Four Online Marketing Mistakes Small Businesses Make (And How to Avoid Them)

The following is a guest post by digital marketing strategist Seth Spears.

As a small business owner, when it comes to marketing your product or service online, there are two options: jump in feet first as an early technology adopter, or sit back and wait to see if the new methods actually work for those crazy early adopters (your competitors).

In the last few years, the marketing landscape has changed drastically. This is primarily because of changes in buyer habits due to technology advances such as broadband internet access, search engines, social media, and smart phones.

As a marketing consultant to small and local business owners, I’ve seen firsthand the mistakes many of these owners make, usually out of ignorance. It’s very unfortunate, as with a little advance planning, they could save thousands of dollars, and more importantly, hours of time.

So without further ado, here are the top four online marketing mistakes small business owners make, and how to avoid them.

Mistake 1. Poor Website Design, Structure, & Content.

In the rush to get their business online, many small business owners throw up a website as quickly as possible, but neglect the three most important aspects of any site: visually appealing design, ease of navigation, and quality content.

Your website is a direct extension of your business. It’s highly likely that your site is the first thing a potential customer will see when deciding to do business with you. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so what kind of impression is your site leaving with potential customers?

Design: Your business website should not look like it was created on Frontpage 10 years ago, but needs to reflect today’s web standards and capabilities.

Structure: It needs to be easy to navigate, so that visitors have a consistant experience on every page of your site. If I go to your site and have to click the “back” button to return to the homepage, I’m more likely to click the “x” button, and visit your competitor’s site instead.

Content: The information presented needs to be what potential customers are looking for. Who you are, what you do, the products/services offered, and how to contact you.

Without all of these aspects in place, you are giving a negative first impression to potential customers, and probably losing business.

Mistake 2. Lack of Basic Search Engine Optimization.

The way most people use the web is to go to Google, type in the keyword or phrase they’re looking for, and click on the first result. Even if they know the URL of a business they’re interested in, many will still let Google do the work for them, instead of simply typing it in the address bar. Because of this, every website MUST have some basic on-site search engine optimization.

The single most important aspect of SEO (search engine optimization) is the title tag, what you see at the top of your browser when you are on a particular webpage. The title tag tells Google what that particular page is about.

If the title tag of your homepage says “home” your site does not have optimized title tags! (If you’re not in the ‘home’ industry, you probably don’t want to rank for that term.) At the very minimum, your title tag should include the keywords or phrase(s) a potential customer would most likely search for, along with the name of your business. For example, the title tag of Shotgun Concepts looks like this:

Chris Houchens .:. Marketing Speaker | Marketing Author | Shotgun Marketing Blog

Secondly, each page of your site must have a specific meta description. This is the information that Google (or any other search engine used) will show below the link to your site in the search results. (Click here to see what the Shotgun Concepts meta description looks like to Google.) Without it, the big G will pull whatever information it feels is most relevant to the page, without your input. Since you know your business, it’s probably a good idea for you decide what info you want to show up.

Get these two elements correctly in place, and your site will rank much higher for your business/industry keywords.

Mistake 3. Using Social Media as (another) Broadcast Medium

The web has changed marketing. No longer can you simply broadcast your message to the masses and hope your intended customer will see/hear/respond to it. Social media has fundamentally changed all that. Now, past, current, and future customers have a way to communicate with you.

If you have a Facebook page for your business, yet don’t allow comments on the wall for fear of what someone might say, you’re using Facebook to broadcast. If you tweet out a daily special or promotion, yet never follow anyone back or check your @ replies, you’re using Twitter to broadcast.

Social media is a dialog, not a monologue. It’s (should be) a back and forth conversation between you and your customer (or future customer). If that scares you, good! It means you’ll work harder to provide a valuable product or service. It also means that customers will be choosing to do business with those who listen to them, rather than just advertise to them.

Social media is a three-spoked wheel, one-part marketing, one-part public relations, and one-part customer service. Treat it like such and your customers will love and thank you!

