Study: Email Marketing Is Growing With Small Businesses.

Study: Email Marketing Is Growing With Small Businesses.

Small Business Trends reports on their website that email marketing is coming back in popularity, and has the best return on investment among digital marketing methods. The article refers to a new study titled “2019 State of Conversational Marketing,” which also discusses the use of chatbots. Chatbots are apps that automatically converse with website visitors, similar to virtual assistants like Alexa. Chatbots aren’t mainstream yet, since there’s a learning curve to programming them. Read: “1/3 Of Businesses Used Email More Frequently Last Year – Because It Works.”

It’s my opinion that email is seeing a resurgence thanks to the drop in Facebook users. Facebook has clamped down on free social media marketing strategies, making it so businesses must pay for advertising. The current political climate isn’t good for Facebook, either. Businesses are treating social media as just another traffic source to their own websites and landing pages.

One advantage of social media over email is its quickness in letting businesses react to unhappy customers. Yesterday I reported on the importance of online reviews, and how responding to negative ones is in a company’s best interest (“Online Reviews Can Make Or Break Your Business”). This is where chatbots come in. It may also help to include a customer service phone number, as well as a forum to a business website. Earlier I suggested forums as a community building strategy for growing brand awareness. (“Brand Awareness: Build It, Use It.”)

You can read the complete study here: 2019 State of Conversational Marketing

Online Reviews Can Make Or Break Your Business

Online Reviews Can Make Or Break Your Business

On July 23, the digital marketing and CRM software company Womply published a study revealing the importance of having online reviews on the major platforms, Google, Facebook, Yelp, and TripAdvisor. The big takeaway is that negative reviews on Google hurt a business’ bottom line more than on the other platforms. Source: venturebeat.com, “Womply Study Suggests Bad Google Reviews Costlier to Small Businesses Than Yelp or Facebook.”

The article on Venturebeat.com summarizes the findings. According to Venutrebeat, “…Womply’s data science team conducted an in-depth analysis of transaction and online review data for more than 200,000 U.S. small businesses in every state and across dozens of industries, including restaurants, retailers, lodging places, salons, auto shops, and medical offices.”

Womply’s CEO is quoted as saying that small businesses typically don’t have access to data about their online reputation and how that affects their revenue. It appears Womply’s goal is to make it easily available through their software as a service.

According to Venturebeat, here are some additional findings:

It pays to have an open dialogue:Businesses that reply to at least 25% of their reviews average 35% more revenue than the average business.

Recent reviews have more value: Businesses with more than nine “fresh” reviews (reviews posted in the past 90 days) earn 52% more revenue than the average business. Additionally, businesses with 25 or more fresh reviews earn 108% more than average.

5-star ratings aren’t all they’re cracked up to be: The star-rating sweet spot for revenue is between 3.5 and 4.5 stars. In fact, 5-star businesses actually earn less on average than 1-star businesses.

It’s okay to have a handful of detractors: Businesses that average 35-50% negative reviews earn nearly the same as the average business.

Response rate matters: 75% of small businesses don’t respond to any reviews, which is a problem, since businesses that reply to more than 20% of their reviews earn 42% more revenue than businesses that don’t respond at all. Consequently, businesses that reply to at least half of their reviews earn $166,000 more in annual revenue than businesses that don’t reply to any reviews.

More is betterBusinesses with more than the average number of reviews (83) earn 82% more annual revenue than businesses with review counts below the average. In addition, businesses with 200+ reviews earn twice as much in revenue compared to the average business.

More profiles claimed equals more revenue: Businesses that claim their free listings on at least three of the major review sites (e.g. Google, Yelp, Facebook, and TripAdvisor) average $107,000 more annual revenue than a typical business, and $179,000 more than businesses that don’t claim their listings on any review sites, a 60% swing in revenue.

Consumers are kinder than you think: Nationally, 81% of online reviews for a typical business are positive.

All this goes to show the importance of customer service and building relationships with your customers. This report is also a sign of Google’s power on the Internet, since its review platform is so easy to use and search engines have largely replaced the old phone book yellow pages. This should be a sign that every small local business needs a Google My Business profile.

You can read the Womply study here: “How Online Reviews Impact Small Business Revenue.”

Brand Awareness: 6 Strategies To Build It

Brand Awareness: 6 Strategies To Build It

Your business’ brand may be your most important sales tool. Brand awareness refers to how well customers, and the public in general, remember your business and relate to it positively or negatively. In this article, I’ll share numerous brand awareness strategies and how they can be implemented with your website.

In my guide to search engine optimization with WordPress, I discussed the importance of backlinks in Google rankings. Backlinks are driven by the power of your brand. More generally, your brand keeps you top of mind and encourages repeat business. In many cases, companies piggyback on the brand power of larger ones, such as those who sell products through a well known retailer, or are featured by a popular media channel. First, let’s look at the underlying rule of brand awareness.

Know, Like, Trust

I covered this rule in my Instagram marketing article, but it pays review it again. The “Know, Like, Trust” rule is the foundation of building a brand and generating sales. The public needs to first know who you and your business are through advertising and/or word of mouth. Next, they need to have a favorable opinion of you. Lastly, they need to be certain your business will meet their needs.

