Saturday, 12 August 2017

Digital Strategy for SMEs (4): Social Media - your launch pad for interactive engagement

The famous snapshot of the social media universe
by Brian Solis & JESS3 - Creative Commons

Promoting your business with social media - whether it’s an article, news about an award or a prestigious contract, a blog post, a photo, a video showcasing your product or eye-catching infographics - is a crucial part of digital marketing. Think of it as a cost-effective way to raise awareness of your brand, get more traffic to your website and foster customers' loyalty, which all lead to increased sales. But which social media platform should you invest your time and resources in?

Just take a look at the colourful social media prism above, but don’t get cross-eyed or panicky about it. There is a multitude of names – some of which might have been replaced by newer platforms - the digital pace is relentless. For all this mind-boggling variety, there are six main social media platforms you need to get to grips with first: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest. The rest is only relevant for particular audiences, for instance snapchat is the platform to target younger generations. You also need to make decisions depending if you are B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer)… Facebook is not used that much for B2B marketing. The stats mentioned below have been taken from the channels' corporate websites.

Nearly everybody knows Facebook, which was launched in 2004 as a network for recreational use. It has now been embraced by B2C businesses trying to ignite and boost engagements with their customers. With 1.28 billion daily users, you are bound to find your customers and engage them with samples, competitions, interactive discussions with prizes and even raise awareness of worthy causes you are supporting. Some extra stats (2017):
  • 1.94 billion monthly active users
  • Approximately 85.8% of daily active users are outside US and Canada.

How to use it
  • Create a Business Page (if required)
  • Promote events
  • Boost posts with advertising
  • Promote sales, promotions and offers
  • Get feedback
  • Ask questions 

It has been around since 2007, has 313 million monthly active users and is available in over 35 languages. It’s defined as a micro-blogging platform because of its text restriction (up to 140 characters). You can easily set up a free account and tweet your content - links, photos, views, even ask a question - and follow online influencers, celebrities and reporters – news tend to break on LinkedIn first. Some extra stats (2016):
  • 82% of active users are on mobile
  • 79% of accounts are outside the U.S.

How to use it
  • Create a Twitter profile
  • Follow influencers, celebrities and media personalities
  • Build up your following by offering/retweeting links to good content
  • Broadcast blog links

Boasting over 467 million members, LinkedIn is the main platform of international professionals. It has been around since 2003 and is available in 24 languages. This is the network for finding professionals, recruiting staff and discussing industry topics and trends. It is perfect for the promotion of B2B products and services. Members are sharing insights and knowledge with status updates and in groups. The premium account offers benefits for audience segmentation and email marketing campaigns. Some extra stats (2017):
  • In over 200 countries
  • 67% of LinkedIn members are located outside the U.S.
  • Over 40 million students and college graduates
  • Over 10 million firms have Company Pages

How to use it
  • Create a company profile
  • Join groups and become involved in discussions in groups
  • Follow influencers and get involved in their updates
  • Connect with employers and clients
  • Ask/answer questions or give/ask for recommendations
  • Ask for introductions

It's the second largest search engine after Google. Launched in 2005, it currently boasts over 1 billion unique users each month. Online videos have moved from entertainment to education, including “How To” videos. It is used by media agencies to showcase TV adverts - a one-off, 30-second TV ad does not provide the same viral potential.
Some extra stats (2017):
  • Hundreds of millions of hours of videos watched every day
  • Localised in 88 countries
  • 76 different languages, covering 95% of the world’s internet population

How to use it
  • Create a series of videos 
  • Upload your videos and embed them on your website
  • Use keywords to categorise videos and place links on your website
  • Broadcast your videos through other social media channels

Last but not least, Pinterest and Instagram, two photo-sharing platforms that allow you to share visual content. They are fast-growing platforms launched in 2010, with Pinterest prevailing at first and now being challenged by mobile app Instagram.
Pinterest stats (2017):
  • Over 175 million users worldwide
  • 50% outside the US
  • 80% on mobile
Instagram stats (2017):
  • 600 million monthly active users
  • 400 million daily active users

How to use Pinterest
  • Gather photos, grouped in theme boards
  • Re-pin other users’ photos (the equivalent of a retweet)
  • Launch a competition and invite users to post their best photos

How to use Instagram
  • Post photos from your phone. You can edit photos in the app
  • There is a workaround trick to use Instagram on computers but it's not good enough; most users share photos from their phones
  • You can have competitions to build your audience
  • Bear in mind that it's a channel popular with celebrities and bloggers 

Once you have your social media accounts up and running, place a link on your website or a widget so visitors can follow your activity – this is a really basic thing to do, but it’s amazing how many businesses still don’t promote their social media presence on their website. 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Digital Strategy for SMEs (3): Search Engine Optimization for SMEs

