Getting ranked higher by Google – A Locally Mini-Series

Part 1 of 2

Is it your ‘dream’ that when potential customers search for a product or service that you offer,  that on page 1 of the search engine listings, your business ranks up there with other great companies?

It is not a pipe dream; it can be a reality BUT, you need to be focused and committed – and you also need to be doing the right things, from setting your pages up correctly, to telling the search engines you exist to then staying committed, constantly pushing your website so that it looks and ‘feels’ authoritative and trustworthy.

In this first part of a two part mini-series, here at Locally we take a look at how online, local businesses can figure in those top spots on page 1, starting with understanding the ranking equation used by one of the major search engines, Google.

Why Google?

It is huge. Gargantuan. It has the lion’s share of the search engine market (up to 90% according to some estimates). With 2 billion Internet users worldwide, it is probably not unrealistic to estimate that half of these will use Google as either their preferred or default search engine. It would be silly, almost the kiss of death to ignore Google, there are other search engines out there. However, for the purpose of this Locally Mini-Series, we will focus on Google.

In a nutshell

To understand how to win the coveted crown for a ‘Page 1 Top Spot’, you need to understand two things:

  1. How Google’s algorithm works – what it uses to rank pages
  2. Understand why your competitors are ranking higher than you, at that particular time.

Google’s algorithm

Ah yes, just like algebra at school, we can see your eyelids getting heavy as you prepare for a mid-afternoon nap but now is not the time.

First thing’s first; apart from the very top executives at Google, no one really knows all the secrets, twists and turns that this search engine uses to create its magic page 1 list but, there are some highly intelligent technically minded people who have a fairly decent idea of how the algorithm crunches number and data.

But, don’t forget that this algorithm also changes over time, so what was working this time last year, might not be delivering the results now. This way, the web is kept vibrant and fresh.

Walking in Google’s shoes – try and see what it sees

Basically what we are saying is this: when a customer searches for something on the Internet using its browser, they want to see results that are accurate. We all know the frustration of surfing for information on something specific, only to find that what we get is some tripe from a far off place that makes no sense.

And so, you need to see what Google will see when it takes a look at your website – think relevance, popularity and quality. If people are buying from or using a website, it must be offering something worth having. It must offer a worthwhile buying experience, and customers must be happy with it. Hence, to Google, that website looks a fairly good one, so they move it up the rankings…

Simple?

In that case, your website needs to show good it is relevant, popular and offers high quality experience, such as an authoritative blog or news section, along with FAQs and the like. In this way, customers may also be reviewing your products or services, liking your page, enjoying your tweets and just generally in conversation with you.

Google says that it has 200 variable factors that it uses to rank websites but, there are some things that can be done that will help you website climb the slippery pole on to page 1 – and stay there.

So sharpen your elbows, because here are 6 factors that can influence your ranking with Google (yes, only 6… but they are important).

The Locally Whistle Stop Tour of 6 Things You Can Do To Get a Higher Ranking with Google (might work with other search engines too!)

Tickets please! Now fasten your seat belts and let’s look at the first 3 of these factors (the remaining 3 will be addressed in Part 2 of this blog post… due for publication on the Locally blog on Wednesday 5th November)

Number 1: Page Titles


 

This matters because it is a description of what the page is about. It must be accurate and at least 3 words long. So, in your page if you are targeting a particular keyword or phrase, then this should be included in your page title and in the right order.

E.g. if your home page keywords were ‘local (and) online personalised gifts (for) sailors’ then you would use this in the page title html description.

The (and) and (for) are in brackets to highlight that they are STOP words. These are words that Google does not count in its searches, simply because you would have all sorts of weird and wonderful results. There are literally hundreds more stop words

Number 2: Page text


 

Search engines read words quickly and easily, but like the stop words from above, the don’t bother with the connective words, instead they look for the important ones, if you like; the more times the word or phrase pops up in the page, Google assumes that is what the page is about.

Hence, if you want people to find you product or service because your business offers flexible website design for local online businesses, then this phrase would be used maybe two or three times, and other keywords or phrases that relate to this.

In other words, the page is relevant.

Over-stuffing – we think over-stuffing should be a word entered in the dictionary, a bit like oversharing. In any given 500 words, do not over-use your keyword or phrase – use it, at most, 5 times, but 3 or 4 will do just fine. Over-using a phrase will make your text look artificial; it won’t look like to a eyes of a real person, and neither will it look right to Google (or any search engine).

Number 3: keywords in the URL


 

You also have control over whether these keywords appear in the page URL or not (not sure about URLs – check this out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxu7eZrPUyQ)

It can really help if your keywords are in the order that a person searching for something like your product or service would type them in; this is a little SEO tip which is why this blog post is called ‘getting ranked higher by Google’ because you never know, someone out there may be frustrated that their competitors are on page one and want to how they can be too…

In summary

We have covered three factors that we can directly influence how Google sees a website in terms of being relevant, authoritative and trustworthy and they are:

  1. Page titles
  2. Page text
  3. Keywords in the URL of a page

Want to know what the other three factors are? Great!

Join us on Wednesday November 5th when your second part of this Locally Mini-Series will be published – in the meantime, how does your website rank?

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Learning from Tony Bennett and Elmo: unconventional partnerships that reap rewards…

Brandscaping – the latest buzzword

There is a new buzzword that describes a concept that could take off… in fact, depending on which angle you look at it from, it may already be in full swing, it’s just that we, as consumers, haven’t quite cottoned on yet.

So, what is it and is it something that online, local business could find useful OR, is it just another great big waste of time? And where do Tony Bennett and Elmo come in to it? Find out here

What is brandscaping?

