In today’s crowded online retail marketplace, there’s no denying that SEO (search engine optimization) matters, and it’s critical for small businesses to stay informed about best practices. “The competition is fierce,” says Donna Duncan, owner of B-Seen on Top, an SEO and social media consultancy based in Philadelphia. “If you rank 1,247, nobody is going to tab down 140 pages to find you.”
So how can small business owners increase their online search ranking and drive traffic to their site? “All the traditional ways of getting people to link to content to bubble up to the top of search results aren’t working anymore,” says Duncan. “Google changes its rules daily.” Here are three ways to drive traffic to your site by pairing tried-and-true marketing strategies with creative content, and speaking directly to your customers’ needs:
Start With Your Small Business Goal
Even in a virtual economy, the fundamentals of marketing and business still apply. “You need to determine what your marketing goals are first, and then create content that meets those objectives,” says Jeff Bullas, blogger, author, strategist and speaker who works with companies and executives to optimize their online personal and company presence and brand with digital and social media marketing. “Want brand awareness? Then create creative, funny content that has the potential to go viral. Want to build your email list? Then you will want to offer a creative competition for the B2C (business to consumer) market. In the B2B (business to business) market you can offer a free ebook to grow that email list.”
Understand Your Customers
Next, make sure you know your customers so that they’ll be more likely to click on your site and better yet, visit multiple pages. “Research the target audience, know their habits and what they find important in life,” says Matthew Jonas, president of TopFire Media, a digital media firm in Homewood, Ill. that specializes in marketing solutions for franchise organizations. “Learn their needs and wants so that they can be properly reached through the SEO and media strategy. This will produce better quality content that will engage customers and improve rankings.”
Sell a Service, Not a Product
Once you know your customers wants and needs, speak to them directly. Small businesses may fail in successfully engaging customers online when they only try to sell products, not services. For example, says Jonas: “A dentist tries to sell dental care when he or she should be focused on what the customer is looking for -- pain relief. People go to the dentist for pain relief when they have a cavity, regular cleanings and checkups or when they experience a problem with their teeth. They are not going because they necessarily want to buy ‘dental care.’ The dental care is a bi-product of the service the dentist is providing.”
While it might be hard to market a service online if you’re selling antique lampshades, you can still craft tailored messages to reach your target audience. “Create custom solutions,” suggests Duncan. “Blog about the fact that you’re not just a lamp shop. Talk about how you’re an established business that has access to shade providers all over the country.”
Once you’ve got your online marketing strategy and messages ready, plan to ensure that you have a consistent voice and presence. “A company's website and media platforms should go hand in hand, providing information that feeds off of one another so that the company's messaging is clear,” says Jonas. “It is important to engage the consumer with unique content, using the same conversation points for both SEO and media to help reinforce a company's work and brand.”
The virtual world runs 24/7, so once you’ve got your customers interested, it’s important to keep the conversation going so that they’ll continue to visit your site. “Google and social networks hate silence,” warns Bullas. “Engagement online takes time to build, so be consistent and persist!”
Also, be careful not to just talk about yourself. “You need to create content that educates (helps solve problems), informs (news), entertains (like funny videos and images), and inspires your customers and prospects,” says Bullas.
Better yet, get your customers to do the talking for you. “A creative way to use the keywords for an integrated strategy is to encourage engagement without actually having to ‘ask’ for it,” says Jonas. “For example, creating a unique hashtag for people to interact with and respond to. This can track customer engagement and boost organic growth.”
SooJi Min is a freelance writer and nonprofit executive based in Ann Arbor, MI. She has written on small business topics for Crain’s, Imagination Publishing and The University of Chicago Booth School of Business.