The brand awareness strategies I’ll share fall under distinct categories, but they can happen at more than one of the “Know, Like, Trust” steps. This is because marketing is a continuous job, and you’ll be simultaneously communicating to leads at different stages in the funnel.

1. Be Shareable

Word of mouth is the oldest marketing strategy of all, but technology gives us new ways of carrying it out. In the early days of Facebook, it was simple to share news articles, promotions, and events. These days, Facebook’s newsfeed seems to restrict everything except memes from being shared, all so businesses pay money for advertising. Luckily, there are still workarounds such as posting to groups, tagging friends in posts, and sharing links through direct messaging.

People need a reason to spread the word about you. You can post valuable blog content, have a great deal, or offer them a bonus if they tell their friends. Affiliate marketing is the practice of offering content creators a sales commission of products. Bloggers, Podcasters, and YouTubers include links to sites where visitors can buy something. If you follow that marketer’s link to the sales page, the marketer will earn a percentage of the sale. It’s something I take part in for digital products I trust. If you build an e-commerce website in WordPress, or sell downloads or memberships, there are affiliate marketing plugins that integrate with your sales apps.

One of the most basic ways people can share your brand is to include social sharing links in your blog articles. Facebook may be the biggest player in social media, but it’s far from the only one. You may be a member of Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram, Minds, or YouTube, to name just a few. When readers follow the links from those networks to your page, you should include calls-to-action to join an email list, contact your business, or go to your sales page.

2. Advertise

Advertising is perhaps the most proactive brand strategy, and it’s one we all know about. Is it worthwhile in the Internet Age? I would say the value of traditional advertising is gradually decreasing. Older forms of media like t.v., radio, and print are losing ground with young people, and people who spend time online have less and less patience with ads. Ads are usually seen as the price of using free platforms. Tech companies who rely on ads for revenue play tug-of-war with ad-blocker apps, with each side trying to outsmart the other’s programming. Content creators like YouTubers and news organizations are earning less money from ads, so they’re less likely to include them.

It sounds bad for paid advertising, but that’s only if you define it as commercials, pop-ups, and space in the newspaper. The smart brands adapt to the changing culture. Online, it’s acceptable for companies to sponsor content creators, such as influencers, and pay them to pitch for them inside their posts. Influencers don’t even need to be worldwide celebrities, they just need to be respected inside their communities. Integrity goes a long way, and audiences hate sellouts, so the value of your product needs to be clearly articulated by your influencers.

If you run a local business and don’t mind driving around to get the word out, you can drop off small print materials. These include business cards, fliers, and brochures. They can be pinned to community bulletin boards, taped to lampposts, and placed inside waiting rooms- the idea is to be seen where people are already looking for information, or trying to pass the time. Your print items should grab people’s attention, then direct them to your website for more information. Your site should be mobile-friendly so they can look you up right away.

3. Give Value Up Front

This category of strategies is not up for debate; it is where you fulfill the “Like” and “Trust” steps. There are abundant real world examples of businesses that succeed by freely offering value before transactions. They prove ahead of time they are pro-consumer, and their audiences choose to purchase out of appreciation.

A common example of up front value in the digital space is the “freemium” business model. This is common with mobile apps, software as a service, and WordPress plugins. An application will have a free version that someone can try out and get comfortable with, then they’ll be enticed to purchase upgrades over time. The outrageously popular online game Fortnite is free to play, but its developers make money by selling in-game costumes for players’ characters. Fortnite focuses on its multiplayer game experience, and players express themselves through the paid costumes.

In the WordPress space, the best example of the freemium model is the runaway success of Elementor. Elementor is a page builder plugin that lets a user design a website any way they want. Its free version is the most feature-rich on the market, giving it great publicity. When the paid version eventually arrived, users saw it was extra-advanced.

For service businesses, a tried-and-true method of up front value is a blog. This is where you demonstrate knowledge in your field. You can also record videos or podcasts. When you educate people in a respectful manner, they’ll remember your brand. This can work in retail as well. Hy-Vee, the largest grocery store chain in my home state, publishes free magazines with recipes and lifestyle articles. It’s also common for Hy-Vee stores to have registered dietitians on staff, who host in-store tours and classes on healthy eating.

In these days when Facebook throttles the organic reach of businesses, the most reliable way to engage your audience is through email. To build an email subscriber list, it’s customary to offer a free gift, called a “lead magnet,” in exchange for people’s contact information. It’s best if a lead magnet is a digital product like a short ebook or PDF full of information. It can also be a discount, a free trial, or a video presentation. Your lead magnet is a rare instance when paid advertising is relevant; advertise your free offer, link to the landing/squeeze page, and continue the relationship-building outside of social media and Google.

You should continue giving value up front with your emails. These can be links to your latest blog posts, but they can also be shorter pieces or links to other people’s articles. The unofficial email marketing etiquette is to send 3 emails with useful content, and have every 4th email be a sales pitch.

4. Build A Community

Email marketing is one surefire way to engage your followers, but forming a community or group of customers has the added benefit of letting them give you feedback. You can form a Facebook group and promote it through your blogs, videos, ads, and/or emails. If you prefer to do it away from the social media giant, you can try LinkedIn, Reddit, or add a forum to your own website. In WordPress, the plugin to use is BBPress.

