1: Customer Reviews
Customer reviews are an invaluable resource for businesses of all sizes. Surveys have shown that 84% of millennials trust reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations and 92% of all consumers read reviews as part of their purchasing decisions. For a small business, finding ways to harness this resource can be an extremely effective form of free marketing.
One of the most common and easy ways of using reviews to your benefit is by showcasing them on your website or social media profile. There are several ways you can go about doing this.
- Include a dedicated testimonials page featuring up-to-date reviews from a variety of sites.
- Strategically place reviews throughout your website, including on your home page or on your products, pricing, or landing pages.
- Include space on your site where customers can leave reviews or post their experiences using your products or services.
Beyond finding ways to share your reviews, it’s also vital that you take a more active approach when dealing with customer reviews by utilizing the free tools available to business owners on popular review sites.
- Platforms like Yelp and TripAdvisor allow business owners to claim their business page for free so they can keep their information up to date, post pictures, and — most importantly — respond directly to customers. Posting unique, authentic, positive responses can improve consumer trust and even mitigate the effects of negative reviews. Yelp also allows businesses to post promotions and coupons on their page to help drive business.
- Trustpilot is another great resource for integrating reviews into your marketing strategy. Like Yelp and TripAdvisor, you can create and personalize your company profile for free. Beyond this, Trustpilot offers 100 free invites to send to customers and TrustBoxes that can be embedded into your website to display reviews.
- Google has a number of free tools available to help small businesses use reviews to their benefit. Google’s program, Small Thanks, is designed to allow small businesses to integrate their reviews into their marketing materials for free. The service selects quotes from your 4- and 5-star reviews and creates examples of social media posts, posters, and other marketing materials on your behalf, which you can use as-is or customize.
2: Social Media
With over two billion active social media users, businesses cannot afford to ignore this vital marketing tool. Not only is it a powerful form of free advertising, it’s also an excellent resource for learning more about your customers. Using social media is second nature for many, so finding a way to seamlessly integrate your business into this world can do wonders for your profit margins.
The first step to getting your social media presence rolling is to create your accounts, and it’s never too early to do so. Even if your business hasn’t opened, social media can be a powerful tool to build excitement before you launch. Consider posting updates about your progress, industry information, or pre-launch promotions.
Pro tip: When opening multiple accounts, it’s best to use the same username, images, and description across platforms to make your business easily recognizable.
Determine Your Strategy
Next, you’ll need a plan. The most important step when it comes to best utilizing social media is to have a clear strategy. This should begin by answering two important questions:
- What is the purpose of my social media presence (driving sales, driving web traffic, building brand awareness, acquiring leads)?
- Who is my target audience?
The answers to these questions will play a huge part in guiding your content creation. When it comes to content, there are some important tips to help you succeed:
- Engage users in two-way dialogue: Rather than posting sales pitches, create content that promotes customer engagement. Ask questions or encourage customers to post pictures of themselves using your products.
- Maintain a consistent but varied presence: Accounts that go silent for days at a time will start losing their followers. One way to stay both active and fresh is to select four or five different post styles that can easily be customized each week to create new and interesting content. Using #throwbackthursday is a great way to effectively reuse your most popular posts.
- Utilize free tools to optimize your post designs: You don’t need to be a graphic designer to create top-notch content thanks to some of the free tools available today. Sites like Canva, Lumen5, and numerous meme generators can help you produce professional graphics no matter your experience level.
Choose the Right Platforms
Finally, it’s vital to remember that not all social media platforms are created equally. When developing your presence, you’ll need to select which platforms work best for you and how to utilize each one to their full potential.
- Facebook: Because of the way Facebook designs its algorithms, maintaining a large following is not enough to keep your voice heard. The most important Facebook marketing strategy is consistent engagement. The more people interact with your posts, the more they’ll be seen. The best way to do this is to focus on content that encourages likes, comments, and shares (without directly requesting them).
- Instagram: Newly launched Instagram for Business is a way for business users to maintain their Instagram presence with extra benefits. In addition to adding information like business hours, location, and a phone number, users get real-time metrics on how their posts are performing and insights into how followers are interacting with them. As with traditional Instagram, visually appealing posts rule the day.
