Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Digital strategy for SMEs (updated): 7 steps to digital domination

I originally wrote this series for an agency’s business blog back in 2012. When it was taken offline, I revived it on this blog. It is still the most popular post (see panel on the right), so I decided to update it. A lot of it still makes sense, hence the on-going interest, but I wanted to reduce the steps and cover the latest developments… This is part one... keep following to read Creative content to capture customersSearch Engine Optimization for SMEs and Social media: your launch pad for interactive engagement.  
Pic: Mr Fring

7 lucky steps to digital domination
Pic: Maxey
Research has shown, time and time again, that customers check out B2C/B2B products and services online before making a purchase. Having an online presence increases trust in your product/service, which is vital for small businesses with a tight marketing budget. 

The internet reaches a wider, cross-generational audience than traditional marketing. So here are 7 steps to create an effective digital marketing strategy from scratch and boost your SEO in the process.

Step 1 Research phrasal keywords & optimize your website
Keywords are old hat. People use multiple words to search, for instance 'cheap holidays in Spain', 'best digital cameras' or 'cheap cars in London'…  Google Keyword Planner can help you find the keywords. Do not just go for high matches, medium-strength keywords might work well too if they are a close match to your offer (product or service). There is no obligation to ‘buy’ the keywords if you do not fancy doing PPC (pay per click). If you do, consider a brief campaign to test the waters. PPC can be quite expensive if your market is crowded. Once you have identified your phrasal keywords, use them in your website’s back-end and naturally in your content - keyword stuffing is penalised by Google. Use them in body copy, headings and picture captions. A typical back-end code looks like this:
<meta name="keywords" content="phrasal keywords go here, separated by commas"/>

Step 2: Create a blog and other content
Everybody knows that content is king. Content is not just words but also pictures, videos, podcasts and infographics. Your website should be worded with your customer in mind and allow for the short attention span and time-poor behaviour of surfers. More in-depth information can be conveyed through a blog, e-book, video or podcast.

Step 3: Promote your content with social media
Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest are still the main social media platforms. Further platforms can be considered if you target younger audiences, mobile audiences, etc. As a rule of thumb, Twitter and LinkedIn are mostly used for B2B (business to business) interaction, while Facebook and Twitter are perfect for B2C (business to consumer). The difference between Instagram and Pinterest can be sex and age demographics (for instance, Pinterest users are mostly women). Other channels, such as Snapchat, cater for younger audiences. However digital divides often blur, with companies using all platforms and most firms jumping on Pinterest’s and Instagram’s bandwagons – a picture (or infographic) is indeed worth 1000 words. You can argue that a video is worth millions, so if you are a keen communicator, you should leverage YouTube as much as possible. There is plenty of free information online to keep you up to date with social media trends – Mashable, Social Media Examiner and Search Engine Watch offer excellent, free e-newsletters.

Step 4: Convert your website’s traffic into leads
Your website is ranking well, you have plenty of visitors, your blog is well received, but how can you turn your followers into customers? Don’t spread yourself too thinly, keep up with social media platforms and engage with your customers by giving away free advice, samples, consultations - whatever it’s suitable for your business to offer as an incentive to clinch the deal.

Step 5: Nurture your leads with email marketing
Email marketing is the 21st century's answer to junk mail – but not as we know it. Customer engagement is key - your registered users want to hear from you and are keen to receive your e-newsletters via email. Focus on their problems and offer solutions – a pull rather than push strategy involving building a relationship and earning trust. For instance, if you sell gardening products, potential customers could get emails with gardening tips, short tutorials for easy makeovers and seasonal advice to showcase how your products can enhance their outdoor living. Bear in mind that from May 2018 new privacy laws (GDPR) will become effective. You must make sure you have written permissions to email your customers/followers. In doubt, you need to clean your lists by emailing everyone, request their permission to email them information and allow them to opt out. Guidance from the UK government is here

Step 6: Be mobile friendly
Portable internet and wifi mean that some of your customers might be surfing the net from a mobile phone or a tablet, so check with your designer that your website displays well on mobile devices. Google Analytics can give you a helping hand by indicating how mobile impacts your business – you can get free reports showing how your visitors are accessing your website.

Step 7: Analyse and refine your marketing strategies Many businesses still think that once their optimised website is up and running and they have one successful social media campaign under their belt, they are there... Yes they are, but not for long. In the fast-changing digital world, new platforms are constantly created and trends come and go at the speed of lightning. Your competitors won’t be standing still either. Small businesses should review their website at regular intervals. Refresh your content, keep up with social media, regularly monitor your visitors with Google Analytics and use all the free tools and information available to improve or maintain your ranking. If you think you can spare some money from your budget, invest in marketing automation (Hootsuite, HubSpot, SEM rush, Buffer, etc).

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