Sounds almost painful, but actually it isn’t. The concept is quite a nice one; brandscaping is about your online, local business joining with another relevant company, business, sole trader etc. to, and we quote, “drive consideration, increase demand and add revenue”.

A classic case, we think you would agree, on ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’. But, it is slightly more complex than that as we are talking about the online world of content sharing.

It is about identifying another company who holds or shares the same ‘audience’ as you; you not only link content, but pool financial sources too. Maybe you both agree to outsource to the same agency or writer to create blogs and content that links together.

It might be that you link with a company who you feel has your next customers. Andrew Davies believes so much in the power of online partnerships that he had written a whole book on the subject!

Content as we know is key to getting your website recognised, as well as up there in the rankings. Creating partnership with someone else gives you brand scope – as it does theirs. There is a constant flow of information and, you can be part of a whole new crazy world where people like your content… and start buying for you.

Mmmm… still not sure?

Neither were we until you realise what this could mean for some smaller businesses out there who battle on a daily basis to get their company or business in on the action. Big corporate bodies not only have the budget, but the people to work solely, day and night, on content.

For the local, online small business, this is not an option. You spend your day earning the money, the evenings doing your books and, at some point, you also squeeze in time to blog, bath the kids and visit your mum.

It is a busy world.

How could this work in practice?

OK, let’s take a really obvious example…

‘Bride and Grooms’ is a wedding dress and suit hire emporium. They have 3 shops dotted about over two counties. They are becoming known as THE place to go for wedding dresses, from budget to bespoke, as well as a range of wedding suits for hire.

‘Sally’s Flowers’ is a small florist with big ambitions; she would like to physically expand her florist shop into new, bigger premises as well as look at opening another shop in the next town. To do this, Sally realises she needs more of a ‘brand identity’; people need to look and feel confident that she can deliver modern, sassy, cutting edge designed flowers… and weddings are big business.

These two businesses could ‘brandscape’; they could pool a financial amount each months and really start to plug their services via blogs that link; these links could then be forged via the social media platforms they both use.

Likewise, they could then become a force in the local wedding fairs, the season that starts in the autumns and takes them through to spring. By summer, they could both be knee deep in flowers, customers and wedding parties.

Win-win

Right so the message is this – you are looking to create demand for your mutual services by creating content with the maximum hit, with the lowest cost.

Partnership is perhaps a mis-leading term as you could, technically have more than partner, but the expense would be shared equally.

Your ‘audience’ needs to overlap, which clearly in our illustrative case above, clearly does – brides and dresses, then brides and flowers. You may have a local company that does wedding favours, table settings and the like… they could partner too. And then maybe there is a wedding planner; they could come on board too.

Why brandscaping? Why now?

Suggestions are that there is content overload; the web is an increasingly busy place and we everyone competing to get on to page 1 of the search engine results, it is no wonder. And so, suggest strategists, companies need to start working together to get genuinely brilliant results; return of investment (what you spend on content creation) should be maximised.

Does the idea have legs?

Possibly. For local businesses, it really could propel some smaller businesses into a far stronger position on the web.

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Hands up – do you have a social media strategy?

Hands up(look away, embarrassed, fiddles with phone to see if anyone has text…)

It seems that our online, local businesses is swamped in paperwork and strategies, when all you really want to do is earn a living BUT, as part of that essential daily activity, you also need to keep one eye on future work – a portion of your day, week or month does really need to be given over to finding new customers, new products, new services and improving the ones you have.

Do local, online businesses need one?

The clue to the answer is in the question… ‘online’. If you are online and you canvass the majority of your new customers (and keep welcoming the ‘old’ ones back) by online means then, yes it really does make sense to have a social media strategy.

Don’t forget those social signals too; exactly how Google does work out how it ranks pages on the web is still a slight mystery with only really the top few people at Google really understanding, but it seems that the more ‘authority’ your site appears to have, the more people will trust it (* see bottom of page) – or so Google thinks.

So getting plenty of likes, pins, shares, G+s, tweets and the like, the better placed your website could be placed in the increasingly crowded world of the web.

A social media strategy: how does it look? What’s in it?

The first point to note is that is isn’t just about updating your status on a daily basis; this is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing although this can mean you spend more time tweeting etc. than doing any actual work.

A social media strategy is about sharing content on your website; this could your blog, new product and additions to your online ‘shop’ as well as any news items regarding your business. It is a way of connecting your website to the outside world and the outside world to your website.

Below are 8 steps that could form the outline of what your social media strategy could look like. In a table format, we think it makes a handy ‘cut out and keep guide’, a start as to how you can make the very best use of your social media strategy…

What is it?

Your notes…

Step 1:

the time, the place…

Just like a first date, you need to give this some thought but bear with us before you flick to another website. This is a serious point; all too often we try and cram things into the shortest time possible, working on the back of a scrap piece of paper whilst driving the car and filing a tax return.Step 1 is to recognise the importance of this strategy. It might not break your business not using social media to its fullest, but it will as heck make a massive difference.

 

Where can you work uninterrupted?

Step 2:

Target – WHO are you trying to reach through which social media?

If you have a marketing plan, the information should be in there but it doesn’t cause any harm to take a specific look at this with your social media.There are now various studies that show which age groups use certain social media platforms, hence it pays to know where your potential customers are at…

If you have a product that is visual, then the platform that share photos are a great starting point; those with non-visual products or services may be better looking at sharing platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

It pays to do your homework.

 

Jot down demographics, such as gender and age… where are these people hanging out on social media?

Step 3:

Content – WHAT do you have to offer them?

Social media is not just about selling – in fact, go down this road and you may find that you actually drive customers away.Social media is about conversation, but what it is that your customers want to know?

