3 Workable Social Media Strategies for Your Small Business

There are a lot of things for small business owners to love about social media marketing. It’s largely free, can help you reach a huge audience of potential clients and customers, and can actually be lots of fun if you’re doing it correctly.

Social media marketing has its downsides, though: for one thing, social media can be a huge waste of time when you’re busy with other tasks. Plus, there are so many social platforms to stay on top of… with new ones showing up all the time. 

With all of that in mind, it’s easy to understand why some business owners feel too overwhelmed to even attempt to put a social media marketing strategy together. In today’s post, we want to remind you that getting social media marketing right doesn’t have to be in all-or-nothing proposition. In fact, we have three workable strategies you might consider in order to give your growing company an extra boost.

Strategy 1: Do a One-Time Setup so Customers Can Find You

The first step towards finding success with social media marketing is just having a presence on the right platforms. Your prospects and customers should be able to find your company (not just your personal profile) on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, at a minimum. You should also have a presence on the major review sites for your area or industry.

The point is to ensure that people who are interested in working with you can find you on their favorite social channels. That makes it easier for them to learn about your business, contact you, or leave a review. It also reduces the possibility that they’ll contact a competitor whom they mistake for your business. Why give some other business owner a sale or review that was meant for you?

Strategy 2: Schedule Weekly Posts and Boost Your Content

Thinking a little bit bigger? You should still set up your social profiles, complete with business descriptions, contact information, and custom photos, logos, and usernames. You could go further by scheduling intermittent content updates. You might even consider charging a few dollars for each post that you put online.

The goal of this strategy isn’t to dominate your industry or area on social media, but to make sure that you stay on the top of your customers’ minds. If they hear from you once every week or two, they’ll be reminded of all the great things that you can do for them. Based on how informative or entertaining your content is, they might even share some of your posts with their own friends and contacts.

Strategy 3: Own the Social Space with Consistency and Creativity

The third strategy is even bigger. It involves regular (or even perhaps daily) posting of content, complete with boosts, hashtags, and messaging strategies. The key here is that you aren’t just posting a lot of content, but you are being creative and building a brand. It ensures that fans and followers will engage with your posts, helping you to gain a bigger viewership over time.

The difficulty with this strategy, of course, is that takes time, money, and attention. That’s why most small business owners don’t start here. In truth, many never even get to this point. If you are managing your social strategy well, you might start with the first strategy, move onto the second and eventually even the third. Once that happens, you are dominating the social space, and it can make a significant impact on your sales from one quarter to the next.

Are Your Search and Social Strategies Generating Results?

Lots of creative firms like to focus on the technical details of things like search engine optimization and social media marketing. We are familiar with these tools too, but we prefer actionable plans and real results. After all, if you aren’t getting new business from your content, then what’s the point?

5 Low-Cost Ways to Start Planning for a Healthier Economy in 2021

Ecommerce retailers are hard at work trying to make the most of what is certain to be a busy and unique holiday shopping season. But what if your business isn’t dependent on seasonal transactions? Or, what if your company is in a holding pattern due to current economic conditions? How can you prepare for the coming recovery and turnaround?

Believe it or not, this can be a great time for business owners and executives who aren’t currently bringing in as much revenue as they might like. We know that for the short term it is painful, but we’ve also been working with some of our clients to prepare for brighter times ahead. 

Contrary to what a lot of businesspeople think, finding success online isn’t just about spending all of your time and money on internet marketing. Instead, it’s largely a matter of planting small seeds (through consistent effort) and watching them grow over time. It’s the men and women who can think aheadespecially when times are tough—who come out on top.

If history is any guide, a stronger economy is right around the corner. Let’s look at what you can do for little or no expense today to prepare for a healthier market in 2021 and beyond…

1. Tighten Up Your SEO Efforts

A lot of marketers will tell you that they’ve “always meant” to take search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing seriously, but never really had the time. Well, if 2020 has given us anything, it’s a bit of extra space on our schedules. If you aren’t being overwhelmed in other parts of your business, this might be your chance to finally catch up.

This is a great occasion to examine your search strategy. Are you targeting the right terms, keywords, and buyer personas? Is the content you are producing engaging to customers? Have you been getting lots of search traffic, or are you constantly falling behind your competitors?

It doesn’t take a lot of hours to generate an editorial calendar, post some new material to your blog, or have your website audited. Any of these activities can help set you up for bigger success next year. 

