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Whether you’re a small business or a large corporation, you need to take advantage of every marketing opportunity that is available. Email marketing is one such opportunity, and for small businesses it is one that can be conducted on a level playing field. The only advantage that big business may have is in their ability to acquire email addresses. However, over time, and with some clever promotional work, you can acquire a fairly large database yourself.

So why should email marketing be one of your marketing cornerstones? Consider these reasons:

  • Email marketing is cost effective. Email marketing can cost as little as $20-$30 per month yet you can send newsletters weekly and/or updates daily (but don’t spam your customers). Compared to most forms of online marketing, email is one of the cheapest.
  • Email marketing is easily assessed for ROI. You can easily track email marketing to determine ROI. You can also track email marketing using different formats to determine which produces the best ROI.
  • Email marketing produces results. If you follow the double opt-in principle, then those are on your email list because they have some interest in your business, products, or services. This means they are more likely to buy than perfect strangers – and they do.
  • Email marketing is social. Readers can respond to your emails, ask questions, and even make suggestions. While this social affect isn’t as public, there are times when you can republish what they have said. A newsletter that is well written feels more friendly than a catalog pushing the latest specials.

Finally, email marketing is very effective at promoting your brand and building your reputation, especially if your newsletter is filled with helpful tips. Of course, use email marketing to flood your customers and it could have the opposite effect, but then, that isn’t effective Internet marketing.

Local search was the big winner to come out of 2010 and there is a general consensus that 2011 will be even bigger.  Growth in local search will no doubt be controlled to an extent by the uptake of mobile devices. If the uptake and use of these devices continues to climb, then there is no stopping the direction of local search.

For businesses serving a particular geographical region, optimizing their business for local search is a must. However, it doesn’t stop there. In fact, local search may prove, over time, to be one of the hardest areas of search engine optimization. Of course, Google may get a little smarter, but at present, their local search engine isn’t smart, and it’s quite easy to drop from the top of the search results to not appearing at all.

Data is the big issue and it’s an area that you will need to pay special attention to.  Business owners, especially new ones, spend time quickly listing their businesses where they can. Ask them tomorrow who they have listed their business with, and many will have forgotten the precise details. This becomes a problem down the track when the business changes name, address, telephone number, or direction.

Google is not currently able to associate different data with the one business. If it comes across a similar business name, but with different data, it assumes there are now two (or more businesses).  Effectively, links, reviews, and any other optimization strategies used are now divided between two (or more listings). The answer is simple enough in theory, perhaps not so simple in practice. You will need to ensure you use precisely the same data every time you create a business listing, directory listing, or social media profile. I also suggest you record every listing you make – you can then return at a later date and make any updates when necessary. Local search is important; don’t let stray data affect your position.

Although video marketing has become a very successful marketing channel, there are still those who have serious doubts about its benefits. Cost is one factor that is used as an excuse, often because there is a perception that there is a need for professional voices or actors. Videos are not television commercials – yet, at least – although users expect a similar quality.

If you pay a visit to YouTube and view many of the videos on offer, you will be surprised at how few actually feature humans. When they do, it’s often only the hands. While many videos do include voices, viewers are not expecting professional actors – your own voice will normally be the best.

For many business owners, that is where the real hurdle lies. They are apprehensive about appearing, either in person or just in voice, in their own marketing videos.  Most people are nervous about appearing on camera for the first time. There are many professionals who are nervous before appearing on camera, and they have done it for years. There are several things you can do to help yourself relax.

From a filming point of view, using the smallest camera and the smallest microphone possible can be a big help. If the camera and microphone are not obvious, then the person being filmed can totally relax. I recall a story that described how a professional crew were being frustrated by the nerves of their subject. Their solution was simple, they hid the camera and microphone, told their subject it was just another practice run through, then recorded their practice run. It was the best recording to come out of the filming session.

It’s hard to learn to relax, and it’s easy for others to say ‘forget the camera is there’. Really, if you are going to appear in your own promotional videos, that’s what you need to do – relax and act in a normal manner.

It’s amazing how a few words can trigger a train of thought a mile long. Seth Godin has a short piece on the art of juggling. So what does juggling have to do with reputation management? Plenty really. To quote from Seth’s blog:

Throwing is more important than catching. If you’re good at throwing, the catching takes care of itself. Emergency response is overrated compared to emergency avoidance.

Of course, it’s the last sentence that caught my eye (that’s his italics, not mine). You can apply the philosophy that response is overrated compared with avoidance to reputation management. Operating online with a policy of providing good products with a good service and you will develop a reputation for excellence.

