Are you a small business? Read useful tips we have gathered from business owners just like you.

Best practices for small businesses using Yelp: Part 2

By Alisha Rechberg, Online Copywriter at PennySaverUSA

In part 1 of this series, I explained what Yelp.com is and why it’s important for businesses. If you have yet to read that piece, I recommend that you give it a read first – Explaining Yelp & what it means for your business.

When it comes to Yelp.com, many businesses prefer to leave it alone and let the users run rampant with posting reviews and photos. Either they don’t think they have time to monitor their page or they aren’t sure how to best handle Yelp.com users appropriately. However, this isn’t a wise route. Today, I’ll go over the best practices for businesses using Yelp.com and how following these can make your Yelp.com experience a success.

Buff up Your Yelp.com Profile.

  • Post your own photos, add detailed descriptions about the business and owner, update any incorrect information, and spread the good review karma by leaving positive and honest reviews of other businesses you like in the area. Empower Fitness Training in Santee, CA, does a wonderful job in owning its profile. Owner Kari has filled out the “About This Business” section with informative descriptions, made recommendations of other San Diego businesses, and added quality photos of the gym. This gym may be on the smaller side, but it packs a huge punch on Yelp.com and her efforts have paid off – 5 stars on Yelp.com!

    Empower Fitness in Santee has an Exceptional Yelp.com Profile

    Buff up your Yelp.com profile like Empower Fitness in Santee

Key Items to Remember About Your Yelp.com Profile:

  • Match your Yelp.com profile to your site and other social media profiles. You want to create a unified presence on the Internet by having the same tone, look, and feel.
  • Only post quality photos to Yelp.com. Make sure your photos look professional, sharp, and show off the best features of your business.
  • When leaving reviews for other businesses, be honest and positive. Negative reviews may come back to hurt you and overly sales-like ones can make you appear untrustworthy to customers.
  • Be authentic when you fill out the information about your business. Don’t make BIG exaggerated claims because Yelpers will quickly shoot them down and make you look unprofessional.

Interact with Yelpers.

  • This might be the scariest part. What do you say to people who love your business and what do you say to those that don’t?

Rule of Thumb when Interacting with Yelpers:

  • For those that post kind reviews (4 to 5 stars): It’s best to privately message them. Thank them for their encouraging words and, if possible, offer a coupon for their next visit. Some companies also like to publicly reply to positive reviews, which is a nice touch. But remember a Yelp.com profile should feel community-owned and adding too many comments from the owner loses the authenticity. As an alternative to replying, you can give them virtual high-fives for their review by checking “useful, funny, or cool” on the bottom of the review.
  • For those that post negative reviews (1 to 2 stars), businesses should publicly reply to their comments with politeness and a promise to improve. Another recommendation is to privately message these reviewers and offer a discount for giving your business another try. Hot Fries in Santa Ana, CA, does a wonderful job in approaching negative reviews and offering a resolve.

    Hot Fries Yelp.com Approach to Answering Negative Reviews

    Hot Fries Does an Excellent Job in Answering Negative Yelp.com Reviews

Market Your Yelp.com Profile.

  • Unlike “if you build it, they will come,” Yelpers may never come to your profile organically. And the downside? Not having reviews on your Yelp page may work against you, especially if your competitors have wonderful reviews.

Free Ways to Market Your Yelp.com Profile:

  • Throw an event and post a free listing on Yelp.com’s Event Page. Your ad will be seen by more local Yelpers and if you throw a great event, you’ll get even more exposure. Events can be as simple as “free (product or service) for the first 500 customers.”
  • Tell customers about your Yelp.com profile. You can do this by: sending out a newsletter to your email list, letting customers know you’re on Yelp.com on your website, asking them to leave a review when they are in your store, or by using other social media sites to drive traffic to your profile.

Visit Your Profile Frequently.

  • Be aware of your brand reputation and what others are saying by checking your profile at least once a week. Yelp makes it easy by sending you an email alert every time someone posts a review. All you have to do is make sure your brand image is going in the direction you want it to go.

Like all review sites, words can hurt. But if you follow these helpful small business tips to navigate the Yelp.com community and you listen to what your customers recommend, you’re on your way to having a really successful business.

