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Why You Must Own Your Google Places Page

March 6th, 2011                                                       Comments: 0
Author: Robert Rogers

Okay, you can’t actually own your Google places page, but you can claim it and here’s why I feel you must.  According to research from WebVisible and Nielsen, 63% of consumers now turn to the Internet first for information about local companies and 82% use search engines to do so, and yet only 44% of small businesses have a website and half spend less than 10% of their marketing budget online.  Additionally, it appears that small business owners are somewhat behind the times when compared to their customers since only 41% report turning to online search engines first, while 31% still turn to yellow pages directories.  Despite this obvious disconnect, due to consumer demand the tide is slowly turning away from traditional and “push” advertising such as printed directories, newspapers, radio and direct mail to online advertising that successfully “pulls” consumers to local businesses at the exact moment they are searching for a particular product or service.  On top of this, the exploding use of net-connected and GPS-enabled mobile devices has only served to reinforce the wisdom of delivering your advertising when and where potential customers are spending their time online.

Local search and the market for local advertising is big and getting bigger.   According to market researcher Borrell Associates, the local portion of online advertising will grow 18% this year, to $15.9 billion, more than online advertising overall, which is forecast to grow 14%.  Recognizing this, Google made significant changes to their interface last October to capitalize on the growing demand for local searches.  You’ll now notice that they have given top priority on their results page to Google places listings (formerly known as Google maps) in response to a likely local-oriented search query.  When a potential customer searches for a local business the first seven or so results, referred to as the Google 7-pack, will now be displayed prominently at the top of the page after the sponsored links.  Another big change is that Google has moved the user location setting to the left hand side of the page.  This feature automatically detects your location based on IP address in order to deliver relevant, local search results.  It can be changed by the user if Google should happen to get it wrong or if the searcher is looking for a product or service in another location.

While paid search advertising, websites and website search engine optimization are all important, it is a fact that many small business owners don’t have the resources to develop their presence online.  What these changes by Google mean to you is that you can now claim your rightful spot at the top of the search results page when a consumer is looking for your business.  You can do it for free and you can do it in less than thirty minutes.  In fact, Google is going to display your results even if you do nothing.  Unfortunately, if you don’t claim your places page, it may contain inaccurate or dated information.  It may even have been set up by unauthorized or former employees.

Google’s focus on the local advertising marketplace is expected to intensify.  It’s widely known that Google moved Marissa Mayer, its high-profile VP-search products and user experience, to VP-consumer products, where her main job will be developing new geographic and local services.  Ms. Mayer was quoted in a recent article appearing in Advertising Age Digital stating “The core piece is really making the local business work.”

So if we accept the fact that consumers are searching for your business online, that the importance of local search advertising is increasing daily and that only four in ten of you have a website, it seems likely that these searchers may be discovering your competition instead of you.  Here’s one step in the right direction.  You must own your Google places page.  Well, again, you can’t own it because Google owns it, but you can claim it, you can manage it and in the process, it’s no small benefit that you can earn that highly coveted listing near the top of the search engine results page when potential customers are looking for you.  Still not convinced?  Just don’t have time or don’t think you can do it?  Request a free evaluation of your digital marketing strategy here and I’ll have one of my associates set up your Google places page free of charge or obligation.

Are You Smart Enough to Listen To Your Customers?

October 3rd, 2010                                                       Comments: 1
Author: Robert Rogers

Because, let me tell you, if you are, they have a lot to say. In fact, if you stop and think about it, they always have.  Word of mouth has always been around and your customers have always talked about you.  Anyone who has ever been successful in business or sold anything for a living understands the power of consumer’s opinions and the value of good relationships.  As part of our Social Media and Reputation Management practice, we are constantly listening in on social channels to monitor, digest and analyze “buzz” from John Q. Public.  In all its various forms; random comments and observations, compliments and complaints, tirades and testimonials, what your customers have to say about your brand and your people is out there just waiting to be discovered.