If you would like to make a local group that meets in person, a great resource is Meetup.com. Book a space to meet, and announce your get-together on Meetup ahead of time. You can have round table discussions with like-minded individuals, or host classes based on your expertise. This is similar to the Hy-Vee dietitians’ events.

When people feel they’re included in your community, they’ll appreciate your business more. This is a great venue to provide customer service and address their concerns. This is also a ready-made focus group that will help tailor your marketing message and bring in more clients.

5. Have A Brand Personality

Mainly, by having a brand personality, your business is relatable to human beings. Large companies rely on mascots or executive leaders to represent them, and smaller businesses define their personalities through a closer-knit team. There’s a widespread political stance that corporations aren’t people, but we should remember that corporations are made of people trying to get by. It helps that in a free market economy, there are multiple companies with diverse value sets, so employees and customers can get behind the ones they agree with individually.

Investopedia lists 5 main types of brand personalities: Excitement, Sincerity, Ruggedness, Competence, and Sophistication (Investopedia: “Brand Personality”). Different personalities are suitable for different industries. As a marketing consultant for other businesses, I hope to align with the sincerity and competence categories.

The Balance Small Business has a guide to defining brand identity, with 9 questions to ask yourself (“9 Steps To Developing A Brand Identity”). They deal with your target market and company values. You should also consider what emotions you evoke in people.

6. Tell A Story

Today, most people know the informative power of stories. Brand storytelling is just what it sounds like- telling tales that reflect your brand personality, values, and product offerings. There are many types of stories to use in your marketing, and they tie together nicely with the other brand awareness strategies discussed here.

The Huffington Post gives us 4 real world examples of brand storytelling and the reasons they work (read, “4 Fantastic Examples of Brand Storytelling.”) The first is High Brew Coffee, and how the founder was inspired to start his company after touring the Caribbean, as told on its website. This gives us a look at brand personality. Next is BeardBrand, which started as a blog and YouTube channel about men’s grooming products, and inspired its own line. Here, the business grew its community of viewers and responded to their requests.

Next in HuffPo’s article is the popular Blue Apron. On Blue Apron’s website is a page about their mission statement, and they relate the complicated food supply chain from farmers to markets in the modern day. They want to make it simpler and more economical, thereby inspiring their customers who share their values. The last company mentioned in the article is WeddingWire. WeddingWire is a hub for wedding supply vendors, planners, and venue booking. They feature a blog with behind the scenes stories, showing the human side of the business.

Storytelling can go towards giving up front value through information. Testimonials by existing customers make great stories, too; you can ask your community for them, which will have even more power than your own.

Wrap Up

A great brand depends on more than a logo and a slogan. It’s not cut-and-dried, and there’s no single formula that will work for everyone. But like the wind, your business’ brand can move the world around it with surprising power. I hope this overview inspired you. If you’d like personalized help with your Internet marketing, go to my Services page through the link below.

WordPress SEO For Business

WordPress SEO For Business

Search Engine Optimization is near the top of the most important marketing strategies for your business. It’s very competitive, but the benefits are long lasting and will serve you well for years.

Hosting

Good WordPress SEO starts with good hosting. A web host is any company or network that runs servers, which are computers that your website exists on. A good host will make your site load fast for your visitors, which is a key ranking factor. I personally recommend the hosting company SiteGround, and I have friends who have good experience with InMotion. You can sign up for SiteGround hosting through this affiliate link: Get SiteGround

SSL

“SSL” stands for “secure socket layer” and such a certificate encrypts your visitors’ data, protecting it from hackers. This is crucial if you’re collecting email addresses, or credit card info through your online store. Today, web browsers will tell you if a site is secured by an SSL with a padlock icon in the URL box.

Fortunately, SiteGround partners with a non-profit group called Let’s Encrypt to provide free SSL certificates. Let’s Encrypt is available through most other hosts as well. When you have an account with a web host, you can access the control panel page, find the Let’s Encrypt link, and assign an SSL to your site.

Theme

After you get your hosting account, you can install WordPress either by clicking the “QuickInstall” link and selecting WordPress as the builder, or there may be a dedicated WordPress link in the control panel. Because WordPress is so ubiquitous among bloggers, web designers, and businesses, most mainstream hosting companies make it easy to set up.

When WordPress is installed on your site, you need a theme and page builder plugin to design the appearance. My favorite themes are Astra, GeneratePress, and Divi. Divi is a paid theme that you buy from Elegant Themes, and has its own proprietary page builder system. Astra and GeneratePress are freely available in the WordPress theme repository, although they have paid versions with advanced features. Astra and GeneratePress let you use any page builder plugin, and I recommend either Beaver Builder or Elementor. 

Astra has a handy feature called Astra Starter Sites that lets you upload pre-made websites that utilize Beaver Builder and Elementor. Divi has a massive collection of layout packs that you can upload. The great thing about the pre-made templates in these themes is that they’re completely customizable. You can delete, resize, re-color, and rearrange sections of pages through these builders.

The 2 most important considerations for a theme, in SEO terms, are loading speed and whether it’s mobile friendly. Divi, GeneratePress, and Astra have been tested by many bloggers and web designers, and are trusted for their loading times. These themes and builders use responsive web design, meaning the objects on pages resize and rearrange to fit the screens of mobile devices. This makes them suitable for desktops, tablets, and smartphones.

