The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the foundation of how we do business. Despite retail restrictions being eased in most areas, foot traffic remains lower than it was before the pandemic, and consumers are discovering and accessing products differently. Traditional marketing channels, like word-of-mouth recommendations and outdoor signs, have taken a backseat during the era of social distancing. Meanwhile, with internet usage up by 50-70% in most households, the relevance of digital marketing has increased significantly.
Though these changes have happened rapidly, most experts believe the recent increase in e-commerce is here to stay – even if public health measures curb the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic has forced older consumers (i.e., Baby Boomers and Gen Xers) to adopt digital purchasing habits similar to those of Millennials, effectively erasing the generational divide between online and in-person shoppers. It’s very likely that the convenience of online shopping will continue to appeal to older consumers after the pandemic is over, especially those who have health or mobility challenges.
Right now, no matter who your target demographic is, knowing how to take your business online is vital to long-term survival. In the guide below, we’ll outline the best ways to bring your marketing strategy up-to-date, so you can stay relevant during and beyond COVID-19:
1. Invest in an app for your business.
We recommended mobile applications for businesses long before the COVID-19 pandemic, but recent events have made apps absolutely essential. According to Social Media Today, app usage increased by 20% during the pandemic, and in-app spending increased by 15%. This trend is driven by consumers’ need for a fast, convenient way to connect with businesses, particularly while completing “buy online, pick up in person” orders.
In addition to making your services more accessible, apps offer several less-obvious advantages that will give you a competitive edge after COVID: They’ve been shown to build brand awareness and loyalty, which is particularly important at a time when businesses can’t rely on in-store experiences to make their brand memorable. They’re also one of the most efficient channels for providing customer service and promoting spe2.cial offers.
2. Optimize your website.
Most businesses have some form of online presence, whether that’s a website, Facebook page, or just a Google My Business listing. In 2020, however, simply being online isn’t enough: With websites increasingly expected to fill in for physical storefronts, you’ll need to make sure your site is fully optimized and up to the task of meeting customer demand. Some areas of improvement to focus on include:
Making page load times as fast as possible.
Assessing the structure and layout of your website: Is your site easily navigable? Is your online ordering system simple to use?
Ensuring your website is fully responsive (that is, it can adapt to any screen size without losing readability or functionality).
Performing a search engine optimization (SEO) audit to identify areas where your SEO strategy could be improved.
Adding new content and updating old content, as needed. Create content that’s both engaging and actionable, with a call to action at the end of each page.
Making your website as informative as possible. Include your contact information, an integrated map feature, links to your social media accounts, and an “About” page that introduces your team and describes how your business originated.
3. Build your online brand.
As we alluded to above, one of the greatest challenges of the COVID-19 marketplace is creating a memorable, influential brand without the aid of in-store experiences. Before you get started, it’s vital to understand that online branding hinges on your brand’s visual impact and the emotional resonance of its messaging.
The graphical elements associated with your brand (i.e., your logo, social media banners, website, and online ads) must be striking and unique; otherwise, your brand won’t stand out from the competition. Never use generic stock photography, bland graphical elements, or website templates when building your business’s online presence. Instead, work closely with a professional graphic design team who can create custom content to reflect your brand’s individual identity.
During the era of COVID-19, you’ll also need to pay very close attention to your brand’s messaging. Right now, brands need to strike a careful balance between optimism, compassion, and realism to inspire people without looking tone deaf. Focus on cultivating a socially responsible, empathetic brand voice that emphasizes the power we all have to make a difference in each other’s lives – even if we’re doing so from a distance. Look for opportunities to donate to charitable causes, make your business more environmentally sustainable, and help your customers manage the challenges of life during a pandemic. For instance, you might consider offering free shipping until the virus is fully under control, so people who have to order items online face less financial hardship. You should also invest in text and video content that provides useful, supportive information to your customers; e.g., if you sell children’s toys, why not write a blog with tips on how to keep kids entertained at home? Or try producing educational, child-friendly YouTube content?
4. Purchase paid ads.
SEO is the best way to increase your brand’s online reach, but it’s a gradual process. Even the most effective SEO strategy will take about 6 months, on average, to generate noticeable results. To get the word out about your business more quickly, we recommend purchasing “pay per click” (PPC) advertising. Though this form of advertising used to be restricted to established businesses with ample budgets, today, most small-to-medium sized businesses can afford to at least try PPC ads. In fact, the cost of PPC advertising has actually fallen during the pandemic because there’s less competition for ads and viewership has increased. This has increased the average return-on-investment of PPC ads by 71%.
