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VIA Idea #30: Google is changing the game by replacing organic listings with local listings!

26 Aug

During the past few months, we’ve been tearing our hair out. Why? Some of our recent Search Engine Optimization (SEO) positioning reports are showing that clients serving specific geographic areas with previous page one organic rankings in Google are suddenly nowhere to be found. However, their local listings continue to show on page one. Doing a little digging confirms our suspicions—Google has changed its algorithms (again).

For example, in the not-so-distant past, a search for “dentist” would bring Excel Dental Studio up on the Google Plus Local map and in the organic list. Seeing them on page one twice obviously increases the chances that a searcher will click through to their website.

Let me explain further with an example:

I did an organic search for “dentist” with “Merrillville, Indiana” set as the default search location. I first cleared the search history and didn’t log in, so Google didn’t have any clues as to what I wanted beyond the search word itself. Excel Dental Studio, who by the way owns the domain www.merrillvilledentist.com, pops up as #1 in the Google Plus Local but doesn’t appear at all in the next eight pages. (I stopped looking at that point.)

Note than none of the dental offices called out in Google Plus Local are repeated in the organic listings.

To test this finding, I chose a term that is not included as a category choice in Google Plus Local: “dental crowns.” Therefore, Googling this term brought up directory listings and general sites (not information for local dentists who perform this procedure):

But when I added “Merrillville” to the search, the listings changed dramatically. Since Google doesn’t find any listings in Google Plus Local for this search request, it relies on keywords and content to determine relevancy. This search brought Excel Dental Studio up on page one in positions two, three and four:

It’s clear that making sure your Google Plus Local listing is current and correct is beneficial in several ways:

  • Your site will presumably be given ranking priority
  • Searchers see the number of reviews your business has on Google
  • Your business is pinned on the Google Map on the right side of the results
  • Searchers can hover over your listing and see a snapshot of your Google Plus profile
  • The map moves as users scroll through results

Contact Julie for more information or for assistance in optimizing your Google Plus Local business page for effective SEO.

VIA Idea #29: Strategic outbound marketing has a place in your marketing plan

8 Jul

Frequent Reach billboard image

It seems that lately we’ve been advising a lot of our clients to add more inbound (pull) marketing to their marketing budget. This fact triggered a discussion among our staff about the shift in marketing strategies. What percentages should a business spend for each inbound and outbound tactic?

Although it’s less dominant than in years past, traditional (also referred to as outbound or push) advertising remains a strong component for a lot of industries. It isn’t going away anytime soon. Think about Super Bowl ads and, on a more local level, all those fireworks store billboards along the expressway. But you don’t own a major brewery and your name isn’t Kaplan Fireworks. So does outbound advertising still work for your business? The answer in many cases is still “Yes.”

Ideally, your marketing budget and strategies should in part be based in relation to what percentage others in your industry are spending. If you’re the only car dealer for miles around, you likely don’t need to do much advertising. But if you’ve got a half-dozen competitors up and down the street, you’re going to need to work hard to keep and grow your customer base. The same is true for professional services: the more competition, the more you need to spend on advertising and marketing.

Whenever you talk about push marketing, you also want to consider reach and frequency. Reach refers to the number or percentage of different homes or people exposed at least once to an advertising message over a specific period of time. Frequency is the number of times that a household or person is exposed to the same message during the same period of time. Reach without Frequency is ineffective. For example, it’s better to place a smaller ad in a publication several times than a large ad just once or mail a postcard to 500 homes four times than to mail 2,000 postcards once.

The shopping habits of your customers are more factors to consider. Are they reading the local newspaper, clipping coupons and looking for services in the phone book…or do they seldom or never use these media, instead opting to find recommendations on their Facebook feeds or via Google reviews?

Before making marketing decisions, it’s wise to think through your goals and define your audiences:

  • Who are we trying to reach?
  • Why do they need our products or services?
  • Are we trying to build brand recognition or change customer behavior?
  • Are we trying to accomplish a sale or engaging future buyers?
  • What message, information or offer would entice them to act?
  • Can we offer a special or coupon?
  • How will we measure response from each tactic?

After answering these questions, you should have a clearer picture of how to move forward. If you want more advice, we’ve got access to market reports and can share other information and insights that will help you make informed advertising and marketing decisions.

