A digital marketing specialist shares some tips for driving growth in small business

Digital marketing is driving growth in this business
This article offers an inspiring insight into how a small business can achieve substantial growth through tapping into the power of digital marketing.

IntoBlinds was founded in Melbourne as a family owned business in 2009, with 5 employees. It has developed into what is now one of the leading suppliers of all ranges of blinds, curtains and shutters – employing over 60 staff. 

Although two showrooms help to generate some enquiries and sales for the business, the lions-share of leads and enquiries are produced through the company’s website and online presence. It is a careful combination and integration of various digital strategies that has been the key to their success – paid online advertising, achieving top organic search results for their website, targeted social media promotions and direct email marketing campaigns.

One of the keys to the steady growth of the business over the past few years in particular, was the creation of a full-time Digital Marketing Strategist position. David Simmons was appointed to this role.

David’s experience included having worked in the field of Sales & Marketing for almost twenty years – but for more than ten years he has specialised in online marketing and e-commerce. I had the opportunity of recently interviewing David and asking him about some of the digital marketing strategies that have contributed to the growth of the Into Blinds business. Although David made it clear he wasn’t going to reveal any trade secrets, he certainly shared some sound advice that small business owners and start-up entrepreneurs can benefit from …..
  1. David, tell us a little bit about the various digital marketing strategies that you feel have produced the best results for the IntoBlinds business, in terms of lead generation
Marketing strategies vary dramatically for different industries. The window furnishing industry has appeal to both the domestic and commercial market – therefore Facebook can play its part in our lead generation as the general population typically have an interest in our products and services.

I have found that Google is by far the best way to generate leads and enquiries through its paid advertising (AdWords) program - which is also referred to as "pay per click" advertising. Quite often a small business owner could achieve results with as little as a $20 daily advertising budget. It can be particularly suitable for a start-up business, because consumers are actively searching for products and services through this medium.

My advice to anyone starting a business is that they get familiar with the keywords their potential customers would use when typing their search enquiry into Google. These keywords then become the basis for how they will use Google AdWords. Furthermore, keyword ideas and suggestions can be obtained through Google AdWords itself 
  1. Most small business owners now-days monitor where the website of their business ranks in search engine results for the “key words” they are targeting. What are some of the steps that a business owner can take to help lift the ranking of their website?
My advice to anyone wanting to improve their organic rankings in Google is to follow the advice and use the resources that are available through reputable websites like moz.comand searchengineland.com. There is also Google’s own site, Webmaster Tools, These sites offer tools that allow you to track various elements of not only your own website’s performance, but just as importantly, the websites of your competition.

Sound decision making in business relies on having good quality data. These sites provide you with both historical as well as real time data that tell you where you rank for your selected keywords, who is linking to your website, what proportion of visitors to your site are coming via desktop or mobile searches, the demographic profile of your visitors – and plenty of other relevant metrics that can help you with your planning.

Initially paying for an Adwords campaign is an early way of grabbing Google’s attention. But thereafter, a business owner should start to examine how to generate free organic traffic, and this is where the science of “Search engine optimisation” comes into play. 

Ensuring that your website has been constructed to be mobile friendly, with good page loading speed, and with the correct metatags in the title and description and also that the on-page elements of your website have been optimised. This includes headings and the correct placement of keywords and their synonyms within the body of each page’s content. 

Online marketing involves understanding and connecting to the needs of two different stakeholders.  Firstly, you have to be aware of what Google is wanting to see in a website and secondly, you have to understand and appeal to the needs and motivations of your website visitors. Quality website content that is displayed in an enticing manner makes it more likely that visitors to your site will remain longer. Once you get these things right then you are well on the road to success.
  1. Generating increased numbers of leads and enquiries is only part of the success equation – the other essential capability is to then convert enquiries into sales. What are some of the mistakes you see some small businesses make in failing to convert leads into sales?
Consumers now-days want an instant response to their questions.
Let’s face it, we live in the digital era where we can and do get the fastest response times in history. The smart phone has increased our expectations to the highest levels. My advice is to reply to an inquiry as fast as humanly possible or your prospective customer will lose trust and faith in your service.
  1. For business owners who are thinking about adding an e-commerce functionality to their website and engaging in on-line sales, what can be some of the issues to consider, drawing upon your experience with IntoBlinds?
Ensuring the effective functionality of the e-commerce platform itself is absolutely crucial.

Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. Imagine spending time researching a product and eventually finding a website that sells it. Then they go through the process of spending more time selecting product type, colour and size, completing the shipping and credit card details - and then find themselves being directed to an error page.(these types of problems are what creates negative customer feedback and reviews) ….. So the key is to keep your shopping cart simple and fast.
  1. What do you see as some of the emerging trends in digital marketing and search engine optimisation? And maybe if you can also comment upon the influence of “customer reviews”.
One of the biggest changes in SEO has been the emphasis that Google places upon signals which measure the “user experience”. What I mean by this is, Google gathers data about how the consumer engages and interacts with your site. They collect data that indicates whether visitors to your site have converted to an email or phone enquiry - or ultimately, a sale.

Google constantly tests and measures this interaction to find the best possible websites to be placed at the top of their search results. Imagine if Google displayed websites that weren’t very appealing or not relevant to your enquiry, then we as consumers wouldn’t trust or use Google anymore.

Consumer reviews are becoming the most important part of your online business. Consumers do their research very quickly and make their decision about who they will purchase from. Feedback from trusted social media forums plays an important role in the decision-making of the majority of today’s consumers. Consider your own experience – if you are planning a holiday, do you refer to sites like TripAdvisor?

I have seen many websites that might achieve a high ranking in Google search results, but if their reviews are terrible, then I know as a consumer myself that I don’t buy. So, including authentic, genuine positive customer reviews in your marketing can help to  "clinch the deal" and make a sale.
  1. Is there any final advice you would offer to small business owners who are usually facing the challenge of how to get the biggest bang from an often limited marketing budget?
This subject can be very lengthy, as different industries require a different approach to marketing. However some general advice would be-
1.   Your Website must reflect clearly your goods or services so consumers don’t have to guess what your message is. This applies to both how your landing page is actually presented and the brief description you use in your description metatag. However the description must be able to grab attention in a compelling way for those using Google search to decide to click on your URL. So pay attention to the description metatag at the "back-end" of your website, because this is the snippet that Google displays in their organic search results.
2.   Contact details should be highlighted and easy to find on your website. Phone number and Email in large font and well positioned at beginning and end of each page.
3.   Images are critical, the latest studies show we can process an image 50,000 times faster than text. Make sure your images are a professional reflection of your products or services.
4.   Do your homework by visiting other websites in your industry. More often than not, the websites listed at the top of Google search results will likely have all the website basics you require for your website.
5.   Start advertising, open a Google AdWords account, do your keyword research, create a campaign and start advertising. In as little as 15 minutes you can find that you have started generating visitors to your website. Even if you are a brand new business consumers will still contact you, if they can find you. However don’t waste your advertising budget making consumers wait – ensure their call or their email enquiry is answered promptly.

A tip for using Google AdWords, try finding keyword phrases with 3 or more keywords, example: you are selling “boots” online, look for specific keywords like “women's boots online” or “women's boots sale” these key phrases usually have a much higher conversion to sale rate. Direct the ad to the page that lists and says those words and boots. Keywords like “boots” are very broad and can drain your advertising budget very fast.  The keyword “Boots” has a search volume of approximately 18,100 per month in Australia where as “women's boots online” has a search volume of 320/month. When consumers use words like “online”, ”sale”, ”cheapest” or “discount” they are closer to buying than consumers who search “boots” and who are more than likely just looking.

I hope these tips help your readers with their online small business ventures. Good luck and be sure to let me know of your success.

Thanks to David Simmons for sharing some practical tips on digital marketing that small business owners can implement. 

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Editor - Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development, a consulting business that offers leadership training courses in Melbourne.

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