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  • How To Develop a Local Marketing Strategy

    Thursday, February 27, 2014 by
    How To Develop a Local Marketing Strategy

    For many small businesses, salvation has come in the form of local Internet marketing efforts. Never before has it been easier for a local business to get their name out to customers, giving them a much-needed edge over nationally marketed competitors. But local marketing isn’t something that happens by accident; to make the most of it, local businesses need to go on the offensive and push their brand harder than ever. Here are a few tips to help maximize your local marketing campaign.

     

    Get Online

    Marketing in the past used to mean buying space in the Yellow Pages and ads in the local newspaper. But today more and more people are looking to the Internet to find new businesses. Over the next 3 years, businesses that have and maintain web presences are expected to grow 40% more than sites that do not have websites.

    A common excuse for not having a website is the costs associated with creating it, but even that is becoming less of a hurdle. In 2011, Google launched a promotion to build websites for small businesses for free as a way to bring them into the 21st century. Even without this promotion, the costs of building a website can cost as little as $1,200 dollars which will quickly pay for itself.

     

    Claim Your Market

    Once you have a site, the most important step is to connect your business with your region using the correct keywords. For example, focusing on the keywords “hardware store” is almost useless; “hardware store Albany, NY” can help draw people who are looking for a local hardware store nearby (assuming you own a hardware store in Albany, NY). The advantage that local stores have over large businesses is that the local site can focus on a particular area. Programs like WordTracker or Google AdWords will show you the level of competition for each keyword and suggest variations that may offer you more success.

    Once you have the keywords decided, the next step is to implement those across your site. Add them to your site’s title tags, meta description, images, and header tags; anywhere search engines are looking.

     

    External Pages

    Use sites like Google+ and Bing Places for Business to their full potential. These sites often are favored by search engines and require very little technical know-how. Your business will then show up on sites like Google Maps and Bing Maps. All that’s required of you is fill out the pages with as much information as possible about your business. Creating a profile on sites like Yelp! is also an important step. Because Yelp! pages are constantly updated with reviews, they show up at the top of search results pages and can drive significant amounts of traffic.

     

    Local Link Building

    In SEO, links are a great way to boost your site’s reputation. Getting reputable, published sources to link to your webpage boosts your search rating significantly because they are, in essence, vouching for your site. One of the most common methods of link-building is to have a local blogger link to your site; keep in mind, the bigger the blog, the more it will affect your SEO. With that in mind, when link building focus on quality over quantity. There are plenty of services that promise to link to hundreds of sites across the web, but search engines aren’t that blind anymore. As a result, these packages are usually just a waste of time and money.

     

    Mobile Marketing

    Mobile Marketing is the quickly becoming one of the most important methods of marketing for local businesses. 97% of mobile users have used their device to search for local stores and services and over half are not targeted to a specific business. Also, the majority of customers who search for local businesses act upon the search results within the hour, which means the returns on a well-made mobile site can be seen very quickly. While mobile is an emerging market trend, many sites have failed to capitalize on it which means having a well-designed mobile-friendly site could put you miles ahead of the competition.

     

    Old Fashioned Methods

    While it may seem archaic, word-of-mouth marketing is still an extremely effective way to increase awareness of your business locally. Connect with other local business owners and ask to hang flyers or put business cards in their shops. In the same way that link building from reputable sites will boost your SEO, getting a word-of-mouth recommendation from local shop owners that are trusted in the community can boost business, and referral bonuses can increase loyalty among customers.

     

    Conclusion

    There isn’t one end-all-be-all fix to local marketing. Successfully spreading the name and reputation of your business takes time and effort, but will pay off in the end.

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  • The Case for Simplifying Website Navigation

    Monday, February 24, 2014 by
    The Case for Simplifying Website Navigation

    In world of online shopping, a website should be thought of as part of your product or service. Derek Halpern of Social Triggers recently asked 15 participants to give feedback on a website which was purposely ill designed to study the effect that website design has on buying influence. 94% of the feedback focused on the design and layout; 6% was focused on the business. The most common complaints were things like complex layout and lack of navigation aids, and caused customers to trust the site less. Below are some common layout mistakes, and how to fix them.