What information will they value?

Once you have an idea, post this information vis your social media and then invite potential customers or partners to your website.

 

 You can share blogs and news, both current and already published work, especially if it coincides with something current.

Step 4:

Be proactive

Customers will not come to you; this is the bit where you need to be pro-active and you need to start building your following audience.Great content is fabulous (we go on about all the time at Locally!) but, it is not a case of someone will stumble upon it and away you go.

Do apart from tweeting what you had for breakfast, or pining a photo on another platform of your new delivery van, you also need to be creating great content (like this blog!) and then share it; tell people about it.

And then tell them again in a few weeks’ time…

 

Create a blog calendar schedule and stick to it.

Step 5:

Contact – be easy to get in touch with

 

This is part a. of two small micro steps. The whole ethos behind social media is that people share things, share data, share information…So, on your website have the icons for the social media platforms you use

 

See your web design company for help…

Step 6:

TALK!

The second mini step from above is once people have contacted you, liked or shared any of your tweets, statuses, pleas for help, you need to converse back. A bit like being at a party and making small talk.Thank people for liking something; ask questions; engage!

 

Make it part of your day to check social media platforms, just like you do your email…

Step 7:

Keep it going…

And this is the hardest step.Keeping your social media stuff happening can be a full time job in itself and so unless you have the financial resources to buy in a social media manager (they do exist!), you either see your social media presence fail OR, you load it on to someone else in the office… either way, the results can be disastrous OR you can realise that your strategy can include times and dates when items are sent out etc.

 

Have you seen www.bufferapp.com? You can schedule tweets, status updates and the like so that the app automatically do it for you. Takes the pressure off but still needs managing; message need responding to etc.

 

Build in a monthly review; get your staff team on on board. If not, maybe outsourcing is a cost-effective idea?

Step 8:

Looking for new opportunities – constantly review and adapt it

Social media, like the rest of the web, never stands still. So keeping an eye on any new social media platforms that seem to be gathering pace and favour is a great way of staying where your customers are at.Current platforms also look set to change in the future; Twitter for example, with its acquisition of CardSpring not so long ago, is hotly tipped to start offering ‘buy through Twitter’ in 2015.

 

Keep an eye on current trends, as well as making sure you are using your current social media platforms to their fullest…

Need any more persuading?

Social media has had proven results but it took courage and commitment, as well as conversation but there are success stories out there!

*upcoming blog in November talks about trust and how a blog may be the all-important signal that your website IS trustworthy… but is it that simple?

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Let the magic happen! You and your ‘brand identity’…

Blank Box Copyspace Means Stand Out Leader Or IndividualIt is an argument that is played out across the breakfast table in possibly every household across the UK; there is no substitute for Kellogg’s Cornflakes.

You have tried the ‘sneaky’ bit – emptying the cheaper brand into the tub – but somehow, they know; within seconds, the breakfast table, never peaceful or organised on a work day morning, is a fraught tense place.

And so, as you shop, despite the £3 price difference, you buy the branded flakes, as opposed to the cheaper alternatives. It pains you, grates against you and ruins the budget but you must do it for the sake of peace and harmony.

I bet there are other items you do it with; shampoo, maybe? No doubt toothpaste (who would buy an unrecognised brand of that?!) and you certainly don’t get the same taste from cheap-er mayonnaise.

Some of this, you could argue, is personal preference but when you know, like I do, that some of the cheaper, unbranded biscuits ARE made on the same line as the brands are (I know someone who works there! Really I do!), then you know that it is clever marketing in many, many cases.

The recognition of a logo, backed by the adverts and the celebrity endorsement in many cases, the sight of the colours and the position on the shelf are all psychologically tweaked to make you go ‘yes please!’

It is called Brand Identity… and it’s coming to YOUR online, local business

Brand Identity – what is it and why do you need it?

You may (or may not) have a logo; you may (or may not) have engaged the services of a professional graphic designer to create your logo and you may assumed that that is it.

Not quite.

Your brand is the image and emotional response your company/produce/service creates; it is the conversation between you and your customer, as well as how this spreads from one person to another.

It is the sum of expectations that people have when they see your logo, brand, company from such things as emails (including email addresses!), and the response they get. This brand identity can be so strong that it means some people will buy from you – even if your product or service is more expensive than your competitors – because they ‘like you’.

Your identity is something that people see from the visual cues your business has, from signage to stationery, as well as marketing activities.

And your logo is the central element of this branding; it is the ‘thing’ that should be instantly recognisable, elements of which should flow through your identity, from using the same colour and font, to all your visual cues tying in with your logo.

So, what comes first? The chicken or the egg?

Logo, in most cases, as is it the visual aid that most people opt for and create before they do anything else and not surprising, when it is the clue that will on everything that tells people about your company.

It should be simple, memorable, timeless, versatile and appropriate to your business – easy peasy then?!

Developing a brand identity takes times, perseverance and strategy – and suggestions are that this process should start before you go headlong in to designing a logo as what you decide in this research phase of your business.

Strategy, strategy, strategy!

Yes, like everything else in your business you need to be able to look ahead, beyond next week and strategize your brand identity.

Consistency is the name of the game and so, if nothing else, walk your way through these steps and see where it gets your brand…

Step 1 – explain your brand


This is not just a mission statement so to speak, but HOW you express what you are. So, you are looking at

  • Values
  • Voice
  • Uses
  • Mission

For example, your brand may be sharp, simple and consistent, with simplicity being at the core of everything you do; you want customers to see you as approachable and friendly, yet authoritative and confident within your field pf expertise.