If you’ve lagged behind the digital curve for years, adapting your business to the online marketplace probably feels like a Herculean task. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could optimize your website, get a mobile app, and generate creative content, all in one place? Good news: If you’re in Ontario, the team at AllinBrand can help you do exactly that. Our comprehensive branding agency in Toronto offers all of the services you need to take your business online, at affordable prices. Contact us today to find out how we can help you master digital marketing and e-commerce.
What if you could connect instantly with local customers, without having to advertise to them directly? In 2020, when small businesses can no longer rely on foot traffic, in-person events, or traditional marketing channels to attract new customers, this question has taken on a whole new level of relevance. Fortunately, the answer existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic: Through local search engine optimization (SEO), you can reach your target demographic and grow your business in a reliable, budget-friendly way. In the local SEO guide below, we’ll explain how to get started with local SEO and how to streamline your strategy for long-term success.
What is Local SEO?
Local SEO is the practice of optimizing your business’s web presence for geographically-targeted search results. If you’ve executed a successful local SEO strategy, your business will rank prominently when consumers in your area search for location-specific terms (e.g., “Web designers near me,” or “Web designers in Toronto.”) You’ll also show up automatically on Google Maps, making it easy for people to find your location and other relevant information about you, like your hours of operation.
Local SEO is vitally important for small businesses: Research by Go-Globe shows that 60% of people use their smartphones to search for local products and services, 50% of people rely on local searches to find information about businesses in their area, and 78% of local searches result in in-store purchases. Local searches are, simply put, the main way modern consumers connect with small businesses near them.
4 Ways to Optimize Your Small Business’s Local SEO Strategy
1. Don’t wait to begin optimizing for local search results.
Though having a business website is essential, you don’t have to wait for your website to be complete before you start using local SEO to your advantage. As soon as your business has launched, you should sign up with any online directories relevant to your niche. Google My Business is the most important directory, but there are many other services worth considering, including Facebook Business Pages, Bing Places, and Yelp.
To create a Google My Business listing, simply head over to the GMB “Create” page and complete the sign-up process by entering in your business’s name and address. Specify your service area, then verify your listing. Once it’s been verified (this process can take up to a week), you’ll want to return to your listing and add your hours of operation, photos of your location, and a link to your landing page (if you have one).
Using GMB is completely free, and it will ensure your business shows up on Google Maps and in the listings alongside the Maps panel, even if you don’t have a website yet. As such, it’s considered the number one way to connect with local consumers.
To generate organic local traffic, you’ll need to target the specific long-tail keywords people are using to look for businesses like yours. To find these keywords, you can use a free tool like Google Adwords Keyword Planner or a Bulk Keyword Generator. These services will produce a list of keywords specific to your area and sector, and they’ll tell you how much competition there is for each search key. As a small business owner, you’ll want to avoid optimizing exclusively for high-competition keywords, as this will put you in direct competition with much larger, more established firms. Instead, use varied keywords with moderate competition.
Once you’ve selected the best keywords for your business, strategically place them throughout your website content. Different location-targeted keywords should be integrated into your page titles, image alt text, headers, and subheaders. They should also be sprinkled throughout your long-form content, but don’t overdo it: Google penalizes websites for keyword stuffing, so you should aim for a keyword density of no more than 1-3%.
3. Regularly publish high-quality content with a local focus.
Have you ever wondered why so many small business websites feature a blog? In addition to being a great way to express your passion for your industry, running a blog can jump-start your local SEO strategy. Blogging once or twice a week generates fresh, high-quality text content for your website, which is exactly what search engine algorithms look for.
By including local keywords in your articles, you’ll naturally target more local search queries, making your business rank higher in search results. You’ll also encourage people to link back to your website, thereby increasing its reach and authority.
4. Work with a company that specializes in local SEO.
Google is constantly updating its algorithms, so keeping up with the ever-changing local SEO landscape is a time-consuming and sometimes confusing endeavor. Likewise, certain elements of local SEO – like blogging and reputation management – require specific expertise and even more time commitment. As your business grows, you should therefore consider hiring a professional digital marketing agency, both to fine-tune your strategy and to safeguard your SEO efforts against neglect.