     

    Three Clicks Rule

    Website navigation doesn’t need to be complicated; in fact, simpler navigation is often more effective. The Golden Rule of website navigation is the 3-Click Rule: all pages on your site should be accessible by three clicks or less. Customers aren’t the only ones who don’t have the patience to go past three pages; neither do search engine crawlers. Any content or information past three pages won’t be seen and might as well not exist.

     

    Use Tags to Categorize Pages

    Organizing an index of products or services can be tricky; the content of a site is expected to be unique, but the navigation of a site is supposed to be as predictable as possible. Poor structure is likely to turn off users who are unable to find what they are looking for. The least complicated way to structure pages would be an A to Z index of all pages. Of course, this makes a couple of fatal assumptions: it implies that the user knows exactly what they’re searching for, and that they know the exact name under which to find it. Because these conditions are very rarely true, the best option to organize content neatly in the navigation bar is to start off with broad terms that gradually become more specific.

    Assigning pages to each category requires tags. In website navigation, there are three types: crucial, optional, and irrelevant. Crucial categories are categories that are important to all users, and have very little—if any—overlap. Examples of crucial tags for a clothing site would be “Men’s”, “Women’s”, and “Kids’”. Using only crucial tags, it should be possible for a user to find relevant information.

    Optional tags further refine the search results, but are not necessary for all users. Sticking with the clothing store example, an optional tag would be the brand. Only after a user has chosen gender (“Men’s”) and type of clothing (“Pants”) would they be presented with the option of selecting a brand. It is entirely possible that a user cannot select an optional tag, and simply browse all Men’s pants, but the option to further refine the search is available.

    Irrelevant categories, in short, are irrelevant to the users and are used for organizational purposes on the back-end of the site. These sorts of tags include word count and date added.

     

    Go Home

    On every page of the site, there should be the option to immediately return to the home page, whether it be a link that states “Click here to return to the home page” or by clicking the logo at the top of the screen. This gives users the option to restart their search and explore the site further.

     

    Create a Sitemap

    Sitemaps serve multiple functions. They give users a complete overview of your site as well as assist search engine crawlers in navigating your site. In fact, failing to incorporate a sitemap can pose a serious threat to your search engine rankings. Best of all, a sitemap is painfully simple to make. Sites like www.xml-sitemaps.com/ will create a sitemap for you, then all you have to do is add it to the “public_html/” folder of your site.

     

    Conclusion

    What’s been detailed here is only the tip of a very complicated iceberg, but taking the time to properly categorize your site will make it easier for customers to find the information or products they are looking for. Customers can be surprisingly fickle when it comes to online experiences, and a poorly structured site could be costing you countless customers and killing your search engine rankings.

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  • 10 Marketing Strategies for Proven Startup Success

    Thursday, February 20, 2014 by
    Strategy

    The startup world is cutthroat. Any previously-successful strategy, plan, or method that can provide even a small edge in this highly competitive arena is worth a look. For that reason, relying on previously successful methods, especially when constructing something as important as a marketing plan, is not only wise, it can keep your business afloat. What's important is to focus on what works, bringing in leads and developing positive brand image, without relying on gimmicks with no staying power. In this post, we’re outlining ten marketing strategies for proven startup success.

     

    1. Content Marketing

    Kicking off (and potentially topping) the list is the new marketing darling. As customers overwhelmed by media eschew mass consumption for important and value driven posts, photos, and videos, businesses are forced to adapt to the changing climate. By delivering valuable, intelligent information to customers with a clear goal to enrich the lives of viewers, companies will see increased returns from this strategy in the coming year.

    And its track record is solid. A study by Kapost and Eloqua found that the cost-per-lead for paid search was $111.11, while the cost-per-lead for content marketing was less than one-third that amount, at $32.25. Furthermore, a Hubspot study found that 82% of marketers who had daily blog posts reported a positive ROI for their efforts. The writing is on the wall: content marketing is growing, and for sound fiscal and practical reasons.

     

    2. Take Advantage of Social Media

    Leveraging social media is nothing new, but it remains a sound, cheap tool for startup companies. By producing quality content on some of the mostly highly frequented traffic channels on the Internet, social media not only offers the opportunity for exposure, but "virality".

    "Going viral" has worked in the past, even if doing so is not an exact science. The Dollar Shave Club's introductory video made them an overnight success due to its humor and high level of sharing. What creates virality is simple, if inexact: create content and marketing materials that possess characteristics people would want to be associated with. Doing so can result in "views + 1"; sharing that spreads the word in a way that money can't buy.

