Get results for your small business with online marketing

Sometimes, a great product,and word of mouth is not enough to get sales consistently through the door and there may come a time when a small business has to enter the world of paid advertising.

Anthony Hamilton is an Integrated Solutions Manager with ReachLocal, a digital advertising agency which launched in the US over 10 years ago and entered the Australian market in 2007.

“One of the things digital advertising has done is make small businesses aware that if they are putting one advertising dollar in, they want to be getting three to five dollars back consistently for it to be successful,” Mr Hamilton says. The good news is that this kind of outcome is entirely achievable – but before they put any money anywhere, small business owners need to understand what they want to do with their business.

“They need to decide if they want to be a jack of all trades or a niche provider,” he says. “Some might have multiple products or services and one of those products or services could provide great revenue. Small businesses don’t realise they could actually tailor that niche product, purely focus on that niche market and get good cash flow straight away.”

After a 10-year career in sales and marketing, including a four-and-a-half year stint in business banking with Westpac, Sallina Jeffrey launched Poppyseed Marketing a Sydney-based offline and online marketing agency in 2012. In her experience, “A lot of small start-ups tend to work on ‘hopium’,” a term she has coined to describe their hope that business will just walk in the door. “As a consequence, they don’t start with a clear vision, values statement or understanding of their ideal target market. When they start advertising, they advertise to anyone and everyone and that is a lot of wasted money and time.”

Seven steps to successful online advertising:

1. Form a clear strategy

A clear strategy will ensure that all marketing, including advertising, is targeted. “I can’t emphasise enough how much easier it becomes if you have a strategy in place – because you will literally be able to say, this is what we’re planning on doing first, this is how much money it is going to cost and these are the results we expect. You’re not flying by the seat of your pants.”

Once businesses really understand their target markets, they can be very clear about their online personality and the way they look and feel. “These three components are what will speak to and attract your target audience,” she says.

  •  What will we do?
  • How much will it cost?
  • These are the expected results?

Sheree Lowe is not just an experienced digital marketing consultant, she has also just started her own small business Wheatbelt Beads an online bead and jewellery retailer with an accompanying Facebook page. Recently back in rural Western Australia after four years in the UK, working as a freelance social media marketing trainer and consultant, Ms Lowe officially launched her new business on 1 January 2014.

“You need to have a really clear idea about who your customer is,” she says. “When I was a marketing consultant I found people didn’t want to be too niche because they were afraid of excluding potential customers. But when you try to appeal to everybody, you appeal to nobody. You need a really clear idea of who your ideal customer is and target only those people.”

And the more specifically the ideal customer can be identified, the better. This means delving to the nth degree, creating a persona of the perfect customer – for example, a woman, age 35, single, working in the Sydney CBD in a clerical position, etc. “I even give my ideal customer a name,” she says.

2. Build and maintain a great website

“First of all, a website should be a portal for your known traffic, your known clients and your referrals,” Mr Hamilton says. “If somebody lands on your home page it should be a warm and fuzzy experience, like walking into a reception area and feeling that they know you. They’ve done business with you before, they are not walking in cold, it’s familiar.”

3. Turn your website into an efficient sales portal

This means each individual product and service on offer should have its own unique section on the website. “Search engines now categorise very specific product and service keywords,” Mr Hamilton says. “If small businesses do it right, they could have potential purchasers clicking through from a search engine directly to their specific product or service page. We’ve actually seen a very good increase in return on investment where clients actively target niche markets and have new clients land directly on their product or service page from where they’re searching.”

The Internet is now the place people go when they are ready and willing to buy. “The Internet is pull marketing. It’s not like radio, TV, newspapers; you’re not pushing your advertising on people, you’re pulling them towards you. And you are talking to somebody who is ready to buy, ready to commit. They type in blue widgets in your geographic area and if you’ve got blue widgets for sale and you’ve got real estate on the Internet, search engines will see your website ad and people will click through to your website and immediately they’re down the buying funnel.”

And, living in a time poor society, the quicker and easier business owners can make their websites, from a conversion (sales) or contact perspective, the better their conversion rate is going to be.

One of the other important things that small businesses don’t realize, according to Mr Hamilton, is that having an out-of-date website is actually bad for business. “One of the factors that Google ranks a website on is chronology,” he says. “A website should be like a very well groomed garden. If you look after a website, weed it and update it with regular posts and fresh data, Google sees that you’re active and will reward you with better real estate in key word searches that are relevant to your business.”

 4. Spend – but spend wisely

Ms Jeffrey recommends investing in a professional copywriter for website and marketing collateral. “It will cost you between $250 – $1,000 depending on how many pages your website has and what marketing collateral you intend to have on it,” she says. But the implication is, it’s worth it. “Your website and marketing collateral must speak at the level of your target audience.”

The other important component, she says, is graphic design which will cost anything between $500 and $5000 annually. “Design is everything. It should ensure your branding is consistent across all platforms.  If someone opens your Facebook or website page and the images are old or not appealing, your target audience will be instantly turned off. First impressions happen in the first five seconds, online impressions are no different.

5. Check your progress

Once a website is properly set up it’s important to track how well it’s performing, and that’s all about Google analytics. Google analytics is a free tool which analyses website visits and can tell a website owner just about everything they want to know about their visitors – which of course, is critical in calculating return on investment (ROI). “Google analytics gives website owners some very good data so they can really think about what they do with their paid advertising,” Mr Hamilton says.