Step 2 – set your colours


Every time a major brand writes to you, emails you, advertises etc., they will use the same set of colours. A graphic designer will help you with this, but usually, it is three colours – 2 major players, and a third accent colour.

Step 3 – Brand elements


These are the different components you may see on communications and the like that a company will produce; again, the key is consistency. It may be you decide to have a corporate email ‘signature’; this may include a variation of your logo, but using the colours you set in step 2.

Step 4 – typography


Again, you may have noticed that the font used by a brand throughout its emails and the like is the same font. Take advice from a graphic designer but what normally happens is you choose one font and use two or three variations of this e.g. Calibri, Calibri bold, Calibri italic etc.

Step 5 – your style


This is where some brands falter and it is really important you get this to ‘fit’ your brand. You know the emails that are ‘hello@yourbusiness.co.uk’? They don’t fit everyone. Really take some time to think about it. If you are a free school, you want prospective parents and potential students to get the impression you are serious, but approachable, so info@etc etc etc.co is just fine for a general email address… don’t over complicate it!

It would be ludicrous to suggest that this short post of just short of a 1,000 words contains everything you need to know and do to make your brand an instant hit… it takes work, perseverance and hard work.

But, this is a start…

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Appreciating the hamster wheel

How running an online, local business can zap you but here we look at how you can hold on to your creativity and well-being, whilst still ‘producing volume’

We came across a great article about creativity and how for us ‘creative types’ – web designers, graphic designers, writers, gardeners, teachers, any business-owner really…– struggle with this thing called creativity when clients want or demand it in VOLUME.

Volume is a word that sends shivers down many a creative person’s spine, which is not surprising when you consider the implications it has for you, so we will try not to mention it again.

But we all know the tug, push and pull of it.

You started you company or business, got it going on line and in the pull to make money and create a viable business, you needed (and still need) to pull in paying customers but you want to remain true to the smaller details that you think sets you apart from everyone else.

You want to maintain quality, but still bust the quantity targets every month… you see where we are going with this, don’t you?

It’s a never-ending task

In fact, it’s a hamster wheel that you keep on turning until you fall off, exhausted at the end of the day, sleep, eat and then get back on.

In fact, it’s not really a ‘task’; it is life and it is business but, just as you want to avoid the treadmill and the rat race of working for someone else, preferring to set your own hours and working conditions, you find that the treadmill has crept back in.

But, every turn of your hamster wheel is creating something. You just need to start appreciating it…

There are all kinds of hints and tips that you may find useful and, here at Locally, we are a great believer in sharing with others and using what works for us. And so, as we trawl around the web, just going about our daily stuff, we come across all kinds of great things and we stumbled across this little gem of an app… idonethis.

Go find it at www.idonethis.com

At first glance…

It doesn’t look much; it’s free to register and then basically, it sends you an email every day at a time that suits you (you set it) and in this email it asks you “what have you done today?”.

In the email is a highlighted box and you press the ‘today’s dones’ (not brilliant grammar but wait for it…) and you complete the box.

Is that it?

Well, er… yes and no. You can also ask it for analysis, spotting keywords and it can then tell you what you seem to be spending most of your time on.

Not that interesting is it?

Well, er, no BUT it does something that is psychologically amazing.

Picture the scene…

You have been at your desk since 7.30am. You have completed various menial admin tasks and created a few exquisite products. It is not 5pm and people are leaving for home and you should be too but you feel somehow deflated. The day has been busy but you don’t seem to have banked any money – in fact, the bank balance is the same as it was this morning. Everyone else seems to have been beavering away too but what have they done, what have they achieved?

Up bobs your email from ‘idonethis’ and hey presto, you have to think about what you HAVE done…

As you start to type in those small boxes, the list starts to lengthen and, before you know it, you flick the desk light off and skip out the door because, actually you have achieved quite a lot – a lot more than you think.

Instant positive mental stroke. G-R-E-A-T!

Other features

Add a team!

It also has, as part of the ‘free’ app the possibility of adding team members; so if you work with people remotely it is a great way of sharing what people have done and when. Rather than seeing this as monitoring their work or assessing the quality, it is about touching base, just seeing where people are at. We also like the fact that if people are struggling, they are more likely to point this out and ask for help.

Or, like us, you may find that your small team will be dispersed across the country and if you have a client waiting for a website, just knowing what the left hand is doing/has done also means you have the information at your fingertips.

Export and create spreadsheets

This is great for those of us that like graphs and spreadsheets that pick out key data but, you need to be systematic not just in entering data but how you add it, the language you use etc. (* see ‘tags’ below)

The downside – well, we quite like this little app. It’s inoffensive and have a gentle purpose that some people will love. Others will find this simplicity annoying and others will find it unnecessary, hence some people will not fill it in and it becomes like ‘the diet’ – always starting it tomorrow.

On the up side – It can be linked to various other apps and programs; for example, it can be a delightful little icon that can be added to the Google Chrome desk top and it also has some quite helpful features for when working on multiple projects.

For example, you can create a * tag for a pieces of work such as ‘#projectX’ or highlighting some tasks as being part of a wide business objective.

Again, like most apps and program you get out what you put in.

In summary…

  • Gentle, non-intrusive and easy to set up, it is an app that can be used for you alone or spread across you team
  • It can from part of project management, especially useful at busier times of year or when your team is dispersed across the country
  • You can see, at a glance what each other have done and what is left outstanding
  • It is a great way, by spending literally seconds, to log what you have actually done and appreciate the volume of work that you have achieved

There are other more ‘bespoke’ packages out there for specific project management purposes; Wrike, for example, is increasing in popularity and, as we always say, it is worth taking time to research apps and packages that are right for you.

