Tag Archive: promotions

Google’s New Algorithm Search: How it can affect your business.

Hold on to your hats, small business owners. Everything you thought you knew about SEO and making sure your customers could find your business online may not be true anymore. That’s thanks to Google’s recent adoption of Hummingbird, its new, more dynamic method for improving search results.

“The Hummingbird algorithm is significant as it changes Google from being a search engine to an information engine,” says Mert Sahinoglu, a partner in Chicago’s Falcon Living Real Estate. He has been a digital marketing consultant for over a decade and says that for the small business owner, “This means that they will have to provide more information and multimedia content to their Google+ profile.”

“It’s important to state that Hummingbird is not just an algorithm update,” adds George Zlatin, director of operations at Digital Third Coast Internet Marketing, a Chicago-based SEO consulting and marketing firm. “It is a structural update to the algorithm that affects 90 percent of search queries. To put that in perspective, when Google releases a normal algorithm update, that usually affects anywhere from one to three percent of queries. So this is much, much larger.”

Widespread smartphone and tablet use led to Hummingbird

“In mobile search, thanks to technologies such as the iPhone’s Siri, customers are asking more questions rather than typing keywords,” Sahinoglu explains. Keyword-based searching is still practiced by the majority of desktop users, but Sahinoglu expects this to change. “As Google improves Hummingbird, questions will replace keywords as customer confidence in getting the right answer for the question increases.”
Hummingbird may already be helping your small business

“If you create a lot of good content on your website that is relevant to your business you are more likely to get more traffic from that than pre-Hummingbird,” says Zlatin. “Hummingbird does not mean that Google doesn’t use traditional ranking factors anymore, such as keywords, backlinks to your site, or content. It is just a new framework put on top of it.”

Best practices for small businesses

It’s very important to understand that Hummingbird places a high value on information from Google+ profiles and social media platforms. This means your business may have some more work to do besides the creation and sharing of keyword-rich, unique content on your website and social media platforms.

“You should provide as much detail as possible in your Google+ Local profile, including opening/closing hours,” Sahinoglu says. Images are also becoming increasingly important. Sahinoglu recommends that profile photos should always be selected with marketing in mind. “Photos are definitely becoming the first impression a new customer sees about a business in the new Google.”

Hummingbird will also push small businesses to network with their geographic area customers or with their niche group of customers more on Google+, according to Sahinoglu. Another key factor to consider is your Google + Authorship authority. Google + Authorship is a verification that links online content to the person who wrote it. The more published content you have out there, the more important you become in Hummingbird’s eyes. You will get a bigger boost from content that appears on sites you don’t actually control.
Content is still king

“The best advice I can give small business owners is to really focus on adding unique content to their websites.” Zlantin says. “Talk about what you know. Talk about what customers are asking you. This type of content is going to bring more traffic from Hummingbird.” He adds, “There is no way you can predict all of the search terms people will write, so it’s better to just focus on writing content that is important to them.”

“Start building an extensive Q&A library about your products or services,” Sahinoglu recommends. “This could be a brand-related Q&A or a non-brand product/service Q&A. Optimize a unique page for each Q&A.”

Going forward: Be prepared for change

Google is continually refining and adjusting all of the algorithms they use to determine search results. This upgrade to Hummingbird is sure to be followed by others in the future. As a small business owner, maintaining awareness of these changes and implementing recommended best practices is the best way to ensure favorable search engine rankings.

Getting Positive Reviews on Yelp

How can you get honest, positive feedback to appear on Yelp or review portions of Google, Facebook, or TripAdvisor? It may sound daunting, but some say all small businesses need to do is ask.

“If you don’t ask, the likelihood of it happening is almost zero,” says Adi Bittan, chief executive and cofounder of Palo Alto, California-based OwnerListens.com, a company with an online tool that gives customers a direct line to a business’s owners via an app or text messages. “People are actually much nicer than many people give them credit for.”

Where to start? Listen up the next time a customer pays a compliment for great service or expresses satisfaction about a mistake that was quickly fixed. Translating pleasant, in-person encounters into positive social media capital is a matter of reading the signals your customers are giving and being direct about a request for help, Bittan says. If clients praise an employee, service, or product, that’s a cue that they’re likely open to doing more.