2. Develop an Organic Social Media Following

As with search engine optimization, social media marketing is one of those disciplines where business owners and executives are constantly looking for shortcuts and quick fixes. Everyone wants to have tens of thousands of qualified buyers following them on Facebook and Twitter, but you can’t buy that kind of engagement or get it by tweeting the occasional picture of your dog. 

Social media marketing takes a bit of effort and activity, but that’s why this is the perfect time to start taking it seriously. Optimize your profiles, update your contact information, and get familiar with tools that let you schedule your content in advance. Do all of that now, and you’ll have an easier time keeping up with your social activity in just a few minutes a day.

Building an organic social user following is like running a marathon, it takes time. If you get started now while things are slow, you’ll build the kind of following that pays off when the economy is turning around.

3. Follow a Smarter Email Marketing Strategy

You can use email to spread news to your subscribers, generate instant purchases, and stay on the top of buyers’ minds… all while bypassing your competitors. Or, you can annoy the people on your list and waste everyone’s time without generating any revenue.

Most marketers fail at using email lists effectively for a number of reasons. They stop attracting fresh subscriptions, fail to format their emails correctly for easy loading and mobile compatibility, don’t send relevant info, and mismanage their sending schedules. Even if you’ve made these mistakes in the past, you don’t have to keep repeating them now.

Take advantage of the lull in your business to start segmenting your email lists and develop a schedule that you’ll be able to stick to for the next year. Think about how you can grow your subscriber list and turn it into a source of new leads and sales. It might take a bit of work and planning, but this is an activity that will pay off in a big way later.

4. Improve Your Online Reputation

Improving your online reputation is the business equivalent of getting more sleep. It might not seem crucial until you realize it affects everything else you do throughout the course of a month or year.

When potential buyers hear about your business, they will almost invariably look you up online before setting an appointment or making a purchase. You want them to find positive reviews, powerful testimonials, and stories of the good experiences other customers have had with your company. What you don’t want them to see are complaints, unaddressed issues, or even fake pieces of feedback posted by your competitors.

To establish a strong online reputation, and be able to monitor it, is one of the fastest and most affordable ways to boost your marketing campaigns. This is the perfect time to start looking at what’s been posted about your business on the internet.

5. Get to Know Your Web Analytics

Ultimately, web analytics will tell you almost everything you need to know about the current state of your business and where it’s headed in the future. With the right perspective, you can see where new customers are coming from, what they like, and why they choose to do business with you instead of a competitor.

Of course, if you’ve never installed web analytics on your site, then you are in the dark when it comes to these insights. Even though there are plenty of free options out there, we regularly meet with business owners and executives who have no idea what their numbers look like, or which direction they are headed in. We don’t want you to make the same mistake.

It won’t cost you anything to get good analytics data for your website, and it only takes a little bit of time to start generating custom reports that can give you a lot of important details. Don’t let your business stop growing simply because you haven’t seen the numbers being generated by user visits.

Want to Put Your Business in Position to Fly Next Year?

For a lot of business owners and executives, 2020 has been a difficult year. However, these tough times have given them an opportunity to regroup and be more profitable in the future. If you want to be one of the entrepreneurs who comes out stronger for the experience of the last few months, this is your chance to start planning and preparing.

7 Ways to Deal with Online Competitors and Their Dirty Tricks

In most business books and classes, competitors are treated like an abstract concept. They are in the background, like gravity, but don’t really affect you except as a thought exercise. In that context, the way to deal with them is simple: just do what you do better than anyone else and let customers figure out that you offer more value on their own.

As most of us know, the real world doesn’t really work like that. You do have to concentrate on your own business, but your competitors are anything but abstract. They are people just like you. In fact, in some cases they are petty, unethical, and downright dishonest.

That brings us to a question that’s rarely ever addressed directly enough: how do you deal with the dirty tricks they play? What should you do to fight back when they try to run ads using your brand names, put up websites that look like your own, or try to copy your products? What are your options when they post fake online reviews, try to steal your content, or market their products or services with lies?

In today’s post we are going to give you the answers. But first, a quick warning: don’t try to fight bad behavior with more bad behavior. While it might not always seem like it, those who perpetrate online lies and scams usually get caught. And once they do, they can face severe consequences, ranging from legal challenges to blacklists from search engines and social platforms. Your competitor might be willing to risk the future of their business, but that doesn’t mean you should put yours in jeopardy.