     

    3. Don't be Afraid of SEO

    SEO or Search Engine Optimization has seen diminished returns in recent years, however the practice of optimizing metadata and searchability is not without its logic. Google remains the most heavily trafficked search engine on the web, and the index queried by Google searches depends upon strong keywords, accurate site titles, and a circus of other considerations that "optimize" your site's profile. Focus on your product and company as a whole and consider what keywords may lead an individual to find you.

     

    4. Utilize Pay-Per-Click Advertising

    At present, the jury is out on the effectiveness of pay-per-click advertising. On the one hand, the method has little in the way of longevity by its own merits. Paid users will need some quick convincing to stick around and even more convincing to become repeat visitors. On the other hand, PPC gives your website the chance to reach curious eyes regardless of your page rank. Considering the challenge of establishing a sufficiently robust link base and traffic rank to appear near the top of search engine results, PPC is, realistically, a good option for startups looking to make a quick impact.

     

    5. Lean on Reputation Marketing

    In stark contrast to the quick injection of viewers, reputation marketing depends on slowly and methodically building a body of customer reviews and comments that speak highly of your services or products. The challenge here is the lack of control, but the payout is immense. This is due to the fact that a vast majority of online users trust users they do not even know, and that same percentage consult customer reviews before making a purchase. Building a reputation through consistent quality and customer service may take time, but once your reputation is in the zeitgeist, get ready to enjoy the ride.

     

    6. Consider Native Advertising

    A lesser-known but no less intuitive form of marketing involves placing advertisements in familiar contexts. For example, BuzzFeed, the popular GIF sharing site, hosts advertisements that appear to be site articles. The articles differ in appearance to avoid unwanted confusion, but the context and similarity associate your brand with an activity or site that people voluntarily visit and enjoy. And the proof is in the pudding: According to Vitamin Talent, consumers looked at native ads 52% more frequently than banner ads.

     

    7. Get Creative

    "Business as usual" has become a dirty word to consumers. With generalized disdain toward "impersonal" big businesses, startups have a unique opportunity to capitalize on the creative energy that fueled their founding. The aforementioned Dollar Shave Club video comes immediately to mind. Utilize humor, and the element of surprise. Aspire to be unconventional and unpredictable. Reach out and touch customers in a new and interesting way and even the most under-the-radar entrepreneur can benefit.

     

    8. Embrace Delight

    Brand perception is about far more than just quality and on-time delivery. For companies to have a real impact in the life of their customers, they must aspire to transcend the rigid, analytical roles of a traditional firm. Be delightful. Bring a feeling of interest, curiosity, and discovery to your customers in any way that you can. Studies show that positive emotions, especially those associated with discovery, have a powerful impact on forming a positive impression in consumer minds. Hold live events, create eCard templates, and tap into seasonal cheer in order to bring whimsy into the "boring" business world.

     

    9. Diversify

    Any one of the aforementioned channels can provide nascent businesses with valuable views. But the key, in a world dominated by multi-channel viewing and diverse media consumption, is to establish your presence across all avenues. By doing so, you establish a brand identity that is as ubiquitous as it is well-defined, never leaving the mind of plugged in viewers. And customers respond to this approach. According to Mashable, 72% of customers prefer an integrated marketing approach. If that doesn't tell you something, nothing will.

     

    10. Be Yourself

    Okay, so it isn't exactly rocket science, but there's something profoundly inspiring about the startup company. Entrepreneurs inspire us to chase down our own dreams. Silicon Valley has produced countless startups with unique character, practices, and workspaces, many of which have gone viral due to their status as symbols of freedom and innovation. As a startup company, you have a unique identity as a high-powered mover and shaker, making the world a better place. Be yourself and show yourself through your voice and your story. Incorporate these things into your marketing materials and create a human connection with your customers that will last well beyond your startup years.

     

    Navigating the waters of the startup sea can be tricky for even the hardiest sailors. But time-tested strategies for marketing and advertising should give you a compass when the waters get choppy. Dive into the new digital age of content and friendly advertising and embrace your unique identity and its positive associations. Inspiration is a powerful motivator these days, so inspire yourself to step outside your comfort zone and make a difference for you and your exciting new company.