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The Power of the #Hashtag

Hasthtags are commonly associated with Twitter, as a way of marking keywords or phrases but, they can also be used in other social media platforms (get a great run down here).

They are, however, increasing in power and so if you have not relished the power of the hashtag yet, here are 5 key ways (and one bonus!) that you can use them on Twitter…

(Not on Twitter?! As a marketing platform, and staying in touch with customers, it is a great platform and done that can see you reap huge rewards AND, 2015 could be the year that global wide commerce transactions comes to Twitter…)

Hints and tips on harnessing the power of the #Hashtag…

#1 Campaigns

You can use the hashtag to quite literally spread the word about any campaign you are currently working on as part of a marketing or awareness raising campaign. The great thing about hashtags is you can be as creative as you like and can really bump start a campaign, as well as throwing it in to the spotlight.

A working example – The Scottish referendum

A bitter-sweet campaign that was as hotly debated on Twitter as it was on the media and on the street; statistics highlight the power of the #hashtag with the most-Tweeted related hashtag being:

  1. #IndyRef 3.75 million
  2. #VoteYes 1.1 million
  3. #Scotland 439,000
  4. #ScotlDecides 272,000
  5. #BetterTogether 224,000

(source: https://blog.twitter.com/en-gb/2014/indyref-at-the-polls)

#2 Reach

Hashtags are also monitored by marketers as a way of seeing what interests and trends are currently ongoing around specific topics, and what customer could potentially be interested in. In other words, by Tweeting with a certain hashtag contained in the message, those people who use hashtags to find things or items of interest will pick up of these tweets… and you could have a far greater reach than you ever imagined.

For example, keep an eye on current trends in current affairs etc. within the media and, if you can link it to your business, utilise this hashtag and extend that reach!

#3 Twitter Chats or Hours

Spend the smallest amount of time on Twitter and you will see that on certain evenings or days, the platform is awash with Twitter chats or ‘hours’. In this way, a hashtag becomes a searchable term and so quite useful for local, online businesses looking for customer, support or partnerships in their geographical area.

Likewise, if you are in a certain trade or industry, it pays to make contact and stay in touch. Why not take a look at the local based ‘hours’ such as #worcestershirehour, #smallbusiness or how about #womeninbusiness? Log on to Twitter and in the search box at the top simply type in the # symbol and the term you are looking for and see what pops up!

#4 Promote local

Again, going to back to the emotional decision that drives a purchase, more and more people are realising the importance of sourcing products and services locally, and we are all for that! Hashtags can be a great way of harnessing your local-ness to potential customers, and you will be amazed at how strong any locally-linkde hashtags are.

As well as the local #hours on Twitter, you can also push yourself in local conversations with a # followed by locations close to you. #Woking will place a local business on the map here; people love to shop local so harness this emotional decision people are making every day!

#5 Plan future campaign

You can also harness the power of the hashtag by doing some research as we have suggested above; NOW is a great time to get some products and services on there for the festive rush. If you online website has to great ideas for ‘hard to buy for teenagers’ why not orchestrate a campaign around this emotion or sentiment.

Hashtags are also a great way of suggesting purchases in a Tweet such as

“Christmas only 83 days a way! Great gifts #notlastminute2014″

Don’t forget that purchases as an emotional decision, so once the excess of Christmas has gone, if you are a local gym or spa offering detox and get in shape packages, get Tweeting with your own hashtag and piggy back another. Tweets do not have to stick to using one hashtag; you can use your own and more than one!

#A Bonus: A competitive eye

Marketing is all about being pro-active and it is also partly about keeping an eye on what your competitors are doing too. If they are orchestrating a campaign with a #hashtag and it seems to be doing well, then why not replicate? At the same time, you can learn from the mistakes of others and avoid some common pitfalls.


And again, it is a strategic marathon, not a spring… so take some time to promote #ilovelocally and you will be amazed at where the power of a hashtag (or two) could take your online, local business…

Twitter is built for speed. 140 characters can say so much but it is there in a blink of an eye and then gone. Using a hashtag can keep in the archives and so the next time someone looks for #livingthedream, your Tweet and business may be the one that pops up!

Do your research!

Hashtags, as we said, can also be used on G+ and other platforms as a way of attracting people to your site or engaging people in conversation. Take a look at:

Everything you need to know about the #hashtag in a great infographic http://www.bitrebels.com/social/twitter-hashtag-power-infographic/

Jeff Bullas, known for his views on social media, also recommends taking a look at hashtags http://www.jeffbullas.com/2014/05/07/how-to-use-the-power-of-hashtags-in-your-social-media-marketing/

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Locally Crystal Ball – what will SEO look like in 2015?

Following on from our highly successful post about the look, feel and functionality of social media in 2015, we have once again dusted off the Locally crystal ball and taken a look at what search engine optimisation (SEO) could look like next year.

The online landscape is constantly changing and evolving; just as we seem to get used to one aspect, it changes, morphing in to something new that in most cases proves useful – in other cases, it can be a complete flop.

There are many predictions in the horizon for SEO. It is one of the fastest-moving aspects on any online business and so here, after much arguing, debating and general discussion, we have come up with our predictions for SEO in 2015…

“It’s all gonna be mobile!”

The format in which people are now accessing the web has changed in a way that, years ago, no one could have predicted. The smart phone is here to stay and with it increasing in sophistication on an almost day-by-day basis, you need to be ready for the revolution… in fact, it is already happening but we think that the mobile phone really will become stronger in 2015 as THE way that your customers will be buying on the Internet.

What you need to do: make sure that your website is mobile ready so that the important aspects of the buying experience is no lost in anyway.

“We ARE going to be more social!”

