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Small business digital marketing mistakes

Every small and local business owner that I have met is extremely busy working to manage their inventory, employees, product development, service, and keeping customers happy. Marketing and advertising is also important to them, but given the constraints on the time (and budget) it is often difficult for them to commit the time to it that is necessary to ensure that their store, brand, or service if visible to their target audience or the public in general.

So it's no surprise when it comes to the number of housekeeping, management and set-up items for digital marketing that many local and small business frequently miss or incorrectly manage their digital footprint.

In an effort to help provide a quick guide to some of the most important digital marketing mistakes that many new or small businesses make, here's a top 10 list of what we've found at MESMERO:

1. Missing or Unmanaged Google My Business Account

For any local business - and especially for those with one or more physical locations - Google My Business is absolutely essential to manage correctly and consistently. While most people outside the marketing realm may not have heard of "Google My Business" - for marketings this product from Google is foundational.

  • Here are some of the things that GMB allows you to control or manage or benefit from:

  • Control how your business appears in Google Maps.

  • Edit and manage images that appear alongside your business profile in Google Maps

  • Helps Google to validate your business and support organic search listings (i.e. supports SEO [does NOT replace other SEO efforts!])

2. Expensive Website Development

Having a web presence is more essential than ever Understandably, it's a daunting and (potentially) large investment of resources to set up. The good news is that its getting less and less costly to create a website, and their are now a number of web development platforms dedicate to supporting non-developers with creating an effective website (Wix and Squarespace being two fo the more well-known versions). Creating a website with Wix or Squarespace may be a good solution for a budget friendly option for business owners who have a little bit of time, interest and some skills with writing copy, layout out a web page, uplaoding images, etc... but if you need a little more help, or just can't stand the idea of designing a website (no matter how easy these new web platforms make it), there are ways to find web developers on sites like Fivr and Freelancer (and Wix experts) that might be able to get your website built for less than $1,000.

Of course, that depends on what your website is going to be used for! If you have inventory and products to sell, you may have to accept that it's lot more complicated than just designing pages. Again, there are cost efficient ways to do this using some of the options listed above. The point is, that you are not limited to an expensive, bespoke, solution because that's the only type of web development that you've seen locally. Look around online, figure out what your website really needs, and investigate alternatives.

3. Ads with Incorrect Frequency

I have heard a similar refrain from several local and small business owners that goes like this:

"I've tried using Facebook ads, but I just didn't see any responses".

When asked how much they spent on their Facebook ad, it's often less than $100 - sometimes a LOT less! The reality is that spending under $100 on an ad and expecting to get any significant results from it is not going to work 99.9% of the time.

Why? Because even if your ad is the funniest thing in the world, or has an amazing offer, it must be shown to the same person at least three times before they will cognitively react to what you are saying. Increasing how much you spend will certainly help increase the number of times that a person sees your ad (this is what we refer to as "frequency" in the media planning world), but you might also consider narrowing your reach. Remove the most unlikely potential customers from your target, and allow your limited budget to focus on just those customers that have the best chance of buying from you.

4. Ads with Incorrect Geographic Targeting

This is an error I don't see as often as I used to observe it two or three years ago, but I have seen local businesses (assumedly unknowingly!) target the entire United States for their services! One of the most important settings that must be carefully selected when setting up an ad on Facebook, Twitter, Google or any digital platform is the geography setting: Ensure you select you city, county, state or even most relevant zip code! Even if your target audience IS the entire United States, if your budget can't generate enough frequency with your target audience, narrowing it be geography is one of the best ways to get your frequency to acceptable levels.

5. Ads that are Irrelevant

The sibling of ad targeting is your ad messaging. In other words, if we have the right target audience ("WHO" will see our ad - e.g. the demographics, behaviors, geography, etc...) then it is vitally important to make sure that WHAT you are saying is relevant to them. How do you know if an is 'relevant'?

  • Forget who you are and what your business does.

  • Pretend you are any one of the persons that are in your target audience

  • Look at the ad you want to send to them

  • Ask yourself "Okay...why does this matter to me? How is this different than what others are saying? Why should I care? What's in it for me? Why would I remember this ad?

If you can honestly answer some or all of those questions, then your ad may be relevant, unique and memorable enough to be worth spending money to promote. If it doesn't successfully answer some or all of those, it might just be a good post to your social account or website blog, but isn't worth spending money on.

6. Website Missing Important SEO Elements

Yes we have to talk about SEO. If improving the visibility of your business in organic (non paid) search listings is important to you (and 'all of you' should be saying 'YES' to that!), then the world of SEO is something you're going to have to commit either money or time (or both) to understanding and applying.

There are literally a hundred things that your website should be doing to help improve your visibility to Google and other search engines, but here's a few of the top items that are frequently missed.

Note that even (especially?) when you hire a vendor to build your website for you, they don't always have the knowledge of your products, market, or business to create or add a lot of this (and many times will copy and paste some basic 'generic' title or description - or none at all - just to get your website up and running), so its important for you - as the EXPERT in YOUR business - to ensure that your website addresses some of these 'easy' issues:

  • Unique Page Titles - If your website has more than one page (and most do) ensure that each of your websites page titles is unique.

