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

It 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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WordPress – a counter argument

WordPress WebsitesHere at Locally, we use WordPress as the basis for great business websites. We work with a growing range of clients, all local businesses making their presence felt online too.

We work with start-ups through to larger companies who offer a range of high quality products and services locally, as well as nationally and, in the vast majority of cases, globally too.

We know that websites need to be creative showcases that have high quality content, great graphics that are not overdone and that the whole thing needs to search engine optimised.

We also know that every business is different and so every website needs to be different; what suits one free school in one area of the country will not suit another free school is another area. Businesses may occupy the same trade or industry, but it doesn’t mean they offer the same product or service, in the same way.

So, we don’t have ‘templates’ as such, although we have an innate understanding of what a business could want and, working alongside our clients, we create great websites that work.

WordPress – not everyone’s cup of tea

WordPress is an open source platform, which, without getting too technical, means that brilliantly technically minded people (like us here at Locally!) can create rather wonderful and spectacular websites for businesses (for anyone, in fact). Associated with a  vibrant and fabulous blogging movement, you can create, with the addition of plug-ins and design creativity, a bespoke WordPress website.

But it’s not everyone’s cup of tea as highlighted in a recent article we came across and so, we think it is only fair to present the other side of the argument and why WordPress can create fabulous, creative websites that really do work…

The criticisms levelled at WordPress websites were:

  • WordPress sites are not ‘truly’ able to be updated or created in a bespoke way – not true! And we think we have a growing portfolio that points to evidence to the contrary. There is also mention that people who create such websites do not know much about code and that they hitch a ride on other developers, using their ideas and creations. Here at Locally we add to the WordPress community, as well as share ideas. Since when has this been a bad thing?
  • Plug ins – as an open and sharing community, developers from across the web community create plug ins that others can use of their websites to enhance it. Detractors suggest that these plug ins often conflict and break, suggesting that the security of the website will be compromised. With all the recent hacking scandals and dodgy photos making their way online this is, to all intents and purposes, playing on people’s vulnerability. With the right technical help from a company like us, these breakages and conflicts in plug ins can be avoided.
  • Security – continuing with the theme of security, some industry experts also suggest that the open community behind WordPress is also its greatest weakness. As the platform is written by and shared by large numbers of people, suggestions are it is easier to hack and therefore, your WordPress website could be compromised. Funny how the recent hacking scandals have not affected WordPress but other open source programs…
  • Every site is the same – again, a common misconception we feel around WordPress is that people assume that because there are thousands of themes to choose from that this means every website looks and feels the same; we disagree. We do create bespoke WordPress websites. Simple.
  • Lacking in originality – another criticism of WordPress is the perceived lack of originality and that search engines, such as Google, will note this, giving such website a ‘miss’ when it comes to page 1 rankings. This doesn’t seem to affect Beyonce’s WordPress site… hers seems far from lacking in originality and ranking. In fact, research any major topic online and you will come across many bespoke websites that use WordPress and do not seem to struggle from lack of originality.
  • Updating – apparently the penchant for updating WordPress every few months is an issue that some find deplorable. We think that keep your website fresh, with all the latest technical wizardry a rather fabulous thing…
  • SEO – ah, the old search engine optimisation argument. In fact, we think our earlier point about WordPress websites figuring high in the rankings more than blows this point out of the water…

For those that knock WordPress we think you are trying to kick an open door; it is a futile exercise! Take another look at what this platform can offer your business.

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“Jingle bells, Jingle bells…”

Christmas WebdesignWE love Christmas here at Locally! Any excuse to wear a dodgy looking jumper and extra sparkle for a day. A bright hiatus in an otherwise grey month, we dream of snow and crisp blue skies.

As we bask in the driest September since 1960, you may have noticed that there are the odd reference here and there to Christmas. Yet to take hold, we all know that by the time the clocks change, the retail industry will be in full Christmas swing.

