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Local Businesses Should Build a Brand, Not Links
The digital marketing landscape changes more frequently than tires at the Indy 500. While change and uncertainty almost always represent a money-making opportunity for marketers (and scam artists—believe it or not, there is a difference), the same is not true for the typical business owner. In order to survive and thrive in a rapidly evolving advertising landscape, business owners must:
- Have the right analytical tools and process in place to test and evaluate new tactics
- Know when the best course of action is to ignore the new and exciting in favor of the perfect execution of the fundamentals
You can—and should—always be testing new things (advertising tactics, new technology, etc.) in an effort to get ahead of next. If you have the right tracking tools and systems in place, you can test new things with confidence. However, a lot of business owners get so busy chasing “the next big thing” that they lose sight of the big picture. Chasing marketing fads (many of which often turn out to be scams) has cost a lot of local companies uncalculable sums of money.
Take search engine optimization (SEO) for example. I still see a ton of local businesses chasing links, probably at the recommendation of some “SEO guru,” when what they should be doing is building an authoritative and trusted brand. That’s the topic of today’s post—staying focused on what really matters (with local SEO and with marketing in general).
Marketers: Masters of Manipulation
Marketers are experts at human psychology. Marketers, especially the unscrupulous ones, are the best of the best at taking your deepest, most primal needs, drives, and desires and turning them against you for profit (for them, not you). For savvy marketers, it’s easy to connect jumping on board with the latest and greatest new marketing thing with the universal human desire for safety, security, and belonging.
Because the digital marketing landscape changes hour-by-hour, there are limitless opportunities for marketers to spin up stories about “the next big thing”—the big opportunity that, up until their blog post, you had no idea you were missing out on. These “next big thing” (a.k.a. shiny new object) articles may generate lots of clicks and leads, as fearful small business owners rush to not miss the boat, but they’re rarely a prescription for the marketing required to build a great company.
You don’t need to look very far to find examples of marketers using the fear to get business owners to engage in all sorts of whacky, short-sighted things.
Link Exchanges & Schemes
Right now, Google is in the midst of updating their organic ranking algorithm (learn more about Google Panda, Penguin, and Pigeon). Every time Google does this, we get a flood of inquiries from upset local business owners (not current clients) that suddenly can’t find their website on Google. Practically all their website traffic has vanished and their phone has stopped ringing.
This is a link scheme (and one of the things that happens when business owners focus on building links):
Typically, upon further investigation, our team finds that the business has received a website penalty for violating the Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines. Of course, the business owner is shocked. How could this have happened? What did they do?
Of course, it’s rarely what they knowingly did. The problem is usually caused by a shady SEO company engaged in a massive local link scheme. Doing local SEO the right way (which I’ll outline below) is not quick and easy. It’s hard work, and it takes time. If you get solicited by an SEO company and their offer sounds too good to be true, it is.
And if you’ve got a page on your website like the one above, you’re sitting on a ticking SEO time bomb.
Bookmark this page, because you’re going to need it!
Obscure SEO Tactics
Recently, I received a call from the owner of an HVAC and plumbing company concerned about his local search rankings on Google. He had been solicited by a self-purported local SEO guru. The SEO guru claimed that, by not investing in “cutting edge strategies” like hosting Google+ Hangouts, the business owner was really hurting his local SEO rankings.
Let me tell you two things about Google+ Hangouts:
First, hosting Google+ Hangouts is not a “strategy”—it’s a tactic (at best). Second, we’ve tested Google+ Hangouts. They’re great… if you have a dead body to hide. Google+ would be a great place to hide a body because no one—including the FBI—would ever find it! Testing some marketing campaigns on the fringe, in the name of getting ahead of your competition is one thing, but you still have to apply at least a little good ‘ole fashion common sense. Currently, Google+ Hangouts are far from the top of the local business SEO priority list (sorry, Emily).
The Only Local SEO Strategy Worth Pursuing
If you own a local business and you’re serious about growing it and building a truly valuable company, you need to adopt a long-term, overarching strategy. You need to build a brand and become a recognized and trusted authority for what you do in the markets you do it.
Here are some initial steps:
#1 Track Everything and Make Data-Informed Decisions.
You cannot create an intelligent marketing strategy if you don’t have the right numbers (for your business and baseline data for your existing marketing campaigns). Better data equals better results. And we’re not talking about big data. You don’t need to be a statistician to follow my advice. You just need to install some basic analytical tools, such as Google Analytics and call tracking, and collect data for a few weeks (sometimes months—if you don’t have much traffic).
Some of you might read “months” and think, “Months! I don’t have months! I need more leads—like yesterday!”