  • Short, Relevant Page Descriptions: In addition to having unique titles for each page, ensure that each of these pages also has a brief and unique description of what that page is about. These descriptions are what appear in the search results (note that these are in the meta content of your website - this is NOT what is visible on your page when it is visited, but what search engines like Google can 'see' via their crawling of your website).

  • Make Consistent Updates - If Google doesn't see you making updates or changes to your website (and your website has little traffic to it), you can assume that they might believe that your website is not important to show to people when they look for services like yours. Try to make small updates (blog posts? add photos? share reviews?) to let Google know you exist and are active!

  • Too Many Large File Sizes Images or Plug-Ins - Ensure that the images you upload to your website are reduced to 100kb or below. This may not be possible for some images that should be of good resolution and you want to prominently showcase on a page, but be careful: Too many large file size images will slowwwwwww your website loading speed down - and Google does not like that at all! Ensure that you NEVER upload a photo to your website direct from your camera or photos folder! You are likely adding a photo in the 1-3 MEGABYTE range! For the same reason, if you have a cool looking slideshow, video widget or other plug-in on your homepage it might be adding megabytes of data to your page! And the more megabytes, the slower your page will load. Google is now prioritizing sites that performing well on mobile devices, so designing a page that works well for users on a wired, broadband connection is going to hurt you.

7. Over-Dependence on One Social Platform

Social media is important for your digital marketing, but don't fall into the trap of only using one social platform (yes, I'm looking at all of you who only use Facebook or Instagram!). Not only does a focus on one or two social media platforms likely limit the reach and frequency of what you want to promote, but it also makes you overly dependent on how that platform treats your type of content, posts and businesses. In other words - they are not obligated to treating your business fairly, so like any good portfolio manager, you want to diversify your marketing efforts (both paid and unpaid). Evaluate and post content to other social platforms, and ensure you invest time on your own website and tools like Google My Business.

8. Limited or No Website Analytics

Have you heard of Google Analytics? Most people in marketing or running a business have. If you're not sure if your website has Google Analytics installed on it, then you probably need to spend time to get it added to your site, and understand how to use it and what it's for.

Google Analytics is another free Google service which provides valuable information about your website's traffic. Installing it on your website is relatively easy - you get a small piece of code which is then added to the code of your website. Once installed and working correctly, you'll be able to track what visitors do when they visit you, where they came from to find you, how much time they spend on your website, and what content they go to most. Sounds great, right? It is. Like many of the items on this list, there is a learning curve, but it is going to be an essential tool for you to understand your business.

9. Misaligned Ownership/Admin roles

An easy mistake that a busy small business owner can make, is to let a friend, family member, employee, or a vendor create the accounts that control your website, Google My Business account, Social Media accounts, YouTube channel, etc....

To save yourself and your business form potential years of unretrievable loss - Don't do this. If you are the owner, you need to control who has access and what rights to all of your digital assets. At times, you will need to delegate or add partners (employees, family members, outside firms or agencies) to assist you with marketing - and nearly every digital platform has the ability for you to add members or users (and select what they can do, as well as turn off their access when they no longer need to access your business pages).

This topic has been covered in an earlier, and lengthier format, on an earlier post: Is Your Website Being Held Hostage, if you are looking for ideas on how to control your digital destiny.

10. Over-Reliance on Paid Search / PPC

PPC, or Paid Search advertising, is one of the most powerful marketing tools that you will have at your disposal. But there are important reasons it should not be your only digital marketing investment.

From the point of view of a new, or small, local business, PPC will be useful (the effectiveness of this depends on a lot of factors - such as the keywords, landing page, goals, ad copy, etc...) but it may not be sufficient for a new or smaller business. The reason for this is that your search ads may likely be competing with more established companies also bidding on the same keywords. Typically, if someone has the option to choose between a known name versus one they don't know, they will choose the one they know. Yeah, this sucks for the new business.

There are other reasons not to invest only in PPC, but in this example we highlight the pros and cons of what PPC is - and what it can't do.

The only way to resolve this in the short term, is to develop a strategy to build your brand in the minds of people who may be your potential customers. That entails that 'branding stuff''. - that you thought you could avoid by relying on PPC alone - has to be on your marketing agenda. Is your name memorable? Does your company have a clear, identifiable logo or brand identify? Are people generally aware of what it is you do? If the average potential customer were asked to list all of the companies that they are aware of that offer the services you provide, where would your company appear in that list?

Unfortunately, for all of those questions, PPC is not the most efficient way to solve this. Conversely, the stronger you are positioned in regard to those questions, the more effective your PPC ads will perform.

Summary: As stated at the start of this post, these are just some of the most basic errors or oversights that a new business - and especially those that have a limited budget and cannot afford to outsource their marketing or web development - can easily and frequently overlook. Its not meant to be an exhaustive solution for each, but is meant to direct you to ask questions about your own digital marketing situation so that you can check, correct, or confirm that at least some of the above are adequately addressed.


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