VIA Idea #28: Understanding Paid Online Media Tactics

11 Jun

Lions and tigers and online advertising? Oh my! Even though it may be scary at first, you don’t need the Wizard to enhance your marketing strategy by adding paid online tactics into your mix. In the same general category as traditional or “push” advertising, the advantages of online ads are quick publishing of information, ability to change the message upon demand and no matter your business’ size, you have a track-able way to reach your niche audiences.

Types of online ads include floating, wallpaper, pop-up, video, map ad, and mobile, all with or without animation. See what I mean about scary? Let’s sort through some of the choices:

The variety of online paid “pull” tactics include:

  1. Email ads target your database of names Allows direct marketing to current or prospective customers through permission-based emails (this is not spam). Send specially designed offers to sub-groups. These can even be personalized.
  2. Search engine marketing (pay per click) ads reach those who are actively looking Incorporate SEO (search engine optimization) techniques using keyword analysis and optimized landing pages to draw visitors. Your ad appears on a page when someone is looking for information about your product or service. Available to any budget, we suggest buying only keywords that are not getting you on the first page organically.
  3. Social media sponsored ads and stories reach those you select Choose geography, gender, age, special interest, etc. to filter and find the right person. Your advertisement will show up on that individual’s social page. You set a monthly budget.
  4. Targeted display ads reach market segments with highly relevant messages Box-sized or banner-sized, these ads are displayed on relevant websites. Media fees are paid to website publishers when the negotiated amount of traffic is garnered.            
    • Demographic targeting lets you select, age, gender, income, using data compiled from registration information.
    • Behavior targeting, compiled from someone’s recent internet activities, lets you select based on interests.
    • Contextual targeting reaches viewers through keywords. The process interprets and classifies the main subject of the page, then populates it with targeted advertising spots. By closely linking content to ads, it’s assumed that the viewer will be more likely to show interest (i.e., through engagement) in your advertised product or service.
    • Job title targeting lets you reach people based on profession.
    • Retargeting lets you re-engage a potential customer who has already visited your website.
    • AND more – they are everywhere! Online ads are available by industry categories, on premium news networks, mobile, YouTube, pre-roll video, and streaming audio websites.
  5. Affiliate marketing places ads on privately owned websites like blogs This model rewards affiliates for each visitor or customer brought to the website by the affiliate’s own website and marketing efforts. For example, when a visitor clicks from the associate’s website to Amazon and purchases a book, the affiliate receives a commission.

Leverage Landing Pages

For the best possible results, create optimized website landing pages specific to each keyword or audience or offer. These pages should be well-designed and laced with engagement opportunities. Landing pages are mandatory in a solid paid search campaign.

Remember that paid online marketing needs to accomplish the same four things as inbound marketing:

  • Attract visitors to the company website
  • Encourage those visitors to become leads
  • Nurture leads into becoming customers
  • Engage customers to keep them happy

If you need help in sorting through what to do first, contact Julie for a free consultation on how we can create an action plan.


PS

In the United States the Federal Trade Commission has been involved in the oversight of behavioral targeting for some time. In 2011 the FTC proposed a “Do Not Track” mechanism to allow Internet users to opt-out of behavioral targeting (See bottom of this page.)

VIA Idea #27: Improve your Sales Strategy with Inbound Marketing

2 May

Back in the day, advertising was simple: TV and print ads pushed products or services and we responded by buying those products or services. Those days are gone. Prospects of all ages now Google items or brands they’re interested in, visit the company’s website and ask Facebook friends for advice.

To thrive, businesses large and small must continue to evolve their sales strategies by employing inbound marketing. Effective inbound marketing engages early-stage potential customers as well as fosters relationships with established customers. Inbound marketing includes a variety of “pull” tactics:

  • Web content
  • Blogs
  • Webinars
  • Videos
  • Reports (inc. white papers and ebooks)
  • Podcasts
  • Newsletters/ezines
  • Press releases
  • Social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, etc.)
  • Infographics
  • Mobile offers/coupons
  • Apps

Note that none of these are “pushing” customers to buy; each serves to demonstrate your company’s expertise, builds trust and encourages conversations. Because you want to engage existing and potential customers, the key is to generate fresh, relevant content often enough that they pay attention. Everything you generate should be optimized with your top keywords. Search engines love inbound marketing tactics and done right, will reward you for your participation with higher rankings.

The goal is to structure inbound in ways to get someone’s permission to capture data such as a name and email address. This is a great way to fill your pipeline with leads for follow-up programs. The beauty of inbound marketing is that once you create strategic content, it works for you as long as it’s active. You have an asset that keeps on giving.

