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.

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.