plenty of money for marketing. For more information on this, read our article, “If You Build It, They Won’t Necessarily Come…”
One of the first overall suggestions I can make is that when choosing whether or not to start a business in a recession, you must identify what the most profitable businesses are and which ones can give you the most competitive advantage. In a recession, consumers require value more than ever. Just look at Walmart, Target and McDonalds. These companies have done relatively well during the recession because of the value they offer consumers. However, there is an exception with high end luxury markets. Although these markets did take a hit early in the recession as real estate values and stock market portfolios declined, they did bounce back. If you can effectively market to wealthier geographies and demographics, you should do so. If your product is a necessity, for consumers or for businesses, then say it is and why it is. For example, Apple did very well during the recession because consumers viewed their products as necessities. Also, if you have products that appeal to children, then make sure you market them effectively. Parents will be more likely to self-sacrifice than to deprive their children, especially when it comes to their education, health and development.
1. Focus on Your Customers — If you already have a business or non-profit organization, focus on your current customers and clients. Continue to do what you can to keep your current customers returning and always make sure they are satisfied. If you are a retailer or restaurant, send your customers a gift card or special offer to show your appreciation. If you are a professional, hold the line on your rates, provide volume discounting or some other type of acknowledgement of their patronage. From a marketing perspective, you should periodically send your clients e-newsletters, newsletters, use direct mail and engage them in social media to communicate special offers or news to keep them in the loop. Your next step in marketing your current business should be to focus on your website because this is the online hub of information and content for your organization.
2. Develop Your Website — Since you may have extra time now, it is time to focus on your website. Ask yourself: What do I need to do to get higher search engine rankings? The answer is to make sure you have a strong public relations and content creation program, develop your website’s on-page optimization and utilize off-page optimization techniques. For more information on on-page optimization, read our article, “On-page Optimization and Keywords.” For off-page optimization tips, read our article, “No, We Can’t Get You Those Results Overnight.” One tip is to incorporate microsites into your Web strategy. Microsites are essential to maximizing your Web presence and boosting your organization’s search engine rankings. Consider building microsites for specific products or services that your company offers. To compliment your website, you may also decide to create a blog. You may need some development help, but once your blog is created and your new sites are set up, you can use your CMS system or Adobe Contribute for sites created in HTML to make changes yourself. The goal for your blog should be to develop excellent content that will compel visitors to return and share with others. We highly recommend providing downloadable content on your site that visitors will be willing to give up an email address or other contact information for.
For more information on developing your website, read our article, “A Practical Guide to Developing Effective Websites.”
For valuable tips on Web optimization, download our free guide, “Web Optimization Tips.”
You can view examples of websites that The Public Relations and Marketing Group has created on behalf of its clients here.
3. Build Your Social Media Presence — It is crucial to share your content and communicate with your audience on appropriate social media platforms. Communicating with friends and followers through social media will help build your networks and engage your current customers. If you’re just starting out with social media, focus on the big three: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. If your business is B2C, focus your efforts more on Facebook and Twitter. For B2B companies, LinkedIn should be your first priority. Developing a strong presence on social media websites does require time but it can prove to be an extremely cost-effective way to market your business, which is especially helpful during rough economic times. For example, create a Facebook fan page for your company to communicate with customers and share photos and news. Twitter, the immensely popular micro-blogging network, is an excellent communication outlet to send short messages to a huge audience. LinkedIn is a professional networking site that allows users to rapidly build their connections, browse and post job offerings and share industry expertise with other professionals in their field. Determine which of these social networking sites you should devote your time to and build a strong presence there.
Beginners can learn how to create a social media presence for their business by reading our article, “Getting Started with Social Media.”
For more information on building a strong presence on Facebook, read our article, “10 Steps to Getting the Most Out of Facebook.”
To learn how to make the most of your Twitter account, read our article, “Secrets to Twitter Marketing.”
For more information on using LinkedIn effectively, read our article, “Making the Right Connections with LinkedIn.”
4. Network — Old-fashioned networking may also help you build professional contacts and reach potential clients at low cost. If you are a professional, attend networking events in your industry and other trade groups where you may find prospective clients. To demonstrate your position as an expert in your field, professionals can hold original lectures, in-house if possible, to keep costs lower. Retailers and restaurants can hold product demonstrations or workshops. Always promote these events to the public using press releases, social media and e-blasts.