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  • How To Effectively Evaluate And Learn From Competition

    Monday, February 17, 2014 by
    How To Effectively Evaluate and Learn From Competition

    It’s not always easy to admit that our opponents are better than us, even if it’s glaringly obvious. Overcoming our pride and opening ourselves to a little learning can be a challenge, but doing so is essential to survival in a competitive marketplace. Being willing to set your pride aside, build a data-driven analysis of your competition, implement their strategy, and track your progress will ensure that your shortcomings are short lived.

     

    Be Humble

    Self-knowledge is a powerful tool, but confronting our shortcomings can be difficult for even the most confident among us. For many companies, the countless man-hours spent pouring effort into a marketing plan or content schedule can be hard to swallow if that time yields little in the way of results, but accepting your situation is the first step in understanding your competition.

    Begin by eschewing your ego for cool observation. Where do your analytics fall short? By how much? What are your goals? How far are you from meeting them? Lean on your analytics and refuse to sugar coat the hard truth, as doing so prevents meaningful introspection. Now look at your competition. What does their social media community look like? What kind of engagement do their blog posts see? How do their prices compare to yours? Once again, stick to hard numbers and do not color the truth in any way.

    This approach carries two advantages. First of all, it allows your company to evaluate its successes from an objective viewpoint, circumventing emotional roadblocks and the invariable detriment of pride. Second, it allows you to view things as they are, instead of as you wish them to be, creating a foundation for accurate and actionable insight.

     

    Ask

    Numbers aren’t the only source of objective insight when evaluating your competition. Current and previous customers can provide a bevy of information, provided your relationship with them enables this sort of interaction. Simply ask questions such as, “What do you like about our competitors?”, “What do you believe their strengths are?” and so forth. This adds a counter-balancing element to your assessment that also provides the necessary subjective interpretation that all business must contend with in order to find success.

     

    Observe

    With a humble demeanor and objective approach, it’s time to evaluate your competition the old fashioned way: research. Leverage the insights gleaned from your customers and target specific aspects of their operations, product, or marketing that demonstrate particular strength. Posit hypotheses to test against and then take notes and collect data in order to better understand what’s going on.

    Let’s take a fictitious example to illustrate the approach. Your company sees little to no audience interaction on its social media pages, while your competition has a bountiful following and a community of loyal users willing to shout their enthusiasm from the rooftops. You notice from a cursory viewing of their social media that video is heavily emphasized. You build the hypothesis that their video strategy is building engagement, collect data, noting that the number of comments on video posts are much higher than on their other social posts, and confirm your theory.

     

    Assess

    Once you have data in hand from a number of tested hypotheses, it’s time to determine what you’ve learned. Gather the data drawn from successful testing and adjust failed tests to fit the collected data until a direct correlation is discovered. Collect the resulting information and sit down to the metaphorical drawing board.

    What have you learned from your observational testing? What theories proved to be true? What differences exist between their operations and yours? How does their audience differ from yours? What else have you learned?

    Use the data you’ve collected to build a body of useful insights. Ensure that you’re asking the right questions by aiming for aspects of their execution that your business can emulate. Avoid dead-end queries such as, “Why don’t our customers use social media as much as theirs?” Instead, look at the hard information and draw conclusions about their approach and the results based on what’s available. Doing so will ensure that the discovery that occurs is data-driven and, therefore, actionable.

     

    Employ

    With a thorough understanding of your competition’s strategy, it’s time to implement what you’ve learned. Take the insights gleaned from the previous step and build action plans around what was discovered. Adjust product development, ad tone, content strategy, and market positioning in order to leverage your newfound knowledge in a way that’s uniquely useful to your firm.

    The key aspect of this implementation lies in understanding that no one approach is universally successful; that attempting to directly copy the strategies of competitors is a recipe for failure. Instead, evaluate what works for your competition on a strategic level and adapt it to your business’s individual circumstances. In doing so, you’ll harness the best that your rivals have to offer without compromising the character and integrity of your own.

     

    Evaluate

    With your strategy in place, the last step that remains is to evaluate the effectiveness of your new plan. Regularly measure crucial metrics and determine where improvements or changes could be made. Compare your own results with those of your competitors and, if your numbers fall short, consider what you may be doing wrong, what they may be doing better, and what about your disparate circumstances may be fueling the gap.