If you are not on any social media sites, then you are missing a trick. No, really, YOU ARE! Even though some commentators suggest that suggest social media will take over the role of SEO, there are other who think this will never really be the case BUT, social media is a marketing channel all of its own and you need to be in on the act in 2015; other people agree…

What you MUST do: take some time to look at the social media sites, research where your clients are at and develop a solid presence on your chosen platforms through 2015. If you have not already done so, you must contact us to get the various widgets and buttons on your website!

“Email? Oh yeah, we still use that…”

If you think email is on the way out, think again! Here at Locally, we predict that email will survive but how we use it will change. People are overloaded with email, data and information… this means that any direct email marketing campaigns need to be spot on.

What you need to do: check out this blog and then get cracking on an email campaign strategy for 2015.

“NOW! Now! NOW!”

As humans, we have always been impatient; from tapping a finger, belying our impatience at how slow the final seconds of the microwave seem to be taking, to counting the days till Christmas, we are just not prepared to wait for some things…

… and we predict that SEO will start to be in real time, as it happens!

What you MUST do: develop a strategy that means you communicate with customers, via social media or any other online communication, in real time; in other words, if they tweet you, you respond. This could have big resourcing implications for online, local businesses so you need to be able to manage it!

“Context is King, not just content…”

Content is great. We love content. Google and other search engine like new content, and fresh stuff that regularly appears on website BUT, there is going to be an additional sophistication in our view during 2015 and that is context.

If the search engine cannot understand WHY that particular piece of content is on your website, you may find yourself bounced down to page 10.

What you need to do: tweak your online content to fit with your other online marketing activities, such as Twitter, Facebook, G+, Instagram etc.

“EVERBODY is doing it… and that includes YOU!”

2015 is going to be THE year for making sure that you are not left behind and so if you do not have an SEO strategy, then you website will drop off the teetering edge into the oblivion of lost websites. Sounds dramatic but it may happen.

What you MUST do: have a content strategy plan, if nothing else, to keep your website on the radar but, if you want your website up there in the top rankings, in front or on a par with your competitors, you NEED to be doing SEO.

“Streamline your website”

Is it clunky? Do you have to wait for pages to load? Then before the New Year hits you need spend some time streamlining your website.

What you need to do: spend some time reviewing your website, sorting any glitches and generally having a clean and spruce up.

“G+ it!”

We think that the power of Google will continue to emanate across the web and now that the Google Authorship program is discontinued, we think that the G+ profile will become more important.

What you MUST do: take a look at Google+ and what it could offer you, and how you would use it. If you do create a profile, complete it in full and then ask us to incorporate a G+ button on your Locally designed website.

“Content is most certainly not dead”

We’ll keep saying it until we run out of breath and are navy in the face – content is king, and will still be king during 2015.

What you need to do: take a second look at hiring a content writer. They will be priceless in 2015.

“Stay fresh”

As the saying says, today’s news is tomorrow chip wrapper (or have we made that up?) but freshness in terms of your content need to be current; anything older than yesterday is old news…

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Annoying SPAM or useful information?

The fine line in getting it right when it comes to direct email marketing campaigns

We can hear your almost audible sighs.

Everyone gets one every now and then; some people get them several times a day – those seemingly useless and irrelevant emails that seem in no way connected to you, your business – online or otherwise – your product or local service. And yet, somehow you have ended up on the email marketing list of a company is far-flung deepest Siberia offering you a 50% deal on salted fish.

But then, on the other hand, if you are not running an email marketing campaign you may be missing a trick or two. There are however, accepted ‘rights and wrongs’ of email marketing campaigns, an etiquette, if you like of what you can send, to whom and when…

Let’s start at the start; what is email marketing?

Definitions are more or less the same; Wikipedia says that email marketing is directly marketing a commercial message to a group of people using email” and also goes on to say that any email that is sent by an individual on behalf of a company or business is also ‘marketing’, an interesting point when you see the addendum at the bottom of many an email message saying that the contents belongs to the company etc. The way you and your employees express themselves in email is clearly important – and a whole different ethical debate!

But is it SPAM?

Unsolicited emails – a bit like the dried fish at the start of the post – are those that are sent out in a rather indiscriminate way; an email is concocted, email addresses purchased from someone, somewhere and then, like using a mass leaflet drop from a plane flying overhead, they are sent out over the web and – fingers crossed – from the millions of emails sent, maybe they will get a few hundred responses and a few sales. Not a bad return of investment (or ROI).

OR, you can fire off an arrow, very much like an archer, aimed at the bullseye of a target. Rather than firing off indiscriminately, and clogging up inboxes, you have a clear aim and objective to any email marketing campaign you create and initiate.

And so, harnessing the power of email, your database of contacts (existing and potential customers, as well as interesting parties), along with decent graphics, a clear message and calls to action you will be emailing people with updates, tips, promotions, ideas etc. and then you sit back, feet up and watch as customers beat a path to your physical and online door… sort of.

It can – and has – gone wrong – so learn from the mistakes of others.

So, without further ado, here are Locally’s 10 steps to setting up and creating an email marketing campaign…

Step 1 – find an email marketing provider


There are few out there, some you may have heard of and some not but it pays to do your research. Next post we intend looking at MailChimp, probably the best known of the email marketing providers (you’ll recognise the logo!).  Like any programs and companies out there, opinions differ so it is always worth checking which provider you feel you ‘click with’.

Can WordPress send email marketing campaigns? Yes it can and you will need a plug in – there are loads out there but contact us for some more ideas!