Buy Astra Pro Buy Beaver Builder Buy Divi

Settings

When you log into WordPress, you’ll enter the Dashboard and see the menu items on the left side. Under “Settings,” there are 2 important sections, “Reading” and “Permalinks.” On the Reading page, make sure the box by “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is not checked. In Permalinks, select the option “Post Name.” This makes the url of your sub pages and posts include the page and post names, which the search engines prefer to display in search results.

SEO Plugin: Rank Math

Your site needs an SEO plugin. Plugins are applications that extend the functionality of your WordPress site, and there are a few popular and up-and-coming plugins that aid you in search. For many years, Yoast has been the industry standard SEO plugin, but I recommend an exciting new one called Rank Math. Rank Math has probably the most complete feature set in SEO for FREE! Its paid version is still in development as of this writing. 

In the left side menu, go to “Plugins,” and click the sub menu “Add New.” You can look up Rank Math in the WordPress Repository and install it on your site. Rank Math will ask you to create a profile on its own developer’s site, then enable you to use its “Setup Wizard.” The first step in the Wizard ist to enter in your site’s name, logo, and other identifiers. I’ll go over the next Setup Wizard steps in the following sections.

Google Search Console

Rank Math will prompt you to create a Google Search Console profile if you don’t have one already. Google Search Console is a Google service that guides you in improving your site’s searchability. In your Google Search Console profile, click on “Add Property” and type in your site’s domain or url. Google Search Console has its own setup sequence that’s cut and dried, and you’ll eventually verify ownership of your site. Rank Math will give you a line of code to paste into Search Console, then Google and your site will match up.

XML Sitemap

An XML sitemap is a file that you submit to search engines, that tells the engines which pages and posts you want to be found. Rank Math will generate a sitemap for you after you select the settings. You can copy the link code to the sitemap file, and submit it to Google in the Search Console.

SEO Tweaks

The next step in Rank Math Setup is “SEO Tweaks.” It’s fine to keep the default setting, but read the descriptions under each setting to understand what they do. Next is the “Ready” step, from which you can return to your normal WordPress Dashboard, but you can continue on to the “Advanced Options.” The 404 and Redirect steps are related, and you can set it up so Rank Math notifies you when external links to your site are broken. You can have those broken links sent to new pages in the future. 

Rich Snippets/Schema

The final Setup Wizard page, titled “Miscellaneous,” includes a very important feature called Rich Snippets. Here you can enable rich snippets on different pages, blog posts, products, and more. Snippets are data about your page structured in a way to easily display in Google Search Results. They’re free in Rank Math, which is a huge reason I want you to use this plugin.

After the Miscellaneous page, you’ll go back to the WordPress dashboard. You can go back to the Rank Math setup wizard any time and make changes.

Keywords/Research

When you’re writing blog articles and content for your pages (using your chosen theme and page builder,) you need to include words and terms that web surfers are looking for. There are a few free tools that will let you see how many searches different keywords launch, and their levels of competition. There is Google’s own Keyword Planner tool. I’ve been using a browser extension called Keywords Everywhere that shows the same data on Google’s own search results pages. There is also Ubersuggest, developed by SEO and marketing guru Neil Patel and available on his website. 

Conducting keyword research will give you ideas for your next blog article, and show you what your competitors are doing well with. You should examine the top ranking pages under different keywords and find gaps in their information- gaps you can fill and rank for yourself! You can go on YouTube and listen to Neil Patel’s advice for finding content ideas with Ubersuggest.

On Page SEO

When Rank Math is installed on your website, a special section appears at the bottom of your page and post editing screens. There are 4 tabs in the Rank Math section, “General,” “Advanced,” “Rich Snippet,” and “Social.”

Under the General tab, you can edit the way your Google Search Result will look. It should say things you think your clients will find relevant. Below the Search Result editor, you can enter the keywords you want the page to rank for. Rank Math lets you use multiple keywords for free, while other SEO plugins save this for their premium versions. Below the keywords box, there are boxes with suggestions to make your page’s or post’s content better. These are helpful if you’re new to writing optimized content, but don’t stress out and try to get a perfect rating. It’s more important to write naturally in a way regular humans can relate to.

Under the Advanced tab, you can check boxes for “robots meta tag” values. These are factors that the search engines “crawl” and know to rank your site for. To keep it simple, check only “Index” box, because the other boxes restrict what Google can crawl. Below the robots meta tags, you can set the “canonical url.” If you have more than one page or website with identical content, this is where you tell Google that this page is what you want to be found. Below this, is the “redirect” section. If you ever change a page’s url, Google or other websites with links to the old url would get an error page. You need to redirect old links to your new url, and you set that url here.

Under the Rich Snippets tag, you can create the snippets for that page. A rich snippet is a markup that makes your content easier to index by the search engines, as well as display relevant data in search results. Rank Math gives us a handy form that makes these snippets and is easy to fill out. 

The Social tab is where you set how your page links appear in Facebook and Twitter posts. This makes them easier to share and more enticing to click on.