Everything up to this point can be done at low cost. However, often this may not be enough and you will also need to advertise to successfully market your business. In a recession, it is often cheaper to advertise and you may have more leverage. However, always keep in mind that you should never advertise in something solely because it is cheap or within your budget. It is always better to spend more on something that is more likely to work for you. For example, your organization may benefit from targeted ads placed in print outlets, on the Web, through email or on television.
5. Focus Your Print Advertising — When using traditional print advertising outlets, make sure that you have the budget to sustain your advertising efforts. If you have a local business, consider using D-Cards and high visibility print ads. To ensure that your advertisements are reaching the right audience, micro-target your ads by placing them in specialty publications. For example, you may want to target a local community by using the front pages of Pennysavers or local newspapers, as well as D-Cards. If your services or products appeal to a specific trade group or demographic, consider specialty publications that service that group. If you need to advertise in a daily newspaper, be sure to put together a catchy ad that is in a high visibility location. In addition, Newsday’s daily deals are often good for retailers and those in the hospitality industry.
6. Target Your Web Advertising — For those on a budget, I would strongly recommend using Web advertising. As studies repeatedly show, more and more people are turning to online sources when searching for products, services or information. This is why Web advertising is so important when marketing your business. Popular Web advertising outlets include Google AdWords, social media ads, landing pages and daily deal websites.
7. Use Google AdWords — Google AdWords lets you create and run text, display or video ads for your business with a custom budget. This is good for marketers on a budget because you will only pay if someone clicks on your advertisement. These ads are displayed under “Sponsored Links” beside search results when someone searches Google using one of your listed keywords. Google AdWords is so effective because you are advertising to an audience who is already interested in what you have to offer.
8. Advertise with Social Media — Social media websites offer highly quantifiable and cost-effective advertisements. Like Google AdWords, you will only pay when someone clicks on your ad. Through social media advertising, you can control your budget, build fans, drive traffic to your website and micro-target based on user demographics, gender, age and interests. For B2C companies, use Facebook Ads to reach your audience. Facebook is able to micro-target based on what users have listed as interests. For B2B organizations, LinkedIn advertising can be effective. LinkedIn offers rich display and text ads that can reach millions of active business professionals. LinkedIn advertising is unique because it can target based on job title.
To learn more about Facebook advertising, read our article, “Interest-Based Advertising.”
9. Create Landing Pages — A landing page is a single Web page that appears in response to a reader clicking on an advertisement. A landing page is little more than a Web page that contains specific content and can be used as part of an effective Web advertising campaign. When used in a Web advertising campaign, landing pages should provide access to your entire website but the goal here is for the visitor to interact with the content on the page. By offering downloadable content, you provide your audience valuable material in exchange for their contact information. This will help you generate business leads and build your email lists. For more information on landing pages, read our article, “Five Steps to Generating New Business through Web Advertising, Landing Pages and Emails.”
10. Use Daily Deals Websites — Daily deals websites and phone applications are immensely popular, especially for those with smart phones. These websites and phone apps cater to a vast audience that is interested in obtaining new deals and visiting new venues. Daily deal marketing services such as Groupon and LivingSocial collect users’ email addresses and send them a featured email every day, offering a heavily discounted deal from a local business. Recipients may buy the coupon, redeem it at the local business and get the product or service they paid for. For example, on Groupon, you and the daily deal site will split the revenues from coupon sales and you will pay nothing upfront to Groupon. Running ad campaigns on sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial can prove to be hugely beneficial in attracting customers to your business, especially if you are in the restaurant or hospitality industry or offer some kind of service to your guests.
11. Use Take-Over Emails — Your business can benefit by using take-over emails in your email advertising strategy. Take-over emails allow you to take advantage of another organization’s broad email list. For example, Newsday and other publications offer take-over emails for $50 per thousand, meaning they will send out your email for you to their audience. When creating your email advertisement, make sure that the most important information appears at the top, under the fold of the email, and that you have a compelling title that will encourage your readers to read more. Include links to landing pages, your website, social media profiles and contact information.
To learn more about email advertising and take-over emails, read our article, “Web Ads, E-newsletters and Take-over Emails.”
