If you are a local business, ignoring the internet can be a death sentence. With the rise of mobile phone usage, and the reliance of GPS systems, many people are using location based services to find local businesses. If your company is not listed in the local search results, you are overlooking a large pool of potential customers. However, it is not enough to simply “claim your business”, given the increase of social media features built into local business listings.
Social media is becoming a part of our every day lives. Even if you do not participate in social media channels, the effects of social media interaction can play a large role in what you see online. For example, in Google Places a business can be listed with their address, a brief description of their products or services, links to photos, Google Maps, and customer reviews. There is also a section where visitors can “Report a problem” with the listing and one of the options is to report “This place is permanently closed.” If there are enough visitors reporting the business is closed, the business is flagged as “reportedly closed”. Pending a review by Google, the listing may be changed to “permanently closed.” How much of an impact can this be on your business if, even for a few days, your business is incorrectly labeled as “reportedly closed”?
It is naÃ¯ve to think Google Places will list every active business or flag all of the closed businesses accurately. The system is not perfect, but it allows for social media interaction and that’s what attracts many people to provide their feedback. There is undoubtedly room for mischief with the system if one of your competitors decides to take an unethical approach. Google does not divulge how many people must report a problem like “This place is permanently closed.” before it updates the listing to “reportedly closed”. But is it worth the risk to your bottom line to ignore Google Places when so many people are using the internet to find local businesses? As part of your overall business strategy, you need to ensure you are monitoring your business listings after they are initially set up.
If you are currently running an AdWords campaign, or even considering it, a thorough review of your destination urls (landing pages) is very important. Google, for example, calculates the page load times for landing pages used in pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns and factors that into the overall Quality Score they assign to keywords in the campaign. Quality Score is an important factor in where ads will be displayed when they are served by the AdWords auction-based system. Google multiplies the Quality Score and the max CPC for each keyword when assigning a ranking to all ads that are considered relevant for a particular search query. There are other factors that play a part in determining Quality Score of which some you have little or no control over (historical clickthrough rates) and others where you have direct control over (landing page load time).
Google recently introduced a new service called Page Speed Service to help test and optimize web page load times. While I am hesitant to recommend turning over the optimization of web pages to Google, if nothing else, it is an excellent service for those who may have previously been unaware of their landing page load times. In addition, it gives users insights into what degree of improvement they could see if they were to implement proper changes to their website pages to help improve page load times.
The next time you are optimizing your PPC campaigns, or if you are just starting out with a new AdWords account, be sure to test your landing page load times before you decide on the best place to drive your paid search traffic. The decisions you make now will directly affect how much you have to pay for placement in Google’s sponsored links. If you are not sure of your landing page load time, here is a link to the testing service: http://www.webpagetest.org/compare. The test takes a few minutes to complete for each url you enter, but the wait is worth it, as it could save you money in the long run with your PPC campaigns.
According to a recent report conducted by Pitney Bowes, in their SMB Owners Report May 2011, 68% of respondents are choosing email marketing as a new advertising tactic and 54% say they are choosing social media. In fact, 76% of small businesses responded by saying the ideal marketing mix is a combination of traditional media and digital communications. One of the main reasons for the shift is the inexpensive entry to market through these digital channels.
Small businesses are always looking for inexpensive, yet effective ways to market their products and services. Usually, they can not compete with the large national chains or mega brands that can afford to saturate the market with huge marketing campaigns. It is critical for small business to get creative and find less expensive ways to get their message to the public. Factor in a shaky economy that has not rebounded like many expected by the middle of 2011 and it is more important than ever for small businesses to leverage digital channels to promote their business. It can be significantly less expensive to develop a mass email campaign compared to dropping a physical mailer or flyer to the same number of recipients. With technology today you can create robust graphics and aesthetically pleasing emails at little to no cost.
Social Media channels like Facebook and Twitter are another inexpensive way to reach a massive audience. It is free to set up the channels themselves, and while I do not pretend to think they can be managed effectively for free (I would recommend a social media expert managing any small business’ social media presence) it is still much less expensive than traditional forms of media. Facebook has approximately 700 million users now and you can target by age, location, and interests when marketing to those millions of people. Twitter is an excellent tool for customer loyalty programs and can really help small businesses increase their customer base through “digital” word of mouth advertising. If you have a Twitter account and you haven’t tweeted out a coupon deal or special discount to all your Twitter followers, you are missing a great opportunity to make a strong move in creating new business.
The numbers don’t lie and the statistics are eye opening. Small businesses are using digital communications to supplement (and sometimes replace) their traditional advertising programs in larger numbers. The reasons are simple…digital media is now a proven advertising platform and inexpensive compared to traditional media.