Many tend to think of Web 2.0, which incidentally, the originator of the worldwide web referred to as a meaningless “piece of jargon” in a 2006 interview, as a social media revolution when in fact, its inventor says the web was always intended for collaboration and we all know word of mouth has always been around.  So I believe it is more evolution than revolution.  The real game-changer is the quality of the user interfaces that have been developed, making it easier than ever before to connect with others, leading to a proliferation of user generated content.  The mass adoption of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, with people everywhere updating and tweeting about their experiences, blogging about everything imaginable has led to the ease with which we can now monitor, gain insights from, and take action based on what is being said about our companies.  When I think about where we spend our marketing dollars, I often wonder; what could be more valuable to a small business owner than the ability to be the fly on the virtual wall when your customers are talking about you?  And what could have a greater long-term impact on the health of your small business than your ability to influence and cultivate not just good relations, but brand evangelists, willing to broadcast their goodwill throughout their circle of influence and beyond.  Interestingly though, of all the services we include in our social media solution, the one that garners the least attention in the C-Suite is the one that may provide the greatest long-term return on investment.  And I thought ROI is what us “Chiefs” are all about!  Maybe it’s the effort involved to really listen and understand, perhaps change the way we do business, to constantly educate and train our employees, to really exceed expectations, to truly be excellent, that dissuades us.  Perhaps it’s too easy to pull the trigger on the predictable, measure the short term results and just roll on, patting ourselves on the back and leaving the heavy lifting for another day.

Think about this.  According to research by Kudzu.com 86% of consumers look at business reviews online before they make a purchase decision and 90% of consumers trust the reviews they read.  A recent Harris Interactive study reveals that “Not only are many Americans sharing updates about their life (43%), what they are currently doing (36%), and places they are going (31%), many are also revealing brand, product and company preferences. Specifically, about one-quarter are revealing their dissatisfaction with companies, brands or products (26%), talking about companies, brands or products they like (23%) or giving product reviews and recommendations (19%). In fact, one-third (34%) indicate they have used social media as an outlet to rant or rave about a company, brand or product.”  Another insight revealed is that “Nearly two in five online adults (38%) say they aim to influence others when expressing their preferences online and almost half (46%) feel they can be brutally honest on the Internet.”

So I’ll ask you again.  Are you smart enough to listen to your customers?

5 Reasons Email Marketing Is Like Pro Football

September 16th, 2010                                                       Comments: 0
Author: Robert Rogers

So, you ask, how could email marketing be anything like professional football?  Here are five common denominators.

1. Email Marketing has Official Rules

Just like football, email marketing is governed by rules.  Professional football is governed by the Official NFL Rulebook, which among other things defines the field of play, describes the footballs that are required for each game and illustrates the penalties that can be called for not following the rules.  Email marketing rules are governed by the CAN-SPAM Act, a law that defines commercial electronic messages, sets the rules for commercial email, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations.

2. Email Marketing has Strategy and Tactics

Every professional football team has a head coach, offensive and defensive coordinators and a playbook.  Every game and every opponent is different and in order to win, team leaders must have a successful strategy and players must execute that strategy by learning and mastering the plays in their playbook.  Successful email marketers understand that every campaign is different.  Team leaders employ strategies and tactics learned through trial and error and incorporated into best practices to plan their campaigns and team members must execute them successfully to achieve victory.

3. Email Marketing has Analytics

Professional football managers and coaches rely on the use of data and statistics to make decisions, both for evaluating a player’s performance and calling plays during a game.  One analytical measurement we’ve all heard of is the quarterback rating.  Based on complete passes, pass attempts, passing yards, touchdown passes, and interceptions, this metric helps determine the value of one of the most important players on the field.  Email marketers routinely use analytics and statistics such as deliverability, open rates and conversion rates to monitor and improve their campaign performance.

4. Email Marketing has Preparation and Practice

Football teams constantly prepare for success through physical and mental conditioning.  Throughout the season, they review past performances, relentlessly practice plays and run drills.  By understanding their opponents and the obstacles they are likely to face and working to overcome them, they tilt the odds in their favor.  A good email marketer will prepare her creative carefully and plan her deployment in detail.  Understanding that overwhelmed inboxes and aggressive filters stand between her and a successful email campaign, she is constantly reviewing results and working to improve her game.