Just take a look at your personal Facebook or other social media site and will see the odd Christmas graphic creeping in, telling you that you have less than ‘x number of Saturday’s’ before the arrival of the festive period. But, before we get there and you once again wear the jumper you will never wear again, let us think about all the things you have to do… and add one more to your list;

Calling all of our online, local businesses who have products and services to sell: check your website.

BUT, before you go plunging ahead with the following suggestions for a spruce up of your website before the Christmas rush, we need to mention a pro and a con of this…

  • PRO: the money you make during the Christmas rush will be a large % of your overall turnover
  • CON: don’t make rash decisions. Think carefully before you opt to change anything…

That said, we need to talk about your website… its content and the small little tweaks you could make in time for the Christmas rush. But, you won’t have a Christmas rush if you website is a bit squiffy so here goes;

It makes perfect sense to me!

But does it to everyone else?! One sure fire way of getting some honest (brutal) feedback is to get a friend or relative to be a critical shopper. How is it really to find what a customer wants or needs? Is the checkout process clunky?

Real life example – we have seen a local cattery and kennel who give cats and dogs a great holiday while the folks are away and yet their website and marketing material has a picture of rabbits on it. Do they take rabbits for holidays? No. So why have rabbits on your website…? We suspect to fill a space.

In other words, is your website easy to use and easy to buy from?

Does your website ‘say’ what is needs to?

Rather than just looking at your content, look at the overall image that is conveyed by your website and bear in mind your target audience. If you attempting to appeal to parents, does it look like a trusted website? Are the goods and products on offer, offered in a way that says ‘buy me with confidence’?

A longer term project, but what about your descriptions and photos? Good quality or due for a change.

NEVER underestimate the appeal factor your website must have…

Overboard design

This could be a whole separate post in itself but if you design needs tweaking then you need to get someone with a fabulous design eye to take a look. The festive season is not an excuse to go overboard with dancing snowmen and an abundance of snowflakes, flashing away when someone lands on your page.

You have 3 seconds from the moment someone lands on your website to make the right impression… or they simply go away!

‘Buy NOW’/ ‘Click here’/ ‘Add to basket’/Buy 2, get the 3rd free…

What do the four above phrases have in common? They are all calls to action and, even though we know that consumers are not dunces, psychologically they need permission, guidance, direct instructions – call it want you want – to buy your product or services. You may have a lovely description about how your locally made produce is the best, but are you telling them to ‘buy it now before stock run out’?

If not, why not?!

What’s that smell…?

It could be your stale content. Sorry. There is no other way to say it but your content can ‘go off’ after a while. Not only does Google like to see fresh, bountiful content but so do consumers. If they visit a few times and keep seeing the same thing, they’ll start asking if there is anyone at the other end… keep the rolling news bit going, get the blogs happening, update the welcome etc.

A short term solution that could add some sparkle but this is no excuse to blunder on in and change everything.

Be realistic about what you can achieve and do smaller portions of you website well, rather than a whole quick change that is not right.

Smartphone compatibility

Figures vary, but 75% of consumers may, at frequent intervals use their mobile to do their shopping online and so if your website is not fit for this, you may be losing a valuable number of potential customers.

Bits don’t work…

… and finally, if you do nothing else this side of Christmas, you simply must check that all the bits and bobs work, like your social media buttons. Not only do broken bits and bobs send a negative message to your potential customer, it also means that they are missing out on the more social aspects of your company or brand – if they can’t like you Facebook page or follow you on Twitter, then you are missing out on a growing audience.

The pre-Christmas summary is this:

  • Get someone to take an objective look at how easy it to find products and buy through your website

  • Chivvy up the content but rather than going wholesale, pick the parts that could be improved

  • Keep blogging and adding content

  • Check ALL the important bits and bobs work – and keep doing that

  • You have 3 seconds to make the right impression…

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Could your social media presence mean more sales in 2015…

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…and how your SEO plan will look like to harness your audience

Now that the summer sun and heat (!) have started to cool, the Christmas countdown has started and, dear reader, you will be pleased to know we are around 100 days away from the festive season where we are all jolly, ruddy cheeked and over-stuffed.