 Inbound Marketing needs to accomplish these four goals

Our industry says many businesses are currently budgeting an average of 30 percent (up from 26 percent) of their marketing dollars to inbound tactics. They also say many businesses haven’t even begun to work in this arena. HubSpot, the company who literally wrote the book on inbound marketing, revealed that inbound marketing’s cost per lead is 60 percent lower than traditional outbound marketing.

How do you know which inbound marketing tactics are best for you? Ask yourself the same questions that you would before starting any marketing initiative; keep in mind that marketing must be about customers and prospects, not you.

Who are you trying to reach? Why do they need you? What message, information or offer would entice them to start a conversation with you? How are you going to follow up? How often are you going to post or email an offer?

If you need help in sorting through what to do first, contact Julie for a free consultation on how we can create an action plan.

VIA Idea #26: Communicate Effectively with Consistent Email Marketing

10 Apr

Businesses like yours send out emails to customers/clients all the time. You might have hundreds or even thousands of email addresses on file. But are you using the ability to connect with those people to your company’s best advantage?

There are lots of ways to “touch” a customer via email: newsletters, special incentives, coupons and white papers come to mind. It’s likely that a contact who is interested in getting a white paper doesn’t care about coupons. You may want to give your current customers one incentive but offer past customers a different offer.

By letting you call out different groups and adding the same person to more than one group, email services such as Constant Contact, Mail Chimp or Emma allow you to manage your database without investing a lot of time. (You can import data from Outlook, Excel and other programs; you don’t need to re-enter data!)

As with any marketing effort, you first need to define the audiences and objectives. Do you want to promote a service or product? Do you want to inform or share advice? Do you want to build or cement a relationship? Knowing these answers will drive the type of emails you send and how often you send them. Communicate too seldom and you won’t get noticed. Send out emails too often and/or to the wrong audience and your customers will unsubscribe.

Strategies may be fine-tuned by accessing reports that track data like bounces, opens and click-throughs. Armed with this kind of information, you can see trends such as the best day of the week and the best time of day to send the emails. A report can also show you the email addresses that unsubscribed. You’ll also be in compliance with the Federal CAN SPAM Act, which mandates that a sender give the receiver a way to opt out of future mailings.

Email service software allows you to use a custom-designed template (VIA created our own) or you can choose one from their library. You can also include icons that make it easy for your email recipients to share your correspondence on their Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social networks.

By now, we hope you are thinking about ways to connect with your customers by using email marketing. If you want help to get started or would like to discuss strategy, content writing or a custom template, get in touch with us.

Communicate effectively with consistent email marketing

VIA Idea #25: Responsive Web Design

7 Mar

Let me introduce you to Responsive Web Design. It’s relatively new on the scene and is so practical that you will love it and embrace it easily. Responsive Web Design is crafted to provide a fluid layout that resizes across multiple viewing devices and screen sizes (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones). We build and maintain one single website, where previously you needed a separate mobile website.

Answering to the Popularity of Tablets and Mobile

Mashable is calling 2013 the year of Responsive Web Design because the mobile market is growing so fast. The global sale of tablets is expected to exceed 100 million this year. The shift to smartphones and mobile usage is happening at an extraordinary rate of speed. Even though the debate about web or app continues, we think a small business can’t possibly keep up with the diversity of mobile devices on the market today or the amount of app stores to contend with. With Responsive Web Design, you can make sure your website works easily on all devices.

How it Works

Flexible images and fluid grids re-size themselves to fit the screen. Examples are seasonslandscapeinc.com (VIA developed), xpointchurch.org (VIA developed), sony.com, and disney.com. If you view these websites on a desktop browser, try making your browser window smaller. The images and content column will shrink, and then the sidebar will disappear altogether.

The fluid grid concept calls for page element sizing to be in relative units like percentages or EMs, rather than absolute units like pixels or points. Flexible images are also sized in relative units (up to 100 percent). Designers love pixels. Photoshop loves pixels. But a pixel can be one dot on one device and eight dots on another.

So how do you approach Responsive Web Design if everything is pixel-based? You stop using pixel-based layouts and start using percentages or the EM for sizing. You turn everything into relative sizes. We will also include dynamic functionality with JavaScript and HTML5 to give you performance. We can also program device-specific functionality and features where they fit.