Mistake 4. Lack of Consistency

Your web presence can be one of your biggest marketing assets, but the key is consistency. Just like any other area of business, you have to set expectations and live up to them.

If your website has a blog, update it regularly. Whether that is once a month, once a week, or every day, be sure to keep it consistant, as your visitors will have an expectation, and if that expectation isn’t met, they’ll begin looking somewhere else for what you offer. If you can only spend an hour each day from 4:00-5:00 PM on social media, that’s fine, but set the expectation upfront and live up to it.

If a new customer came to your place of business and you had 4th of July sale signs prominently displayed (in August), they’re probably not going to take your business very seriously, no matter what your excuse. The same holds true with your web presence.

Keep your website updated. Be consistant in your social media usage. Treat it as another aspect of your regular business activities and your customers will get to know, like, trust, and buy from you regularly!

There you have it. The top four online marketing mistakes small business owners are guilty of, and how to resolve them. Are you guilty of any of these? Which ones? What steps have you taken to correct them? Any others I’ve left out? Leave a comment below to let us know!

Seth Spears is the chief strategist/principal of Spears Marketing, a digital marketing consulting firm specializing in WordPress web design, local search engine optimization, social media, email, video, & content marketing, brand strategy & consulting. He is a small business crusader passionate about helping small businesses grow through targeted, online marketing, direct-response strategies, and fantastic customer service. You can follow him on Twitter & Facebook.

the AMWAY of Facebook

I’m going to stop using the phrase “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid” (Flavor-Aid, actually) and I’m replacing it with “Don’t post about Zija on your Wall”.

Maybe it’s just the prism that I view Facebook through, but apparently the folks up higher on the Zija pyramid tell their underlings to use Facebook as the primary marketing tool to expand the cult.

These days, everytime I open Facebook it’s like that time someone tried to proposition me in a hotel (!)

If you want to use Facebook to sell / promote something, use a page. It’s OK to use your profile to point your friends to the page (a few times). Let those who are interested opt-in.

effin yes

Normally, if I want other people to take a look at interesting blog posts, articles, or other web fodder, I post it in my Twitter feed. (What!? You’re not following me?!)

But we know that Twitter is a stream with limited attention so I wanted to bring special attention to today’s post on James Lileks’ Bleat where he takes down Jeff Jarvis’ current profane political hashtag.

Lileks does a much better job of making the point, but there is never a real need for vulgur language. When people start using too much profanity, especially in a professional setting, I stop listening.

I also fully agree with Lileks’ points that Jarvis’ site is as ugly as sin and that hashtags don’t change the world. I like his line

It’s possible someone burst into the President’s office and said “sir, this hashtag is trending. I think you should take a look at this.”

My two cents. (as is everything here)

marketing in the stream

Since the days of the Cluetrain, it is accepted mantra that “markets are conversations”. However, I think this idea only seeped down to the creative and strategy levels in marketing. We really need to start paying more attention to media placement as virtual word-of-mouth.

We’ve always talked about media placement as a physical hole in print space, airtime, website, etc that could be filled with a marketing message. It’s an item that could be pegged to a specific timeframe and a space that worked to achieve maximum reach and frequency and build awareness.

But with feeds, walls, tags, and clouds; there is no past and no future. Just a constant stream.

Studies show the average tweet has a lifespan of only about an hour before it’s pushed down the stream never to be seen again. This stream effect is similar on every other social medium.

So, in essence, you’re now marketing with mayflies.

So what to do?

First comes a fundamental rethinking the idea of media placement and consumption. The same people who laughed and tsked a few years ago about traditional media luddites who couldn’t adapt to a digital world are now having to adapt to a new shift in the media mindset themselves.

We must not just “launch a social media campaign” and dump messages into this constant stream, but we must consider that the individuals consuming the initial marketing messages are also another potential “media buy” that can spread the message further.