Bittan points to a series of Stanford University studies that show people underestimate how likely others are to agree to requests for assistance. In one, researchers concluded those who are approached for a favor are under social pressure to be benevolent, because saying no might them look bad—to themselves or others. (After all, everyone is sensitive to reviews.)

It’s that perception of altruism that motivates some reviewers, and that’s some of the surprisingly good news that might make your own foray a bit easier than expected. Jon Hall, chief executive and founder of Bloomfield, New Jersey-based Grade.us, has written extensively on the topic of customer reviews and says the vast majority are positive, regardless of the product, service, industry or online community. “There is no need to ask for a ‘good’ or ‘positive’ review. Just ask for a review, ask for feedback,” he says.
Hall’s company, as well as Bittan’s, tries to steer customer reviews toward a company’s preferred online destination. Grade.us uses a platform that directs customers to a landing page, where a business owner can “funnel” their feedback to a review site they care about most, be it Foursquare, TripAdvisor, Google+, Yelp, or a dozen more. Bittan’s service provides a direct channel to the business owner, where compliments or complaints are acknowledged in real time. Both aim to take the steam out of the fieriest of missives from angry clients: first, by making the process of filing good reviews easier for happy customers and swelling those numbers; second, by giving unhappy clients the attention they need from those who can actually help them.

For businesses now, the stakes are particularly high on Yelp, in more ways than one. The site has more than 100-million unique visitors a month worldwide, via its website and apps, and a recent Nielsen survey reported four out of five of its users consult the site before they spend money. A 2011 Harvard Business School survey found that restaurants that boosted their rating by one full star on Yelp saw their annual revenue increase five to nine percent.

But there’s also a very delicate balance small businesses must maintain when soliciting glowing reports.

For its part, Yelp discourages businesses from asking customers for positive feedback on the site. In its FAQ, it says “These self-selected reviews tell only part of the story, and we don’t think that’s fair to consumers. We would much rather hear from members of the Yelp community who are inspired to talk about their experiences without a business owner’s encouragement.”

Any savvy Internet user can spot the obvious inside jobs. But along with filters that try to weed out phony reviews, Yelp has been active in pursuing those attempting to game the system. In late 2012, the site launched what it termed a sting operation, and exposed dozens of businesses that solicited positive reports from undercover “elite” Yelp users with offers of cash payments. In September, the New York state attorney general fined 19 reputation management companies for fake online reviews on several major sites, including Yelp, Google Local, and CitySearch.

All of which makes a genuine rave more meaningful. So what’s the right way to ask for a review?

Bittar says do it “in the moment,” when the goodwill is fresh and top-of-mind. Here is some advice from her and Hall on how to approach a customer:
1. Explain why you’re asking. Put it at the bottom of receipts or in signage in your shop, and say something like “Please let the rest of the world know that we did a good job. Online reviews are one of the most important drivers of our business.”

2. Link it to a customer’s identity as a local shopper, or just a good person. Use messages like “We’ve been serving the [town name] for more than two decades” or “Please show your kindness and support by letting your social media followers know.”

3. Have a tangible reminder, and try to stay unbiased. Hall’s clients hand their customers a postcard asking them to write a review. It reads: “Help us. Help others. You’re invited to review X.”

Social media has given everyone a voice, for better or worse, but for small businesses, it’s how you deal with it that matters, Bittar says. “It still all comes down to giving great service,” she says. “And the way the world is going, the bar has been raised for everyone. You have to wow them. And it’s that much harder.”

Thinking Beyond the 10%-off Coupon: Five better ways to thank your customers

Thinking Beyond the 10%-off Coupon: Five better ways to thank your customers

Posted by SBOC Team in Advertising, Sales and Marketingon Nov 15, 2012 8:04:36 AM

ThankYouGift_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.

 

Holiday commercials started hitting the airwaves even before the kids went trick-or-treating. “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” has already been stuck in your head three times. There is no mistaking it—the hustle and bustle of the giving season is upon us. With one of the largest buying weekends right around the corner, consumers are thinking about where to spend their precious dollars, which means small business owners need to think about how to say thanks to those folks who choose them. To get you beyond that ubiquitous 10 percent-off coupon, we have “five golden rings” to consider as you create memorable thank you gifts for your customers this year.