Comments

There’s a debate whether you should allow a comments section in your blog posts. Comments are a sign of audience engagement, which Google favors. Unfortunately, the section is an easy target for spammers. There are so many sketchy marketers, hackers, and bots posting junk that some bloggers don’t bother to curate them, and turn the comments section off. If you do allow comments, use the Akismet plugin. Akismet will automatically curate comments based on your settings. Either use Akismet or don’t allow comments; the risks and rewards are balanced, so no one would judge you on your choice.

Long Form Content: The Longer the Post, the Better

When you write blog articles, the ideal length is between 1200 and 3000 words. Search Engine Journal says, “Average content length for Page 1 results is around 1,900 words, according to a 2016 study. That’s a lot longer than the 200- or 500-word blog posts most writers or webmasters think is ideal.” The point is that the article should be full of resources and valuable information. My free ebook, “Be True, Cut Through,” tells you how to write a sufficiently long article in a timely manner.

Download: Be True, Cut Through

Headings

Headings (not to be confused with website headers) are text formats that are bolder and larger than regular text, that act as titles for sections of text, and have special value for search engines. Headings help organize your blog posts and pages, which is good for search engines and vision impaired visitors who use screen reader apps to listen to text.

Heading text have 6 levels of strength, Heading 1 being the most powerful and Heading 6 being the least. You can assign heading levels in WordPress by highlighting the text and selecting the level in the WordPress editor. Page builders have text modules where you can set headings, too.

Heading 1 should be used only once per page or post, as the main title of that page. The other levels are for groups of paragraphs covering a subtopic. Think of them similar to outline subjects, with certain topics placed under other overall topics.

It helps to include your keywords in some of the headings. Rank Math will suggest this, but again, it’s more important that your text reads naturally to humans. 

Eliminate Duplicate Content

Duplicate content is when your website’s content is copied elsewhere, on your site or someone else’s. This is a big problem for search engines since they don’t know which copy of the content to rank. It’s also a sign of plagiarism, unless the original source is given credit and linked.

Some duplicate content within your own site is acceptable. This is when you display excerpts of your blog posts on other pages. The team at Yoast wrote a helpful article for finding duplicate content: Yoast- “What is Duplicate Content?”

Backlinks are links from other sites to yours. This is a huge factor in search rankings because it’s a sign of your site’s authority. Backlinks aren’t something you can create yourself because other people have to bestow them. Getting backlinks has more to do with building relationships than anything technical. This is where your brand and reputation come into play. Read my guide to building brand awareness here.

There are strategies for earning backlinks. They include guest posting on other websites; forming networks with related businesses and sharing audiences; utilizing journalism websites like Help A Reporter Out, offering tips to reporters and bloggers (they should give you credit as a source). You can find more strategies in my ebook Be True, Cut Through.

Internal links are links between pages and posts within your own website, and they help Google crawl your site better. Again, we turn to Neil Patel for advice.

Patel’s first rule is to have a lot of content. He says not to worry about an organized hierarchy of pages like other experts recommend, just link pages and articles that logically relate to each other. Second, links should be in the form of “anchor text.” This is just text that plainly describes where the link goes to. Remember your blind visitors and make it easy for them to know through their page reader apps.

Third, don’t include a lot of links to your homepage, “Contact” page, or any top tier page that’s included in your top menu. The menu links should be enough. DO link to other blog posts or less-visited pages. These are called deep links. Neil’s fourth rule is to use links that are natural and provide value to the reader. This is related to the 1st rule. The point here is to keep visitors engaged and on your site.

Fifth, links should be between related pages. It makes no sense to link between a post about credit cards and a post about vintage guitars, unless you’re telling readers how to buy vintage guitars. The sixth rule is to use “follow” links. Follow links are ones that search engines can read. You can set links as no follow if the page content is meant to be exclusive. In general though, follow links help Google crawl your site. The seventh and final rule Patel gives us is to use a reasonable number of internal links. There’s no set rule to how many are enough or too much- just make it useful to the visitor.

Neil Patel: “The Seven Commandments of Internal Linking That Will Improve Content Marketing SEO”

As I said in the last section, follow and no follow links signal whether search engines can crawl between pages. In the past, SEO pros and webmasters would make links to other sites no follow. This was a competitive tactic to keep the engines focused on one’s own site. Today, sources like Search Engine Land say no follow external links are just selfish and hurt your site’s SEO. The idea should be to allow the free flow of visitor traffic and Google’s tracking.

“Read More” links are commonly buttons linking to a full blog post or a page dedicated to one topic. These are another example of internal links and will help your rankings. These aren’t mentioned in Neil Patel’s article, but enough people ask about them to make them worth a mention.

Improve Page Load Time

If your web pages take more than 2 seconds to load, visitors are tempted to leave. This is a bad sign to Google. There are ways to improve your site’s load time. The main factor, which I’ve already mentioned, is your host. See my recommendations above. The next most important thing is the size of your images. Image files can be compressed with plugins like WP Smush. I also like the free website TinyPNG.com.

Next you should install the plugin Autoptimize to reduce the size of your CSS and JavaScript files. Another factor in page speed is caching, which is when part of your site’s data is reused to upload additional pages. You can use plugins such as W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache for this. These are the most important ways to make your site faster; take care of these and you’ll be ahead of the pack.