With that little bit of fine print out of the way, let’s look at seven ways you can deal with dishonest online competitors and their dirty tricks…

1. Run Defensive PPC Ads

Suppose you have industry-leading products and services, or just draw a lot of traffic to your website. Your competitors might take an approach that could be summed up as “if you can’t be them, imitate them.” That usually involves running search and social ads based on branded terms or product names that are normally associated with your company. In other words, they try to steal web traffic that’s meant for your website.

An easy way around this is to simply run your own ads for the same terms or branded search phrases. You might not prefer to spend money on search traffic that was meant for you anyway, and that’s understandable. However, you’ll end up getting most of those visits at a very low price (usually pennies per click). And in the process, you’ll deprive your competitor of that web traffic while also driving up their pay-per-click budget at the same time.

2. Lock Up the Right Domains

A similar tactic some dishonest competitors will use is to direct searchers towards a website that looks like it’s owned by your company. Usually they’ll be savvy enough to employ a variation that’s just different enough from yours to avoid any legal liability. Again, the goal is to siphon traffic away from your website and towards their copycat pages.

If you have a very popular company, it’s worth taking the time to snap up a handful of related domains. As with running ads on your own branded search terms, this can be annoying but it’s ultimately going to be inexpensive.

Not sure which domains you should reserve to play defense against your competitors? Get together with your web design team to evaluate search in traffic patterns, along with your most important keywords or brand names. Then you can come up with a list of the most obvious targets and lock them up before your competitors can.

3. Monitor Your Online Reviews

One particularly nasty tactic some desperate competitors will use involves hiring people to post negative reviews of your business. The theory in this case is that if they can’t beat you on price, service, or value, they can at least make you look worse in the eyes of potential customers who might not know better.

This is an area where a little preparation goes a long way. For a few dollars a month you can have your web development team deploy reputation management software that will keep you informed any time someone leaves feedback about your business. If lots of false and negative reviews show up at once, you’ll be alerted before they can do any damage, and as an added bonus you can use the same tools to improve your reputation online with legitimate reviews, boosting your sales in the process.

4. Protect Your Content

There are lots of scams related to web content, but a competitor who is jealous of your success may simply use it as their own. Unfortunately, this is something that’s common enough for us to have seen dozens of times.

Protecting yourself from this kind of theft is pretty simple. There are software tools (like Copyscape) that will scour the web and let you know if someone has posted your copy-written material. If you find that has happened, you can contact the company hosting the offending website and have them remove the pages right away. Google and the other search engines will also take action against blatant content duplication or scraping. However, you have to monitor the web and be aware of the problem before you can do anything about it.

5. Post Comparison Product Reviews

Sometimes, the problem with competitors is that they try to pass their products or services off as better, using false or misleading information. If you come across minor exaggerations, you might not care enough to address them. If you feel like they’ve shared something inaccurate that’s going to hurt sales, though, you might decide to take the issue head-on.

The easiest way to do that is to simply post a side-by-side comparison video or product review. Just put what you have to offer up against the competition and point out the differences in a clear and accurate way. This type of content tends to attract plenty of views and can be easy for buyers to understand. 

Just be sure that you are sharing your facts, comparisons, and assessments. Being untruthful or overboard doesn’t help you. In fact, it just makes it harder for customers to separate you from others who are being unethical with their marketing.

6. Get Customers to Tell the Story

Even if you are completely honest and straightforward in your marketing, it can be hard to get buyers to pay attention. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem: because your competitors lie, it’s difficult for buyers to trust you. And because they don’t trust you, they can’t see the value in what you are offering.

To get around this stumbling block, you just have to let your satisfied customers do the talking for you. People might not believe marketers, but they do believe impartial reviewers who look and act like themselves. So, if you have testimonials from customers who faced the same problems that the rest of your target market is dealing with, get them to share their experiences.

The caveat here is to make sure your reviewers are uncompensated, specific about the benefits they received, and are easy to verify. Do that, and their kind words will do more to boost your sales than any kind of marketing content ever could.

7. Just Keep Leading the Pack

You knew this piece of advice was coming, didn’t you? As frustrating as it might be, the best way to deal with an unethical competitor is usually to ignore them and do your own thing. They might be getting under your skin, but they probably aren’t making a very big dent in your bottom line.