Explaining Yelp and what it means for your business: Part 1

By Alisha Rechberg, Online Copywriter at PennySaverUSA

Yelp.com is a popular review site

Whether or not you know Yelp.com, Yelp.com knows you. Created to introduce customers to local merchants, Yelp.com has exploded into a powerful vehicle of giving customers a voice and merchants a chance to hear what their customers are saying. Since Yelp.com had approximately 66 million monthly unique visitors in Q4 2011 and continues to grow, it is vital that businesses are aware of their presence on this popular review site.

In this two-part series, we will explain what Yelp.com is, what it means to your business, and how you can best utilize it.

Let’s get started.

What is Yelp.com?

Yelp.com is an international website that allows its members to find businesses, leave reviews, find local events, and build a community for free. It is also a website where merchants can monitor their business page, update their information, post photos, privately or publicly message customers, and receive email alerts for new reviews for free.

Simply, it’s a way to connect customers to great businesses, and vice versa.

Learn how to navigate Yelp to connect to Customers

What does it mean for my business?

With the introduction of Yelp.com, many aspects of the business- customer relationship have changed:

  • Now, customers can easily read about your business and what other customers are saying before ever stepping through your doors. It just takes a simple search to find your Yelp.com profile. Great reviews may sway them to visit you, whereas bad reviews may stop them in their tracks.
  • Customer service is extremely important. With customers able to let others know about the service at your business, no bad deed goes unpunished and no good deed goes without reward. Make sure you’re veering to the latter by offering exceptional service to every customer who comes in.
  • Honesty is the best policy. Approach your advertising and special offers with realistic claims. Yelp.com customers will be the first to point out any misleading information. For example, when it comes to coupons, be specific on what the customer is getting. If there are any hidden costs, you’ll receive a couple of not-so-pleasant remarks on Yelp.com, which deters future business.
  • A big online presence for small businesses is a big deal. Having a website (like a PowerSite) and Yelp.com profile gives you a greater opportunity to be discovered by new customers. Yelp.com even highlights reviews on their main page, Weekly Yelp page, and other areas where potential customers can stumble upon your business.
  • Local mom and pop shops are trending. The users of Yelp.com are neighborhood explorers who like to support their community, try different places, and find the best in the business. It’s a great time to be a small business on Yelp.com, because Yelp.com users (also called Yelpers) are trying to branch out from the big box stores and find truly unique gems to share with the community, like your business.

Why do I need Yelp.com?

Get more customers when you utilize Yelp.com

When you use Yelp.com

  • More customers can find you
  • You’ll have a bigger online presence
  • You can find out what others are saying and manage your brand image accordingly
  • It’s a great way to engage past customers and get them to come back again and again

How do I get started?

Become a member of Yelp.com by unlocking your business profile. Once you find your business or add your business to Yelp.com, you’ll create an account and verify your identity to complete the process. From there, you’ll have the opportunity to privately or publicly message Yelp.com users, measure Yelp.com’s performance for your business, receive email alerts for new reviews, and much more.

To learn how to best utilize Yelp.com for your business, stay tuned to our next blog that covers the exciting topic of how to use Yelp.com for success.

Small Business Tips: What social media channel is right for your business?

By Jason Feller, PowerSites Content & Community Manager

As I detailed in the previous PowerSites blog post, social media can be an extremely powerful tool for small businesses. It’s only effective, however, if you know what you are doing.

In this Small Business Tips entry, I will detail the differences between each of the five most prominent social media channels and highlight which channels work best for which businesses.

Facebookpowersites-blog-facebook-icon

With over 900 million global users, Facebook is the predominant social media channel and it’s also an extremely effective tool for small businesses.

What makes it such an effective tool is that it allows potential new customers to hear about your business, while also allowing you to reward your existing loyal customers.

The best part is that each feeds off the other. How you ask? Well, every time someone “Checks In” to your establishment, comments on your page, Likes your page or interacts with your page in almost any way, an alert goes out to everyone they are friends with.

Say you offer an exclusive coupon to your existing Facebook fans. When someone signs up for that coupon (presumably a repeat customer) an alert will go out to all of their friends that they signed up for that coupon. This then exposes you to an entirely new group of people that might not be familiar with your establishment.

Businesses that should be on Facebook: B2C (business-to-consumer) businesses do best on Facebook, but really any type of business can utilize this channel to their advantage.

Twitterpowersitse-blog-twitter-logo

By most accounts, Twitter is the second biggest social media channel behind Facebook. While it lacks some of the features available on Facebook, it does have one significant advantage.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter does allow businesses to find and interact with existing and potential customers directly. This can provide small businesses with a huge benefit. Not only does it allow you to quickly address customer service issues for loyal customers, it also allows you to search for new customers.