I hear that all the time. Most small business owners operate with an extreme sense of urgency. I get it. I run a (relatively) small business, and I’ve run others in the past. But, if you want to transition from very small local business to slightly less small local business, you need to evolve the way you think and operate. Taking a few weeks or months to get the key metrics you need to make more intelligent decisions forever moving forward is worth it. Trust me.
Once you’ve got your key metrics and goals based on them, you need a strategy. You also need to start testing various tactics and marketing campaigns so that you can start seeing which tactics work and which should be adjusted and re-tested or eliminated. When you find a tactic or a campaign that produces favorable results, allocate more budget to it and continue. When you try something and it doesn’t work, you should end up with either a “we’re not going to do that again” or some questions.
Did the campaign or tactic fail because of the ad copy? Was it the list I used? Was it the landing page form? These questions become new tests. No business owner or marketer gets the marketing results they want from each campaign run (although some marketers imply that they do—they’re lying). The most successful business owners I know fail more than they succeed. The difference between them and other, less successful business owners is that the successful business owners view failed tests as important learning milestones.
#2 Change the Way You Think About the Web and Your Website
Too many business owners continue to look at the web and their website in the wrong way. They treat their website like a brochure. They don’t understand the point of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or YouTube. Your primary website (and yes, you can have more than one website) is a sales funnel.
It’s a silent sales rep for your business. I don’t care whether you’re a plumber or roofer—someone that doesn’t actually transact business via the web. In both of those cases, the “sale” is an inquiry—someone in need of your services finds your site, identifies that you offer what they need, and call or email you to learn more.
You gotta think of your website as if it were a great big sales funnel for your business. At some level, you can think of the entire web as a giant sales funnel.
This is what it looks like:
At the very top of the funnel, you have impressions. In order for people to be aware that you exist, they have to see you. Every time someone sees you online, an impression is registered. Use analytical tools to track the number of impressions your business is getting from people within your target demographic and service area. Aggregate these impressions across all the major sites on which you advertise or have a presence. Set goals to increase this number.
Of course, what you really want are qualified leads and sales. With the right tools and reporting mechanisms in place, you can track both back to the source—whether that source is an ad online or in the physical world. The key is to put those tools and reports in place before you start dumping money into ad campaigns. When you’ve got things set up correctly, you can see the impact more visibility on sites like Facebook, Houzz, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or YouTube can have on your business.
What you see will surprise you, and it will definitely be different than what the typical web guru soliciting you claims to be true.
#3 Establish and Promote Your Company as THE Trusted and Respected Authority
This statement is the linchpin of your entire web marketing strategy and it’s the real path to sustained local SEO success.
Don’t focus on building links. Build a brand.
A lot of business owners nod their heads when I offer this suggestion. There’s an almost universal acceptance that building a brand and establishing your business as a trusted, recognized, and respected authority in your industry and area is the path to sustained business success. Yet, very, very, very few local business owners demonstrate buy-in to this statement by way of their actual actions and marketing behaviors. At every turn, many revert to a “penny wise, pound foolish” mindset.
Take for example web videos.
Producing and distributing high-quality web videos is a HUGE opportunity right now for local businesses. In the past, if you wanted attention for your business, you had to rent an audience from a media company like Comcast or The Post. Today, with a little creativity and a little money, you can build an audience of your own. Videos are a great way to do this.
Think about why people choose to hire or buy from a local company vs. a national company. A lot of it comes down to the potential for a relationship with the owner vs. some customer service rep working at a national call center (these days, often overseas). There are few better ways to let the personality of your business shine through than with videos.
Now, you can shoot videos on your phone or you can pay a company to produce them professionally for you. Depending on the circumstances and the concept, both can work; however, you want to make sure that the production quality of the video is fitting for the place it’s being published. You want something high-quality that will make your business look like an authority.
When you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.
If you want to make 2015 your best year yet, you’ve got to move beyond tactics and start thinking BIGGER. Stop looking for a quick and easy way to the top. It doesn’t exist. There is no quick and easy way to build a respected brand—and that’s the key to your long-term success. Nothing good (that’s lasting) comes quick or easy.
If one of your prospects were asked to name a leader in your field/market, who would they name? If it’s not you, you’ve got to keep working “the plan” until the answer changes. I know it sounds hard. That’s the strategy we’re pursuing at Blue Corona, and we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. But, think of it this way—the harder something is to pull off, the fewer competitors you’ll have copying you.
If you’ve got an SEO company working for you now and you’re concerned that they might be executing short-sighted tactics (like the link scheme seen above), fill out the form below. A member of our team will review your website and your presence online and give you a business owner’s perspective on things.
About The Author: Ben Landers is the President and CEO of Blue Corona, a data-driven, inbound internet marketing company. Submit an inquiry to book Ben to speak at your next conference or event.
View more blogs by Ben Landers