However, what had me thinking was human nature. We do make mistakes, and they can sometimes be blown right out of proportion. Imagine a juggler that has been distracted for a moment – there’s a good chance they will drop the lot. And that can happen to reputations as well – take your eye off the game for a moment and suddenly your name is mud.

Unlike a juggler, you can protect yourself to a certain degree. By building a strong reputation early, it becomes harder to undo. Those that believe in you and your products will doubt any negatives until they can prove for themselves that what is being said is true. What is important in the reputation management process is to build a strong reputation in all the places you operate in.

This includes search results, social media, and your own websites. If you can develop that reputation from day one, you will lessen the chance of any stray incident or a disgruntled employee (or customer) starting a negative campaign against you. In simple terms – reputation management starts with your activities. Like a juggler, it takes constant concentration to ensure your business is doing everything possible to build and support your reputation.

One of the biggest trends in recent years has been the adoption of online technology by offline professionals. Real estate, law, medicine, insurance, and education have really grasped the benefits of an online presence and they are using that presence to very good effect. The focus over the last eighteen months on local search by the search engines has taken their presence to a new level.

Internet users are increasingly looking to the Internet to provide information on offline services in their area.  Professional services have a rather unique standing online today, because users are not only looking for a professional to perform some role in their lives; they are also looking for in-depth information related to specific services.

A good example is the legal profession. If someone is contemplating bankruptcy, for example, they will research as much as possible about this subject before deciding to proceed. Once that decision is made, they will then look for a professional in their area to complete the process. So rather than simply obtaining the details of a local professional, users are also looking for detailed information on their services.

The lesson for professionals is very clear – a single page with your business details won’t cut it. A user may well arrive on your site and see these details, but in many cases, that is not what they are looking for. An online presence for professionals must include facts and details related to the range of services you provide. They need to be written in plain English, and be written in a style that is easy to understand.

For professionals developing an online presence, your online marketing starts with the quality of your content and the ease with which it is found while being supported with details about how you can help the user. Do it well and the user will stay on your site, probably bookmark it for a return visit, then call upon your services to complete the task.

If you’re a professional looking to develop and online presence, then talk to another group of professionals who have a clear track record in helping others develop an online presence.  We can help you develop a quality website, claim your business through local search, develop content related to your profession, then complete the process with a quality Internet marketing campaign. Our aim is to make you the authority in your profession for your region.

Despite popular opinion, search engine marketing is not purely about paid search. Rather, it is marketing through the search engines using both paid and organic search. One of the difficulties with organic search is determining your return on investment (ROI). That doesn’t mean it should be ignored.

Where businesses need to focus, especially new businesses, is on the balance between investing in paid and organic search. It is easy to determine the ROI when it comes to paid search. For this reason, you can target hundreds, sometimes thousands, of keywords. This, together with targeting features, means you can advertise your business to a much wider market.

Organic search can be slow. However, that can work in a new business’s favor. While paid search brings in the bulk of a website’s traffic, organic search can slowly build in the background, especially if you only target a precise set of keywords. As your organic traffic grows, you can start to diversify your keyword list; in the meantime, paid search is still delivering traffic. The overall effect is a slow but steady growth in the business.

A mistake that many new businesses make is to throw 70% or more of their marketing budget at organic search and leave the crumbs for paid search, social media marketing, and perhaps other forms of advertising such as banners. Often, the balance should be reversed with paid search receiving the bulk of your marketing budget while organic search is left to slowly develop.

Every niche is different, of course, and some niches respond well to social media marketing rather than search. A little research and a lot of testing is the best approach. With search engine marketing, achieving a good balance between your paid and organic efforts can result in a profitable business from day one – and a business that will continue to grow over time.

We spend a lot of time talking about how to increase traffic to your website, but unless you convert that traffic into customers your efforts are often wasted. I know there are some sites that want traffic purely as online branding and promotional use, but many websites exist because of the business they do through the Internet. It’s your website that converts traffic into customers and it can take a lot of research and trial and error to gain the best conversion rates.

Online business owners can learn a lot from their offline counterparts. One feature of many offline businesses is the concentration on efforts to not win walk-in traffic, but to do everything possible to keep that traffic in the store for as long as possible. Every parent knows about the final marketing trick, the offers made at the point of sale – often targeting children. I notice some supermarkets now advertise checkouts that are ‘child friendly’, that doesn’t mean they don’t have point-of-sale marketing material.

Your website needs to follow the same principles. Once a visitor arrives on your website, you need to keep them for as long as possible. The use of video is popular now for catching people’s attention and increasing their desire for your goods or services. Video production now needs to be a little more sophisticated than in the past, but then, a professionally produced video is likely to have more selling power than a home-produced video.

