Happy new year! It's January and many of you small business owners are being pounded by salespeople trying to get new advertising contracts in for the year. What the majority of you don't realize (and none of those salespeople are going to tell you) is that you absolutely should NOT be signing any contracts for newspaper, radio, billboard, coupon or TV advertising unless your "core" is strong. I'm going to explain to you why the "core" is important and exactly what it entails.
As little as just a few years ago your "core" was not so critical. Putting a well-placed ad in any outbound vertical (those mentioned above) would produce fairly well and generate a decent ROI (Return On Investment). Your digital setup and presence was important but not so critical that people would ignore your offer if things weren't right online. Times have changed. Folks have learned to to make their purchase decisions based on how a business has portrayed themselves online. They are making the connection that a good online presence makes for a good business to visit and buy from and a bad online presence means to stay away. And that is assuming they can even find you in a local search in the first place. So the fact is, your online "first impression" is every bit as critical as the brick and mortar location in converting browsers to paying customers. That online first impression is your core and it consists of what I call the critical six:
1: User Friendly URL - This is your web address. You don't want something 50 characters long, so if your business name is a long one find one to promote that is shorter, easy to remember and easy to type. Your business name is not always the best choice as your primary URL. Often, something that says what you offer works better. For example, an Italian Restaurant might consider www.bestitalianfood.com versus their actual name, which can often be easy to misspell.
2: Responsive, mobile optimized website - Responsive means it shifts and changes to fit any device. Google is now identifying if a site is mobile friendly in the search results. It used to be that folks could at least accidentally get to your site if it wasn't mobile friendly and you could have a few of them convert to customers. Now, they simply will not get there at all. For some categories of business this will become a fatal flaw if not corrected. I don't care if you have been in business for 100 years, if you don't upgrade to a mobile friendly, responsive website very soon your business will fail. It won't be tomorrow or next month, but it will happen.
3: Proper Title Tags, Meta Descriptions and Content - Many of you are saying "What?" and that is expected. This is the one part of this that is a bit technical. Understand that title tags and meta descriptions are two of the most critical things search engine look at to determine placement in results. There are other things as well but less critical for local search. These two items are also the information displayed in search results to help get the searcher to click on your link.
4: Map listings claimed and optimized - I am still amazed that the majority of small businesses do not have their Google+ Local, Yahoo Local and Bing maps claimed and optimized. Claiming and optimizing these maps offers tremendous Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on the local level and takes very little effort. They also offer some pretty awesome reporting that can guide you in future marketing decisions. The big three know what these can do for you and have all mentioned plans to stop offering them for free, so it is in your best interest to get on board now.
5: Social Media Use and Optimization: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ are what come to mind when we say Social Media, and that's good. Social Media also means listing sites like YP.com, Yelp, CitySearch, Manta, UrbanSpoon, etc. These are places where the public gets to tell their story about you and they also offer nice local SEO power. An extra tip on Facebook...remember that this is about content marketing, not necessarily advertising to an audience. Facebook has made it very difficult to get your message in front your fans and their friends without paying for it. Google, Yahoo, and Bing however, still love to see the content and that people interact with you. This is why a Facebook page is not a stand alone marketing strategy.
6: Post-Visit digital strategy: Up to now this has been almost exclusively about "rewards" programs and email. Punch cards, loyalty points, or whatever you can think up to try to get folks back in your place often, working toward a goal. These can still be fairly effective but are now being eclipsed by mobile marketing, specifically SMS or Texting and Mobile Apps. A good email campaign gets around 10% of the recipients to open it while 98% of texts are read within the first 30 seconds. Texting is increasingly the favorite option of shoppers and diners with mobile apps running close second. The key here is that the favorites are MOBILE.
There you have it. The critical 6 things you need to have under control BEFORE you engage in any advertising. So you are probably asking "why"? (At least I hope you are!) The one thing all of that advertising does is drive people to look for you (and your competitors) online. Advertising Reps don't want you to know that because it means a drop in their revenue, albeit temporarily. The fact is, your advertising is dramatically less effective when your core is not intact, to the point of not having ROI. If you have read anything from me you understand that no advertising should cost you money. Advertising should always produce ROI.