Think about it this way: when someone tries to imitate your products, your content, or some other aspect of your messaging, they are basically admitting that your business is better than theirs. They’re pointing out that you have the real thing and they are a pretender.

Naturally, we don’t want you to ignore serious copyright violations or let a competitor steal money from your pocket. When in doubt, though, your best bet is to work on your own business, continue racking up those positive reviews, and watch your reputation (and profitability) just keep growing.

Are You Getting the Right Kind of Online Marketing Advice?

Having the right information and strategy has always been key to finding customersand surpassing your competitors—on the internet. Now, with the changes and disruptions we are facing in 2020, it’s more important than ever to have a winning plan.

How to Prepare Your Ecommerce Site for an Unusual 2020 Holiday Shopping Season

In a normal year, this would be the point on the calendar where we would be speaking to our clients about changes, additions, and improvements to their online stores. After all, nearly half of all ecommerce sales are made through the holiday season.

Of course, this is anything but a normal year, and as a consequence, many business owners are scrambling for answers and directions.

If you’re like most of the people we talk to, you’re wondering whether you should be playing offense or defense. You’re looking to save money due to an uncertain economy and take advantage of the marketing opportunities that are just around the corner. How can you walk this tightrope and make smart decisions for 2020?

To help you maximize your profitability this Fall, here are seven tips we think you should follow…

1. Pay Attention to Your Website Audit

Typically, we would begin helping our clients to prepare for the holiday shopping season by auditing their existing website and online store. This involves taking a deep dive into their HTML to look for coding errors, security vulnerabilities, search engine visibility, and technical issues like broken links.

That’s an important starting point in any environment, but especially in the economy we are currently facing. You can’t afford to let simple unseen errors affect your ability to attract customers or engage with them. So, order a website audit today and take the time to go over the results with your web design partner.

2. Upgrade Your Shopping Cart for Upsells

The prevailing wisdom in the world of ecommerce is that customers might be a little more jittery than usual this fall. That means you have to maximize the value of every visit and sale. One good way to do that is by generating upsell opportunities with special offers that appear at the time of checkout.

These kinds of last-minute add-ons and combinations are easy for buyers to say yes to, but they require more than an entry-level shopping cart solution. Why not look at the tools installed in your online store and see if a few simple improvements could help you double your sales volume in the coming months?

3. Develop a Smart PPC Strategy

Should you be increasing your pay-per-click advertising (PPC) budget to attract more buyers in a choppy economy, or pulling back to save money? The best answer might be “both.”

Look into the history of your PPC campaigns to see if there are clear trends. You certainly don’t want to pull back on your profitable ads, particularly if they are still working in 2020. At the same time, though, you may consider cutting off marginal or speculative ads for a while. In other words, focus on your winners and cut off any ads that aren’t performing for the next few months.

4. Lean into Retargeting Ads

Although we’ve already mentioned PPC strategies, retargeting ads deserves special mention. Since maximizing value per customer (VPC) is likely to be your top priority for the 2020 shopping season, you want to convert as many high-dollar sales as possible. That means giving buyers second and third chances with retargeting.

You don’t want to go crazy and blow through your marketing budget, of course, but consider throwing additional dollars at potential buyers who are looking into your most profitable products. You may be able to turn more of those exposures into sales and lower your ad costs, particularly if you follow the advice given in the last tip.

5. Use Targeted Content to Your Advantage

It’s easy to forget that free content is often more effective than ads when it comes to drawing in traffic and generating conversions. That’s especially true when you plan ahead.

In recent years, our clients have done particularly well by publishing buying guides, online video demonstrations, and customer testimonials. These all reassure visitors that they are making good decisions and will be happy with their purchases. In other words, they reduce the sense of fear that so many customers feel when it comes to checking out, particularly if they aren’t familiar with your products. Why not use these pieces of content to make your store more profitable this Fall?

6. Build Adaptability into Your Online Marketing Plan

No one can really say with any certainty what the next few months will be like. The best any of us can do is to make good plans, search for opportunities to get ahead, and then stay adaptable.

There are a lot of ways you can be flexible with your holiday season ecommerce strategy. You can build two or three sets of promotions and then let week-two-week analytics guide your strategy. You could prepare various ads, landing pages, and email blasts for different scenarios. You could even activate or hide certain parts of your online store, changing prices and promotions on the fly. The more uncertain you feel about the Fall season, the more contingency plans you should have in place.