For example, if you own a pizzeria in San Diego, you can search “pizza San Diego” within Twitter and find out who is tweeting about that topic. You can then tweet them directly and let them know about your business.

Businesses that should be on Twitter: Restaurants, stores, and home services should all have a Twitter presence. It is not as effective for businesses that don’t offer a tangible product or service like car insurance or career colleges.

LinkedInpowersites-blog-linkedin-logo

This social media channel is very different than Facebook and Twitter.

It offers two primary benefits to small businesses:

  1. As the leading social media channel for career networking, it helps small businesses find new talent to help fill their job openings. For example, if you need a new bookkeeper, you can search through LinkedIn to find professional bookkeepers and you might be able to fill the position that way without having to pay for a jobs classified ad.
  2. It specializes in helping connect small businesses with each other. For example, if you own a dental practice, you can use LinkedIn to look up companies that produce dental chairs. You can then look up their directory of LinkedIn employees and find the appropriate contact person to talk to about potentially getting a deal on dental chairs.

Businesses that should be on LinkedIn: This is the one social network that is especially tailored for B2B businesses. That said, there is no reason every small business shouldn’t use this resource to recruit future employees.

Google+Powersites-blog-Google+

Google’s entry into the social media space has really yet to take off, but it’s still a potentially powerful tool. It is very similar to Facebook with a couple of notable exceptions.

  1. It features “Hangout” technology (essentially an online video chat) that allows small businesses to hold a type of public forum with their customers and take questions.
  2. It features “Ripples” that allow you to see how many people your posts have spread to.

The real key to Google+ is that it is intertwined with Google’s search engine, and likely be even further in the future, so for SEO (search engine optimization) purposes, it makes sense to maintain a page.

Businesses that should be on Google+: Information Technology businesses (Google+ has a heavy tech audience) and businesses that rely heavily on SEO for their marketing.

YouTubepowersites-blog-youtube-logo

Also owned by Google, this social media channel is exclusively video driven.

YouTube allows you to set up a video channel for your business that can feature all types of videos ranging from traditional commercials to tutorials to testimonials.

It also allows you to set up a profile describing your business and it allows you to interact with other video channels via messaging, commenting or sharing.

Businesses that should be on YouTube: If you put a major portion of your marketing to television or other types of video advertising, then you should have a presence on YouTube. B2B businesses can also use YouTube to effectively market and reach out to other businesses.

What Every Local Business Should Know About Paid Search

By Drew Fortin, Marketing Director of Digital Products at PennySaverUSA

Most local businesses have heard the term “SEM,” but I think many fail to recognize exactly what the term means.  SEM literally stands for Search Engine Marketing.  SEM can be broken down into two components – organic search (aka natural search) and paid search.

Organic search marketing is essentially the process of structuring your website’s architecture, generating content relevant to your business, and obtaining inbound links from other websites to increase the chances of your website ranking naturally in the SERP (search engine results page).  This optimization is most always referred to as SEO, or search engine optimization.

Paid search is a much simpler concept.  Quite simply, it’s when advertisers pay to have their listing appear on the SERP.  Although the concept is simple, the techniques and strategy used to get the most bang for your buck in paid search can be quite complex.

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The Google SERP – Paid Search and Organic Listings

In addition to paying to have your ads listed in the SERP, paid search platforms like Google AdWords and MSN AdCenter (Yahoo! and Bing) allow you post your ads on their content networks.  This allows you to dramatically increase your exposure across millions of websites who are hosting content that is relevant to your business.

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Examples of ads in Google’s Content Network.

How Paid Search Works

Paid search is a type of pay per click (PPC) advertising. It’s comprised of 3 main elements:

  1. Keywords – you select keywords or phrases that essentially trigger when your ad should appear in the SERP.
  2. Ads – when someone searches for the keywords you have selected, your ad appears.
  3. Landing Pages – you choose what page on your website should appear when someone clicks on one of your paid search ads.
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Example of PPC ads on Google AdWords.

What Determines How Much You Pay Per Click?

Paid search advertising platforms like Google AdWords and MSN AdCenter leverage auction style bidding technologies as the core of their business model and methodology.  Advertisers place a bid on every keyword they want their ad to show up for.  Each advertisers’ bid is then compared against other competing advertisers.  How much you bid determines where you’re ad is placed…kind of.

