With all the blogs out this time of the year predicting what might happen in small business marketing next year, we’d like to break the mold and review what has happened in 2015 and, more importantly, what it means to small businesses.
And it’s been a busy year indeed. So much so, in fact, that we’ve decided to break all the happenings into four groups: websites, content, social media, and SEO.
2015 Was a Good Year for Websites
The cornerstone of digital small business marketing, the ubiquitous website, had a very good year indeed. From a renewed focus on the user experience (UX) to a real emphasis on mobile-responsive sites, best practices for websites are evolving at a rapid rate.
Flat Design and Hero Images
Sites designed just a few years ago tended to use shadowing and beveling techniques to create the impression of 3-dimensionality on things like buttons and image frames. Current best practices dispose with this artificial perspective.
Large full width “hero” images at the top of a page offer visitors a great visual experience and, carefully chosen, can greatly enhance the brand impression the site leaves. If you choose to use a hero image on your site, make sure you choose a very high resolution image that will display well across a variety of display devices. (Many tablet displays have more resolution that a laptop or desktop monitor. If you’ve chosen an image that looks good on your computer without considering those high resolution devices, you may find a pixelated nightmare on your teenager’s iPad).
Highly Vertical Pages
In March 2015, for the first time ever, more users accessed the Internet on mobile devices than on traditional computers. This single fact has driven so many things in small business marketing, and page design is one of them.
Because of the limited user interface on mobile devices, mobile users find it easier to scroll down a page to find more information than to click on a menu item to go to another page.
This is a huge paradigm shift. Not long ago, best practices said that the bulk of page content should be above the fold (a term from newspaper days describing content that can be seen when the paper is folded—in websites, it’s the content that shows without any scrolling).
Today many sites de-emphasize menu navigation (or dispense with it entirely) in favor of a very long page. Advances in information design also support this type of page design.
If the content on your page doesn’t immediately capture your visitor’s attention, you’ve likely lost them. It only takes a fraction of a second to click back and they’re gone! Obviously the subject has a lot to do with whether you capture their interest or not. But a lot of it also has to do with how you present the information.
Some visitors to your site need nothing more than a confirmation that your’s is the business they are looking for. They’re ready to convert after that—and you’d better give them a way to do so. Other visitors will be comparison shopping: you need to give them the information they need evaluate your product/service, and then try to convert them.
A far smaller, but still important, group of prospects want all the information you can give them. We like to call this type of prospect the “Missouri Man”. You pretty much have to show him everything to earn conversion.
Present your information in the form of a pyramid: less detail toward the top of the page, with more and more as one scrolls down.
A surprising number of very old marketing sayings still apply in 2015, none perhaps more so than “Content is King”.
Every year search engines get better at sorting quality content from the chaff. Every year the attention span of site visitors goes down; and it’s much easier for them to bounce out of your site than it is for them to leave a store they’ve gone into.
Few like being overtly “sold to”, and that’s as true in the digital world as anywhere. The top trend in digital content is thought leadership. Readers of your blog and social media posts want information, not hype. They want to look to you as a source of expert advice and insight.
Good content has three important elements:
- it reports—current and relevant information and trends are explained
- it analyzes—the importance of the information to the prospect is detailed
- it recommends—expert recommendations on how the information should impact/change the prospect’s business
A Media-Rich Environment
The Internet is powerful in its ability to couple written content with pictures, animations, audio and video clips. Not only does media help support and explain the content, it simply makes it more attractive and more likely to earn interaction.
Social media posts with media attached are 2.5x more likely to be interacted with. Put simply, you cannot afford to generate content that does not have media integrated with it.
There are many sources of media that you can use in your content for little to no cost. Really there’s no reason not to include media with every piece of content you generate.
Authoritative and Plentiful Links
But you’ll also want to use links to support your ‘story’. That is, have other experts agreed with your insight? Or perhaps does your writing offer a twist on conventional wisdom?
Social Media Becoming an Ever More Important Element
Perhaps a few years ago the jury was still out on social media for business. That is just not so in 2015. From local retail businesses to national and international B2B enterprises, your marketing simply must have an active social media component just to keep up.