5. Email Marketing has Touchdowns

Okay, maybe email marketers don’t exactly get to score touchdowns, but we do get to exchange high-fives and leaping chest-bumps and perform celebratory dances (well, some of us do) with our teammates when we execute a successful campaign, score a high open rate, achieve a ton of valuable conversions and win a big return on our investment.  We also honor our profession when we display a strong work ethic, follow the rules of the game, produce a quality product and deliver real value to our stakeholders.   What parallels do you see between professional football and email marketing?

Can Paid Search Really Deliver the Goods to Small Business Owners?

September 14th, 2010                                                       Comments: 0
Author: Robert Rogers

Sure, you know that everyone uses search engines, the phone books go straight into the recycling bin and Google has become a verb as we all just “google” it.  But can paid search really deliver qualified leads to your small business?  On your limited budget, in this tough economy, can you really earn a return on your marketing investment by allocating part of your budget to paid search?  Absolutely.  In fact, if you’re not using paid search to get your business in front of potential customers you may be missing the boat.

Did you know that over 90% of people begin their search for new products or services on search engines such as Google, Yahoo or Bing?  The ability to reach consumers where they are searching, at the exact moment they have a need for your particular product or service offering seems to be a no-brainer.  And yet, recent statistics suggest that 50% of small businesses do not allocate any budget dollars to paid search.

It seems many small businesses have started to figure this out. According to Forrester Research Inc.’s “The State of Retailing Online 2010: Marketing” report, paid search makes up the biggest portion of marketing budgets across all types of retailers. Apparel, accessories and footwear retailers allocate 42% of their total marketing budgets to paid search; beauty and personal care retailers allocate 43%; general merchandise retailers, 39%; home retailers, 34%; and sporting goods and accessories retailers, 44%.

At ProExel Media (in the interest of full disclosure, I am a part owner and company officer), many clients have experienced fairly dramatic increases in website, phone and store traffic and qualified lead conversions after shifting budget dollars away from traditional media such as television, print and radio (notoriously difficult mediums on which to measure ROI) to paid search where every impression, click and conversion can be measured and optimized.  One recent convert, an auto retailer in North Carolina saw unique visitors to their website triple and qualified leads increase by 41% after making a commitment to paid search marketing.  Isn’t it time for you to take a serious look at Search Engine Marketing?

5 Reasons Your Small Business Website Is Not Generating Enough Leads

September 14th, 2010                                                       Comments: 10
Author: Robert Rogers

Ever wish your website provided you with more qualified leads? Here are five reasons it may not be.

1. Poor layout.

Your website should be designed with easy navigation, a clear message and a quick call to action.  In this case, less is definitely more.  If it’s difficult for visitors to navigate your site, they will leave.  If they can’t find the information they’re looking for quickly or it isn’t clear what you are offering, why you are a good choice and how prospects can contact you they will end up on your competitor’s website.

2. Bad design.

If your website uses excessive flash, too many different colors, scrolling marquees or loud music it may be driving visitors away.  Flash looks cool and understandably, many website designers use it, but if your page loads slowly or we can’t view it on our mobile devices, we’re not sticking around.  If we’re already browsing your site, you don’t need to get our attention.  You need to inform us and motivate us to take action.

3. Not enough information.

Many small business owners have realized the need to have a website, but due to budget constraints or other priorities, ended up with a static, four or five page website that doesn’t provide anything beyond the basic information.  Lack of good content will not only prevent the search engines from finding your site, it will also fail to give your visitors the information they’re looking for or any compelling reason to come back.

4. No conversion optimization.

If your website is lacking a clear call to action you are not likely to generate sufficient leads.  Optimizing your website for conversions simply means that you are showing your visitors what’s in it for them and what action you would like them to take.  Give them a reason and a clear path to request more information, print that coupon, or download that e-book and you improve your chances that they will.

5. Failure to analyze and test.

Different markets, different industries, different results.  No one website template or design is going to perform the same for every business in every market.  Yes, there are best practices, a few of which I’ve written about here, but if you’re not trying different approaches, measuring the results and changing your tactics in response, you aren’t going to realize the high conversion rates you should be looking for.

These are just a few of the reasons your website may not be generating all the qualified leads that it could.  What do you think?  Do you agree?  What did I leave off of the list?