12. Advertise on Television — Sometimes, you may need to reach large numbers of people in a short time frame. Under these circumstances, I would highly recommend considering television advertising. When advertising on television, it is important to narrow your target audience by using specific programming. Consider upcomers like FiOS, for example. If you are looking to reach businesspeople or wealthier viewers, consider advertising on CNBC or news channels. If your business’ product or service is catered to women, choose to advertise on channels such as Lifetime, WE or HGTV.
Before You Start a New Business, Be Sure to Create and Fund Your Marketing Plan
Many of us remember the 1989 hit movie Field of Dreams wherein Kevin Costner plays an Iowa corn farmer, hearing voices to “build it and he will come,” builds a baseball diamond and the Chicago Black Sox come to play on the field. This is then followed by thousands of cars appearing out of nowhere to watch as the movie comes to a close. Too often, I have experienced almost the same mentality with clients who have recently started a new business.
Great ideas and good business models do not always lead to success. How often have you heard someone say, “that actually ended up costing less money than I thought it would”? Rarely ever, if at all. Starting a new business, even those that are not retail or professional, always seem to cost more money than the business owner planned. Retailers, restaurants and even professionals often spend more money than they budgeted to complete build-outs, buy equipment and pay professional fees. They are then often tapped out by the time they open the doors. Unfortunately, the hard part has just begun. Usually, it is marketing that suffers as businesses struggle to keep the doors open and now have limited means to spread the word about their creation.
For any business owner, it is imperative to include a marketing plan as part of one’s business plan and to budget funds for at least six months to a year. The following outline describes the steps I would recommend along with some practical, cost-effective suggestions.
Choosing a Business Name
There are a number of considerations here, including legal factors such as whether your name may violate someone’s trademark or whether the name is not generic so that you will be able to trademark your name. You want to choose a name that is both unique and also describes your business. One of the first considerations is whether the domain name is available. This has become increasingly important and is now the most important factor if your business is going to be primarily Web-based. Go to www.networksolutions.com or www.GoDaddy.com. Both these sites let you see the available domains and allow to purchase and manage your domain name(s). In addition to the .com extension, you will likely want to purchase .net, .us, .biz and others, including .org if yours is a non-profit organization or association.
Choosing a Location
Choosing a location is a very important factor. Choosing the ideal retail location is a little bit beyond the scope of this paper, but to simplify matters, you want to obtain the best location available that is within your budget. You want to research your demographics. Is this the type of business that can be supported by the local economy? What competition will it face? Will it be located near similar and complementary businesses? How much exposure will it have to foot and vehicular traffic? What type of signage can it have? You are going to want to take full advantage of signage opportunities. Does it make sense to lease a location rather than buy? What’s the minimum lease commitment and deposit I need to provide? For home and web-based businesses and professionals, you have many more options. I would recommend virtual office space (shared or part-time space) over renting, at first. Obtaining a professional office address and then meeting prospective clients and business associates at a virtual office is an excellent way to get started, allowing you to put your resources in other areas and work from home at the same time. It could put you in a better location to buy office space later on, rather than wasting funds on renting. If you are expanding, virtual offices also provide excellent opportunities to create the presence you need without the added expense.
Logo and Branding
Developing a logo and defining your brand is a very important step. You want to take the time to develop a logo that provides you with an eye-popping, unique visual representation of your business and the goods or services you provide. The logo will become the look of your company and will be incorporated into your website, as well as your marketing and collateral materials. Your brand should have been addressed in your business plan. Take the time to describe your business. What makes it unique? What consumer needs does it address? You can use this write-up for your company overview page of your site and for your marketing materials.
Before you open your doors, before you print a business card, you need to build a website. For your site to be successful and to obtain high search engine ranking, you want to begin by asking yourself, “How am I going to develop outstanding content that is found in search engines, brings people back to my site and compels them to share my content with others?” In addition, since search engines rank pages that are updated more frequently higher, when choosing pages for your site, ask yourself whether this is the type of content that lends well to regular updating. You also want to consider whether to have a blog. For starters, we often suggest that a blog be incorporated into a website to help with the optimization of the site. The blog can be spun off later. Your site should include social media links, an easy way to e-mail you, a contact page with a contact form and downloadable content. For professionals, this could be a guidebook or brochure that provides valuable information to visitors; information that they will be willing to give up their e-mail address for. The contact form and download forms can then be linked to e-mail programs such as Constant Contact or StreamSend. This way, you can set up automatic e-mail triggers and then send e-newsletters and other content to visitors. For retailers or restaurants, this can be as easy as having a downloadable coupon. As your site’s content comes together, you also want to optimize the on-page content and engage in off-page optimization techniques to improve your site’s backlinks and authority with search engines. As you get ready to host and launch your site, be sure to set up Google Analytics to measure your traffic and take a benchmark of your keyword ranking using software such as Web CEO.
