Using search engine optimization and social media to win and keep customers.
Many small businesses have implemented a variety of online marketing efforts to attract new customers and increase overall sales with less than stellar results. The lure of the “next big thing” can create marketing inefficiencies when small business owners try to be a “jack of all trades and master to none.”
Consider these statistics: Google sites handle about 88 billion searches each month, YouTube is the second most popular search engine second only to Google, Facebook is now over 600 million users, Twitter has nearly 200 million accounts, LinkedIn is at 101 million users, and FourSquare grew 3,400% in 2010.
Dentist’s personal use social networking sites like Facebook approaches 71% and an increasing number of dental practices are starting to use Facebook, YouTube and Twitter for marketing or patient loyalty programs. But social media is new territory for most and as with many other industries exploring the social web, these are early days.
Small business marketing questions: The variety of options for customer marketing and engagement ranging from social media to SEO to E-mail marketing to online advertising can be overwhelming. As a result, some of the most common online marketing questions I hear from small businesses revolve around deciding which tactics are best; managing time across so many tactics; or the time needed to see results.
Answering these questions starts with a clear understanding of goals, customers, and a flexible online marketing strategy that assembles the right mix of tactics and measurement practices. Most companies are looking for more customers and to retain those they have, but the concern is how to do these things efficiently.
The answers: In the context of this article, a big part of the answer is through content marketing. If social media and SEO fit together like peanut butter and jelly (if you didn’t know; yes they do) then content is the bread that holds them together.
According to the Pew Internet Project, 80% of U.S. Internet consumers research health information online, followed only by E-mail and search engines. In fact, Forrester Research reports that 24% of U.S. online consumers engage in some form of health-related social media once a month or more.
Google sites handle about 88 billion searches each month.
The trend in search and social information discovery, consumption, and sharing behaviors of consumers are an opportunity for dental practices to become highly valued sources of information wherever their customers are looking.
Search engines favor high value content in the search results. Social media sites favor sharable, linkable content. A dental practice that combines smart social media and SEO tactics can create a competitive advantage for attracting new customers whether they search Google, Facebook, or blogs.
Some keyword homework before you start
With search or social media optimization, it’s important to empathize with the audience you’re trying to reach in terms of the language they use while searching and how they talk on the social Web.
YouTube is the second most popular search engine second only to Google
Optimizing a Web site for topics and specific phrases that customers rarely use, results in a waste of effort on your part and frustration on the part of the customer because they can’t easily find your content.
Keywords from a social media perspective involve discovering what customers are interested in and talking about on the social Web vs. deciding that for them by pushing traditional marketing materials.
Basic search engine keyword research can be done with complimentary tools available from Google: http://www.googlekeywordtool.com
Enter the kinds of phrases that your customers use and the Google Keyword Tool will report back the popularity of those phrases and suggest related phrases to target. The process of doing keyword research should result in the creation of a keyword glossary, which is a list of keyword phrases in a spreadsheet.
Whenever new content is created online, the keyword glossary can be referenced to check keyword relevance and popularity so new information published to the web is of interest to customers that are searching. The process of looking up keywords to determine current popularity and variations should be repeated quarterly to stay current.
Social keyword research is a little trickier because there are no dedicated tools to provide what topics and phrases are most popular on the social web at large. However, there are tools like http://socialmention.com that offer a social search function by providing a list of keywords most often found in Tweets, comments, and other social content based on your query. The keywords can be imported into your keyword glossary spreadsheet for comparison to search keywords.
Social keywords might help you determine topics for Tweets, Facebook updates and content, tags used with videos and images, blog posts, and general names/titles of content and objects that you publish using social media Web sites. Doing so helps guide content that is of interest to those publishing similar content on the social Web.
Quick Tip: Your brand name is a keyword and worth protecting. Check your brand name with a site like http://knowem.com to make sure no one else is squatting on it. You can register accounts yourself or have the folks at Knowem do it for you.
Proven tactics to win the online marketing race
I say race, because in the online world, that’s exactly what it is. A continuous effort toward achieving marketing goals while the competition is doing the same thing. That might seem ominous, but think of it as something you spend a reasonable, scheduled amount of time on consistently. If you keep at it, and work smart, you will win.
Facebook is now over 600 million users
Here are 10 content marketing tactics that small businesses can use in combination with SEO and social media to win and keep more customers.
1. Blog – A blog offers numerous social and SEO benefits. Blogs are very effective as the hub in a “hub and spoke” social media content model. The spokes of that model might be Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Foursquare, and other social media sites you’re participating on. Blog posts can focus on answering Frequently Asked Questions and topics of interest to patients. Create categories for each area of focus in your practice to serve as an editorial guide.