Optimize Images

Images are another attack vector for gaining search traffic. Google Image Search is its own category, and if you have a gallery of your business space, portfolio, or pictures of your recent events, you should optimize them.

WordPress includes a section in its Dashboard menu called “Library.” This is where you can upload images (which are compressed, I hope) and assign data to them. You should fill out the boxes on the right side of each image file in the Library screen. Give your images names, captions, tags, and descriptions. Descriptions are a big help to our vision impaired friends, because those are what their screen readers will speak out when the mouse arrow is hovered over images. 

WordPress Security

If your website has malware, Google will blacklist it, so let’s go over WordPress security. This is a major topic all on its own, so I’ll focus on the most important steps in this article. I already told you about SSL certificates, but here are some more common sense measures.

The first safeguard to your WordPress site is protecting your Dashboard login info. When you first install WordPress through your hosting service, you need to select a username and password that is complex. SiteGround does a good job telling you whether a password is strong. The most common hacking technique of WordPress sites is “brute force” attacks. This is where bots automatically fill your login with random words and phrases, trying to guess your login. 

The three most popular WordPress security plugins, in my estimation, are Sucuri, WordFence, and IThemes. I personally use IThemes, but the other two are great as well. These plugins can limit the number of login attempts allowed. You can also get plugins to enable two-factor authentication, security questions, and Captcha.

The next main security measure is to update your WordPress theme and plugins regularly. Whenever you log into your Dashboard, check the upper left area for any update notifications. Hackers can find exploits in older versions of your WordPress assets and sneak in through them. The developers of your themes and plugins, and WordPress itself, very often make security patches to prevent this. Updating WordPress is easy- just go to the Updates page and click the button. If you have a Managed WordPress hosting service, this can be done for you automatically. If you have a continuing relationship with your web designer, he or she can do this as part of their ongoing maintenance.

Third, you should have a backup system. If your site is ever hacked, you can have your web host delete it, then restore it with a backup from before the infection. Most hosting companies offer a backup service, but it’s wise to have a separate system as well. You should get the plugin UpDraftPlus and connect it to a 3rd party storage service like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Amazon’s cloud service.

Local SEO

SEO for local business has special requirements in addition to everything I already mentioned.

Local SEO Keywords:

Tom Dupuis of OnlineMediaMasters.com gives us a trick to find what people in your area are looking for. Go to Google, type your city name, the underscore character, and your type of business. Google’s autosuggestions will fill up with common search terms in your city. WordPress Local SEO: How To Optimize Your Website (And Citations) To Rank Higher In Google Maps/Localized Results

NAP:

This is short for, Name, Address, and Phone Number. These should be included in either the header or footer sections of your website. The point is to make this information available on every page of your site. It’s good to add a code to your phone number so visitors can dial it by tapping on it on their smartphones.

Google My Business:

This is one of the most powerful tools in local SEO you can use. If you already have a Gmail account, go to google.com/business and sign in. You’ll need to claim your business and web address, complete the profile with your business name, address, phone number, business hours, photos, business logo, and so on. Complete as many fields in the profile as are relevant. You’ll need to request a verification postcard to arrive in your snail mail to verify you are the owner or admin of this business.

Google My Business will make your business eligible to appear in the Map Pack, which appears in the search results page for businesses in your area. It enables customers and clients to post reviews. Reviews are a huge factor in your rankings in the map pack and search results in general, so offer great service and ask your previous clients for positive comments. Your business’ physical location is especially important in local search for visitors using their mobile devices. Google will likely rank you higher if you’re closer to that searcher’s phone.

Wrap Up

As you can see, there’s a lot to do when making your WordPress site search engine ready. I wrote this as a guide to beginners and business owners who work in other industries besides web marketing. I’ve provided several resources through links and affiliate offers. If you would like more personalized assistance, check out my Services page at the link below, then reach out to me. I’m based in Iowa but open to anyone in the United States.

Goodbye, Instagram Likes! Hello, Real Social Proof!

Goodbye, Instagram Likes! Hello, Real Social Proof!

The news broke late in April that Instagram is likely hiding the public “Like” count from posts. The plan is being tested in Canada, in which only users can see how many Instagram likes a post earns from followers. It’s causing an uproar among popular influencers and the companies who sponsor them. This leads us to a discussion of what genuine engagement looks like, and the importance of social proof in business and sales.

What We Know So Far

This article by Later.com summarizes what is known about the program so far. If you’re an Instagram user, you will be able to see how many likes your posts receive, but your followers won’t. Even then, you’ll need to click an additional link under your post to see your likes total.

Mark Zuckerberg himself, CEO of Instagram’s parent company Facebook, has said he wants users to post authentic content without dwelling on the number of likes, which are inauthentic and draw users into a competition; “We want people to be less interested in how many likes a post gets, and focus more on connecting with other people.”

Reactions

The biggest block of users affected by this change, from a business standpoint, are the “influencers.” Influencers are the ones who build huge followings, then land sponsorships from companies to recommend their products. Almost everyone agrees that the Like count on posts are easy to fake, and don’t fully reflect what followers really feel about them. However, they’re the easiest metric to measure.

The Later.com article goes on to say:

“In 2019, brands care more about reach and engagement rate than they do followers, so without the ability to publicly view an influencer’s likes (aka their engagement), it could make it harder to gauge how engaged their community is. Suddenly, a good influencer media kit is now deemed essential.