Are you ready to fully tap into the power of local SEO? We can help: As an all-inclusive Toronto digital branding agency, AllinBrand has the tools, experience, and insights needed to grow your online presence. Contact us todayto learn more about our innovative approach to SEO.
In the early days of the Internet, an attractive website was all you needed to establish a memorable online presence. Fast-forward to 2020, and things couldn’t be more different: Today, people browse the Internet via multiple channels, and your web presence has to extend to all of them. There’s also a lot more competition for consumers’ attention, so businesses have to be strategic about cutting through the “noise” to leave a lasting impression.
What is an Online Presence?
Put, an online presence is a quality of being “searchable.” If you’ve built a robust online presence, your business will be easy to find, whether your customers are using a conventional search engine (like Google or Bing) or social media. Ideally, your online presence should incorporate a consistent tone and visuals to establish a strong brand identity.
8 Ways to Build Your Online Presence in 2020
The exact techniques used to establish and maintain an online presence vary somewhat between industries. Still, there are certain “best practices” that virtually any business can use to boost their reach:
1. Build an email list
There’s a reason almost 4 billion people are still using email in 2020: Email is direct, personal, simple to use, and accessible on any device (while requiring very little mobile data). Email usage is also set to grow substantially because over 90% of Gen Z (people aged 15-24) regularly send and receive emails. Email is one of the only forms of online communication that appeals equally to all age groups.
Fortunately, building an engaged email list is almost as easy as using email: Offering your customers an incentive, like access to exclusive offers and discounts, is usually all it takes to persuade them to sign up. To retain their interest, keep your newsletters exciting and informative: In addition to great deals and new products, your newsletters should serve as a portal to your business’s video and blog content.
2. Master SEO
The bad news about search engine optimization is that it changes frequently. The good news is that, by staying abreast of these changes, you can potentially gain the edge over your competition. Integrating the latest SEO tactics into your online marketing strategy will push your website higher in consumers’ search results, so they’ll see you before they see your competitors.
To master SEO, perform regular SEO audits where you reassess the keywords you’re using to make sure they’re still performing well. Keep your site up to date, both by conducting on-page content updates and by blogging at least two to three times per month. Off-site, make sure you share your published content across social media channels and try to earn high-quality backlinks. Finally, don’t forget to complete your Google My Business profile and give your customers incentives to leave positive reviews.
3. Have a social media presence
Social media is a great place to share your content. Still, its benefits don’t end there: Social media has become one of the consumers’ favourite ways to engage with brands, whether they have a question, a customer service issue, or want to pass along a favourable recommendation. Did you know, for example, that more people follow brands on social media than follow celebrities? Over 80% of Instagram users alone follow at least one brand, for instance. If you don’t already have a Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram account for your business, you’re missing out.
Credit: on image
4. Make a website
The vast majority of businesses already have a website, but they don’t always know how to make their website engaging and memorable. When creating a website for your business, try to stay away from generic template sites. They might look professional and be very easy to use, but their prepackaged designs have become ubiquitous. This makes it all but impossible to create a recognizable brand image without turning to custom web design. If you aren’t sure how to create a memorable website yourself, work with a local web design firm to get the job done right – Your investment will more than pay for itself over the long run.
5. Produce content
Content – notably blog articles and videos – should form the backbone of your SEO strategy. Producing high-quality content will organically generate backlinks and new leads, especially if people start sharing (e.g., liking and retweeting) your content on social media. Creating content that is informative and entertaining will also enhance your brand image by encouraging consumers to view your business as helpful and personable.
6. Experiment with online (paid) advertising
Paid advertising is another “shortcut” option you can use to boost your online presence while you work on steadily building organic traffic. By advertising on major search engines, like Google, Bing, and Facebook, you can push your website to the top of consumers’ search engine results.
7. Show up where your audience is
Before you start posting on social media, you should do some fundamental data analysis to determine which platforms your customers are using. If 80% of your customers use Facebook every day but seldom use Twitter; for example, Facebook is where you should concentrate your marketing efforts.
To find out which social media platforms your customers prefer, try performing a necessary customer survey. You can also look at which social media services your most successful competitors, prioritize.
8. Automate your process
Image credit: Salesforce
The number one barrier to establishing a memorable online presence isn’t skill or technical savvy – it’s time. Managing multiple social media accounts, creating content, and maintaining a website while simultaneously running a successful business is challenging, and often overwhelms small teams. Wherever possible, you should use your content management system (CMS) to automate processes that don’t require a human touch, like data and payment collection. You should also outsource labour-intensive tasks, like content creation, to freelancers or content marketing firms.
