A new year is upon us, and new online marketing opportunities are coming with it.
Follow these seven tips to stay up to speed in 2014:
1. Market smarter, not harder.
There are tons of ways to market your business online, but just because you could do them all doesn’t mean you should. Be smart; frequent the same online venues that your target market does.
If you sell golf tours to people age 55 and up, Tumblr and Instagram are not where you should be. LinkedIn would be more likely to be a good use of your time and online marketing dollars. Visit Quantcast.com to find out the user base demographics for popular social networks.
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2. Set a social media advertising budget.
As soon as there were enough television sets in homes, advertisers jumped on the opportunity to reach a huge new audience, and TV commercials became a way of life. Well, that moment is here for social media. Many businesses feel they shouldn’t have to pay for exposure on social networking sites, because such exposure used to be free. Well, television programming used to be free as well, but the days of picking up a signal on rabbit-ear TV sets are over, and so are the days of free social media exposure for businesses.
If a company must pay to broadcast a television commercial to millions of people, then why should the same exposure be free on social networking sites? It shouldn’t be, and it isn’t anymore. Be realistic, get over it, and set a social advertising budget.
The difference between social advertising and TV advertising is the cost: It is way more affordable to reach a million people via a social media ad than with a TV ad. Take advantage of this before that aspect changes as well.
3. Animal-proof your SEO.
Google assigns “pet names” (pun intended) to their major algorithm updates, e.g., Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird. These big changes often devastate the rankings and search engine traffic for even big businesses such as JC Penney, if they have been using SEO tactics or consultants that break Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Some SEO tactics, especially certain link-building tactics that used to be OK with Google, are not allowed anymore. If your site is associated with any of these tactics, it will suffer at some point. 2014 will bring more animal-themed traffic destroyers, so be proactive and ensure that your SEO is up to par with the current Webmaster Guildelines.
4. Don’t ignore Google Plus.
I know, I know, the phrase “ghost town” comes to mind. As far as social activity goes, maybe Google Plus is a ghost town compared with the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but last I checked Google was still the source of more than 5 billion searches per day. Also, Google Plus is Google. If you care about getting found in Google, then you have to care about Google Plus.
Google continues to increase the amount of impact that Google Plus activity has on search results, so at the very least, set up your Google Plus Authorship and start building your circles.
5. Pay even more attention to Google Plus.
Establishing authorship and building up your circles is only the bare minimum for the amount of attention that should be paid to Google Plus. One of 2014’s SEO trends is going to be “author rank.” Now that a lot of people have caught on to the ranking benefits of Google Authorship, Google now needs a ranking system to apply within that big pool of verified authors.
Straight from Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team: “It’s not just going to be about markup, it’s going to be about the quality of the authorship.” Exactly what factors Google will use to determine the quality of an author is not yet known, but they’re probably going to include the quantity, quality, and relevancy of your connections, as well as the amount of Google Plus activity your articles receive (+1s, comments, and reshares).
6. Upgrade your Google Maps listing to a Google Plus business page.
If you don’t already have a Google Plus Business Page, then log in to http://places.google.com and click on Start Now under Google+ Page. If you do have one, and it was created as a Local page, then look for the opportunity to merge them (in the Google Places dashboard).
In either case, you’ll want to fill out your business info 100 percent and then start posting status updates and soliciting reviews. This will help you get found on the first page of regular Google searches (not just Google Plus searches) when someone performs a regionally based search for your type of business.
7. Define your “online sales funnel.”
Not everyone is ready to become a customer, or even contact you, the moment they first land on your website. If Contact Us is the only call to action on your site, consider the following:
Many businesses have an online sales cycle that requires multiple steps to convert a website visitor to a lead. Perhaps a first-time visitor who found your site via a blog post isn’t ready to contact you but would be ready and willing to register to download a bigger piece of content, such as a white paper or PDF guide.
Then some gentle email marketing can persuade them to attend a webinar, during which your company’s subject matter expertise can convince them that you can help them. That funnel—blog reader à downloader à email subscriber à webinar attendee à lead/customer—is a lot longer than “Contact Us now!” but it’s a heck of a lot more effective.
Pam Aungst, owner and head consultant of Pam Ann Marketing, has been creating websites since 1997 and working in the field of online marketing and e-commerce since 2005. A version of this article first appeared on Business2Community.