Lia Haberman, formerly VP Audience Development at Livestrong, notes that hidden likes could result in a spending shift away from influencer marketing and towards paid advertising on Instagram. ‘This will likely increase the amount of ads as brands look for more exposure and make it difficult for anyone but established influencers to get a foot-hold.’”

In my previous article about Instagram marketing, I emphasized that paid advertising and sponsorships are only beneficial to large companies, and that small businesses and the self-employed are better off using organic reach. I also cautioned, referencing some experts, not to “buy” followers or likes, because such metrics aren’t real and will disappear once you stop paying the companies providing them.

Indeed, when I search for “Instagram likes” in Google, over half of the first page results are for those sketchy firms selling likes. Instagram and Facebook have long wanted to crack down on the practice, and the new change is probably the way they do it.

Reactions from users other than influencers are very positive. Social media has long been blamed for self-esteem problems. From a CNN article: “‘Likes are powerful because they are immediate feedback,’ said Renee Engeln, a psychology professor at Northwestern University. ‘In a way, likes give you the same kind of hit like a gambler gets at a slot machine.'”

Comparison, envy, and insincerity are facts of life on Instagram. Although its content is overwhelmingly positive compared to Facebook and Twitter, it’s easy to feel inadequate looking at someone else’s beautifully presented feed. It’s easy to forget that everyone cherry-picks the best parts of their day, and their best selfies, to share on the network. The rest their everyday lives may be filled with struggle and heartbreak.

Also, without the pressure to compete for likes, users will be free to post more authentic and creative posts. I first heard the news about the hidden likes from YouTuber Roberto Blake. Blake feels that followers’ comments are a much better indicator of a post’s influence. There is much more information in comments than in likes. Influencers can still share their profile analytics with brand sponsors, so they needn’t worry too much about their careers.

Blake also says removing public likes will make it easier for smaller users to break out. Often, if users see that a post has a huge number of likes already, it will gain even more through a bandwagon mentality. It’s too easy for a lucky few influencers to dominate the platform. This opens up a discussion about social proof that I’ll get to later.

“Likes” On Other Platforms

Blake goes on to suggest that YouTube get rid of its own likes display in key sections of its site. When visitors see that a video has a large number of likes and views from the homepage, they judge it to be quality content before actually viewing it. It’s a lazy way to search for content, and punishes newer, smaller channels trying to break out in the same way it happens on Instagram.

Let’s go over likes, as well as reviews on other social media platforms and online marketplaces. As a WordPress user, I see reviews all the time when I’m looking for a new plugin to use. Plugins are made by 3rd party developers and are available in the WordPress Repository. They add functionality to the sites I make for myself and clients.

Plugins in the Repository have scores, written reviews, and numbers showing how many times they’ve already been downloaded. I confess, I’ve sometimes chosen one plugin over another because more people use it, but it’s beneficial to look at the scores and read what other people say about them. Some plugins become runaway hits thanks to word of mouth and the social proof shown in the repository display.

Amazon works in much the same way. It allows for customers to write reviews of products. It’s good marketing to convince initial users to write favorable reviews, which encourages more people to buy that product and tell Amazon’s algorithm to feature higher in the search results, or even the homepage.

How Social Proof Helps Your Business

When you launch a product or service, you need an initial marketing push, then you need early customers and reviewers to say nice things about it. Since the start of 2019, I’ve studied why certain companies become huge while most others struggle. I’ve learned that the successful ones create a feedback loop of satisfied customers, good reviews, increased trust in the brand, more satisfied customers, and on and on.

What Businesses Should Do

With Instagram hiding the public likes from its feed, marketplaces should now reconsider what kind social proof is presented. Whether on Amazon or in YouTube, it doesn’t always benefit the customer to see what’s popular. A product or article should meet customers’ individual needs. I feel Google Search is better at finding relevant content for users. And content is the key. Going back to Roberto Blake’s preference for user comments, we can learn much more about creation from the audience’s words than a binary response such as like or dislike.

User reviews tell us the “how” and “why” of business’ benefits. If you’re having a website built for your small business or your digital product, get some testimonials from previous clients, or ask them to review you on Google or Facebook. There are WordPress plugins that let visitors write reviews right on your own site, or import them from other platforms.

Fighting The 80/20 Rule

There is a lot of talk about income inequality and what to do about it. Political commentators fret over how to increase opportunity for everyone besides the “1%.” The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, says that 80% of wealth is held by 20% of people. That 20% are the ones who stumble on just the right feedback loop to grow their customer base. I don’t agree with wealth redistribution because it’s code for communism, but I do feel that regular folks need a better chance at prosperity. Without the strict number value of likes, and more focus on qualitative comments, we can promote individualism and diversity in the marketplace.

Instagram Marketing Strategy: 3 Steps

Instagram Marketing Strategy: 3 Steps

The best Instagram marketing strategy is to think of it as part of a larger sales funnel. Use Instagram (or any other social network) to build an audience and brand, then periodically refer followers to another web page to collect leads.