It’s a duplicate of the same problem marketers faced when the web first came to force. Converting the company brochure into a website was not a good idea in the 1990s. Converting your digital marketing messages into the social stream is not a good idea today.

shoving new ideas into old boxes

There are lots of new marketing tools popping up that you can use to send your message to your audience.

So why are you repurposing this new social technology to fit your current models instead of creating new ones?

don't shove your new social media marketing into traditional marketing models

Don’t shove your new media marketing into your current traditional marketing models. It doesn’t work as well and, in retrospect, it will look dumb.

(bonus history lesson: The photo is of a Hoover Cart.)

the cart and the horse

We’re now on the other side of the curve. If your organization doesn’t already have a toe in the social media waters, you’re late to the game.

But just as “everybody” threw up an online brochure and said they had a website a few years ago, most businesses are just on a social media land grab without a real strategy on how to make it win.

Just because you have a Facebook page and a Twitter handle, it doesn’t mean you’re doing social media marketing.

True social media marketing success will not directly come just from creating your social media channels. Success will come from your customers and fans creating / spreading messages about the customer experience you provided.

If you get the cart before the horse and establish a social media marketing campaign before you are providing a customer experience that you want people to talk about, you may be putting bullets in the gun that kills you. Don’t help create your social media disaster.

Get your customer service house in order, establish the platforms, provide the marketing talking points, and your social media marketing success will happen on its own.

A positive customer experience is the true key to spreading your message in social media. (and offline IRL too)

the top 3 facebook marketing mistakes

Facebook pages are getting a redesign similar to the one that Facebook profiles recently underwent. If you’re a page admin, you can voluntarily go to the new design or be automatically converted around March 1st. I suggest you go ahead and opt-in to the change a few days after it’s offered. (Let others deal with the inevitable initial bugs, but still be an early adopter.)

changes are coming to facebook. Is your marketing ready?There are lots of positives (and negatives) surrounding the change. I think the best change is the new ability for email alerts on page activity (I don’t have a clue why this wasn’t there from the start) But at the same time, I will miss tabs.

If you’re already actively marketing your brand on Facebook, you’ll find this post from ‘Inside Facebook’ on the redesign a very helpful guide.

But I urge you to take a step even further back and evaluate your Facebook marketing strategy. Are you sure you’ve covered some of the basics?

Are you making some of the following mistakes as a marketer using Facebook to connect with customers?

Why am I here?
Brands are spending lots of money to get people to like them on Facebook. But what are companies doing with them once they get them there? Getting people to like you on Facebook should not be a marketing end-goal; it should be a tactic in a larger strategy.

The like is not the end of the marketing; it’s just the beginning.

How often are you posting new content? Are you interacting with fans? Are you just re-posting your traditional marketing messages or are you having a conversation?

It’s also important to remember that having a Facebook page is not a web marketing strategy. It should be one element of a much larger plan.

Profiles are not Pages
A profile is something on Facebook that an individual person has. A page is for brands. If you’re doing business or trying to promote something, you need a page; not a profile. There are 3 big reasons for this.

1) The major reason is that it’s against Facebook rules for anything other than an individual person to have a profile. You run the risk of being suspended.
2) Pages work differently than profiles. Many of these things (like some of the changes that are coming) are designed to help you market and sell rather than play Farmville.
3) A person can only have 5,000 friends on Facebook. If you ever aspire to have more than 5,000 fans, you need to move to a page as soon as you can.

The worst thing you can do is have both a page and a profile. It confuses your customers. Post on the profile numerous times that you’re moving to the page. Try to get as many to move with you as you can. Chalk up the lost stragglers as a marketing lesson.

Get a decent URL
I see the same mistakes all the time when someone is trying to convey the location of the brand’s page. If you have over 25 fans, you can get a simple URL like www.facebook.com/BrandZeitgeist by going to facebook.com/username and choosing your name. That’s alot simpler to communicate than the ambiguous “find us on facebook” or the incorrect “become our friend on facebook”. (see previous ‘Profiles are not Pages’ point)

The only thing harder to communicate is the deadly full page name and ID URL like http://www.facebook.com/pages/Chris-Houchens/17831081539. I’m sure that URL will flow beautifully in your radio commercials (and take up half the time).