In addition to your bid, the search engines also consider other factors that can improve your ad placement even if you are bidding less than someone else.  For instance, Google AdWords looks at how well your paid search account is structured so that keywords and ads are highly relevant. They also scan the landing pages where you are sending the ads to make sure they are also relevant.  They also consider past paid search campaigns performance and also how you have performed as compared to other accounts in your geo-location or region.

Google compiles all of these factors into a Quality Score.  AdWords users’ ads can score between 1 and 10.  The higher your score, the more relevant your ads are considered.  By incorporating Quality Score into their algorithm, or calculation, for determining which ad appears where, Google is ensuring that the most relevant ads are performing.  And, in this scenario, everyone wins.  The advertisers with the highest quality scores are paying the least amount possible, searchers are seeing the most relevant ads, and therefore ads are receiving the most clicks (how Google makes money).

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Google AdWords Quality Score Factors

Because there are so many moving parts, setting up paid search campaigns and managing accounts is no easy task.  It requires a lot of time and dedication, especially at the start, if you want to drive qualified traffic and conversions (leads, calls, sales, etc.).  Businesses that try the “set it and forget it” approach usually end up blowing cash that they could have otherwise used to promote their business.

If you’re a local business owner looking to try paid search, you don’t have to go it alone. Check out PennySaverUSA.com’s paid search service, PowerClicks.

What social media means for small business

By Jason Feller, PowerSites Content & Community Manager

Social Media: Online communities where users engage with one another and their favorite brands in an interactive format.

Competing with the big boys as a small business isn’t easy. The major brands have inherent advantages that can be very difficult to overcome.

Thanks to social media, however, small businesses can turn the tables and capitalize on their strengths.

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Let social media serve as your megaphone.

Two of the most significant ways in which small businesses have an edge are in customer loyalty and word-of-mouth advertising.

Social media allows small businesses the opportunity to build on both.

In his blog post Why Small Business Have A Huge Advantage Over Brands In Social Media, Francisco Rosales adroitly points out “Brands are far from becoming human and getting the user engaged for real. … They will take advantage of your special deal or rant about bad experiences but that’s it. When it comes to small business, it’s easy for an individual to become the voice of the company, a personal brand that builds trust around a product or service with a human touch.”

That distinction is critical. Small businesses have thrived for generations because of their ability to create personal relationships with their customers. This leads to customer loyalty and prevents those customers from taking their business elsewhere.

The same concept applies with social media. The major brand might have five million fans/followers, but those five million could be less valuable than the 500 a small business has, because the small businesses’ community is likely to be much more engaged.

Another key to remember is that building customer loyalty is a long-term strategy. Print ads in the PennySaver are still probably your best bet for having an immediate impact.

As Mark Schaefer explains in his article, How does a small business move into social media marketing?, “For many small companies, the result from social media marketing is more like the long-term benefits of networking at a chamber of commerce meeting. … short-term benefits are certainly possible — but in general, aim for long-term benefits such as increasing customer loyalty.”

When it comes to word-of-mouth advertising, social media has immense potential. It’s much more common for people to tell their friends about some new burger joint they just discovered than it is for them to talk to their friends about some major brand.

The beauty of this is that it doesn’t even require you to do any work, but having a great product. Your product will spread through social media organically. And by paying attention to when your product is mentioned on social media in a positive (or negative) light, you can respond directly to your customers and help spread the word even more.

SEO Best Practices: The Basics

By Isaac Taylor, PowerSites Jr. Product Manager

Step 1

Define your target audience (who’s looking for my products/services?)

Before you try to optimize your site for search engines you’ll need to figure out who you’re trying to attract to your site.

You may operate the best auto repair shop in your area, but if you’re not targeting people who need repair work for their vehicles then your site won’t be of any value to you.

Step 2

Define the geographic location of your target audience (where are they going to make their purchases?)

Most business owners should have a pretty good idea of where the majority of their customers come from. If you’re just starting out as a new business then you’ll probably just want to begin with focusing on the city that you’re business is located in.

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People no longer go to the phone book to find local businesses. Now they go online. The way you get found online is through search engine optimization best practices.

Another great way to gather this information is through the use of a call tracking number. This is a service that’s included for free with every PowerSite. A call tracking number takes your existing phone number and automatically forwards a new phone number to it.