Whether you make money as a paid influencer, an affiliate marketer, or by promoting your company, your Instagram marketing usually needs to link to an outside website. Instagram is most useful for marketing products, but service businesses can also use it by sharing information, showing off expertise, and building audience trust. Here are 3 steps for marketing on Instagram

1: Link to a Landing Page in Your Bio

Even though you need to link to an outside page, Instagram is link-averse compared to other social networks. You can’t link inside a post, although you can type a url and hope viewers take the time to type it in their browsers. Instagram Stories allow for links, but Stories are only available temporarily. Therefore, it’s best to have a landing page link in your profile bio.

This page can be any number of things. I recommend that it has an email opt-in with a lead magnet. A lead magnet a free information product, discount code, or some other affordable offer that entices a visitor to enter his or her email address in return. You can then continue to engage with them through email marketing.

Another type of page can be the sales page, where you directly invite the visitor to buy your product, a sponsor’s product, or sign up for a sales call. I’ll discuss when to promote your sales page later, but keep in mind it has to be for something you want to sell over and over for weeks or months at a time. It would be tedious resetting your bio’s link if you want to promote multiple pages in a short time frame.

2: Build Your Audience Organically

If you’re a small business or self-employed individual, it’s better to grow your following organically than pay for ads or use Instagram Promotion. Paid ads are only worthwhile if you market for a large enterprise company. These organizations have the money to spend, and sell at such a scale that they can experiment and find the return-on-investment sweet spot. Many bloggers and YouTubers report that when they try paid Instagram Promotion, they only earn single to double digit new followers, which they could have easily brought on for free.

Additionally, there are users who “buy” followers from sketchy marketing firms. These so-called followers only stick around for as long as you pay for them. If you run out of money or desire to pay, they disappear. In her YouTube video How to Gain Instagram Followers Organically 2019 (Grow from 0 to 5000 followers FAST!)”, Vanessa Lau explains this phenomenon, and gives us a better way.

Lau starts with an often overlooked idea, optimizing your profile name for search. If you include your profession or title in your profile name, it’s more likely you’ll be found when users search for it as a topic.

Next, Lau teaches us about content creation, where she stresses the “Know, Like, Trust” rule. Whatever you post on Instagram, you should first make people aware of you, then be entertaining enough that they enjoy your posts, then be useful enough they trust what you say. You can do keyword research to see what topics are trending, then create visuals encapulating those ideas (learn the art of the meme!) You need to find out what your target audience cares about, and deliver.

Don’t skimp on the captions. Lau treats them as miniature blogs. Think of your pictures as billboards to capture users’ attention, then engage them with a caption where you share ideas in text. Treat captions like you would Facebook posts. Lau likes to show some vulnerability so followers can relate to her.

Here are some rules when using hashtags. Mix the sizes, meaning use some that have giant numbers of hits, as well as smaller niche ones. In fact, niche hashtags should make up 80% of your total. Also, don’t use the same hashtags over and over, since Instagram would think these are spam. Lau likes to use 4 or 5 groups of hashtags, saved in a memo or text app on her phone, that she can rotate.

Finally you must engage with the community. This is a lot of work, but it’s where you show you’re a real human person. You can do this by responding to their comments on your posts, commenting on their posts, and direct messaging followers who consistently engage with you. In fact, direct messaging is another opportunity to link to your sales page, which I’ll discuss in the next section.

3: Post Your Sales Pitches Sparingly

As I said before, Instagram is only the beginning of your sales funnel. Your job here is building trust and relationships. Only a small percentage of your audience will convert into clients. This is especially true given Instagram’s algorithm, in that not everyone sees every post you share. Instagram marketing should be treated similar to blogging and as a long term effort.

This doesn’t mean you can’t link to your landing page often, if that landing page is for building your email list. You’ll have a much easier time selling to your email subscribers, because if they’ve made the effort to click your bio link and enter their addresses, they’re more engaged. It’s easier to link to sales pages, with multiple offers, in an email than in Instagram.

The point is, Instagram should only rarely be the platform you make a sales pitch. With email marketing, the common rule is to send 3 emails with content, then link to a sales page on the 4th. With Instagram, I would wait at least twice as long.

I mentioned direct messaging your followers, and this is a long game as well. I know I hate DM’s from people I’ve only connected with a day ago, asking me to hire them. Oddly, they all want to make websites for me when that’s MY profession! When you DM someone, you should start by asking questions about their industry and what troubles them. I’m reminded of high-ticket sales master Dan Lok, who says deals are made by listening, not talking. Again, you need to learn what other people care about so you can sell them solutions.

Final Thoughts

In my book “Be True, Cut Through: Practical Digital Marketing For Small Businesses,” I take a dim view of social media giants Twitter and Facebook. Facebook is still the king of social media, but it’s user base is shrinking, and Mark Zuckerberg is pinning his hopes on his other network, Instagram. Instagram is the choice of young adults and kids, but I’ve met business owners who have older audiences on it. Instagram has over a billion users now, and it’s a more positive environment free of Facebook’s political acrimony. It’s a great platform for entrepreneurship.

That said, you shouldn’t rely solely on it to grow your business. Its users are still subject to ever-changing terms of service and algorithm updates, so it’s beneficial to have your own website. I go over the cost of making a website here (Can We Afford It: Small Business Website Costs), and how to pay for it in this article (Website Cost: Small Business Financing). Come back for more web design and marketing knowledge!

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