I spotted two postcards under the windshield washer blades on the passenger side, just as my husband Mark and I jumped inside our car. We were hungry and wanted a tasty meal.

Reaching outside and grabbing the postcards, I quickly scanned them to see if worth keeping. One postcard was advertising a Mexican restaurant, a favorite cuisine of mine. I opened my lips, ready to suggest my great new dining idea, but quickly stopped.

This postcard got 95% of its marketing right, but ultimately failed.

Can you guess their mistake? What would make it a more effective marketing tool?

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If looking for ways to boost online lead generation for your small business, consider where the innovators are heading. A recent survey, reveals how some businesses are realizing 61% lower cost per lead by targeting inbound marketing channels. Responses from these leading small businesses recount their Internet marketing strategies and techniques that bring new customers.

According to the Hubspot survey report*:

“Traditional outbound marketing techniques – including direct mail, print advertising and telemarketing – are becoming less effective. Buyers are not only finding ways to tune these messages out, but more importantly, they now have the capability to evaluate the products and services they need on their own.

As a result, businesses are transforming their marketing efforts to focus more on inbound programs that allow customers to find them.” . . .

“Given the digital nature of inbound marketing, the marginal cost per customer acquisition is typically close to zero, meaning that as buyers continue to shift how they make purchases, the cost per lead for a given business will continue to decrease.”

The average cost of $346 per lead was reported by companies spending 50% or more on outbound marketing channels, as compared to $135 per lead by businesses using predominately inbound marketing channels. Company blogs, other social media, and organic search (search engine optimization) are the inbound marketing channels yielding this efficiency. [Continue reading…]

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Many entrepreneurs wonder whether to keep a new idea a secret, as they develop a new business or product, and begin  discovering effective marketing strategies for it. The number one reason that small businesses fail is not because of a lack of good ideas, it is because they run out of capital before delivering a product or service that customers crave. To forage a more direct path, focus on your market and learn what and why customers will buy.

While starting one of my businesses, a fundamental error was keeping the product a secret, so it would not be mimicked by competitors. Too much time was spent perfecting the product and its options that were suppose to attract more customers. Our efforts were spread thin while not understanding the salient features and core design that turns customers into fans. The outcome was lost time and bloated expenses.

According to Chris Dixon, entrepreneur and investor:

A frequent question entrepreneurs have when they are just starting their company is: how secretive should I be about my idea? My answer: you should talk about it to almost anyone who will listen. This includes investors, entrepreneurs, people who work in similar areas, friends, people on the street, the bartender, etc.
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How do visitors to your website react to its design and content? If you knew what visitors think about your website, would it change your approach to local business marketing? Discover insights into these important issues that may alter your Internet marketing strategies and techniques.

A recent survey queried consumers about their experiences with local business websites. It sought answers from 1,790 local consumers, of both genders, and yielded 1,212 responses from a mixture of ages and locations in the United States.

The interesting two questions, to me, were what factors might encourage or discourage visitors from contacting a local business while visiting its website. In marketing parlance, it impacts ‘conversion’ of suspects into prospects, and hopefully into customers. Let’s take a closer look at these two survey results for converting local consumers (published January, 2012).

How to Encourage Visitors to Contact a Local Business

Which of the following is most likely to encourage you to contact and use a local business?

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Many small business and local business owners are not sure how to raise their online visibility, and which Internet marketing strategies and techniques work best. Experts brag about a plethora of successful methods, ranging from small business SEO service, social media marketing, advertising, blogging and more – but, which ones are really effective?

A good approach is to first determine the current stage of exposure your business receives, and then follow proven strategies and techniques that will raise it to the next level.

This series of posts will describe the three stages, and show which Internet marketing strategies and techniques work at each stage:

  1. Getting started
  2. Broadening your presence and visibility, and
  3. Dominating your niche.

A post will be dedicated to each one; this one kicks it off by outlining the first stage.

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How can small businesses attract customers with new products or services that customers love? A taxi drive in Chicago that seems to have stumbled upon a winning approach.

According to a technology blog, Ars Technica:

“Honestly, I never looked at it as marketing nor I had that in mind when I started @ChicagoCabbie account,” Temuri told Ars. “I started Twitter thinking I’ll talk to people about taxi industry of Chicago. I feel there is a gap between taxi drivers and customers and there are lots of misunderstandings. They both are in such a defensive mode. They both feel like they have to protect themselves from the other and it’s just so wrong. I joined Twitter to eliminate the gap between a taxi customer and taxi driver.”

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With 2 billions Internet users, and an incredible 5 billion mobile devices world wide, small business mobile marketing programs will be profitable, the only questions are when and how. Should your small business be an early adopter, or push the pause button? The answer largely depends on your business, audience and goals.

Sizing the Mobile Opportunity

In the U.S., one out of three mobile searches have local intent, and mobile searches have been growing at 400% over the last year, according to Google. Restaurants receive the highest number of mobile searches, almost 30% of queries are from mobile devices. Other industries, like insurance and finance, personal and beauty, consumer electronics and automobile, receive about 15% of queries from mobile users.