Step 2: Your database


BEFORE you even start composing and putting pen to paper, you need to take some time to look at your database of contacts but when we say clean it up, rather than seeing this as a ‘bin that address’ exercise, start looking to create different databases – for example, sales, enquiries, people who opted for more info… the titles are endless!

But there will be expired information on there too and, as always, the Internet has the answer! There are various online tools and websites you can use to verify information however, there may be sign up costs and monthly fees so you will need to consider the budget implications.

Step 3: Opting in


The best way – both ethically and in terms of good business sense – is to get people to opt in such as a newsletter ‘sign up’; this way you are sending information to people who WANT to receive information from you, so less chance of being accused of spam and clogging inboxes.

You can add an ‘opt in to our newsletter’ button or contact form quite easily on most websites, as well as other ways such as;

  • A link in your email signature
  • Add an ‘opt in’ button to contact forms etc.
  • Any information or email you send as part of the ordering and receipt process of your online business (and put a note in with the goods too… you can always entice with a discount etc.)

Step 4: Stay organised


Easier said than done but in all honesty, if you are using orchestrated email marketing campaigns then you simply must remain organised – no IF’s and no BUT’s! You may want to think about making your segments or fields within your database more refined for future, targeted campaigns e.g. location, industry type etc.

Right, now we have you organised this is what you do next…

Step 5: Objectives


Rather than just firing off random emails that miss the bullseye, take some time to strategically plan your campaigns. The obvious one are the build ups to the times of year when you know you sell the most products and services e.g. October to mid-December for the festive rush, or January to March for the Easter rush if you are online sweet and chocolate emporium etc.  But you need to answer these crucial questions –

WHAT do you want the campaign to achieve and HOW you are going to measure the impact of this impact?

SMART objectives – common across many industry and settings, SMART stands for:

Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic or Relevant and Timebound

In other words, what is it you propose to do, how will you know if this is successful, it is something that can be done and will it benefit your business and by when do you want all this to happen?

Want to know more about this? Contact us!

Step 6: The design


Take a look at the monthly letter we send out, offering our customers and interested people a snapshot of the blogs posted for this month (what do you mean you are not on our mailing list?! Where have you been?)

The design is striking, colourful and in keeping with our brand. Email marketing campaigns are not an excuse to go over board and overdo it; keep to your theme, colours and brand identity. And don’t forget the basics – a call to action at least once some marketing experts say, is essential.

Step 7: The Content


Content IS king; just like your website and blog, content littered with mistakes that is frankly rubbish is a huge turn off. Don’t forget the 3 second rule – this is the amount of time that someone takes in deciding whether they are going to carry on reading or not.

Sharp, sassy and great headlines – easy for us to say but if you know this is your Achilles heel then grab yourself a copywriter or content writer. Worth the investment we say…

Step 8: The subject line


The bit that everyone sees and, to be honest, makes the decision about whether they open it or not; if they know you, they may open it anyway just to have a quick look but, if you are sending to ‘unknown’, but will recipients, the subject line is important.

  • Spammy words like ‘guarantee’, ‘free’, ‘call now’ and other marketing jargon are a clear turn off
  • Including your company name is good
  • Keeping is short works best
  • And, finally, making the subject line funny or memorable, along with intriguing and actionable is also a great way to entice people to open your email (simple, then…?!)

Step 9: Track it


Like all marketing campaigns, you need to know how well or not it performs, hence tracking your email marketing campaign is somewhat essential… hard data is what you want:

  • Deliverability – how many actually did receive your email
  • Open rate – how many people opened it
  • Click through rate – the number of times recipients clicked on links in your email
  • Conversion rate – how many people actually became paying customers

Step 10: Review and Refine it


We are great believers in testing our email campaigns and newsletters so we can see what the recipient sees, making tweaks where necessary.

Maybe ask a trusted customer for some feedback; what did they think of the content and design? Impressed or not?

You CAN grow your business with email marketing campaigns, with time and effort – they don’t have to cost the earth either. Build them in to your marketing strategy and you will find that, in time, they will reap rewards.

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Shall we blog?

Like an over-excited puppy, you created a blog on your website because that is what brings traffic in (all the research said so…) and you started with gusto, creating blogs that you faithfully published every week and then…

(whistles, looks at watch)

(carries on whistling, admires hair in mirror)

…nothing.

(Disappointed sigh)

Why as a local, online business, you should be blogging

It’s all about content. It’s all about thriving and surviving in a competitive market place and even though you think that your local customers are just fab, you all need to sharing your eggs around your basket. Relying on one market for business, local or otherwise, is the ‘putting your eggs in one basket’ thing, hence where there are fluctuations in the market place they hit you hard, their impact magnified. Being in business is all about looking for the next thing, improving, creating and selling whether that is a local butchers with award winning sausages or a local foot clinic.

Your customers’ tastes change as they influenced by marketing, opinion shifts and budget constraints; they are busy people too so booking online for a foot treatment is great – unless they don’t find your website. We live in a 24 hour world, where we spend the majority of our time in front of different screens, from our smartphone to our tablet, then mooching around on the laptop for the next big thing.

But, people search the web differently too. They may think they have an ingrowing toe nail but how do you know? They hop on the web and do some research and guess what? Google (or any search engine) will note their location and you, wrote a blog or two on the perils on ingrowing toe nails. Google likes the look of your blog, as people have been reading it and liking it or sharing and guess what? Your website bobs up in front of their very eyes and, better still, they can book online and you have a new customers booked in for a consultation on Wednesday afternoon at 4.30pm.

Imagined if that happened once or twice a week; that’s 8 customers a month that you may not have had before…

“So I’m blogging for survival then?”

Sounds a bit melodramatic but yes and, well… er, no.