7. Start Planning Today

It’s possible that our most important piece of advice is to simply get started on your Fall strategy today if you haven’t already. We advise our clients and readers to get an early jump on ecommerce preparations every year, but in 2020 it’s even more crucial.

Savvy business owners and executives are already following the advice we’ve laid out in this article, knowing that they may have to adjust their plans and ideas as they go. That’s going to be almost impossible if you wait until the last minute. It’s much better to spend a few hours putting together an email, social, or ad campaign that you won’t need than it is to find yourself scrambling to create one when you’re desperate to generate online sales.

Need Expert Help with Your Ecommerce Strategy?

It’s never easy to make good online marketing decisions on your own, and the current economic environment hasn’t helped anything. Fortunately, you don’t have to be an expert in web design, search engine optimization, or pay-per-click advertising to maximize the sales from your ecommerce site. You just have to have a team of experts who are willing to learn about your business and give you the right advice.

How Closely Should You Copy a Competitor’s Website?

Judging by the phone calls and in-person meetings we sit through, there is a certain level of ice cold dread that comes with finding out a close competitor has launched a new website. It’s not hard to understand why. Who would enjoy the thought of another company having a powerful tool to steal their customers?

Because things like income and prestige are squarely on the line, many business owners and executives will want to take immediate action when a competitor steps up to the plate. Specifically, they’ll inquire about copying certain parts of another website they have seen and liked. But is this a good idea?

Before we answer this question, let us point out that you’re always going to have competitors and it’s easy to over-react. When you see something new or interesting in your industry, try to look at it the way a customer would. Is the other company doing something valuable, or just vaguely interesting?

Once you have that mindset in place, you’re ready to come back to the original question: how closely should you copy a competitor’s website? To help you find the right answer, let’s go through a quick series of ideas…

Figure Out What You Like

Often, when a business owner tells us they “really liked” a competitor’s website, it turns out they actually appreciate a single feature or design point. This is important because you shouldn’t go and duplicate big parts of a strategy when you are actually enamored with a small part of it. It can be difficult to separate the various elements when you’re first looking at them, so break the website down into pieces and try to identify specific traits that you find engaging.

Separate Features from Gimmicks

Remember, the goal is to think like a customer. Often, the things we see on competitors’ websites seem fascinating to us as marketers but deliver very little in terms of payoff for customers. It’s important to be able to separate what is shiny from what is useful. Otherwise you could end up adding things to your website that get in the way of your success rather than adding to it.

Find Out What’s Feasible and Profitable

Suppose you determine there are elements of your competitor’s website that you really are fond of, and feel like your best customers would be impressed with. The next step is to find out whether you can add them to your own site legally, feasibly, and profitably. You certainly can’t copy word for word, but you might be able to add your own version of an app or a downloadable report. Talk to your web design team and figure out what makes sense in the context of your existing site or a redesigned page.

Put Your Own Spin and Improvement on the Idea

Rather than just copying something your competitors have done, why not take the next stepone most business owners and executives missand see if you can improve on the idea? Look for ways to put the unique spend on what your competitors have done or make it more engaging and valuable. Often this kind of brainstorming leads to groundbreaking innovations.

Get More Proactive about Web Design

Finally, regardless of whether you institute some version of your competitor’s idea or not, don’t settle for simply following their lead. Sit down with your web design team and internal staff and see if there are more ideas you can come up with that go beyond what is currently available in the market. Look for ways to give extra value to your customer base. The more often you do this the easier it will become to have the competition following you instead of needing to worry about catching up to them.

Ready to Start Leading the Pack in Your Market?

Far too many business owners feel as if they are simply following the herd online rather than leading the pack. If you want to have a website that gets your competitors worried about what they should be doinginstead of the other way aroundthen it’s time to get serious about thinking outside the box.

Are You Missing These Two Covid Economy Opportunities?

Unless you operate in an unusual industry, there’s a good chance your business has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic in a sudden and severe way. You may even be so focused on the arrival of one emergency after another that it can feel impossible to consider the strategic or longer-term implications.

Once you get past the panic, though, you find that crisis and opportunity are intertwined. While none of us would have wanted this kind of disruption to our lives, we can use the change in routine to get better.

Wondering how that might be possible? Let’s look at two Covid economy opportunities that are too good to pass up…

Opportunity #1: Use This Time to Increase Your Knowledge and Get Sharper

There are some businesses (like medical supply, for example, or pizza delivery) that are busier than ever right now. For most, though, the combination of a sudden recession and statewide stay-at-home orders has meant lots of time that used to be spent serving customers or dealing with day-to-day operations.