    It’s important to remember as your plan initially unfolds, that patience is paramount to objectively evaluating your results. With any change, there’s the potential for both drop-off in results as previously successful methods are altered, and over-adjustment to your method born of worry. Give your plan time to take shape, make adjustments once sufficient data is available to guide the change, and keep a level head at all times.

    Sometimes your greatest asset in a competitive market is the competition itself. With a cool head and an intelligent approach, your team can determine what makes your biggest rivals tick, distill their strategy, implement it in your own firm, and turn it into a competitive advantage. Acknowledge your strengths and your weaknesses, and your business will be stronger for the effort.

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  • The Best Sites To Visit For Web Design Inspiration

    Thursday, February 13, 2014 by
    The Best Sites To Visit For Web Design Inspiration

    There was a time, long ago, when a beautiful website was a crowning achievement for a company. These days, it’s become a necessity. For the uninitiated, however, sifting the wheat from the chaff can be a challenging task. Fortunately, the Internet has developed a robust community of websites dedicated to observing and celebrating the best of the best to the benefit of site designers, and you.

     

    Awwwards

    Beautiful web design is easy to recognize if you have the right eye for it. Fortunately for those who lack the instinct to assess the sites they visit, Awwwards has built a reputation on scoring and applauding the best that the web has to offer. Curated by design experts, the daily updated site offers scores on web designs, resources for aspiring designers, and the opportunity to submit your own site for appraisal and, if deemed worthy, recognition.

     

    Abduzeedo

    Brainchild of Brazillian designer Fabio Sasso, Abduzeedo’s legacy online is as long as it is prolific. The comprehensive design blog looks at design in its many forms and inspires a community of creatives through its constant posts and updates. Of particular note, the Sites of the Week column highlights the best in visual web design, interactive design, UX, and UI, giving hungry minds plenty of resources for their own projects.

     

    From Up North

    Another voluminous contributor to the creative community, Form Up North is virtually the resource for design inspiration. The site features daily updated content over a variety of design concepts, but its most useful resource to web designers is a veritable catalog of web design inspiration. Savvy users even demonstrate their mettle by re-designing already popular sites, giving a A/B comparison and demonstrating the importance of visual and UI design in the process.

     

    Google Plus

    Social media is, arguably, the richest source of inspiration on the web. However, what Google Plus offers that other sites do not is the ability to subscribe to a community of contributors, alleviating the need to discern worthwhile users for oneself. By subscribing to the Art & Design circle on Google’s social network, users are daily treated with a portfolio of inspired design of all kinds, web design included. This, coupled with the relatively low user base of Plus means less irrelevant discussion or inane status updates, and more time spent discussing what actually matters.

     

    Web Creme

    When all you need is inspiration, it’s hard to beat Web Creme. The simple interface and no-frills display of inspiring web design is akin to swatches at a paint store, allowing the mind to simply gaze and ponder without direction or influence. Each picture links directly to the website displayed, allowing curious browsers to investigate the design further and enjoy “hands-on” experience with exemplary works of high-quality design.

     

    Behance

    The socially connected portfolio for serious creatives is a gold mine for aspiring web designers. While it can take time to browse Behance’s impressive collection, those scouring the racks can be sure that what they’re seeing is of particularly high quality. The reason for this lies in the fact that creative professionals often view Behance as a serious portfolio and tool for discovery, compelling them to put their best foot forward and giving you a front row seat to some of the best in the business.

     

    The Webby Awards

    A Webby could, at one time, be considered something of a dubious honor. The awards had merit, but not based in any popular acceptance. Since the early days of the organization, however, The Webby Awards have blossomed into an arbiter of taste and design on the Internet. In addition to recognizing personalities and contributions to technology, the awards page offers a gallery view of some of the best practices in navigation, animation, photography, and interactivity.

     

    Webdesign Inspiration

    As heavy-handed as the title may be, Webdesign Inspiration is a no less valuable resource for, as the name implies, web design inspiration. The comprehensive catalog organizes sites by industry, layout, style, and type, allowing discerning designers to look for examples of high-quality work without wasting time. The site also highlights themes, books, and tips and offers free resources to visitors.

    Standing on the shoulders of giants is a potent strategy when doing design work, but finding these “giants” can be challenging in a young, saturated market. Take the guesswork out of your web design inspiration with the resources listed here, and develop your eye for web design to better your own work in the future.