There are, the last time someone counted 164 million blogs – but that number has probably fluctuated up and down several zillion times since the man in the back room started his tally chart.

The vast majority of these blogs will have less than a 1,000 visitors a month and represent a disaster zone. Why?

You blog for months and months, seemingly for little reward and it is human nature that if you slog your guts out for months and months on something you find stressful and difficult, another tiny little thing to add to your already busy day, you will stop doing it. Fact.

How to avoiding failing at blogging…

Creating content it is GREAT! But do you market it?

If you don’t, you are not promoting yourself or your business hence you will not extend your readership passed you mum and your sister. Their ‘liking’ or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook is great, but you need more likes and shares and comments and readers…. So promote it!

And don’t forget it is not just promoting new blogs; promote older ones too. If there is an article in the news on the importance of cutting your toenails properly and you wrote a piece on it a few months, promote your blog with some well-placed hashtags.

You have permission to jump on the bandwagon.

You will then find, possibly, that people will read some of your other podiatry diatribes on the ingrowing toenails, bunions and athlete’s foot and learn something; people like being informed, hence your blog starts to gain authority with an increased following.

The next step is to start linking your blog with other authoritative sites; the ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours approach’. Again, this is all about building a reader base so why not try your hand submitting a ‘guest post’ to another site, with a lovely link to your own blog? And then, ask someone to do the same for you – they write a post for your site, and your share links and readers back and forth.

Avoid: plagiarism and replicas

What does not go down well is nicking stuff from other people or simply writing a blog that says the same as everyone else’s. This can be a bit stuff as there is only so many ways and times you can take about a subject and, if it is current and in the news headlines then a blog on it simply adds you voice to many others.

Nicking someone’s stuff that they have possibly spent hours crafting is not only morally slightly-dodgy, but can earn you a penalty point from Google and other search engines. Before you know, your blog and website has disappeared without a trace and it is very hard to get it back in Google’s good books again.

The lesson is thus…

  • Creating content and posting it regular is great – once a week is fab
  • Promoting it via your social media platforms is also great
  • Keep promoting older blogs too
  • Advanced bloggers also look to guests posts and links with like-minded blogs and websites
  • Keep doing it!
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Social media wars: which is better?

With the fallout from the Google Authorship and ‘is it a ploy to get us all using Google+?’ question still being bandied around, businesses can be easily confused as to which social media platform is the right one for them.

It can be tempting to be on everything but the problem with this blanket approach is that you may be using platforms that are not suitable and, keeping up to date with them all can be a timing nightmare.

In this article we look at Google+ or G+ and what it can offer you, as well as looking at arguably the most powerful and well-known of social media platforms, Facebook.

Things are changing

Facebook is the ‘daddy of ‘em all’, with a reach that is phenomenal it has, for many years, held the top notch position; it was and still is, the social media platform you must be on. If you wanted to reach out to the largest audience ever, then FB was the place to be.

But things change and on the world of online sharing. Once the poor relation, is seems that the ugly duckling is blossoming into the beautiful swan; 2014 has marked the best year for G+ yet, with its monthly active users reaching 540 million across the globe.

The difference between the two? G+ allows people to search for your business and is obviously geared towards this end of the market, whereas Facebook is more ‘personal’ in its approach but there are reasons why both could be useful, if not essential.

Circles

Some people think that circles on G+ are complicated but they are far from that. It’s a way of sorting the wheat from the chaff if you like and rather than being bombarded with every single post or share, you can group people together, choosing what you see and when.

Facebook has a similar set up now with Edgerank, the algorithm it introduced in December 2013. Rather than users being bombarded with items or posts they may find irrelevant, this algorithm sorts what it thinks the user will like. The only problem with this is that you don’t control it – unlike the G+ circles which you set up – the algorithm checks what you have been looking at and makes the decision for you.

Reach

On Facebook, any posts or statuses you make will need to reach a certain level of ‘likes’ over a set number of times before it is available to the masses, hence the almost begging Tweets and messages from businesses imploring you to like them on Facebook.

BUT, if this doesn’t work, you can always pay for the privilege with various adverts to boost your appearance and views on the platform. But, some say that this is losing sight of its original intention as small businesses may not have the budgeting resources to play alongside the big players.

The algorithm

Facebook’s algorithm is a double-edged sword; on one hand it has a positive impact but recent bad press from experiments such as the ‘emotion experiment’ has made some people question the platform and its integrity.

However, you cannot throw away 1.32 billion users around the world lightly and so, by improving your Facebook posts, from asking questions to running competitions, you do have an excellent way, at your fingertips of attracting new people and customers to your business.

Is it just about numbers?

Reaching the masses is great but, if only a small percentage buy your product or service, is it worth it for a local, online business?

No sale is a bad sale, and so if it reaps the smallest reward then that is not to be sniffed at but if it comes at a cost in terms of both time and money, it may be worth a re-think.

A G+ ‘hangout’ is as some people say, an awesome resource that allows businesses and customers to connect. Think of it as a modern-day equivalent of consumer research and with G+ and Google being the same, you are sending out some strong signals to the most popular search engine.

So, who to choose?

Internet trends change from week to week; it would be sheer folly to predict today what will be right next week or the week after and so on. However, the rub is that, as a business you need to connect to a wide an audience as possible, but balance it against time spent ‘doing’ social media and the return it gives you.

The answer is this – place the same post across the social media platforms you currently use and see where you get the most responses; do this a few times at different times of the year and it gives you an indication of where your audience is at.

Once you feel you know which platforms are right for your business, put time and energy into creating a plan so that you have something to offer customers and something to talk about over both G+ and Facebook – and any others too!

Which platforms do you use? How did you decide which social media sites were best for your local business?

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