The latest research from Google tells us that “90 percent of people move between devices to accomplish a goal, whether that’s on smartphones, PCs, tablets, or TV.” The three most common ways users move between devices are:

  1. To search again on the second device
  2. To directly navigate to the destination site
  3. Via email, that is, to send themselves a link to revisit later.

 

Reduces Future Maintenance

Responsive Web Design allows future updates to be made in one place at one time. That saves you time and money each time a revision is needed.

The Benefits are Obvious

Build your website once, and it works seamlessly across today’s multi-screen world. Contact us today to discuss how you can move to Responsive Web Design in 2013.

Call us at 219-769-2299, email, or go to viamarketing.net.

VIA Idea #24: Engaging People by Using Images and Videos

30 Aug

The Internet, with all of its sites and social networks, has created opportunities to display great images. Interesting photos, funny cartoons, short videos, and full-length TV shows teach us and entertain us. Here are a few ways you can use images and technology to attract customers.

Images engage

Publicity. Press releases and feature stories are more appealing with a photo. Every day, editors make decisions about which stories to run. A compelling photo increases the chance that they will choose yours.

The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and our local Times are producing news videos because clearly the Web is moving into a much-less-static format. They started years ago, and their investments have paid off because the videos are getting a high number of views. Consider using videos to announce your company’s news or explain the features and benefits of your products and services.

Product ShotE-Commerce. Glamour shots are a good way to present your products. Show off your products as you would a beautiful human model. Lighting, props and Photoshop touch-ups are so important. When used right, they really accentuate the positives. E-Commerce just can’t be done well without beautiful photography. Educate your audience with videos that demonstrate or explain how to get the most out of your products.

HeadshotProfessional head shots. Professional photos are a must for anyone who has a Linked-In page. Take care in choosing just the right shot. Hire a professional for the best look. You are making a statement, so think about what you’re saying with your photo.

Website. Your website can tell your story with visuals. Consider the way these websites have incorporated large, engaging photos.
www.apple.com
www.diamondintherough.com
www.earthwerks.com
www.engadget.com

Search Engine Results. Logos, graphics, photos, and videos enhance search engine results when alt tags are used. Google + Business Pages and many directories don’t consider your listing complete without photos. Plus it’s been proven that consumers are more likely to contact a business that has posted its storefront photo.

Facebook. The Timeline overhaul puts an emphasis on images. Your company should grab hold of the opportunity to express your mission as a visual. Post it large for all to see. Mark Zuckerberg said of the recent acquisition of Instagram, “Providing the best photo-sharing experience is one reason why so many people love Facebook, and we know it would be worth bringing these two companies together.”

According to research done by Web Liquid (pre-Timeline) Facebook posts with photos saw the highest user engagement at 37 percent. Videos saw 31 percent, text was 27 percent and links were 15 percent. If you want your business to utilize the exponential sharing attribute of Facebook, post engaging photos and videos that people will want to share.

Kraft Burger For example, food giant Kraft has created separate Facebook pages for its various market segments. The Kraft Singles page shows close-ups of mouth-watering burgers and gourmet salads. This site has 83,807 likes. The Kraft Dinner Facebook page clearly appeals to a younger crowd with images of the iconic macaroni noodle engaged in activities that include singing and surfing. Kraft Dinner has accumulated 399,000 likes.

Pinterest

Pinterest. Here, it’s all about ideas. Pinterest is a social network that allows millions of users, mostly female, aged 25 – 34, to create and visually share interests by ‘pinning’ images or videos to their pinboards. Users can either upload images from their computer or pin things they find on the web. The images lead you back to the source with more information, whether it’s a decorating tip, recommended book, piece of art, article, or recipe.

Though it’s been around since 2010, Pinterest has really taken off recently. Between October and December, its traffic doubled to 10 million. Forbes says “Its members are avid window-shoppers using the site to create virtual malls of their favorite shops” (6-6-12 post on Forbes.com). Your business can be part of it. Find an example at MS Living.

YouTube. This video-sharing website allows you to broadcast yourself. Click to our VIA Idea #19 for a list of ideas on how to effectively use it for your business.

Photography not only validates and brings something to life; it can keep a memory alive. Who hasn’t heard the saying A picture is worth a thousand words? It’s never been truer than in today’s marketplace.

Want to talk?
Call us at 219-769-2299, email, or go to VIAmarketing.net.