SEO, web presence, small business, entrepreneurship

Engagement, analytics, search, social media: How-to Boost small business SEO and web presence

Small businesses don’t have an easy time staking their presence online.
Few have spare time or money, and both are essential for developing strategies to grow an audience and increase sales.

But all small businesses can make simple changes — and avoid common pitfalls — to stand apart from their online competition. Here are five suggestions that will help take your online presence to the next level.

Smart Searching

Appearing first in Google searches can be a game changer. But few small businesses can afford a consultant to implement top-notch SEO strategies.

However, it isn’t hard to boost traffic and increase search rankings by using the right keywords. This doesn’t mean trying for the most popular searches — other sites have those covered. The best keywords should align with your niche.

“For a lot of small businesses, they don’t need 100,000 clicks a month,” says Kurt Lynn, president of KLynn Business Consulting, a consulting and marketing company with offices in Toronto, Montreal, and Cobourg. He says that 1000 clicks from the right audience can create a noticeable jump in sales.

Lynn says he recently explained this concept to a Toronto-based home inspector. There’s a lot of competition across the city, he said, meaning it’s difficult to appear on page one of Google results with a phrase like ‘Toronto Home Inspector’.

So Lynn advised his client to use keywords geared toward smaller Toronto neighbourhoods, instead of trying to compete on a city-wide basis.

“Go after Dovercourt Home Inspector or Bloor West Village Home Inspector,” he says.

Engage Your Audience

Whenever someone visits your store, says Lynn, they should walk away with an incentive to give you their email address. This will let you send them information about new products, sales, and promotions, potentially extending the longevity of a relationship.

But keeping customers interested requires trust.

“It boils down to, ‘are you making a credible offer?’” says Lynn. “The minute they give me an email address there’s an implicit placement of trust.”

If you violate that trust, you will lose customers.

Lynn points to a former client, a retailer selling cosmetics, soaps and other drugstore items, who was having trouble keeping an email audience engaged. The business failed to target offers, often sending information about lipstick to men, for example, leading to lots of unsubscriptions.

“They damaged this implicit trust, ‘I gave you permission to mail me stuff, and you’re mailing me stuff that I’m not interested in,’” he says.

The best way to find what customers want is simply asking. Surveys, either online or in-store, can provide information such as age, gender, and buyer preferences. Past purchases can also be used to gauge interest, and this information combined lets you send out offers that customers will actually be interested in buying.

“The more data I have about them, the better,” Lynn says.

Use emerging social media platforms

In Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood, vintage clothing stores are a dime a dozen.

To bring people into the store, the owners of one neighbourhood shop — Philistine — know the importance of getting eyes online.

Co-owner Colleen Ramage says she started using the photo-sharing app Instagram about a year ago to showcase stock and give potential customers an idea of the store’s overall aesthetic.

The connection with customers was evident immediately.

“People were coming in and being like ‘Oh, I saw you guys on Instagram! I live around the corner!’” Ramage says.

But Ramage doesn’t limit herself to instagram. To make the most out of their online presence, Philistine uses the strengths of each social media platform. Twitter is text-based, so the owners use their account  account  to convey information and detail what’s going on behind the scenes; Instagram is Philistine’s artistic and photograph-driven platform; Facebook acts as sort of catch-all, showcasing a mix of in-stock items, photographs, events, and style inspiration.

Creating a successful social media profile took more than an ‘If you build it, they will come’ mentality. Ramage says she dedicated long hours to the various platforms, not only following other users, but working to get their attention.

“A big part of getting people to follow you and engage with the store is you being able to be like ‘Hi, I see you,’” she says.

Social Media Is Not Your Saviour

While social media can be useful for connecting with an audience, it does not necessarily convert that audience directly into sales.

Lynn has conducted split tests, where he pushed offers on multiple platforms and compared sales results. Last year, one test highlighted an offer on Facebook (an audience of about 2000 friends), email (a 2500 person mailing list), and on the front page of his company’s website. Email was the most successful, with four times the conversions of Facebook and the website.

But social media is still valuable for promoting a brand and keeping it top of mind, which can have an impact on sales down the road.

At Philistine, Ramage experienced social media’s lackluster effect on sales first-hand by using Facebook to give away coupons. During one promotion, about 160 people claimed coupons, but only 15 redeemed them.

She still saw the coupon drive as a success though, as the promotion was spread across hundreds, if not thousands, of Facebook feeds, exposing many potential new customers to the store.

Pay Attention to the Numbers

Analytics tools can show which parts of your online strategy are working and which aren’t. They also tell you how many hits each page gets, how long people spend on what parts of your site, and how they find it in the first place.

And, as Lynn says, you can’t manage what you can’t measure.  “(Analytics) tell me immediately what things people coming to my site are interested in,” he says.

Outside companies can handle analytics, but Lynn says businesses should try and learn the basics themselves.

“It’s criminal that people don’t do it, because for the most part, decent analytics tools are free,” he says. Lynn recommends Google Analytics, as well as tools like Unbounce for split testing and for polling.

Analytics are also helpful when paired with ‘real world’  strategies.

“Every piece of physical literature, every business card, every sign, every product tag, would have my URL on it,” Lynn says.  “And depending on what the media was, you would have a slightly different URL extension on it, because I want to know which is working.”