Something else I see alot is people taking the full URL sin one step further and promoting some of their personal browsing history like: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lighthouse-Restaurant-Sulphur-Well-KY/114743131874741#!/pages/Chris-Houchens/17831081539 goes to my page but also shows that I have been thinking about going to Sulphur Well for some country ham. The url will still work when you take the pages/Lighthouse-Restaurant-Sulphur-Well-KY/114743131874741#!/ out of it.

These are the big three mistakes that I see brands make the most often. What would you add to this list? What are brands do you think are using Facebook effectively?

(by the way — when you like me on Facebook, you’ll get my latest blog posts delivered in your news feed.)

the daily disappointment

UPDATE (2 years later): They finally killed The Daily.

So yesterday, I was all giddy (in a professional way) about the advent of The Daily, the world’s first news publication built specifically for a tablet (read: iPad). I actually “tuned-in” for the live stream of the launch (which began late). But the more I watched, the more I soured. (which probably came through on Twitter)

And it’s my fault. I was expecting too much.

I guess I was envious of what they could do with a fresh slate. There were no sacred cows to kill with the “this is how we set hot type” luddites, no internal turf wars that hinder what could be done with an online news publication, no online/print revenue streams to shield with an opportunity for a real understanding of an online revenue stream, no technology limitations of how content could be presented, and more. It was a chance for a complete re-invention.

But what did they do? They put together a gussied-up online newspaper.

It’s completely made up of the same multimedia content that you can find on any major market newspaper website — just presented like your iTunes albums (and will users flip through with the same uninterested abandon?)

Crossword and Sudoku!? Wow. They might as well as have included Alley Oop, Ann Landers (who is still dead), and the horoscope (update: Corey says they have a horoscope.)

One of the Daily’s first tweets (where you think they would promote the coolest stuff) was that you could share articles on Facebook, Twitter, or email. That’s so unique to this new and exciting platform. I can’t do that with any other site. Email? Tell me more! (btw – it’s not really social sharing if it’s inside the paywall)

I thought of writing a huge post about The Daily, but it would have been full of snark like the above. Instead, here are a link, a personal anecdote, and a quote that pretty much sum up my overall thoughts:

  • This article from GigaOm does the best job of quickly pointing out the flaws and foibles of The Daily.
  • This morning, I’m teaching one of my college classes and today was the day I had already scheduled to talk about web design, user/reader experience, etc. So I started out by asking them about yesterday’s launch of The Daily as a new way to interface news. In a group of 48 students (most in their late teens/early twenties) who are enrolled in a journalism school, not one of them had even heard of The Daily.
  • And finally this from James Lileks’ Bleat

    As for New Media platforms, I’ve looked at the Daily app for the iPad, and I can only say this: it’s always going to come down to tomorrow. Yes, yes, do the in-depth stories, the culture stuff, the lite ‘n’ brite features, but when it comes to NEWS, don’t tell me anything tomorrow I didn’t know today.National and international news has to be updated hourly, or it’s still fishwrap. Without the added functionality of, you know, actual fishwrap.

moving a blog from blogspot to wordpress

I’m normally just an occasional lurker in the weekly #blogchat on Twitter. But Sunday night’s #blogchat was about changing blogging platforms — a subject that I’ve had intimate experience with. I started blogging in January 2005 on Blogger at http://shotgunconcepts.blogspot.com and moved the Shotgun Marketing Blog to this self-hosted WordPress platform in February of 2009.