Pic: Tumisu

SEO is the process of improving the visibility of your website in search engines. Put it simply, you need to optimise to capitalise. But how?
  • High-ranking keywords: the step 1 of the first article of this series, 7 lucky steps to digital domination
  • Creating quality content: as explained in the second article of this series
  • Backlinks: trustworthy, quality websites willing to link to your website and/or guest posts in relevant popular blogs
  • Authority: gained through a consistent social media presence that informs while solving real problems.
Each of these practices breaks down in a variety of tasks. For instance, phrasal keywords can be deployed in visible copy (your website’s blurb and blog posts, page titles, picture captions…) and the invisible back end of your website (where the code is). 

A top ranking will make your website stand out from competitors and will address surfer’s fatigue. Internet users have a short attention span, so if your website is listed on page 1 of a search, it’s bound to be seen by a greater number of people. Dedicated surfers might make it to page three or four, but research shows that 91% (used to be 87% back in 2012) of web users do not venture past page one.

So far so good, except that the SEO landscape keeps changing as search engines make changes to their algorithms. If you want to see the latest updates, ravaging their way through dodgy websites, read this article on panda, penguin and hummingbird - and meet the possum, the new animal in the SEO ZOO.

But it’s not only about words, visual optimization still works, so it’s important to use good keywords in captions and post your photos on social media platforms - Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest allow you to share visual content with millions of users. Video and podcasts are a great too, although they can be costly as you might need to hire a professional cameraman or voiceover artist.

Once you get it right, you can’t rest on your laurels, though. You should constantly monitor digital trends and update your website and blog with fresh content. If it’s all too much for you and you’d rather leave it to the professionals, you can contact me (cheeky plug!). If I can’t help you, I can recommend someone who can.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The SEO zoo...

This morning I read an article on SEW and there is a new animal in town... not really new as it's nearly one year old. Meet the possum, the update that deals with local search.

Pic: Max Pixel
I have not done much local SEO recently, so this animal sneaked into the zoo without me noticing. This cute critter is responsible for relevance and quality. Mind your fingers!

Monday, 31 July 2017

Digital Marketing for SMEs (2): Creative content to capture customers

Pic: Nick Youngson

Customer engagement is key in digital marketing. Leads are potential customers who need some good, old-fashioned nurturing before they buy your product or service. It is nothing new, people need to trust the seller or sample the offer before they open their wallet, not unlike the sales patter of a shop assistant or the free tastings you get at the farmer’s market.

The first step is to set up a website. But how do you persuade people to visit, foster their trust and convince them to buy? That’s where content marketing comes in… Here are a few suggestions on how to attract visitors and transform them into paying, repeat customers:
  • Blogging is perfect to disseminate up-to-date information on your business. You can tell your customers about new products, awards you won and pass on industry news that is relevant to them.
  • Blogger outreach is offering samples to influential bloggers in exchange for reviews and links.
  • Curated content are articles written by experts. You are sharing links you have specially selected to inform your visitors.
  • Videos are a great introduction to your company. Product tutorials are very powerful because they show how your product or service can be used. This is very important for new technology.
  • Podcasts are recordings that can be played over and over again. They are easier to produce than a video and work best as a series rather than a one-off.
  • Webinars are online workshops that showcase your product or service; they are more interactive than videos/podcasts and can be used to grow your email lists.
  • Slideshow presentations are basically PowerPoint files uploaded to your website or social media channels.
  • Infographics are a colourful snapshot of your business. They can include graphs, pie charts and other attractive ways to make data eye catching - especially useful for B2B companies.
  • E-books are the best way to share long-form content. They can include live links, too.
  • White Papers are relevant to companies that need to educate their customers about their products and services.
  • Free reports are popular with companies selling services. For instance, if you are into recruiting, a salary survey will go down well with job applicants and HR departments.
  • Reviews are essential for retail websites – think Amazon and John Lewis.
  • Apps are fun. You can have a free app, a paid app, a freemium app (free with paid extras). They are essential for mobile marketing.
  • E-newsletters are the cornerstone of email marketing. They inform, entertain and show how capable you are.
  • Last but not least, you need good photos – a high number of internet searches focuses on images only.

The next step is to use relevant social media platforms – your creative content can be tweeted, shared on LinkedIn or posted on Facebook – if your audience is on those channels. And if you have a case study or a story with plenty of human interest, you can get in touch with traditional media to get exposure in newspapers and periodicals – again, if that’s where your audience is. The scattergun approach wastes time, money and resources; put your strategic hat (or hire one) and find out where your customers are before you fire your first shot.

PS: the first article in the series (digital strategy) is here.

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).

