Blog: Web marketing for small businesses

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Another week, another Twitter PR disaster. By now, no doubt you’ll have heard about the whole Gillian McKeith debacle: if not, you can find a useful summary on the Guardian website.

There is nothing the usually benign (though swift to become a baying horde) citizens of Twitter-like less than duplicity. McKeith’s big mistake was not in trying to defend an unpopular view: Twitter is populated with many millions of users doing just that every day, both for comedic and more sinister purposes.

Her mistake was in subsequently trying to cover up her comments. That she did so ineffectually barely matters: even if all trace had been eradicated from her own website; even if her dissenters hadn’t been carefully taking screenshots and retweeting for future evidence, McKeith is clearly unaware that these days, almost all web presence is aggregated, mirrored, and pushed out in countless places across the Internet.

Forget the Wayback machine: these days Twitter has its own archive. Furthermore, many folks link up their Facebook and Twitter profiles, and perhaps throw LinkedIn to the mix, too, meaning that your words are spread far beyond a single website. Then there are sites which collect all tweets on a certain subject and replicate them – without so much as a by your leave.

In short, your Twitter status updates, and all web content should be thought of as a permanent record. That’s why, if you are representing your business online, you should exhibit the utmost transparency and honesty – and furthermore, you should think carefully about which members of your business you trust to do the same.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll keep on saying it: social media is a fantastic tool for business promotion, but for heaven’s sake be careful what you write.

Google, of course, pioneered the ‘pay per click’ method of advertising, where if the user doesn’t click, you pay nothing. Now YouTube (also now owned by Google) is introducing a similar scheme with adverts at the beginning of videos. If users choose the skip them, the advertiser will not pay.

But who wouldn’t skip, given the option, you may well ask. It seems that Google’s rationale is that folk will watch ads that are compelling enough: raising the bar will benefit both viewers and advertisers, and lead to an all-around happier world (erm, maybe).

It’s possible, I suppose – after all, some of the most successful viral campaigns have been based on videos so watchable that you feel you want to share them with your friends. Small businesses can take heart as well; it’s not necessarily big budgets that turn out the best adverts.

All it takes is a good idea and a basic camcorder. And bingo – one more online channel to advertise on, should you feel the need. It may also be worth mentioning that excruciatingly awful adverts will be watched and passed on just as much as wonderful ones are…

If you sell internationally, it’s definitely worth reading the technology section of the daily papers. For example, did you know that many websites, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, not to mention the all-important Google, are blocked in China?

That’s been the case for quite a while, but recent news stories have also alerted us to similar and less-predictable restrictions in Turkey and Pakistan. On the other hand, the Finnish government has apparently decreed that broadband Internet access is a human right, and are promising every citizen super-fast access by 2015. Currently, almost 100% of the population is already connected at a more normal speed.

Why is it worth knowing these things? Well, obviously, if you sell to Turkey, say, you won’t want to waste your efforts on a viral marketing campaign on YouTube. Similarly, there’s little point in optimizing your Chinese web pages for Google. On the other hand, if many of your customers are from Scandinavia, you can have a lot of fun designing fairly weighty websites with as much video or Flash content as you like – it won’t clog up their capacious broadband.

Apart from anything else, it’s fascinating to see how each country restricts or enables access to the 20th century’s greatest invention – and your international strategy will be a whole lot more likely to bear fruit.

Thursday, July 1st, 2010
Posted in Posted in News, Web marketing for small businesses

Sell online? Your customer base just increased by almost two million.

Well, all right, not “just”, but, according to The Guardian, Internet users rose by 5%, or 1.9 million, to 38.8 million over the last year to May. This boost in numbers reflects new sectors of the population becoming familiar with an online environment, with the largest rise coming in the 50-65 year old demographic.

Other growing sectors include females between the ages of 12 and 20 and a substantial rise in men of all ages.

So, if you sell products or services that appeal to these profiles, you may well be reaping the benefits. If you don’t… might now be the time to start? Having said that, it seems to us that these figures really just represent previously ill-represented sectors coming online. Eventually, the Internet will be so pervasive that to talk about who is on it will be meaningless: we all will be.

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Are Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr starting to look a bit old hat to you? Wishing you could do something a bit newer and groovier with your online presence? Then it could be time to look at Foursquare.

If this geo-location craze had thus far passed you by, think yourself lucky: for many of us, it’s registered only as an annoying way for our mates – before they work out how to control their accounts, in any case – to clog up our twitter streams with inane pronouncements like “I just became the mayor of Burger King”.

Yes, at first glance, it’s little more than a game, where users ‘check in’ wherever they may go, and gain points or badges for doing so. However, there is more to it than that – and even some marketing potential. Take a look, for example, at the search results on Foursquare for our local area, Notting Hill, and you’ll see what we mean.

Each of the entries on that list represents a place that a Foursquare user has seen fit to register: straight away, one can see its usefulness for people new to the area, looking for cafes or pubs or any one of the many local businesses in the locale.

Now take a look at an individual listing for a local coffee shop: remember, this is not created by the shop itself, but by its customers. You can see that it has been ‘tagged’ with descriptive words like ‘bakery’: clicking on these will bring up other listings in the same category near the user’s location.

Equally important is the ‘tips’ section: purportedly for users to leave advice for others, this has become, for many businesses, a kind of review space. Again, as the owner of the business, you have no control over this: the age of user-generated content is truly upon us.