Step 3

Define what you want to share with your target audience (why are they looking for my products/services?)

By completing steps 1 and 2 this next step will almost take care of itself. You’ll simply need to consider why your target audience is looking for your specific products and/or services.

An auto repair shop that’s really good at repairing radiators will want to share their knowledge of various radiator problems as well as what can cause those problems. This sets them up as experts in the eyes of the visitors to their site, and it will help their visitors to feel empowered by gaining a better understanding of why their radiator isn’t working properly.

Step 4

Consider the keywords that fit your message (what keywords are your target audience using to search for your products/services?)

Now that you know who you want to speak to and what you want to say, you simply need to determine what the best words are to say it. Again, this will be a fairly straight forward process. Just think about what people are going to be asking about when they’re searching for your products and/or services.

These words are called “keywords”, and the keywords that people are using to find your products and/or services should influence the language of your site.

Using the auto shop as an example, we’ll be able to determine that “radiator” should be one of the keywords, and more than likely, the main keyword on the site.

The auto shop owner should know of some additional industry specific keywords that people may be using based on past experience. However, if you’d like some additional help there is a tool known as the Google Keyword Tool that people can use to help them find the ideal keywords for their websites.

You’ll want to avoid using keywords that have more than a couple hundred thousand local monthly searches because those will be highly targeted by big companies. You’ll also want to avoid keywords that have fewer than 20,000 local searches because you generally won’t see much action from those.

Step 5

Using your chosen keywords, write the message that you want to communicate to your target audience (How do I fulfill their needs?)

Now that you’ve chosen the main keyword that you’d like to build your site around, as well as several other ideal keywords that will get your site listed in front of your target audience, you’ll be able to complete all of the content for your site.

If I’m an auto repair shop owner that’s trying to get found by people in Chino, CA who need their radiators repaired, then I’m going to ensure that the majority of my content is about that very topic and relevant to people in that area.

The first place to start is with the very first sentence that will appear on the homepage of the site. This sentence should contain the main keyword along with the target location of my site, but it shouldn’t be forced in there, it should read naturally.

For more detailed SEO guidelines please check out the upcoming e-book we plan to release on the subject.

The Importance of SEO for Your Business

By Isaac Taylor, PowerSites Jr. Product Manager

What is SEO?

SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization, and it’s the process of optimizing websites for inclusion in organic, or non-paid, search engine listings. It is essential to familiarize yourself with SEO because this is what will open up the gates to the wonderful world of increased revenue streams.

Why is SEO important for my business?

The purpose of a business website is to attract potential customers searching for the products and/or services that you offer; but if you step back and look at the World Wide Web from a grand perspective you’ll see that it’s literally a “web” of billions upon billions of websites which is growing bigger every day.

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You want the #1 spot in the search engine rankings for your category. PowerSites helped deliver the top ranking for its customer AA Smog Inc.

Most websites link to only a few similar sites, so if you consider navigating this “web” of sites from the perspective of a single user who’s logged into the internet from their home computer, you quickly realize that this one person couldn’t possibly have a clue about how to find what they’re looking for without some expert help to guide them.

Search engines are those experts, driving users to the content they want.

Search engines are essentially groups of high-powered computers that continuously crawl through the web like spiders; they’re always looking for new websites or changes to existing sites that they can add to their indexes.

As these very powerful computers add the sites they find to their index, they’re also analyzing each site’s content to determine what it is about. Search engines will then rank each site for keywords that the search engines believe relevant to the content of the sites. It’s this indexing and ranking process that website owners hope to influence via SEO work.

As you may have already discovered, not every business owner who creates a website is able to clearly communicate what products and/or services they provide. This often leaves search engines scratching their proverbial heads when they try to index websites that claim to be about one thing but have the content of something completely different.

An example of this would be a website that’s labeled as a plumbing site, but all of the content on the site is about digging trenches and clearing out roots. The plumber may be really good at lying down drainage lines, but in their excitement to share the details of how they prep the ground for their work, they completely forgot to mention anything about the plumbing process itself.

To combat the problem of site content not matching its site labels, search engines have provided ‘website creation best practices’ which I will cover in more detail in a later post.

SEO is important to your business because with proper implementation your site will appear in front of more potential customers who are searching for the products and/or services that you provide.

Explaining the differences between SEO and SEM

By Isaac Taylor, PowerSites Jr. Product Manager

What are SEO and SEM?