If you don’t have time to build an online presence yourself, AllinBrand can help. From data analysis to web design, content writing, and more, we have the tools you need to thrive in today’s dynamic digital environment.
Today, most small business owners know they need a digital marketing strategy to succeed, even if they’re only serving their local area. After all, entirely, 97% of consumers now use the internet to find local businesses, and 88% of consumers make purchases based primarily on online reviews. Still, because digital marketing is a lot more complicated than traditional marketing, it can be intimidating to people who are just starting.
In the guide below, we’ll simplify some of the best (and most budget-friendly) digital marketing strategies that your small business should be using in 2020:
1. Social Media Marketing
Social media accounts are easy to set up and generally free, so they’re the natural jump-off point for most beginner marketers. However, there’s a lot more to social media marketing than setting up a Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram account and posting occasional discounts or promotions. Ideally, you want to use social media to extend your reach, build your brand identity, and provide customer service across multiple channels. (Almost 70% of people prefer to use social media to resolve issues or pass along positive feedback.)
Before you start posting on social media, sit down and create a social media marketing strategy that includes clear goals and schedules enough time to manage your accounts. When you plan your accounts, start with the basics, like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, then analyze which other platforms will connect with your target demographic. Don’t create an account on every available service just because you can; managing each account takes time, so you want to make sure you’ll get a real return on your investment.
If your products are visually appealing, concentrate your efforts on image-based platforms, like Instagram and Pinterest. If your business is more practical – you’re a plumber or sell machine parts, for example – focus on building an industry-specific blog, then use Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to distribute your content. Youtube “explainer” videos are also an excellent option for trades-based businesses.
Regardless of which platforms you’re using, your posts should contain at least 70% valuable content that your customers can use or enjoy, not just direct advertising. Your social media accounts must be engaging if you want to attract and retain followers.
2. Paid Advertising
What’s one mistake almost all small businesses make, regardless of their digital savvy? They assume paid advertising is only for the “big guys.” In reality, certain types of paid advertising are highly accessible, and paid ads are one of the fastest ways to position your business prominently in search results. Depending on how competitive your niche and keywords are, you could pay as little as $1 – $10 per click for Google Ads that guarantee you appear first in consumers’ search results. Facebook ads are even more affordable, starting at as little as 27 cents per click.
Even if you can only afford to run paid ads for a short time, the investment is worth it. Paid ads will give your web traffic a substantial boost, which will generate new leads and help your organic search engine rank increase. Running paid ads also sends the message that your business is reputable and committed because consumers associate paid ads with large, established retailers.
3. Local SEO
Local SEO is arguably the most important digital marketing channel for any small business with a physical location (as opposed to an online outlet). This type of SEO targets location-based searches, rather than general keywords, which makes it easier to reach those customers who are most likely to use your products or services. This approach leverages the power of local directories, notably Google My Business, along with on-site content that contains targeted local keywords.
To get started with local SEO, make sure your Google business profile is filled out completely. It should include your contact information and website, opening hours, and professional-quality images of your premises. Having an informative Google business profile ensures that your company will show up directly under Google’s map feature whenever someone searches a relevant term, e.g., “Toronto bakery,” like this:
Once you’ve completed your Google profile, investigate other local directories, like YellowPage and Yelp, that could amplify your reach. Then, give your existing satisfied customers incentives (such as 10% off their next purchase) to leave a positive review. The more positive reviews you have, the more likely it becomes that people will trust your business over the competition.
Next, you’ll need to research local keywords that are relevant to your business. Fortunately, there are several free keyword research tools out there to help you do this, including Google Keyword Planner and Bing Webmaster Tools, along with others. Once you know which keywords you want to target, integrate them into the existing content on your site, paying particular attention to prominent locations, like your site title and subheadings. If possible, you should also regularly update your website’s blog with informative articles that contain your chosen local keywords. Websites with well-maintained blogs have a staggering 434% greater chance of achieving a high search engine rank (as compared to websites without blogs).
4. Email Marketing
Like social media marketing, email marketing requires very little up-front investment, but it’s capable of yielding excellent results. Over 80% of people open “welcome” emails from companies, and incredibly, 90% voluntarily choose to opt-in to email newsletters.
