From modest family business to a globally sought after company and television sensation, Barry Meguiar transformed the car care business, one gearhead at a time. How can you go about creating an avid customer base brimming with passionate fans? The Meguiar’s president and Car Crazy Central TV star breaks down his four-step secret to building brand loyalty with a marketing plan fit for any entrepreneur, regardless of ad budget. All this and more while we enjoy another epic meal at Muldoon’s Irish Pub. On today’s menu: the St. Paddy’s Burger, a savory beef patty with Dubliner cheese, bacon and avocado.
Related: Know Your Value and Get Paid More
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The need for great content never ends for today’s B2B marketing and sales professionals. Great content needn’t be a burden, however, because you have a seemingly unlimited number of topics and opportunities with which to captivate your audience.
By turning to already proven content strategies, you can develop a dependable road map that will allow you to produce engaging material even on the hectic schedule required of today’s companies.
Combat waning attention spans by getting straight to the point.
Marketing professionals have bemoaned the decrease in average attention span among their audience for years now, especially when it comes to younger buyers who grew up firmly in the digital age. After all, according to a landmark 2015 study, the average human attention span lasts only 8.25 seconds, famously shorter than the lengthy nine-second attention span attributed to goldfish.
Still, statistics like that one don’t have to sound the death knell for content creators. It’s natural to want to use the opening salvo of your content to set a scene, but this can contribute to your readers finding something else to occupy their time. Tell your audience the important lessons up-front,to pique their interest, and then flesh out your ideas through storytelling as the piece progresses. As attention spans dwindle, remember: Directness is your ally.
Experiment with different structures.
Leads and prospects can be fickle, so it’s understandable that we sales and marketing professionals like to stick with those tried-and-true techniques that have worked in the past. Developing new methods requires some element of trial and error, and content creators are wary of wasting precious resources.
However, just because something connects today doesn’t mean it will always land the same way. It’s a good idea to incorporate different structures into your content-development program to keep things interesting. If your blog posts are typically text-based, you can work on building a multifaceted infographic that tells a complete story on its own. Or, try recording a video intro that will hook the viewer, and then expand on your topics in detail through the following text.
Put a new spin on old content.
Nobody ever said that every piece of content you publish has to be completely new. In fact, the only hard-and-fast rule for content creation is that it is useful only if it provides value to the customer. As long as that requirement is satisfied, there’s nothing wrong with re-publishing posts, articles or studies that served you well in the past.
If you do this, make sure you improve the old post in some way to distinguish it from the previous iteration. You could seek out updated statistics, or research new examples of innovative companies that are succeeding using the advice at hand.
Solicit content from your audience.
Consumer-facing companies have long understood the potential benefits of distributing user-generated content. According to Adweek, 85 percent of respondents find visual user-generated content more authoritative than brand-developed visual content. The good news for B2B marketers is that user-generated isn’t just for B2C companies.
You can play the game like innovative consumer businesses do and try your hand at unique content efforts, like having a customer record a behind-the-scenes video or hosting a contest or sweepstakes on social media. Just remember that distributing the best-quality content is always your goal, regardless of the source.
Use data to discern what speaks to your buyers.
Market research has evolved so much since its infancy that it has basically morphed into a different concept entirely. As early as the 19th century, newspapers were conducting street polls of their readership, and to solicit input on new products in the 1960s, Madison Avenue advertising firms used focus groups to represent entire segments of the buying populace.
Today, you have a new avenue to do the same thing: Through just a few minutes of social media browsing, you can uncover more product feedback than most companies before the Information Age could ever dream of. Take advantage of this research channel and of the data contained in your CRM and buyer personas to develop content customized for your buyers.
Build on opportunities for engagement.
Users may appreciate the insights they gain from a piece of content, but that doesn’t mean they want to be lectured to. After they’ve had a chance to digest the information, many of your prospects are looking for an opportunity to contribute to the discussion and share their own experiences.
The best content marketers fulfill this need by explicitly asking for examples or suggestions in the comments. This straightforward invitation may sound unnecessary, but it will often be the spark that encourages your audience to become more involved.
Today, almost every big business you’ve ever heard of has some kind of content-marketing strategy. By “almost every,” I refer to estimates of 94 percent of small businesses, around 77 percent of B2Cs and 93 percent of B2Bs.
However, just because most marketers recognize the value of content marketing doesn’t mean they know how to get it right. This is especially true for startups venturing out into new territory with their content efforts. Only around 9 percent of B2B marketers think their efforts are “very effective,” which means that countless companies are trying to figure out what’s gone wrong on the path to success.
If you think you’re doing everything right with your content-marketing efforts, yet you’re still not seeing results for your startup, the following issues could be to blame.