Thursday, 20 July 2017

From the content brew to the SEO soup

One of my most popular PowerPoint presentations on Slideshare is Lucky 7 steps to digital domination, tongue-and-cheek slides that are still relevant in our ever-changing digital landscape. The presentation displays a great infographic about content, which I reproduce below as it has stood the test of time. Tea (and perhaps coffee) drinkers will get a kick out of it.

Now bear me with while I prepare the SEO soup... Bon App├ętit

P.S. I am rewriting the Digital Marketing Series for SMEs, popular since 2012!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

SEO that makes sense – no witches’/wizards' hats required & white gloves at all times

Pic: Bifetito

I have been too busy practising SEO to write about it. SEO is not dead, it has evolved. I have kept up-to-date through SEW and Social Media Examiner plus Econsultancy for a UK angle. I have also deployed SEO for my personal branding. I am not a cold caller and use my website and social media channels to secure work as a consultant or as a contractor. 

In the past four years or so, I have been working exclusively for SMEs and non-profit organisations so the main challenge has been to scale down the multi-national marketing model and do everything on a shoestring budget. As I read the last SEO articles of 2016, here are a few reflections and insights from my experience so far.

95% Organic

My SEO approach has been mostly organic with a small, outsourced PPC sideline. I work for small organisations and PPC has been deployed only for temporary campaigns as it would be too costly for my clients in the long term. So from my ‘content is king’ castle, I have been using Google Analytics to monitor Serps (search engine research pages). 

As I do not do management speak because it only confuses/irritates my clients, this is the general thinking behind my SEO strategy, which is then personalised to suit the customers' profile and scope of the organisation. I do not do One Size Fits All SEO because firms come in different shapes and sizes.

SEO strategy for SMEs

This is what strategy boils down to: 
  • On page SEO: pages should be well written with keywords inserted naturally in titles, flowing paragraphs, picture captions and metadata. There are a lot of articles about nefarious Google updates, but here are your warnings in a nutshell:

Pic: Scrumshus
      • Beware of lazy Pandas – there is no excuse to have low-quality content or web copy that is updated once a year or less often. 
      • Beware of slippery Penguins - links to inferior websites are now toxic, they do not just devalue a website, they contaminate it. In the worst case scenario, a full audit is required. 
      Pic: Andrew Shiva
    • Off page SEO: websites should only have quality links (i.e. to respectable sites, blogs, etc - see Penguin above). It's also worth adopting a realistic social media schedule to keep all channels ticking. Do not be tempted to schedule all the tweets, though… 

    Digital goals

    I will keep it short and sweet:
    • Authority – target influencers to review or test your product/service, consider blogger outreach
    • Value – upgrade your content by including popular topics (queries from your customers, searches for relevant products, customers’ forums, etc)
    • User experience – monitor your website for broken links, ease the navigation by diminishing the number of tabs on the home page 
    • Speed (you only need an image resolution of 72dpi for a website, do not use photos straight from the digital camera because they will slow down page upload)
    • Present relevant content - clear, concise and to the point, no waffling or going off tangents, please!
    • Ranking – invest more time and manpower in quality content: photos, articles, infographics, videos
    • Freshness – Monitor your online presence and refresh your website at regular intervals.

    Optimise to capitalise

    SEO menu extras:
    • Offer video transcripts/subtitles – many people prefer to read subtitles or the 
    • transcript as they cannot play a noisy video in an open-plan office. Do host your videos on your website, not just YouTube.
    • Create content that is shareable – if appropriate use humour and always have something catchy at hand.
    • Address mobile marketing – micro-moments are the new search marketing if your customers are browsing your products and services on a smartphone.

    SEO & social

    A few easy peasy tactics you can adopt:
    • Build links with your social media channels, they are of high value to search engines… they might feel like a chore but they offer increased visibility.
    • Quality of followers is key, it’s not about size any more. Fake likes will damage your reputation, so will clickbait articles.
    • Use keywords and hashtags. 
    • Local SEO is not to be sniffed at, especially if you offer a service to customers from your premises.
    • Use keywords to drive content creation – what are your people talking about on social? Can you offer an article or a solution to a problem, current issue?
    • Use slack periods to work on your editorial calendar. It’s all about seasons, anniversaries, fashion trends, buzzwords. Bear in mind your buyer’s cycle. For instance, gym memberships are often sold in December and January, while in the B2B universe January is the month for training.
    Pic: Charlesjsharp
    P.S. A little bird told me... the hummingbird update is not to be underestimated, it might not carry a ranking penalty but you have to bear it in mind because it's all about relevance. Find out what your customers' digital conversations are about and make your content relevant to them. If you want to find out more about this less talked-about animal, read this useful article.