Because I couldn’t get all my points and story across in 140 characters in #blogchat, here are some things you need to consider if you’re going to change blogging platforms:

  • Start where you need to be so you never have to change platforms
    “Way back” in 2005 when I started blogging, I didn’t feel I had the technical know-how to set up a mySQL database, hack out code, and do the other things that were necessary (back then) to setup WordPress. (Looking back, I could have done it.) I really don’t remember why I chose Blogger, but I do remember why I left. I didn’t like the look of a .blogspot URL and Blogger didn’t have many of the features I was wanting. I just started blogging without really understanding the long term commitment I was getting into. You need to look at all platforms and decide which is best for your purposes and make a good decision up front so you never have to move. (And Blogger is a good platform; I still use them for some other blogs)
  • Wait it out
    Blogger upgraded their systems and adopted MANY of the things I was wanting to do in their blogging software shortly after I migrated the blog to WordPress.
  • You WILL lose your rank and previous SEO work
    I knew this before I moved, but I didn’t really realize the depth of how much would go away. Blogger doesn’t allow permanent 301 redirects so FOUR years of my link equity building are gone. Before the move, I was ranked in the 40 / 50 range of the Power 150 ad / marketing bloggers; today I’m in the 400s. My old blogspot address is still listed on old blogrolls of dead blogs that haven’t been updated in years, but search engines still see those links (not weighted as heavily, but still there). Plus people don’t have blogrolls like they used to. As people moved away from blogs to things like Twitter and Facebook, direct inbound links and trackbacks from other blogs became less intense.  All the link power of being on top of the Z-list pyramid was gone. And it’s my fault, too. I haven’t blogged as heavily and consistently as I did in the early years. I already had my business site on http://shotgunconcepts.com so I had inbound links already, but not close to the amount I had on the old blog. Just be prepared to lose your link equity.
  • Your strength is in your followers and subscribers
    I had a lot of RSS subscribersthrough Feedburner. I just switched the source URL in my Feedburner dashboard and boom — all those people came with me and never knew the difference.
  • If you’re going to move, stop thinking about it and do it
    I thought of moving long before I did. While I was thinking, my blogspot became even more entrenched in the Internet. Even to this day, my old blogspot site comes up 3rd on a Google search for Chris Houchens. I keep a basic presence on the old blogspot, just to tell people where I’ve gone.
  • You can’t look back
    I have no regrets about moving. I love WordPress; I can do so much more with it. I love the fact that my business site and blog are intertwined. Two years later, I am slowly, but surely regaining rank power on the blog side. Because even if the old blogspot ranks three on a Google search for my name — this site ranks first.

What about you? Have you moved blogging platforms? What lessons have you learned? I would love to hear from some WordPress experts or SEO experts on what I could have done better.

i like it when it makes sense

So you’ve probably seen several of your female Facebook friends post status updates such as:

  • “I like it on the kitchen table.”
  • “I like it on a chair at the bar.”
  • “I like it on the floor of my van.”

While on the surface, this seems like a titillating reveal of personal information; it’s actually very mundane. The status updates refer to where the person puts down her purse when she gets home.

(Sidenote: I saw one woman post “I like it in the shower” which would imply one of two things. Either she has a wet purse or she went T.M.I. because she didn’t understand what was happening.)

The purse location meme supposedly is to raise awareness that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Compare this to the bra color status Facebook meme earlier this year.

The bra color status event was very clever because … you know … breasts and bras … they kind of go together like peas and carrots. But what do purses have to do with breast cancer? Yes, most women carry a purse and most have breasts, but is that a strong connection to breast cancer awareness? How does the location of a purse get a woman to have a mammogram or do a lump check?

Before someone posts the inevitable comment that I don’t care about breast cancer, please know that I do. But the purse thing has two major considerations that may hurt the cause.

Several women’s groups are raising the question of whether things like this are contributing to some of the backlash and fatigue over breast cancer awareness month.

And even if you make a connection between purses and breast cancer, the thing that strikes me the most about the purse meme is just the sheer copycat nature of it.

You can’t make lightning strike twice by astroturfing a mediocre replacement of a previously successful grassroots viral meme.

And btw – my wife likes it on the hearth of the fireplace.