 

1. Give your time and thoughts.

Though you may want to bulk order some flashlights with your logo on them, leave that for a summertime promotion. A refreshing gesture in this era of emails and texts is a simple, yet personal hand-written thank you note. Alexandra Mayzler, founder and director of Thinking Caps, an innovative tutoring company, says, ”I have found that
hand-written thank you notes go a long way. Personalizing the note and
actually taking time to thank our clients communicates our level of thanks
and, I believe, resonates with those working with us.”

 

2. Remember, it’s a thank you, not a marketing tool.

There is a fine line between a thank you gift and a promotional object, which is why Jeannie M. Bush, owner of Amenity Electrolysis, never gives a thank you gift with her business name on it. “My thank you is about my guest, not promoting myself. People have noticed
that huge difference and commented,” says Bush. ”In the years before unlimited long distance calling, I gave each of my
guests a pre-paid calling card, asking them to call someone from their past
and tell them how they impacted their life, [or] mend a
relationship, [or] say thank you. People told me at length about
their special phone calls.” Bush says this gift choice makes a big impact. ”The last couple of years I have turned to a leather-cased post-it note set,
engraved with a message on the cover. Last year, it said ‘Note to self–you
matter.’ It
has a meaning so that my guests will remember they are valued each time they
use it.”

 

ThankYouGift_PQ.jpg3. Go one step beyond the plain tin of goodies.

A box of cookies or a bottle of wine—both are lovely to receive, but not very personalized. Elle Kaplan, CEO of Lexion Capital Management, one of
the only 100-percent women-owned investment firms in the nation, changes that by creating her own delectable gifts. “I infuse my
own vodka and give small bottles out as gifts to my clients,” she says. Julia Labaton, President and Founder of RED PR, a boutique beauty, fashion, and lifestyle public relations firm, also puts a personal touch on her end-of-the-year gifts for clients. At the start of the holidays, Julia spends three days baking chocolate chip cookies from her own secret recipe in her Upper East Side kitchen. However, you don’t have to be a whiz in the kitchen to go this route. David Jacobson, the owner and producer
of
TrivWorks, a corporate entertainment and team building company that specializes in
live trivia events in New York City, uses yummy treats from other great local businesses. “I send my
most loyal clients a huge box of hot chocolate from The City Bakery—arguably the very best in the city and make sure it is delivered fresh and
piping hot with the message, ‘Wishing you a warm and sweet holiday season!’ ”
Customers notice these added personal or local touches that makes treat gifts more thoughtful.

 

4. Individualize the gifts.

For many businesses, customers don’t come in a “one size fits all” category, so why should the thank you gift you give them all be the same item? Jennifer Pottheiser, a commercial photographer who works primarily with corporate clients, spends time selecting specific gifts she knows her customers will appreciate. “Each November, I rack my brain looking for personalized gifts meant specifically for the recipient. I sent one young ad agency a ‘beer of the month’ membership so that they could be reminded of me each month while they were enjoying their custom brew,” says Pottheiser. “One client of mine is an ice cream fanatic, so I got her two beautiful ice cream bowls with sundae spoons and fancy ice cream toppings.” That type of individualized gift-giving, taking note of a client’s interests, makes a special impression.

 

5. Create a holiday memory.

http://smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/community/growing-your-business/salesandmarketing/blog/2012/11/15/thinking-beyond-the-10-off-coupon-five-better-ways-to-thank-your-customers

Every Customer Read This!: Using invoices and bills as marketing tools

Every Customer Read This!: Using invoices and bills as marketing tools
by Robert Lerose.

Invoices occupy a sweet spot for business: they are one of the few types of mail that are promptly opened and read. A surprising amount of invoices, however, are devoid of any kind of marketing message. Since you have the complete and immediate attention of your customers—the first step in any sales cycle—putting a message on your bill or invoice is an opportunity that shouldn’t be ignored.
“The biggest advantage is that it’s something the client is already receiving from you, so it’s not overly invasive,” says Melanie Wright, the marketing director for Abstrakt Marketing Group, a full service marketing company in St. Louis, Missouri.