Schedule posts in advance to save time and encourage staff to comment and promote the blog on any other social sites you’re involved with.
You can find many “how to” articles on blogging at TopRank’s Online Marketing Blog: http://www.toprankblog.com/category/blogging/
2. Newsletters and E-mail Marketing–E-mail newsletters are great ways to connect directly with prospective customers offering tips and other content. A newsletter for existing customers helps reinforce the connection you have with them and can encourage referrals. A single newsletter can meet the needs of both lists with basic segmentation functionality and personalization features.
When publishing content on other social sites like Facebook, your blog, or Twitter, readers can be invited to sign up for your newsletter where they can learn more about your practice.
3. Media Coverage and Contributed Articles–Getting mentioned in the local business media and trade publications can boost awareness, credibility and directly generate new business.
To help make that happen, make a list of local business publications, writers, and editors as well as popular bloggers. Inquire with those Web sites about contributed articles or guest blog posts. Content off of your own site gives you exposure to a new audience and links from the author bio back to your Web site.
Visit industry blogs and make comments that add value, then follow up with more detailed, useful information. Provide “hooks” that give perspectives and insights not normally thought of. Stand out and tell a compelling story. Follow-up but don’t stalk!
Many of the relationships we have at TopRank Online Marketing with journalists came as a result of sending an E-mail offering 1–3 abstracts for potential contributed articles. Now many of those news sites contact us for quotes.
4. Resource Center–One way small businesses are beating their larger competitors in search and in building authority is to be a better resource for customers through useful content. Common formats for helpful information about buying, using and related information on products and services include articles, videos and podcasts. Think of it as an online encyclopedia for content and topics related to your practice.
Again, this is something you can build up little by little over time. Internal staff, outsourced bloggers, and copywriters can handle writing tasks.
An effective resource center will be keyword optimized, easy to share on social media site using embedded sharing widgets like http://sharethis.com and attract links from other Web sites. Keywords + useful content + links = search engine dominance.
5. Social Networks and Media–In the way that customers expect a toll-free number, Web site, and blog, they’re beginning to expect the businesses they engage with to be social. That means having a presence in the social networks that are most relevant to customers. Spending a small amount of time consistently on interaction and relationship building can go a long way toward developing a community.
FourSquare grew 3,400% in 2010.
The key is picking the right platform. It might be a LinkedIn group, Facebook Fan page, or a niche forum. Try out a social media monitoring tool like http://trackur.com to get an idea of which social Web sites might be good places to engage with potential customers.
Don’t be afraid to repurpose content. What you create on the newsletter, blog, and resource center can be modified and cross-promoted with social networking and media-sharing sites.
6. Local and Mobile Content–Although “fish where the fish are” ranks as one of the most over-used clichés in the marketing world, it’s important to recognize consumer trends toward mobile search with the proliferation of smart phones and tablet devices like the iPad. The Web experience has definitively extended beyond the personal computer and marketers must understand their customers’ use of mobile search and what the marketing opportunities are.
Make sure your Web site can be viewed properly on mobile devices and if you see a significant amount of traffic to your site (via Web analytics) from mobile, then you might consider creating a mobile-friendly version.
This tool can check the mobile friendliness of your site: http://validator.w3.org/mobile/ Keep in mind, it doesn’t need to be completely compliant to be useful to customers on their mobile phones. Also, most smart phones like an iPhone or Android can view Web sites the same as you would on a computer.
From a local perspective, for companies that serve customers in specific regions or with geographically specific needs, its essential those businesses are present in local search results, map results, and specific geo-location queries. That means making sure your business is properly listed with Google Places (http://places.google.com/business), Yahoo Local (http://listings.local.yahoo.com), and Bing Local (http://bing.com/Local) listings.
Be sure you take advantage of the opportunity to add content to local listings. In the case of Google Places, you can add images, video, and description content that will make your business stand out.
7. Video–If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth millions. A video highlighting your practice like the one Dr. Irena Vaksman posts on her YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/DrVaksman can be helpful for patients in getting “to know” who they might be seeing.
Videos can also be used to demonstrate procedures, show patient testimonials, and highlight the personality of staff working within the dental practice. Videos hosted on sites like YouTube can be embedded within blog posts, extending their value as content.
As a small business, should you do all of these things? No, of course not. Wearing many hats and slim resources means all of these tactics won’t be practical. But you can start small and adapt with more or different content according to what’s working vs. what’s not. Just be sure to gain an understanding of what your customers’ information needs are, what topics and keywords are important to them, and how optimized content can fuel your social media strategy.