However, as we gear up to the time of year that the majority of our online retail businesses make their money, we take a sneaky peek in to what 2015 could offer us…

… and it seems that the next ‘big thing’ will be the growth in sales from social media. In fact, back in 2012, experts and industry commentators were predicting that by 2015, social media was going to burst in terms of increased revenue and, that the shopping experience would improve immensely over time.

It seems that someone, somewhere has been doing some number crunching too – predictions are that by the end of next year, almost half of the sales will be generated by social media and that, for online, local businesses, could be worth thousands and thousands of pounds.

And which social media platform could hold the balance…?

Facebook.

Love it or hate it, the social media platform’s power seem to keep growing and the numbers of consumers it is referring to businesses is set to increase. Thus far, statistics suggest that it send around 25% of referral traffic to businesses and so if you are not on Facebook, or perhaps do not harness it as much as you could, the tail end of 2014, just before the Christmas rush, could be the right time.

It seems that having a fan base on Facebook for your brand will pay dividends – 80% of your Facebook followers are likely to buy from you through your offers compared to 41% who are not your followers – the moral of this story? Start growing your fan base and offer them some great offers and discounts!

Recommendations are just as important too, so ask people to like and share as again, 70% of your followers will apparently do this, compared to ‘strangers’.

You also need to keep an eye on your competitors and check out how well you are performing on social media compared to them…

  • Around ⅓ of online, small and local businesses have a Facebook page or presence
  • Being on social media of this kind can also decrease marketing costs meaning your sales revenue takes less of a hit with expenses
  • The reach of Facebook and many other social media platforms is huge BUT, don’t forget that it is not just there to sell at all costs! Don’t forget to have a mix of offers, discounts and interesting links and ideas.

Not the only social media platform…

But, Facebook is not the ‘be all and end all’ of online selling and sharing platforms, and whilst predictions are that its power and focus will grow in 2015, it is important to keep an eye on other predictions that could affect your local, online business;

  • The ‘humble’ mobile is no longer ‘humble’ -Smartphones are everywhere and predictions are that during 2015, 50% of web traffic will be through consumers using their phones. Is your website mobile friendly? If not, you need to tap into this lucrative opportunity.
  • Be social! – Just as we have talked about social signals before and how some people refute that Google takes any notice of this social signals, it seems at odds with the prediction that 2015 will see social media grow increasingly dominant in the world of search engine optimisation. Take a look at your social media presence – is it working?
  • Email marketing is here to stay – But, if you think that a Facebook page and the odd Tweet will be enough, you’d be wrong! But, any email marketing you do will need to be more consumer focused, as well as personalised and targeted. This is simply because as web users, we are being increasingly bombarded with information and data.
  • Real-time – We are impatient, no more so than when it comes to buying something or asking for help; predictions are that response from companies to consumers will increasingly become in real time in 2015 – none of this “we aim to respond in 5 working days…” lark!
  • Content in context – We have been saying for some time now that your content needs to be of quality, with any keywords or phrases well placed within the article or post – and we have been proved right! 2015 promises to be the year that if your keyword sticks out like a sore thumb, you’ll be bounced back past page 10 in the search engine pages! You really do need to be using words and phrases in a way that is semantically correct – in other words, written and used in the right way.

Don’t get left behind in 2015…

  • Search engine optimisation will be essential
  • If your website is lumpy, complex to use and just s-l-o-w, then Google will take no notice of it
  • Quality content that is fresh!

Don’t wait until 2015!

However, there are still 100 days to Christmas and so this is what you need to do:

ü  Take a look NOW at your website and see what small maintenance ‘jobs’ can be done to refine it

ü  Spruce up the content now

ü  Look longer term: sort out the site for mobile

ü  Use your social media platforms to good effect

ü  Look longer term – get that online strategy written!

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