SEO (search engine optimization): The process of optimizing websites for inclusion in organic, or non-paid, search engine listings.

SEM (search engine marketing): The process of marketing web sites through internet search engines using non-paid as well as paid channels.

Is SEO a part of SEM?

Yes. SEO is leveraging the non-paid listings of search engine result pages (SERPs) and is considered to be part of the SEM channel.

How is SEO used in an SEM campaign?

The process of optimizing a site for search engines includes one or more of the following:

  • Placing relevant, high quality content on a site.
  • Optimizing keywords to match the site’s content.
  • Keyword rich meta tags
  • Entering geo-locators if the site should found by people in a specific geographic region
  • Back-link building
  • Properly structured sitemaps
  • Adding multi-media and graphics with correct alternate text

By correctly leveraging the elements listed above, which will be discussed in greater detail in a later post, you can influence search engines to give more weight to your site over your competitors’ sites. If a search engine believes that your site has more relevant content for your target keywords than your competitors’ site does, then your site will be listed higher in the organic search results area when people search for those keywords.

Though SEO is an ongoing process, once the foundation has been properly laid, you’ll be able to focus on and move forward with other elements of your SEM campaign.

What else falls under the SEM umbrella?

  • Search engine directory submissions and management
  • Paid inclusion
  • PPC (pay-per-click)
  • Link building and management
  • Performance monitoring and reporting

So…Pay-Per-Click isn’t the same thing as SEM either?

Correct, pay-per-click (PPC) is only a single part of an SEM campaign. Many people have mistaken PPC and SEM as being the same thing; however, PPC is just part of a much larger endeavor to get your site found online.

Where are the organic and paid listings on a Google search result page?

Paid listings can appear at the top of the page, the right hand side of the page, and sometimes at the bottom of the page.

Organic listings will appear in the middle of the page if there are paid listings above them. If there aren’t any paid listings above them you will find the organic listings beginning at the top of the page.

Organic vs. Paid search

A graphical view of paid vs. organic listings on Google’s search engine results page (SERP).

SEM contains many tools that can help you increase exposure to your web site using both paid and non-paid channels. By leveraging such tools as SEO and PPC you’ll see the quantity and quality of your site’s traffic improve.

Combine print and online ads to get a leg up on the competition

By Howard Young, PennySaverUSA’s Vice President of Sales, Northern California

People find and select the businesses they choose to frequent through a variety of different means.

Given that fact, you obviously want to give potential customers every opportunity to find you, no matter what method they use.powersites-blog2

You can improve your advantage of being found and selected by positioning your advertising on both print and the internet.

Why does this work?  One potential customer looking for services or products will see your ad in print, and another will find your web site in a Google search. Contact a local PowerClicks rep to learn more about how we can help you get seen on Google and other search engines.

More consumers will see your business positioned as a credible entity, and they will also see it more often because it’s in print and online. This leaves an indelible mark that engenders confidence and trust that can lead to an initial purchase and oftentimes a loyal customer who identifies with your brand.

Consumers are increasingly cross-referencing businesses they have chosen in print by researching them online. They visit the business web site, use Google or other search engines to find additional information, reviews, comparative pricing, social media links, maps & online coupons.

PowerSites

People hear about your business in print and then go to your web site to find more information.

Your print ad remains important and often serves as the gateway to the massive internet audience and provides an opportunity to promote your web address.

The expansiveness of the web site allows you to communicate so much more information to the consumer, including testimonials, company history, pictures, specialized information, upcoming events, philosophy or values, biography of key personnel, reviews, customer declarations, and a Contact Us’ email link for questions or customer care.

Social media is on fire! By having a print and online presence, you give your web savvy customers the ultimate satisfaction of being able to rave about you instantaneously.

Every customer that accesses you on the web can include that link in their Tweet about you, write a Yelp review while visiting your business or “check-in” at your business on Facebook to tell their friends and invite friends to join them.

The more opportunities you give your customers to find you and spread the word about your amazing business, the more successful your business will be.

Looking to build your online presence? Ask your local PennySaverUSA rep about Powersites – our all-in-one website hosting, creation, and marketing service.

Why an online presence is critical to local business success

By Drew Fortin, Marketing Director of Digital Products at PennySaverUSA

While many large and medium sized businesses are busy gearing up for the umpteenth iteration of their website and are busy connecting with their audience in social media, many small and local businesses are so busy just running the day-to-day business, they haven’t emphasized their online presence.