How does this compare to the traffic your website attracts? It is easy to discover how many mobile visitors your business receives, the answers are in your Google Analytics or webmaster tool accounts. (If not already set up, both are free services that reports website data, or contact a small business SEO services company.)

According to The Kelsey Group, Google User Behavior Study 2010:

After looking up a local business on their smart phone,
61% of users called the business and 59% visited.

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The level of visibility your business radiates impacts its ability to attract new customers, and online visibility comes from top search rankings using small business SEO services. If you are not very familiar with search engine optimization (SEO), discover why you might need it, perhaps more than you realize.

Search engines, like Google and Bing, develop the rules that organize and rank over 23 million businesses in the United States. They regularly crawl websites trying to understand and index trillions of website pages. Applying SEO for local business, or any organization, assures that your website is communicating effectively when crawled. Also, SEO services typically include publishing content that continually increase its authority. Optimization efforts improve your online visibility, without it your business, or parts of it, can be largely ignored.

Like periodicals and books, online content is easier for people to find when appearing in indexes or directories, so search engines created the indexes. Similarly, written information is easier to comprehend when well structured with chapters, titles and sub-headings, so search engines look for a structural signals in the website, not merely based on what visitors see on its pages, but also by signals buried in its code.

Communicating Effectively About Your Business

Communicating effectively to these crawlers means that searchers are more likely to find information about your business, its products and services, and gives your business an identity, such as its brand, location, service area and reputation. When properly implemented, the trust and authority of your business grows, so it is rewarded with higher rankings for relevant searches.

To rise above your competition, your website and other online properties need to communicate in the language of search engines, so they can collect all your important information. As meaningful chunks of a small business SEO services are implemented, initial improvements quickly take effect. To rank above your competitors, of course, requires a sustained effort that continues building your reputation and rankings.

Increasing Your Small Business Visibility

The level of SEO effort that your small business needs will vary by type of business, location and competitive environment. An assessment by a qualified SEO expert will uncover your strengths and weaknesses, however, a local or small business usually needs improvements in the following areas:

  • Identifying relevant web and mobile keywords;
  • Claiming and/or enhancing a local business listing;
  • Developing profiles in directories and citations in your industry and/or locale;
  • Enhancing the website’s structure and code;
  • Acquiring customer reviews;
  • Developing authority and trust with relationships, content and links; and
  • Communicating regularly in blog posts on the company website.

In a USA TODAY video (see top right column), Google engineer Matt Cutts offers 5 basic SEO tips to get your website top rankings. While these tips are from 2008, most are relevant today. Matt tries making small business SEO services sound simple, yet it is readily apparent that SEO skills require training.

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To attract your ideal customers, you must be highly visible, and one of the best online strategies is search engine optimization (SEO) for local businesses. Getting started with SEO does not need to seem like parachuting into a canyon; blind faith is not a requirement. This post will help you discover how often people use Internet searches to find local businesses, and what value it brings when a company ranks on the first page for relevant searches.

Shifting Local Markets

Internet searchers are often prospects looking to buy what local businesses sell, or are researching before buying. Think about the many ways that prospects describe what you offer, or its benefits. It is likely that someone is typing such words into a search box – right now.

These online queries are expanding. Internet search is replacing, and has almost made obsolete, ads in printed telephone books. The yellow section in your phone book keeps shrinking every year. Some people do not even have, or use, them any longer.

Another expanding market is smart phone users; they carry a sophisticated look-up tool in their pocket or purse, quickly finding phone numbers, addresses, driving directions and even coupons while walking, traveling, shopping, dining and making buying decisions while using mobile search.

How Visibility Brings Clicks

Its obvious that many local businesses like being seen in web and mobile search results; it is not so obvious, however, how much value arises from being in the top position compared to other, lower ranked listings.

Traffic by Google Ranking based on AOL data

This Traffic by Google Ranking pie chart offers insight into people’s search behavior. Searchers click about 42% of the time (blue slice) on the first listing in a search result. This means that the searcher clicks their mouse – for mobile, it’s a tap – on a search listing to see its associated website page or local business listing, hoping to move closer to their goal.

The second ranked listing (red slice) receives about 12% of the mouse clicks for the same query; subsequent listings receive fewer clicks, with even fewer clicks occurring on the second page (lightest blue slice), merely 10% of clicks – not a location that business owners value.

Clicks Bring Customers Using Local SEO

Let’s look at a concrete example, showing how search rankings impact clicks and attract customers. If you have a dental practice in Greeley, Colorado, you probably want to appear whenever someone searches for Greeley dentist, Dentists Greeley, CO, or other dental services like teeth whitening or dentures. We will analyze the first two searches, since they are very common.