If you spend enough time online, you have undoubtedly seen that many are treating this unexpected law and business like a snow day. They are binge watching shows on their favorite streaming service, sleeping in, and hitting the junk food drawer harder than normal. These are all understandable emotional responses, but they aren’t going to help your business.

Why not use this time—whether it’s another week or another monthto read up on topics like SEO and social media marketing? Why couldn’t you spend today finishing a video course on PPC advertising? What’s stopping you from becoming a better content creator with the hours and resources you have in front of you?

The savviest business owners are using this occasion to get better. They know downtime doesn’t come often and won’t let it get away. We encourage you to follow their example.

Opportunity #2: To Eat the Competition While They’re Taking It Easy

The second opportunity is related to the first. The harder you work during the current crisis, the bigger edge you can open up over your competitors. That’s especially true if they aren’t developing their own skills or serving their customers effectively right now.

For example, maybe some of your colleagues are using work from home arrangements as an excuse for missing deadlines or reduced hours. If you can add value to your customers by giving them faster service, one-on-one attention, or better pricing, why wouldn’t they be open to that possibility?

An interesting thing happens in times of turmoil. When we start making one kind of change in our lives, we become open to other changes, too. What this means in a business context is that some of your best potential customers might be in a state of flux. If you can serve them at a time when your competitors can’t, you might be able to earn business from clients who wouldn’t normally look at changing vendors.

This is no time to ignore your business. If your competition isn’t laser-focused on serving your market, then you have an opportunity to pick up the slack.

What Does Your 2020 Marketing Strategy Look Like?

There are tens of thousands of business owners out there who came into 2020 with big plans but now are simply trying to survive day-to-day. That’s understandable, but it’s not the best way to move your company forward.

Even in an uncertain economy there are opportunities to expand or better serve your customers.

5 Quick Tips on Selling More Through Your Business Website

When lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were first being put into place, savvy business owners moved to institute ecommerce features on to their websites. They recognized that if buyers couldn’t visit them in person, they’d have to find new ways to generate revenue. That forethought has paid off, with some estimates suggesting online sales have doubled compared to the same quarter last year.

However, while some business owners took immediate action, others decided to take a wait-and-see approach. That was understandable, but customers are largely deciding to stay home. That means that this is the perfect time to upgrade the ecommerce features on your website.

If you don’t currently have the ability to sell online, this should be your cue to start. Alternatively, if you can already make money through your web pages you might want to expand your capabilities and attract more revenue.

No matter which of those categories your business falls into, we want to give you some actionable advice that will help. Let’s look at five ways you can start to sell more through your business website starting today

1. Add a Shopping Cart

You can’t sell anything through your website without some mechanism to process transactions and collect money. In most instances, that’s going to mean installing some kind of shopping cart that pairs with a merchant account.

These solutions are easy to find and implementing them is not complex from a technical or programming standpoint. At the same time, just deciding to sell things online isn’t necessarily as simple as it might seem. You definitely want to take care in choosing the right shopping cart and merchant solution for your business. Getting things wrong could cost you a lot of money, create a great deal of hassle for your customers, and even lead to other disruptions in your business or website.

For example, it goes without saying that you want your shopping cart software to be as secure as possible. You’ll also want to know that it’s easy to use, both for yourself and your customers. It has to be compatible with the content management system you’re using, and it always helps if the product is inexpensive. 

On top of that, there may be certain features you require, like custom specifications or discounts for various order sizes. You might not find those in the simplest shopping cart solutions, or you might need a web developer to help you put the right settings into place.

As a rule of thumb, we always recommend you work with an experienced web team when choosing and installing merchant features on your small business website. It’s not an expensive or time-consuming process, but it’s one you can’t afford to get wrong.

2. Create Online Demos Customers Can View

It’s one thing to have the ability to sell products and services online, and another thing to actually generate orders. Often, what’s truly important to a small business isn’t the technical tools needed to accept payments but the skill and expertise of a master salesperson.

You’re never going to be able to completely duplicate face-to-face contact online, but you can get a lot closer with online demo videos or interactive presentations. These allow you, or a member of your team, to walk a potential buyer through the features and benefits of a product before making a decision.