There is one area where you can have control, though, and really leverage Foursquare to your own advantage. Click on ‘are you the manager of this business?’, register, and you’ll be able to place special offers right there on the page. You can be as imaginative as you like: free services for anyone who mutters the secret password perhaps, or one big reward for each succeeding ‘mayor’?

It may be a short-lived craze, or it may evolve into something more complex, but for now, Foursquare is definitely a low-cost way to reach the early- and mid-cycle adopters. And since their money is as good as anyone’s, we’d advise you to go for it.

It was over a year ago that we first heard about Facebook, the movie, and now, at last… a trailer. Not that it, nor the accompanying official website is letting much slip, yet.

Those who sit through the trailer will be treated to some corkers of lines, including:

“The site got 22 hundred hits within two hours?”
“Thousand – 22 thousand“.

Which made me laugh, because – and forgive me for saying this – such statements might go down the as high drama in our own office, but they do seem a little lame as the selling point for a blockbuster film.

Naturally, the dialogue is accompanied by the usual soundtrack of frantic fingers on a rattling keyboard, possibly from the same sound effects disc once utilized by Tron, War Games and You’ve Got Mail.

We’ll certainly reserve judgment until release, and we’ll happily risk wasting a couple of hours at the cinema – after all, we’ve already frittered away half our lives on the real Facebook – but it’s hard to deny that almost all films centred around computers, let alone websites have to provide an awful lot of dramatic tension to make up for the lack of stunning visuals. If director Fincher is wise, and we’re sure he is, he will, of course, focus on the people behind the platform.

Come to think of it, there’s a lesson for us all there. Yes, Facebook is a remarkable phenomenon; yes, it’s ripe for your marketing initiatives. But it is the people on there, forging and strengthening real-life friendships, marriages, events and all the other dramas of real life, that create Facebook – and it is those real people that we need to market to.

Oh, and don’t forget the immortal truth provided by the film’s strapline:

You don’t get to 55 million friends without making a few enemies.

We all know the benefits of having a presence on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and so on, but the fact is that any interaction you have on there may not be seen by visitors to your main website.

We’ve been looking at a neat piece of code that you can add to your own site and encourage interaction on the spot: it’s called Echo.

Whether you’d like to encourage feedback or ratings on your products, or simply aggregate questions and answers, this auto-refresh software gives your users their own space. Neatly, it integrates with a number of social networks, so you don’t lose the viral benefits of those platforms.

To us, it looks like an easy way to key into all the advantages of having peer reviews and ratings on your site, with the minimum of development. We’d be happy to help you add it to your own site if you require – or talk about other options if this one doesn’t seem quite right.

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010
Posted in Posted in News, Web marketing for small businesses

From today, Google offers users the option to see properties for sale and rent as an overlay to UK maps.

This free service is clearly of great benefit to the many small businesses who operate as estate agents or letting companies: Google says “We are completely open to working with any company”. A link will be provided back to the property website at no charge.

It’s good news for Google’s users, too: surely anyone in the market for a new house these days consults Google Maps, Streetview, and the satellite view to fully case out a property and its location before making a visit.

See the new overlay by going to Google Maps and selecting the ‘more’ drop-down beside the search box.

Following my own advice on this very blog, I was updating a company’s presence on Google Places today (previously Google Business Centre; basically, the interface that you update if you want your business to appear on Google Maps).

The company in question is a language school which offers exam courses, including a well-known (in the TEFL world) product known as IELTS. As this is a unique selling point of the school, of course, I wanted to mention it.

Well, it turns out Google wasn’t having it. “Excessive capitalization is not allowed”, it told me, in a strident error message, clearly mistaking the well-known acronym IELTS for a SHOUTY MESSAGE IN CAPITALS. Well, I’m as opposed to poor style as the next pedantic apostrophe obsessive, but frankly, Google, I thought, I’ll be the judge of what constitutes excessive.

It was a small moment, and I overcame it by referring mysteriously to ‘exam courses’ in the end – but there’s a message there for us all (isn’t there always?). Examine your interface, because what seems a reasonable restriction to you may well be a serious impediment to trade for your customers. If you can, get a user group to try out all your website’s functionality, and feedback their exasperate – and do so regularly.

Having said that, I’d be pretty sure Google does much the same. Maybe they just can’t account for every eventuality; maybe they’d rather alienate one language school, but still, have the benefit of cutting down on listings which use capitalized, shouty imperatives to BUY NOW SALE ON TODAY, or whatever. Your customer base, however, is smaller, and almost certainly more uniform. Make sure you aren’t inadvertently annoying them.

If you’re only just getting your head round PPC advertising, you may be dismayed to know that Google is several steps ahead – and that very soon, there will be whole new advertising platforms on which to promote your business. Yes, mobile advertising is the next big thing, underlined by Google’s recent acquisition of the Admob network.

As internet usage moves more and more onto smartphones and handheld devices, it makes sense that online advertising should follow. And since it is, most likely, an actual phone that the users are browsing on, it makes sense to deliver adverts with ‘click to call’ or ‘click to download’ functionality. These allow immediate action – either calling your business or downloading, say, a special offer or directions to your premises.

These adverts need not appear only in search results, either: increasingly they are being seen on free apps and mobile-ready websites. You need only make them relevant and compelling, and you’ll have tapped into the lucrative smartphone sector.

If it all sounds a bit confusing, do not worry. We can manage your mobile adverts as readily as we can your PPC campaigns. Just give us a ring – the old-fashioned way, if you prefer!

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