To make the most of your email marketing campaign, make sure your newsletters are loaded with exciting promotions, new products, and links to your latest blog articles and videos.
Micro-influencers are the 2020’s answer to old-school word of mouth recommendations. Micro-influencers are defined as social media influencers who have between 1000-100,000 followers, rather than an audience of millions.
At first, this concept may seem counter-intuitive – why intentionally target a smaller audience? Reduced advertising cost is, obviously, one benefit of choosing a micro-influencer. Still, the advantages don’t end there: Micro-influencers tend to have more loyal, engaged followers because they interact more regularly with their audience. They’re also perceived as being more genuine than “big name” social media celebrities, so their promotions are typically viewed as honest opinions, not just paid to advertise.
Taking the Next Step: Professional Content Marketing
Marketing is essential to the success of any small business, but there’s no denying the fact that effective digital marketing requires serious commitment. Once your business is comfortably established, handing marketing duties over to a professional firm will free up a significant amount of time, letting you focus on creating excellent products or services.
Digital marketing specialists (like the team at AllinBrand) can also produce high-quality web content, like blog articles and videos, to propel your search engine optimization efforts to the next level.
When you’re ready, contact us to learn more about our affordable digital marketing services.
The need for a website is nondebatable as we’ve written in our previous blog post, but your website is more than just a functional platform; it’s the face your business shows to the world. If you’re new to online marketing, you might think that it’s enough for this face to be attractive and usable… But imagine this: What happens if you place a nondescript, pleasant face into the middle of a crowd of thousands of others like it? It quickly fades into the masses. The same is true of websites; unless they’re expressive and unique, they soon get lost amongst the competition. Obviously, then, you’ll need more than a template from a website builder if you want your business’s site to succeed. You’ll need the assistance of a professional web design agency, and most likely a Toronto web design agency because of geographical advantage, for all of the following reasons:
Functionality needs to be more than skin-deep.
This might not seem like a deal-breaker at first, but as your business grows, you’ll probably find yourself wanting features (like expanded e-commerce functionality, live chat, and database support) that require custom programming. If you’re stuck with a website builder, you’ll be out of luck unless you’re willing to start from the ground up with the aid of professionals. (Most website builders will not allow you to download your existing site and take it elsewhere because they own a large share of its content.
Those “free” website builders can get really expensive over the years.
Most website builders either place ads on sites built for free or severely limit the functionality of their non-premium sites. In either case, it inevitably becomes necessary to upgrade to a paid package (let’s face it, no one will take your business seriously if its landing page is full of ads)… And these packages usually aren’t cheap. The cost of paying for these packages year after year can easily approach what you would pay a small business to take on a similar project.
Most Toronto web design agencies perform a full suite of necessary services.
In 1996, just having a website for your business was impressive and made people sit up and take notice. Alas, it’s not 1996 anymore; today, chances are good that no one will even find your website if you launch it as a standalone entity. Instead, launching a successful website requires a wide array of supportive services. You’ll need someone to set up and manage social media accounts, for example, so that your customers can interact with you. You’ll need someone to optimize your site for search engines. (Yes, many website builders offer basic SEO features, but there’s a lot more to SEO than just on-page optimization. You’ll also need someone to build backlinks for you, generate blog content, help you manage your online reputation, etc.) You’ll probably need someone who can build an app for you, too.
Website builders usually provide none of the above services, whereas many professional web design agencies provide all of them. Even if they don’t, they almost certainly know someone reputable who can provide you with the extra services you need… Something that is invaluable in a day and age when freelance marketplaces are less reliable than ever before.
There’s only one way to make your brand memorable in the minds of customers: Make it unique. Of course, it doesn’t take a great leap of deduction to figure out that a site built on templates (templates used by thousands of other people) is going to be a lot less unique than a site with 100% bespoke graphic design. When you work with a professional web design agency, your site can be designed to wholly embody your brand’s aesthetics, allowing you to achieve a consistent look and feel across multiple platforms. If you want to be instantly recognizable to your customers (and trust me, you do), then an agency is absolutely the best choice.
When investing in your business, it’s important to take calculated risks that are aimed at helping you grow over the long-term. A website builder might get you online today, but a Toronto web design agency will ensure that your online presence greatly expands over the next five years. The bottom line? If you’re serious about the future of your business, start from scratch and do web design right.