In some ways an online video presentation can be even better than a live demo. In person you might forget to mention something crucial or struggle with a difficult question. When you’re working from a script, and with ideal lighting and backdrops, you can put your very best foot forward. Even better, you can film a presentation once and then have it seen by dozens or hundreds of buyers. You can even share it on your social profiles and in an email newsletter.

Putting together online sales presentations does take a bit of work, but most of our clients can batch the task into a single day. Then, they not only have the tools they need to sell more products and services online, but also a way to pre-qualify buyers and reduce complaints or returns.

The cost of video production and editing has gone down steadily over the past decade as broadband-speed connections have come to rural areas and mobile devices. Video is much more powerful as a sales tool than plain text and images, so why not make the most of it?

3. Integrate Live Chat Features

While you can use online video to intrigue and motivate buyers, your business might be one where customers are going to have lots of questions. They might need to consider specific use cases, or simply get more information before making a final decision.

In those cases, having live chat features on your website can be a game-changer. When you or your employees are standing by, ready to address specific issues as needed, a major obstacle to closing the sale is removed. Prospects no longer have to go without the details or interaction they might need to make them feel comfortable taking the next step.

Online chat features are easy to install, although (as in shopping carts) you’ll want to make sure they are safe, compatible, and convenient. Some will allow customers to contact you or a team member directly; others can be programmed to automatically answer simple and frequent queries.

No matter how straightforward or complex you want to go, however, there is a lot of value in letting a potential buyer see that someone is standing by to assist them with their order or to tackle a quick question. That’s especially true when you consider that someone who is interested right now might not necessarily return to your website to get the answer they need later.

4. Create Upsell Opportunities

In the real world, you and your employees probably look for upsell and add-on opportunities so often it has become second nature. From asking someone “do you want fries with that?” to suggesting a maintenance plan, businesses are always finding ways to increase revenueand value for their customers—by putting more into each sale.

If you have a simple shopping cart on your website, though, you might not be able to do the same. That would mean you’re probably missing out on huge amounts of revenue because your average sale price is going to be a lot lower than normal. It could also mean buyers aren’t getting the little “extras” that would make them happier with their decision later.

The answer, of course, is to integrate smart ecommerce features into your business website that correlate certain products and services with one another. As an example, if someone were purchasing a shirt from you, they might be interested in another similar item the same size. Or, if they were booking a service to clean up leaves in the Fall, they might also be interested in snow removal this Winter.

These are just simple examples, but you get the idea. If there is something you would normally sell to a customer at the time you check them out or write up an invoice, they need to be offered the same product or service (at a minimum) when they finish a transaction on your website. That’s not hard to set up with your web design team, and you’ll definitely see the difference in your bottom line.

5. Don’t Forget About Inventory and Fulfillment  

To this point we’ve looked at a few tools and solutions that can increase your sales, but don’t forget about everything that happens after an order has been placed.

Buyers are always impatient to know when their items will be shipped and delivered, but that’s particularly true this year when so many industries and supply lines have been disrupted. If you’re going to add merchant features to your website, or improve the ones you have, it makes sense to address inventory and fulfillment.

You can put automated systems in place that notify customers about the status of their orders and help them keep track of shipping. You can even combine inventory and ecommerce platforms so shoppers can see what’s available on your website in real time.

These sorts of add-ons can increase sales, but more importantly they lower your customer service burden. When buyers can get the information they need about their transactions directly from your website, they don’t have to call or email your team.

As with the other improvements we suggested, adding inventory and fulfillment tools to your website doesn’t have to be a huge, expensive project. If you’re already thinking about raising your ecommerce capabilities this might be a good time to consider it.

Should You Be Worried About Google Zero-Click Search Results?

Lately, web designers and search engine optimization (SEO) experts have been sounding the alarm on a growing trend: zero-click search results on Google.

If you haven’t heard this term and/or aren’t familiar with the concept behind it, we want to bring you up to speed. We are going to begin by telling you what zero-click search results are. Then, we’ll get into the bigger question of why you should or shouldn’t be concerned about them. 

Understanding Zero-Click Search Results

What you really need to know about zero-click results is that a large number of Google searchessome estimates say more than halfnever leave the company’s ecosystem. A person searches something, for example, and ends up at Google Maps, YouTube, or another Google-owned web portal to find the answer.

For users, a zero-click search result can be fast and convenient. However, for companies who rely on Google for lead generation, it can be disconcerting to know that fewer and fewer users are finding their way to third-party sites on the web.