Using Google’s keyword tool, the number of monthly searches for these two keywords can be found. Next, we determine a range of monthly clicks that a Greeley dentist might earn using ranking percentages from the traffic pie. Below, the number of clicks are calculated for the best positions that a dental practice might attain in Google’s search results:

Keyword: (Searches/mo) 1st Rank (clicks/mo) 2nd Rank (clicks/mo) 3rd Rank (clicks/mo)
Greeley dentist:          880     371 =42% x 880     105 =11.9% x 880      75 =8.5% x 880
dentists Greeley CO:  320     135 =42% x 320      38 =11.9% x 320      27 =8.5% x 320

You can see how the number of clicks vary significantly for ‘Greeley Dentist’, from a high of 371 clicks to 75 clicks per month, depending whether the dentist’s listing reaches first, second or third ranking for each keyword.

Over 12 months, assuming 1% of the people who click become new patients (#clicks x 12 mos. x 1%)*; this dental practice has the opportunity to earn many new paying customers, if optimized well for the two keywords. Again, the number of clicks, therefore, new patients/customers will vary based on actual rankings:

New Customers/Year

Keyword: 1st Rank 2nd Rank 3rd Rank
Greeley dentist             44             13              9
dentists Greeley CO             16              5              3

(*Conversion rates vary broadly by market niche and company. This conversion calculation was simplified, since this is an introductory discussion, however, a 1% rate is within reason.)

Growing Local SEO Results

The clicks gained by local SEO strategies can actually be greater, since there may be a dozen to thirty or more keywords germane to a local business. In addition, this example underestimates the number of searches and clicks because it does not include results for Bing, Yahoo and other search engines (Google currently represents about two-thirds of all searches).

A local business may also attract more searchers if it is located in a larger city or sells many sought after products and/or services, since each impacts the number of keywords used by prospects – specifying a nearby city, subsection of a city or zip code, or ways of describing what you sell.

Of course, rankings and results will depend upon your goals, budget and competition, and the Internet marketing strategies applied. It is still possible to start ranking well using SEO for local businesses, since the sophistication of local Internet marketing is still low in most cities – your small business, with consistent effort, can still rise above local SEO competitors.

If you have a question about SEO for local businesses, please contact us or leave a comment below. If you mention this local SEO post, we will provide a free web and mobile assessment for qualified companies.

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Daily deal marketing can be used judiciously for some local businesses, but may weaken others. Local business owners are often enticed when imagining customers streaming through their doors, especially restaurateurs that are new or want to fill tables during slow times or days. Similar coupon benefits have drawn in health- and beauty-related services, evident by the acceptance and incredible growth of deal websites catering to them, quintupling last year to over 340 sites.

According to the New York Times:

“Our life changed after Groupon — we would do it again,” said Michele Casadei Massari, 35, an owner of two Piccolo Cafes in Manhattan. Groupon sells its online coupons for half their food value and then Groupon takes an additional 50 percent of the discount sales. On March 1, in a timed deal, Piccolo Cafe sold 1,142 coupons for $14 worth of food in 24 hours.

“You don’t make money on the deal,” Mr. Massari acknowledged, “but in the end we are even.”

That’s because “people spend more than on the coupon amount,” he said. “They’ve been ordering about double the $14 from us. And people usually bring other customers, who are paying full price.”

Beyond that, among those who are redeeming coupons, “80 percent have come back without a coupon,” he said.

The health- and beauty-related businesses are also leaping into deal making with spa treatments, dental whitening and hair or nail salon services. They sold an impressive 31% of all discounted deals in the first quarter of 2011, totaling 78 millions dollars in sales, stated an aggregator of daily deals, Yipit.

As beauty coupons multiply, business owners are tallying and sharing their outcomes:

“You kind of take it as a loss leader because you hope people have a positive experience and translate into a lifelong patient,” said Dr. Jennifer Jablow, a cosmetic dentist in New York who sold 50 cleanings and 63 whitening treatments on Gilt City this year. So far, 13 of those new patients have returned for additional services at regular cost.

But at what point does a business risk devaluing itself in the name of finding a few new customers? Dr. Steven Pearlman, a facial plastic surgeon who listed discounted prices for chemical peels, laser services, Botox and Juvederm on Gilt City last year, said he would not work with a deal site again for a very long time.

“I don’t want to undercut patients who have been seeing me for years and paying full price, the majority of whom do,” Dr. Pearlman said. “I don’t want to cheapen the brand.”

Many local businesses discover that while their coupon deals bring highly valued exposure, it happens in surprising ways. Some experience new peaks in activity on Facebook and then drops in their online review ratings, according to Boston and Harvard University researchers:

  1. The popularity of a daily deal spreads via Facebook and its ‘Likes’, and their research model suggests that Facebook plays a significant role in boosting sales of daily deal coupons.
  2. The number of customer reviews increased significantly due to daily deal marketing, but average rating scores from reviewers who mention the leading dealer and coupon are 10% lower than scores of their peers, dropping from an average of 3.71 stars to 3.59 stars; these customer review scores typically change very little, month to month.

Local business owners should consider the impact of daily deal marketing on their brand, existing customers and online reviews. When the benefits of coupons outweigh the risks, they should develop a plan so its profitable over time, while creating positive experiences for its new customers.

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