And frankly for many small businesses, social media can be frustrating. It’s very content-hungry; you’re going to spend plenty of time crafting content or paying someone to do so. Once your content development and posting is done, you still have the need for interaction. That takes more time.
So why do it at all? Look at the numbers! Frankly, you have to. Your competitors are. There are whole demographic groups whose preference is to interact with businesses through social media. While your ability to earn conversions through social media will vary depending on the type of business you have, it has undeniable SEO benefits. It’s simply a game you have to be in.
SEO in 2015: Still Here, Still Changing, Still Important
Again, a few years ago, the “talk on the street” was that SEO was dead: all that mattered was great content and search engines would take care of everything for us. There were doubters then, ourselves among them.
The fact is SEO has changed right along with the rest of digital small business marketing—and often without any warning. In August, without any announcement, Google changed the number of “local” search results they displayed from seven to three. In one fell swoop, 57% of the companies that had worked hard to get first page ranking “fell” off, if you pardon the pun about something that was absolutely not funny. And Google never explained their action.
Social media made real strides toward being treated on a par with other sites in search ranking battle with Google displaying nearly 500% more tweets in their results, as of May 2015, compared to the previous year.
Because of the SEO benefit, we often recommend social media campaigns for clients who otherwise wouldn’t see it as a key channel to reach their prospects. And even that reasoning is changing: we believe there are few businesses that cannot gain additional exposure to the market through social media.
There’s plenty you can do (and should do) in your content to improve SEO. Choosing a good and relevant keyword/phrase, integrating that naturally into the headlines and copy is a great start. Media and the number and quality of external links are important ranking factors to keep an eye on.
“Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain”
Our reference to the Wizard of Oz is not as far-fetched as you’d think. SEO has long had kind of a “black magic” reputation. That’s not been helped at all by the circumspect approach search engines take to revealing their ranking criteria, nor by the desire of SEO experts to keep their club both exclusive and profitable.
There’s plenty you can do behind the page to improve its search ranking (and the likelihood of earning a click through):
- SEO title—this field and the following one control the snippet that is displayed in search results, this is what attracts people to click through to your content. Make sure your keyword is prominent and early in the SEO title.
- meta description—here’s your opportunity to answer the question: why do I want to read this content? Tell them what they’ll find in your content and what it will do for them.
- meta tags on media—search engines do not know what images attached to your content depict, use their meta tags to include the keyword/phrase
OK, We Lied: Some Predictions for 2016
We really didn’t intend to make any predictions in this post. We know small business marketing is changing very fast; we live it every day. But what’s less sure is what it is changing to.
As social media networks compete with one another and work to find business models that drive profit, we believe organic reach will fall further yet. What that means to your small business marketing is that you can write great content, jump through all the SEO hoops, post regularly, and, on some social networks, still have pitifully few people see your work—if you don’t pay.
While the numbers aren’t really in yet for the newer networks like Instagram and Pinterest, it is clear the organic reach has dropped precipitously on most others. Facebook, for example, offers almost zero organic reach. You must pay to promote your posts. Period. Twitter still offers reasonable organic reach and LinkedIn is somewhere in the middle.
We expect organic reach to drop further yet.
Content That Informs, Educates, and Excites
There’s so much content on the Internet that not all can even possibly be good. And indeed it is not. When you craft good content, you have a great chance to stand out from the crowd. In fact, if you’re looking for organic results (search placement that you earn by good content and SEO), content is the way you make that happen.
Be a trusted advisor and expert consultant to your prospects. If you can be a reliable source of information and insight, they’ll come back to your content time and again.
While each social network is different, there’s still only so much room for them as marketing tools. Just this year we’ve seen Google+ lose emphasis and popularity, while image-based networks like Instagram and Pinterest grew in popularity.
And some of them have been slow to fashion themselves as useful marketing tools. For example Instagram, which just opened itself to advertising in October, still forces many administration tasks onto mobile devices. We expect them to remedy this shortcoming in coming months.
We do not expect any major changes though: Facebook will continue to be the channel of choice for B2C marketers, LinkedIn remaining the preferred B2B approach, and Twitter working well for both types of business models.
What do you expect to see in 2016? Drop us a line and let us know!