Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Growing with Online Marketing (SCORE ExpertAnswers: Expert Advice to Grow Your Business)

This is from a recent SCORE ExpertAnswers: Expert Advice to Grow Your Business

Growing with Online Marketing
Heather Dougherty, Director of Research
Experian Hitwise, NYC

Heather Dougherty is a leading authority in online commerce and marketing with Hitwise, a leading online competitive intelligence service that provides data and analytical tools to 100,000 clients in more than 65 countries. This month, Heather discusses how small business owners can can take advantage of online tools to advance their marketing goals and grow their companies.

Q: What are three questions a small business owner should ask when formulating his/her online marketing strategy?

A: Small business owners should ask themselves these three questions:

* What am I trying to accomplish with my online marketing? If you simply want to provide location, hours of operation, and other information, you need to make sure all of this data is correct and available in all local listings and search engines. If you want to educate potential customers about your products or services, use your website to provide the content and photos.

* Where to begin? Make sure customers can find you in local listings, then move on to your own website and promote your online presence through search engines or social media. Free options such as Tumblr or WordPress are a good way to get started on your website.

* What resources do I have? Prioritize what you are trying to accomplish and align with offline initiatives to repurpose as much as possible. Think about your content creation in all the different ways it can be used - print ads, website, social media, etc. Promote your online presence in your "brick and mortar" location if you have one, and keep your marketing consistent across all channels.

Q: How often should a small business owner review and update his/her online strategy?

A: Trying to keep current with trends can be tough and time-consuming, but monitoring analytics regularly can give small business owners the data needed to prioritize initiatives. Identify critical reports that need to be run daily (online transactions), weekly (overall traffic and sources of visitors), and monthly. Also, any channels that provide a voice to the customer - ratings, Twitter, Facebook, etc - should be monitored regularly for both positive and negative feedback.

Q: What yardsticks are best for gauging the effectiveness of marketing via social media?

A: Size of the user-base - the number of people who like or follow you - is obvious, but it's more important to monitor engagement. How often are the users interacting with your social media? Are you giving them a reason to interact? Many businesses have experimented with contests and giveaways to increase their user base, but then never engage with the group. Content as simple as fun facts related to your business can give those users a reason to interact or share with friends.

Q: Website analytics can generate a near-infinite amount of data about website usage. What are three critical reports that every small business should track?

A: Here are three key metrics to keep an eye on:

* Sources of traffic. Which ones are driving the majority of traffic to your website? If it's Google, make sure that you are monitoring your search marketing accordingly. This can also help you understand the effectiveness of any online advertising and social media.

* Bounce rate. This is the percentage of visits in which the person left your site from the entrance (landing) page or only visited one page within your website. A high bounce rate could point to a relevancy problem where the content on your website is not correct or compelling. Make sure that any landing pages have correct information that was offered in the ad copy.

* Top keywords. What keywords are most effective in driving traffic to your website? Monitor which keywords are used most often to measure any uptick in your brand, products and services, or location.

Q: What are some guidelines for search engine optimization that will improve a small business website's visibility?

A: Video and social content are great ways because they represent unique content that is updated often. Link building is also a great way to boost organic results, so find relevant blogs with expertise and authority related to your business, as well as other businesses and neighbors where you can also link to their websites.

Brought to you by SCORE, America's free and confidential source of small business mentoring and coaching. SCORE is a nonprofit association of more than 13,000 business experts who volunteer as mentors. SCORE offers free mentoring and low-cost workshops nationwide. A resource partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration, SCORE has helped more than 9 million entrepreneurs since 1964.

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