Expert Interview Series: Gail Gardner of GrowMap About Digital Marketing for Small Businesses

Digital marketing

Gail Gardner is the founder of GrowMap, where she mentors small businesses, freelance writers, and social media influencers. We had a chance to speak with Gail about how small businesses can leverage the power of social media, content marketing, native advertising, and other aspects of digital marketing to help them grow and flourish.

Tell us a bit about your background. Why did you decide to start GrowMap?

When I left IBM, I fell into managing pay-per-click (PPC) accounts, especially Yahoo! and Google AdWords. Over time, I saw that many small businesses would be priced off of these platforms. That is especially true of AdWords as Google kept broad-matching long-tail keywords to force advertisers to compete on the most expensive keyword phrases.

I decided to focus on finding ways that small businesses who could not afford Google AdWords could succeed. GrowMap was founded to publish research on what small businesses should set as their marketing priorities. This is essential because there are so many strategies out there that many feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.

Among the small businesses who have already embraced digital marketing, what functions or services are they still under-utilizing or failing to leverage for their benefit?

All local businesses should be focusing on getting their free listings on Google Maps, Yahoo! Local, and the many other major directories that exist. All of these listings are incoming links from significant sites that are easy to get. Even if you rarely get traffic from a particular listing, there is link value; and a visit here and there adds up when you multiply the visits by the number of directories. The easy way to get these listings is by using a solution such as Universal Business Listings. Note that I am not talking about the many weak directories that exist – only the major directories and some like DirJournal that still have value today.

Because Google has a virtual monopoly on search, Google My Business/Google Maps can drive a lot of sales. It is important to encourage customers to write positive reviews there while staying within Google’s guidelines. The quantity and ratings of the reviews are a major ranking factor. There are third-party solutions now such as GetFiveStars that make it easier to increase both.

Small businesses should also create accounts on every major social network. They don’t have to stay active on them; the primary goal is to make your business easy to find and to acquire links from those major sites. These are another example of easy links to acquire that many neglect to request. ¬†Use the header images and bios on social networks to send potential customers to where you are most active: your own blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, wherever. RSS feeds can keep them current if you do not wish to manage them actively. But you should have a presence and at least accept the incoming links.

What are the aspects and components of a successful social media promotion campaign?

Some businesses can do very well with Facebook ads because they can be tightly targeted. This is especially true for local businesses. As an example, I assisted a local organic blackberry and blueberry farm by spending only $10 a day on the day before they have a “u-pick” event. We targeted only people within 25 miles of the berry farm who liked blackberries, blueberries, or organic foods. Almost everyone who came out to pick said they saw him on Facebook.

Many don’t realize that they can pin a post on Facebook business pages and on Twitter. So always have something current pinned on your accounts because everyone who visits those pages will see it, which will multiply the views. Remember this when running social media promotion campaigns.

Timing is important. If you are launching a campaign, be sure to line up supporters in advance. Influencers use tools including ViralContentBee, JustRetweet, GuestCrew, ThunderClap and others to get other influencers to share for them. The last two of these can be used to schedule shares to go out at the time of launch instead of randomly.

Images are critical to your success on social media; they need to be vibrant and eye-catching. Also, be sure to optimize them for each social network. For example, Twitter images need to be twice as wide as they are tall, while Pinterest and Google Plus images need to be very tall and not as wide. LinkedIn recently changed their image sizes. An easy way to create images and keep on top of what sizes to use where is a free Canva account.

Speaking of images, they are an integral and critical component of content marketing campaigns. Even if someone is interested enough to read a white paper that only contains text, you are missing a huge opportunity if you do not include graphs and other images. All of the content you create should have multiple pieces of media in it.

In a content marketing campaign, how important is the diversity of web content categories presented? Or is it not that important at all?

Much of what I write for AllBusiness, SmallBizTrends, and other sites gets featured because I take the time to find the perfect statistics in graph form, a video, a SlideShare, or sometimes an infographic. A post that contains all of these will keep people on the page longer and convey more of your message in forms that are easier to consume and remember.

White papers and annual case studies are typically used as lead capture devices. Videos, SlideShares, and infographics can increase visibility because journalists, freelance writers, and bloggers can embed them in content. Your video or SlideShare could even end up on Forbes, Entrepreneur, or some other authority site.

When it comes to lead generation from digital marketing campaigns, what is the biggest mistake that most companies continue to make?

The major mistake many businesses make is in capturing leads and then not doing anything with them. It is important to nurture those leads and interact with people who are the most interested in what your business has to offer.

There are many solutions that make that easier today. Oktopost can identify visits a potential buyer made to your site before they decided to download your whitepaper and give you their name and email. This gives your sales team more information on what that particular lead is interested in. Socedo allows you to automate lead capture from Twitter and see when they visit your site. They are focusing more on closing leads and not simply generating them. Yotpo created a way to sell on Instagram using user-generated content. These are only a few examples of what is available.

Marketing automation is now affordable for any business. GetResponse came out with a package that includes email marketing, landing page generation, autoresponders, and marketing automation. It can be used to score leads so that you can focus on reaching out to the potential clients who are most likely to convert.

If a client is interested in native advertising for their site, what types of guidelines or suggestions would you give them regarding the content itself?

There is much interest in native advertising today because it works. The key is content that does not read like an infomercial. Many people will avoid anything that smells like an ad. “Native” implies that the content will be just like any other content on that site. Do not start publishing advertorials or you may lose your readership. Only publish content and link to content that your readers will find useful.

Name one thing that most small businesses can do today to improve search engine optimization for their websites.

Regardless of what content management system (CMS) you use for your business, it should have SEO fields for each page, post, and image. (If it doesn’t, you need a different CMS or an add-on. This is not optional.) All of these fields, including the alt-image field, need to be completed every time.

Make a list of the keyword phrases you wish to target and make sure there is only one page or post targeting each of those phrases. If you use WordPress, use a theme that provides these or add an SEO plugin such as Yoast SEO.

It is important for small businesses to get up to speed on these basics, because their competitors may be ready to go to the next level of using marketing automation, analytics, and data analysis. Fewer will use vanity metrics as they become better at measuring what is generating profits. The greater head start you allow them, the more time and money it will take to catch up.

While I know it seems overwhelming, there is a map to get there. Focus on implementing one task at a time, get it done, and move to the next. Find out where your target audience is and experiment with ways to get them to engage with you. Many are having success online; just remember that it takes time for it to pay off unless you are willing to spend money on ads, which can often generate a profit within a few weeks.

Avoid analysis paralysis. Choose one thing and do it. What matters most is to take action today and not put things off until a tomorrow that may never come. As the economy continues to be challenging, even a business that always had enough sales needs to be continually growing their customer base. Existing customers have less disposable income as the cost of necessities continues to climb and wages do not keep up. If you are not growing, a downturn may catch you by surprise. So be proactive now to ensure the health of your business.

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