Quick Tip: Maximizing your followers requires well-designed posts, focused hashtags, and engagement. Getting your followers to post and hashtag pictures of your products will allow you to double down on this powerful free resource.
- Twitter: Unlike other social networking sites, Twitter places a limit on how much you can say in each post. As such, tweets should be focused on sparking conversation and interaction. Some of the best ways to do this are to tweet questions, reply to followers as frequently as possible, direct your tweets to your audience, and use hashtags strategically. Hashtags were born on Twitter, and they play a huge role in directing activity on the site. Not only should you establish consistent business-related hashtags to help customers find you, but you should also take advantage of trending topics to bring new users to your page. To do this authentically and effectively, you’ll need to keep up with what topics are trending and pinpoint those that will fit organically into your business message.
Beyond these three main social networking sites, each business should consider any other sites that may match the tone and mission of their business. Sites like Pinterest, Linkedin, and Snapchat can also be extremely useful depending on your business type and target audience.
To learn more about using marketing with social media, check out our Social Media Marketing for Small Business guide.
3: Digital Advertising
Digital advertising is a key component of any successful online marketing strategy. Unfortunately, these services are rarely free. However, for a small business just starting out, there are a few tips and tricks to getting your business out there without breaking the bank.
The best way to get a feel for digital advertising is to take advantage of trials and promotions whenever possible.
The most popular digital ad platform is Google AdWords. While they do not offer any free trials, they do accept credits and promotional codes. This is a great way to try out Google ads for free, but you’ll need to get a bit creative. Many web hosting services like Wix.com and Bluehost offer new users up to $100 in Google ad credits. You can also find credits from other business service providers like Vistaprint or, in some cases, request credits directly from Google.
Similarly, Bing Ads will occasionally run promotional offers that can be found through promotional events, online marketing drives, or other special offers. Generally, new users are required to pay something upfront before applying the credits, but keeping an eye out for these deals can be a great way to save money on advertising.
4: SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Search engine optimization can be an intimidating subject, but it doesn’t have to be. There are some simple and universal steps you can take as a business owner that will significantly increase traffic to your website without costing you a penny.
One of the most important ways to boost your search results is to identify keywords and use them properly. To begin, you’ll need to pin down exactly what your site is about and what you hope to get out of it. An excellent resource when getting started is Google Keyword Planner. This free service allows you to search words and phrases related to your business to see how often certain words are searched and how those searches change over time.
Choosing keywords is important, but using them effectively is essential. To get the most out of your keywords keep the following in mind:
- Keep your main keyword front and center. To maximize exposure, be sure to feature your keyword in as many places as you can. It should be included in the title of your main page, the header, and the name of any images on your site.
- Use keywords in your permalinks. Rather than choosing boring and generic URLs to identify different sections of your site, select keywords that clearly describe the content.
Other SEO Tips
Beyond mastering the art of keywords, there are several other simple steps your business can take to climb the ranks of search results and be seen.
- Ensure that your site loads quickly. Site speed is one of Google’s top ranking criteria, so be sure your website does not take more than three seconds to load.
- Link to relevant websites and have them link to you. If it makes sense for your business, linking to other relevant sites and finding websites that will link to yours can help boost your site.
- Ensure that your site is indexed in search engines. Be sure that major search engines like Google and Bing are indexing your content. If they’re not, you can add them yourselves.
- Update your content. If possible and relevant, update your site frequently to keep your content fresh.
- Don’t forget about meta descriptions. A meta description is a short blurb that shows up when your site appears in search results. Be sure to create unique and relevant content for each page on your website. In many cases, this is the first contact potential customers will have with your business, so make it count.
The internet is your oyster when it comes to spreading your message to the right places and helping your business thrive. Whether you’re selling shoes, cars, or haircuts, an effective and diverse online presence can mean the difference between success and failure. The best part is that with a bit of effort you can reap many of these benefits without tapping into your budget at all.
For more in-depth digital marketing strategies and advice, check out our Digital Marketing for Small Business guide.