The main rejection is always the same – “I don’t have the time or the money to make it worth my while.”

The Internet can be a daunting place.  Where do I start?  It costs how much to get to the top of the search engines? How long will it take to rank at the top of the search engines without paying?  How do I know if all of my online investment is paying off?

All of these questions make complete sense.  However, leaving these questions unanswered is simply an excuse.  Here are six reasons why every small and local business should have an online presence:

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Many consumers now do online research before making a purchase. You'll be left behind if you don't have -- or fail to monitor -- your web presence.

1. Expanding your customer base

Gone are the days of placing an ad in the phonebook or relying on 411 directory assistance to direct foot traffic to your storefront.  While there is certainly something to be said for curb appeal, the web is one of the first places a majority of consumers go when they need a product or service.  PowerReviews 2011 Social Shopping Study revealed that “50% of consumers spend 75% or more of their total shopping time conducting online product research, with 15% spending 90% or more of their shopping time in this manner.”  Simply put, if you are not online you cannot find new customers and they cannot find you.

2. Brand management

If the internet were nonexistent, managing your brand presences and sentiment would be much simpler.  You could rely on some community involvement and good reviews from the local newspaper to remain in the good graces of your patrons.  That’s just not the case anymore.  Sites like Google Places, Yelp, and many others have made it easier than ever for consumers to talk about their experiences in your store and with your brand.  If you provide good service, more often than not you will receive positive accolades.  However, as the saying goes, the squeaky wheel always gets the grease.  There are always those customers that were impossible to make happy.  If you are not online to respond to their concerns and resolve their issues (politely I might add), you could potentially be losing not just one customer, but hundreds.

3. Cost-effective marketing

Get more bang for your buckIf 100% of the money you spend on promoting your business is through print media, chances are you are not making the most efficient use of your promotion budget.  Although solely relying upon print advertising and signage may have done it for you in the past, chances are your buck will go much farther online as tools like Google AdWords and Facebook allow you to fine-tune campaigns and messaging to target your ideal audience and drive qualified traffic. A lot of small businesses have already caught on. According to Borrell Associates  2011 Outlook Survey of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), the average SMB planned to increase their entire promotion budget 4.5% from 2010 to 2011 (still waiting on 2012 report).  When it comes to online marketing specifically, the average SMB planned to increase spend 29% year over year.

4. Effort will pay off

Although cutting an agency or advertising service a check for online marketing services may help you promote your brand and increase sales, it doesn’t go nearly as far as organic marketing efforts do. There is certainly a benefit to paid advertising both online and offline, however small and local business owners need to find the right balance between paid and organic efforts.  You’d be surprised how spending a little time online participating in social media and organically promoting your business is not only incredibly effective, but it’s FREE.  The internet has made it easier than ever for businesses to speak their mind, engage with customers, and promote their brand.

5. Creating loyal customers

Trying to compete in a local marketplace can be incredibly difficult, especially when there is usually a big box store right around that corner that can easily trump you on price alone.  Not to fear – the Internet has made it easier than ever to personify your brand and show people that you are there, willing to listen, and fight for their business.  This type of engagement with your audience via social media or even through telling your story on your website will help set you apart from the big guys.

6. Growth of mobile devices

small-business-mobile

With smartphones, people can now find your small business from anywhere -- even on the back of a motor scooter.

According to Nielsen, as of February 2012 just about 50% of US mobile subscribers own a smartphone.  That’s right – about every other current or future customer you come across has a mobile device capable of checking email, surfing the web, updating their social status, and/or receiving/sending text messages.  With all of this functionality comes a lot of power, and not just for the consumer.

For instance quick response or QR codes allow you to promote your web site, social media page, or promotions via a bar code within your store or in one of your print ads.  Also, services like FourSquare allow you to offer promotions specifically to customers who check-in at your store and give you the added benefit of syndicating your customers’ check-ins across Facebook and Twitter.  Mobile has really done wonders for local businesses, and the ones who get on the band wagon now will see huge benefits later.

No matter how small your business or whatever industry you play in, your audience is online.  There is TONS of opportunity knocking.  At the end of the day you have to go fish where the fish are.

Are you a local business looking to boost your online presence?  PennySaverUSA has a proven track record or connecting millions of buyers with thousands of sellers since 1962 both offline and online.  Ask us about PowerSites – our all in one website hosting, creation, and marketing service.