At the Public Relations and Marketing Group, we pride ourselves in providing integrated services to our clients. With this in mind, I wanted to share with you how we have been doing this through content creation, Web advertising, landing pages and email marketing to develop and nurture leads for clients leading to new business. While these techniques are highly applicable to any professional service organization, they are adaptable to just about every business.
Step 1 – Create Your Content
The first step is to create compelling content. For professionals, this often takes the form of a free report or guidebook that will provide the reader with valuable information, which they will be willing to give up an email address for. The content should be mostly informational and not a sales pitch. There should be very little mention of the organization, perhaps with the exceptions of authorship and contact information at the end of the piece. Very often, this takes on the form of a downloadable brochure, white paper or eBook. The material should be written with the end-user in mind and not be overly technical (unless of course this is your target market). Some examples: for attorneys, it could be a guidebook on “What I Need to Know before I Purchase a Home”; for an ophthalmologist, “Will I Benefit from Laser Eye Surgery?”; for a home health care provider, “The Advantages of Using a Home Health Agency”; for a retailer or restaurant, you could just offer a coupon.
Step 2 – Set up Your Landing Page
A landing page is little more than a Web page that contains specific content. Landing pages can be built into websites, but they can also be used as part of Web advertising campaigns. When used in a Web advertising campaign, it is suggested that they provide access to your entire Website, but the goal is for the visitor to interact with the content on the page. To accomplish this, we suggest not having navigation links, but instead a text link in the body of the text inviting the visitor to visit your site. The landing page should also include brief descriptions of the downloadable content and the services of your organization, as well as an image of the content and a short form. You may also want to include a video, such as a TV commercial. The contact should be kept to a minimum and ask for just a name, company (if B to B), email address and phone number. It should also have a check box asking if the visitor wants to be contacted to set up a free consultation or meeting. However, we recommend that the only required fields be the email address, perhaps also a phone number if the visitor requests a meeting.
Step 3 – Advertise on the Web and Monitor
Use Google, Bing or Yahoo! AdWords or Facebook to bring traffic to the landing page. Target your demographics and keywords like you would for any other AdWords campaign. However, in this case, the ad should promote the availability of the free download. Monitor the ad’s performance using the advertising platform and Google Analytics. Test different offers to achieve the best results and to maximize your costs per click.
Step 4 – Integrate with Your Email Program
As visitors interact with your landing page, you will receive a form indicating that someone has downloaded the content or requested a consultation or meeting. You should then contact anyone requesting a meeting immediately. For the most efficiency, you want to program your contact form to dump information into an email program. (Our firm uses StreamSend.) You can also do this manually. We would then recommend that you set up Triggers. Triggers are e-mails that can be programmed to send automatically based on a database field, such as the date/time when an entry is created. This allows you to send out an email to a lead 24 or 48 hours after they have downloaded your content, providing them, for instance, additional content they may be interested in or a sales offer. Multiple Triggers can be set up.
Step 5 – Nurture Your Leads
Not everyone makes buying decisions at the same pace. Someone may have visited your site very early in their buying process for the purpose of researching the problem they have. Other visitors make buying decisions very quickly. The goal is to interact and nurture your contacts over time. For instance, on the initial landing page, we provide an opportunity for someone to contact you by phone or email to request a meeting. We use Trigger emails to provide automatic follow-up shortly thereafter. We also recommend that you develop an e-newsletter that you send out to clients and prospects at least on a monthly basis. This will help you to ensure that your leads are nurtured over time. You can invite these leads to connect with you using social media.
We hope this article was useful to you. As always, if you have any questions or would like to see samples of our work in this area, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (631) 207-1057.