Assuming that you get a lot of business from Google, or you prioritize SEO as part of your online marketing plan, you might be worried. However, there’s a decent chance these search queries aren’t that relevant to your business.

Why Your Business Might Not Be Affected

While it’s true that more and more Google searches are resulting in zero offsite clicks, it’s also true that users are interacting with search engines in ways that are relatively new. For example, people commonly ask Google to forecast the weather, get the starting time for the big game, or find driving directions.

There are specific web tools and portals losing traffic based on those sorts of search trends, but they may not fall within your company’s area of influence. Google isn’t recommending realtors, making appointments with architects, or giving inside advice on insurance products (as examples) within its family of web properties.

In other words, many of the zero-click search results are coming from new, information-based searches that don’t relate to industries like yours.

Looking for SEO and Online Marketing Alternatives

While we stand by the notion that most small and medium-sized companies aren’t being affected by zero-click search trends, that isn’t the same as saying they will never be affected. In fact, it’s almost inevitable that marketers reading this article will be at some point in the future.

Google changes like all companies do, and SEO is in a constant state of flux. The key is to understand that and adapt to conditions as they are right now and will be in the near future. For 2020, that means continuing to prioritize search engine optimization in its various forms. It also means keeping an eye on the horizon and experimenting with new ways to reach out to buyers over the web.

Contrary to what some business owners, executives, and web designers get locked into thinking, there are ways to find customers that don’t revolve around organic search results. The beginning of a new year is a great time to re-examine them and size up opportunities for the future.

Are Your SEO and Online Marketing Strategies Setup for Success in 2020?

Every month we talk with business owners and executives who are following old playbooks for online marketing success. What helped you find customers five years ago won’t work today, and in fact might hurt your search visibility or leave you playing catch up with your competitors.

Valley Power Systems Case Study

Since teaming up with Marcom, our SEO, Google Ads, and social media presence have experienced significant increases in traffic that have helped us attract new customers.” – Valley Power Systems, June 2020

Valley Power Systems partnered with us in November 2018 to boost their online advertising campaign. Utilizing a variety of marketing strategies, we’ve been able to improve their online presence, resulting in better web traffic and higher conversions.

Want to view the full report for detailed information? Fill out the form below for a .pdf copy of the case study!

ADA Compliance for Websites

The Supreme Court recently shined a light on ADA compliance for online businesses by refusing to hear a case that had previously ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees disabled individuals the right to access not only businesses but also their websites and web-based applications. 

The initial suit was brought against Dominos by Guillermo Robles, a blind man who was unable to order a pizza on the pizza chain’s website because it didn’t have the capability to accommodate him. He claimed this violated the ADA, which states that anyone with a disability should have full access to the goods and services “of any place of public accommodations.” While Dominos argued that this law only applied to physical locations, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it also included the online services offered by the business. 

This ruling could open the door to many other lawsuits against retailers who fail to make their websites accessible. The Supreme Court’s action implies that they are likely to apply ADA standards to web-based services in the future, leaving many business owners concerned about their ADA compliance. 

What to Know about ADA Compliance

Making your website ADA compliant is a smart business move that will not only protect your company but also help you reach more individuals with disabilities who may be interested in your services. Here are some key things you should know about ADA compliance:

  • The ADA extends to Tier I and Tier III organizations. Tier I is any business that is open at least 20 weeks out of the year with at least 15 employees. A Tier III organization applies to the “public accommodation” category, which includes businesses like grocery stores, banks, hospitals, and retailers. 
  • The ADA doesn’t have specific guidelines for websites, but the Supreme Court’s actions suggest that they should have the same level of accessibility as a brick-and-mortar location. This means using various website programming techniques to ensure a website is functional for individuals with disabilities.  
  • The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) is the industry standard for web developers. It consists of guidelines and techniques to ensure websites are perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. These guidelines are broken up into three levels to conform to varying degrees of disability.
    • Level A: This is the lowest level of accessibility. It focuses on ways to improve navigation and translation for readers. 
    • Level AA: This level does more to account for multiple disabilities, including providing developers with direction on color contrast and identifying errors. It’s more in line with what has been considered acceptable in past court cases involving ADA compliance.
    • Level AAA: At this level, a website is designed to be accessible to the broadest range of individuals with disabilities using a combination of programming tools and elements.