Besides this stealth superiority, you can insert a wide range of messages on the invoice. For example: announcing a new product, upselling a service package, asking for customer feedback, sharing a testimonial, offering a free white paper, or acknowledging the customer’s loyalty. It’s not so much what you put on the invoice as it is capitalizing on a new touchpoint and reconnecting with your customers.

Just say thank you

Abstrakt’s Wright notes that they’ve used invoice marketing to give updates on products and services. They also nurture relationships by reminding their customers to use them for upcoming projects, discreetly asking for referrals, and requesting testimonials. “Those little details and touches and customizations play into [business-building],” she says.

Putting a simple thank you or other sincere note of appreciation on the invoice can pave the way to future sales, too.

“Instead of using your traditional carrier envelope, put [the invoice] in a nice envelope,” recommends Daniel Glickman of FirmFlair, a marketing consultancy in Sherborn, Massachusetts. “Change the perception that [the invoice] is a penalty of doing business with you. It’s not a downside, it’s one of the benefits.” For added impact, send the thank you in its own envelope inside the main invoice envelope.

Glickman emphasizes that any invoice message must complement—not contradict—your overall messaging. For example, a business that markets itself as giving personal customer service would send the wrong tone with a message on an invoice that sounded cold or bureaucratic. Still another mistake would be to come across as pushy or hard selling if you usually cultivate a warm, low-key tone in your other advertising.

“You’re sending an invoice to get paid for the work you’re doing. The question is, why did they hire you in the first place? You don’t want to contradict that,” Glickman says.

Working together is key

Which department owns invoice marketing, accounts payable or marketing?

“It’s definitely a joint effort,” says Abstrakt’s Wright. “I could have a million ideas for what I think would be great for invoice marketing and then I would run that by our accounting department [to have them] review the functionality of it as well as the professionalism and legal aspect.”

Abstrakt relies on both internal and external collaborations to enhance the power of their invoice marketing. For example, Abstrakt partners with a web design firm to handle services that they don’t cover themselves. But instead of sending them just a regular invoice, Abstrakt takes its own advice: they include customer feedback on projects that the design firm executed and even gives them leads for new business.

It is generally agreed that messages on invoices should be short, direct, and few in number—one, or sometimes two at most. As with a renewal series, variety is key.

“If your customers see the same thing on every invoice, they’re going to quit looking at it,” says Jerry Ellis, vice president of sales and marketing for Lanvera, an outsourcing company in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that delivers documents to customers through print and electronic means. “If [the message] changes all the time, now your customer is going to be trained that you’re doing promotions or marketing in the invoice, so they’re going to look at it.”

Ellis recommends putting the marketing message upfront on the invoice so the recipient sees it right away before they get involved in the financial transaction of paying the bill. Since the bill is primarily text, using graphics is a keen way to draw the customer’s eye.

“The entire back of the carrier envelope and even certain portions of the front can be used to put a marketing message on it, too,” he says. “The message on the outside could be the full message or ‘Look Inside For’ something more.”

Marketing messages also work well on bills sent electronically, and even offer a distinct advantage over snail mail. Not only can the bill be paid immediately, but it can also be embedded with a link that takes the customer to a new landing page with a fresh marketing message. Response can be tracked to identify what language or offer was most appealing.

http://smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/community/growing-your-business/salesandmarketing/blog/2012/09/24/every-customer-read-this-using-invoices-and-bills-as-marketing-tools

Marketing Your Small Business for Back-to-School? Two Key Tips to Clear Through the Clutter

It’s that time of year again— time to get the kids ready for back-to-school. And while you’re buying new school supplies and clothes for the kids, why not think about some new ideas for your small business as well? One smart idea that many small business owners implement this time of year is to market their business with the back-to-school season in mind. With so many families focusing on school, it makes a lot of sense.

Don’t think that your business has to sell services or products to families to cash in on the back-to-school fever. Really, any business can tap into this moment in time. For instance, an accounting firm can put a back-to-school spin on some promotions, such as: “Is your small business’ math not up to speed? Don’t worry, you don’t need a tutor; instead contact the Jones Accounting Firm and get A’s on your next financials.”