Anyone who has a business website should have Google analytics installed. “It’s a massive waste of money for any ad campaign if you don’t have a way of tracking how successful it is,” Mr Hamilton says. “And there are phone apps which plug into Google analytics which display the information in a more reader friendly fashion.”

Promotion codes also help business owners understand the success of particular campaigns. This involves offering purchasers a discount or special offer by way of a promotion code. “You have a different code that purchasers must enter for each offer and that way you get to see which forms of advertising are working for you,” she says.

6. Confirm your strategy

Once Google analytics is up and running, the next thing a business owner needs to decide is whether they want a long-term strategy or some quick wins. “There are two ways you can promote your business on the Internet,” Mr Hamilton says. “The first is to get leads and sales coming through from the day you go live via pay per click (PPC) advertising and the second, longer term strategy is search engine optimization (SEO) to ensure you are organically and consistently on the front page of Google.”

PPC advertising helps businesses direct traffic to their websites. Website owners place ads which appear when people search on relevant key words and only pay when someone clicks on the ad and goes through to the website. Google, Facebook and LinkedIn offer PPC advertising, as do many other websites.

7. Use Google Ads

As an advertiser, if I want my business to appear on the front page premium position for my blue widgets, in a defined geographical area, say the Melbourne CBD, Google says, okay we’ll put you there for free. That’s called the impression page. When somebody in the Melbourne CBD Googles blue widgets, (and Google knows where people are thanks to IP targeting) Google finds websites that match the search. Your ad will appear beside these matches. If the searcher clicks on your ad and visits your website, Google charges you for that visit.

The price of the click is determined by multiple factors. One is the amount of money the website owner is willing to pay to be in a premium position and another is quality scoring.

“Quality scoring looks at the relevance of your website and your keywords, the money you’re willing to pay, the click through rate – if you have a good click through rate through analytics, Google will give you a better position in searches, at a lower click cost. If you do all the right things, you will be on the front page of Google for a lower click cost and that will help you get leads the minute you go live. You can get people visiting your website down the buying funnel ready to buy,” Mr Hamilton says.

The longer term SEO strategy is all about getting ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ rankings. “If somebody types in blue widgets and they’re in the Melbourne CBD, Google puts paid listings as the first three and as the next 11 down the right hand side of the page,” Mr Hamilton says. “The placement of a website owner’s listing is determined by the PPC fee they are prepared to pay for it. The natural ranking is the ranking Google gives you for free.”

SEO is the process of tweaking a website to improve its natural ranking by performing multiple roles such as social media, links on a complementary website and  ensuring content is consistently and reliably updated.

“You can pay Google for leads via PPC advertising, but it would be nice to also be organically on the front page of Google consistently. The only way to do that is via SEO. It’s a hell of a lot of work and it’s something that a reputable digital advertising agency should do for clients. If a small business wants to dominate key words in their geographical area they need to look at PPC and SEO strategies simultaneously.”

 How much will it cost?

Businesses can try their hand at PPC themselves. Google, Facebook and LinkedIn have comprehensive instructions on their websites that walk users through the process. It’s not that easy, but it’s not that difficult either. Businesses can also be active on social media, look after their websites and do everything they can to improve their natural ranking. Or they can work with a digital agency to help improve outcomes from both strategies.

ReachLocal charges a 15% management fee on everything they do for a client but includes a free website analysis and review, set up of Google analytics and set up of digital advertising campaign as part of the service. ReachLocal also provides reports. “For $1000 we’re going to tell you how many emails you get, how many phone calls you get and if you decide to record incoming phone calls – in line with relevant legislation of course – the quality of those phone calls.”

How much to put aside for PPC is a bit like deciding how long is a piece of string. DIY-ers often start with incredibly modest budgets of less than $50 per campaign. ReachLocal works with clients with budgets of between $1,800 and $55,000 per month. The budget is determined by three factors:

  1. How many leads can you handle?
  2. The sales price of your products.
  3. The geographic locality you want to target.

 Cost of clicks

If the business is too small to handle multiple sales, the money spent on advertising could be wasted. “Let’s say every click costs you a dollar,” he says. “If you get 100 clicks on your website in a month, it’s going to cost you $100. Let’s then say that 20 of those clicks convert to appointments. If you can’t handle 20 appointments, you’re going to have to dial this down a bit.”

The price point of some products may also make digital advertising unsuitable. “Let’s say you’re a florist selling $30 bunches of flowers. If a click is a dollar and it takes 20 clicks for a sale, you’re not getting a good return on your investment. You’ve got to arrive at a price that makes the advertising worthwhile.”

When it comes to geographic locality Mr Hamilton advises a suck it and see approach. “It might be that only five or six people a day are looking for your product or service in your location, so it’s only going to cost you $5 or $6 a day – but you’re not going to get such good exposure,” he says. “So if you can ship nationally, you might want to cast your net a bit wider. For small businesses, we suggest starting very small, to get some sales through the door and then slowly cast the net a bit wider.”

Also, make sure your website is optimised for mobile phones. “Today, Google is very much focused on a phone strategy because everybody’s mobile now,” Mr Hamilton says.


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