Content is a website’s prime tool in keeping visitors on their site. However, content on its own is useless if visitors cannot find it. This brings into play your internal link structure, the placement of those links, and the anchor text used to promote those links. This is one area where trialing different placements and different anchor text can result in improved click-through rates.

A professionally designed website that makes use of modern features like video, infographics, and well-written content can work together to keep visitors on your website for longer periods. The longer they stay on your website, the more likely they are to become a customer. When it comes to point of sale offers, don’t be afraid to ask for email details for newsletters.  Is your website helping you to convert visitors to customers?

2010 will go down in history for a number of reasons and one that stands out for many online marketers is the dethroning of Google by Facebook. Almost 9% of all US traffic visits Facebook. That’s a lot of traffic in one place and you would think a blessing for online marketers. No one would blame you for seriously considering Facebook’s advertising feature as well. Surely you could gain a decent stream of traffic to your web site?

If there is one disappointment related to Facebook, then it would have to be its advertising. They don’t appear to have got it right just yet, and while pay per click is cost free if there are no clicks, there are other certain aspects that concern me. Facebook is not alone – to date, social media has not been a great place to advertise. Let’s face it, most people visit sites like Facebook because they want to socialize, not view advertisements.

So where is Facebook failing? There are a number of areas that Facebook need to work at. The first, and perhaps most important, is that you cannot truly target your ads. In fact, you are limited to profile information such as location, age, and interests. It would be nice if advertisements could be targeted based on content – this would make them more relevant to the user, and more likely to receive a click.

One area that has concerned me for a while, to the point of annoying me, is that ads are repeated, especially if you click on one of them. I do click on ads when doing research, or if curiosity gets me. I notice those ads appear far more frequently than most others. In my mind, this is one way to really annoy users, especially if they have clicked through and become a customer. The last thing they want to see is the same ad appearing day after day.

When it comes to advertising, Facebook is still learning, still fine tuning, and still trying to find a ‘fit’ that will work with their users and advertisers alike. Until they do get it right, by all means do your research, but be well aware of its limitations as a pay per click option.

With all the talk about social media marketing being the new king of traffic delivery, you would think it was the only method. In the cold hard light of day, most businesses still rely on search traffic, and they will for years to come. Social media marketing and search engine optimization complement each other, they certainly don’t work against each other.

There is an easy way to look as this issue – why chase only half the traffic when you can gain traffic from both channels?  The number of people using search engines to find information is still growing, even if it is only slowly. More importantly, when you look at the volume of search undertaken each day, if you were to receive .001% of that traffic, it would most likely crash your servers – that’s a lot of traffic and a lot of search queries being run.

So, why is SEO still important? Search engines are still supplying traffic for free. The only cost to you is the time effort that you or a consultant put into optimizing your pages to rank as highly as possible in those search results. Do it well and your web site will receive significant traffic from the search results.

In many cases, SEO serves one further purpose, a purpose that many don’t consider. A good SEO program will ensure that your web site is put together in a very slick, tidy and well-managed fashion. Whether your traffic is coming from the search engines or social media, that tidy and slick web site will gain instant approval from visitors. Without the housekeeping that SEO demands, web sites would run out of control, will start to look untidy, and will most likely frustrate users who can’t find what they are looking for.

Search engine optimization helps your web pages to rank highly in search results. It also helps you to stay in control of your web site. Both are important if you want to be successful.

If 2011 is like any other year there will be fads that come and go, perhaps even some that come and stay. What has been evident over the years is that some have proven to be good while others have proven to not only be bad, but to run the risk of getting your website removed from the search index. If you’re good at picking the winners and losers, then you don’t need to read on. If you want to protect your reputation, then the best piece of advice to offer is to be cautious.

The problem with fads is that they come and go. Some fads hang around, but they can still be dangerous. Some of the more notable include automatic software – the type that seeks out blogs to leave robotic comments; spins a document and then lodges it with hundreds of directories; and the type that automatically bookmarks pages in social bookmarking sites.

If automatic isn’t enough, there are still a lot of individuals offering to do the same by hand. Oh yes, they ‘hand pick’ the directories, social sites, and blogs – but ultimately, it’s still spam.

This past year we have seen groups touting local search as a ‘clever’ way to game the search results. Claiming a listing in many locations around the US, even though you’re sitting at home in the UK, or Australia, or wherever. Google will soon find a way to filter those tactics, then hit those websites that games the system right out of the ball park.

2011 will see new creative ways to get to the top of the search results. If they sound a little fishy, then they probably are. If you have spent a lot of hours building your business, and building your business’s reputation, then forget any of the fads as they come around – use a little caution to see if they are valid, and acceptable by the Internet at large.