The key to marketing your business for back-to-school is twofold: First, you need to have the right angle. Second, you need to have the right vehicle. Let’s look at both.

The Right Angle: There’s no shortage of competition out there when it comes to back-to-school promotions. Here’s why: marketers focus on where people put their attention, and right now, for families, returning to school is getting that attention. So, it’s important to be smart with your marketing efforts so that you don’t get lost in the shuffle.

I once had a master marketer tell me that the key to marketing in a crowded field is “waves and dips.” He explained that while it is smart to catch a wave like back-to-school because it is where the eyeballs are, the key to standing out is the dip. That is, you need to position yourself in a spot where the rest of the wave marketers are not.

What constitutes a dip? Really it is anything that you can do that sets your business apart from everyone else. The accounting firm above did that by tapping into the fall mindset. Whereas most back-to-school promotions are for clothing and office supply stores, Jones Accounting promoted a business that is not normally associated with back-to-school promotions. That is a classic “dip” promotion.

Your dip could be:

A loss leader sale of an item that is not normally found on sale.
An ad campaign that is really different. My dad once brought an elephant to his carpet store in September. While it did attract a lot of kids and parents looking for rides, Dad was not prepared for, shall we say, “Cleanup on aisle 3.” So be careful.The bottom line is you need to be different enough so that you stand out among all the surfers trying to catch the same wave.

The Right Vehicle: One of the great things about marketing today is that there are so many ways to get the word out: Pay-per-click, traditional ads, blogs, Twitter, etc.

While I am a big proponent of all of these new forms of media because they work and generally are very affordable, in this case, I would suggest that the tried is also true. Where are the parents? What do they read, watch and listen to? Wherever your audience is, that is where you need to be.

Some options: go the http://smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/community/growing-your-business/salesandmarketing/blog/2012/09/04/marketing-your-small-business-for-back-to-school-two-key-tips-to-clear-through-the-clutter

10 Ways Small Businesses Can Prepare for 2012

As we approach the end of 2011, it is a good idea for small business owners to take stock of what you’ve accomplished and look forward to some fresh initiatives in the New Year. The following are some ideas to make a successful transition to 2012:

1. Expand the ways that you communicate with customers. Dive into mobile marketing, location-based promotions, blogging and a dynamic social media presence.

2. Stop trying to force your product onto a customer if it is not a good fit. Show your customers you are able to come up with solutions that add value to their business problems.

3. Brainstorm with employees on how everyone can work smarter. Take stock of how much daily time is spent on e-mail; whether you are holding too many unproductive meetings and how to take internal communications to a level that spurs employees to take action.

4. Spend some time on self-reflection and figure out what kind of a boss you are. Do you over-direct, micromanage, enable helplessness, inspire or teach? It may not be easy, but making sure you are a good match for your own business goals is an often-overlooked issue for many managers.

5. Invest in additional training and career-growth activities for your employees. For example, subsidize memberships in industry organizations; bring in a leadership coach; offer reimbursement for career-enhancing certifications; etc.

6. Take real action related to a social cause. Sponsor a fundraiser, write an Op-Ed or go on an overseas mission. You’ll find it not only makes you feel better, but it is highly appealing to the best and brightest young people you may want to recruit to work for you.

7. Walk the floor more. Even with an open-door policy, managers who stay in their offices create a very different work atmosphere than those who get out and spend time among the staff. Take the time to discover something about the personal interests or personalities of the people who work for you. You just might discover some untapped gems.

Pull Quote.png

8. Redefine your strategic goals after meeting with employees, company advisors and partners to get their input. New goals could include expanding into a new market, merging with a competitor or rebranding your company.

9. Conduct a survey of employees to gauge their level of satisfaction with opportunities for training and advancement, compensation/ benefits and work/life balance.

10. Don’t forget to have some fun: Celebrate the holidays with your staff, even if it’s at the office. If possible, close down from Christmas to New Year’s. Encourage all employees to make end-of-year vacation plans – and remember that “all employees” includes you!