1. You haven’t refined your plan.
If you want to be successful, you need to know exactly what you’re going to do to get from point A to point B. Yet, despite the logic behind building a content-marketing strategy, many startups fail to have any kind of direction in place when they generate content.
Let’s take a look at how you can start developing your strategy:
Start with the KPIs: A good content strategy should begin with goals. Figure out what metrics are important to you in terms of views, traffic, shares, conversions and click-through rates, then track them over the course of several months. Remember, you need to give this effort time if you want informative results.
Adapt and evolve: Once you’ve gathered some information about your KPIs, you should have the information you need to evolve and adapt, based on the things that are working best for your strategy. Anything that’s not having a good impact should get thrown away, while positively performing options should receive greater focus.
Do your part: There are plenty of content-marketing agencies available to hire today, but these companies are about creating the content that you think you need — not coming up with a strategy on your behalf. Even if you’re not writing your own content, you need to create the strategy that your team will implement.
Reason 2: You forgot to promote.
Write blog. Post blog. Done.
A lot of marketers today simply think of content marketing as the process of creating content. They take the “if you build it, they will come” approach, and assume that organic traffic will increase naturally, while conversions skyrocket and profits improve. Unfortunately, creating content is only one aspect of content marketing. The other portion focuses on promoting what you write. Without promotion, you’re just doing the “content,” and forgetting the “marketing” part.
Of course, there are plenty of different ways that you can promote your content; and you’re going to need to do some testing here in order to figure out what works best for you. Some startups find that email newsletters are the perfect way to generate new interest in their blogs, whereas others turn to tweeting, using social media or pitching influencers in their industry.
Don’t fall into the trap of paying for wonderful content and then doing nothing with it. If you aren’t focusing on promotion, you need to adjust your approach and refine your focus.
Reason 3: Your content is just bad.
Sometimes, the problem with content isn’t that it’s poorly promoted or has no real strategy. Sometimes, content just, well, sucks.
You hired the cheapest writer you can find: This is not uncommon for some bootstrapped startups. In very rare circumstances (like one in a million), you’ll be able to find an incredible writer that also offers cheap rates. However, most of the time paying fifteen bucks for a 2,000-word article isn’t going to give you the quality you’re looking for. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.
You have no idea what to write about: Almost any business founder — no matter how exciting the industry might be –will struggle with figuring out what to write about if he or she has no experience as a creative producer. Coming up with themes and topics, and putting it all together in a way that reads well is challenging. Fortunately, most content marketers can help with this.
You’re just boring: There’s so much content on the internet today that is — for lack of a better term — shockingly dull. It’s not enough just to get information across to your audience; you need to do it in a way that’s engaging, focused and valuable.
Reason 4: unrealistic expectations
Because content marketing is a marathon and not a sprint, you shouldn’t expect outstanding results within a matter of weeks — or even a couple of months. You need to give the content that you produce time to gain traction and deliver some organic results. If you’re willing to be patient, then you will start to see the benefits.
You need to be realistic. You might not triple your revenue or double your traffic. However, even small changes to your results can have a big impact on your bottom line. Look for gradual improvements rather than overnight success.
Making content marketing work
There are countless reasons why your content marketing may not be working for your startup as you hoped, and the four I mentioned above are some of the most common. However, just because you’re not getting great results immediately doesn’t mean you should give up.
Plenty of businesses benefit significantly from content marketing, and you could fix your own company’s problems simply by taking a closer look at what you’re doing, and figuring out where you need to rethink your strategy.
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“Growing a small business is hard. If it were easy, everyone would have a business,” says Tom Tarasiuk, who knows firsthand the difficulties that small businesses go through when they try to succeed at online marketing.
As president and owner of Discount Water Softeners, Tarasiuk has helped his company streamline its efforts to provide an outstanding user experience and increase sales. This undeviating focus on the customer and a willingness to take risks have enabled the business to grow. Here are those all-important strategies he’s used:
Customer-centric product development
Tarasiuk says that a key tactic in his company’s growth has been the work by leadership to keep overhead costs low. One way that’s been done is by eliminating the usual middle men and purchasing water systems directly from the manufacturer.
But even more important has been the company’s customer-focused philosophy. The company keeps its overall inventory minimal and develops products and features that will meet the needs of its clients. It’s done this by avoiding stocking merchandise that won’t sell because people don’t need it.
As Tarasiuk told me: “Happy customers are a critical part of our growth. We base our additional or new products on what customers are requesting or what areas of the market need a void filled.”
Improving the user experience
The company’s emphasis on the customer plays out in its online marketing strategy. Case in point is when managers decided in 2013 to switch ecommerce platforms. They had been using Volusion and transitioned to Magento.
Tarasiuk says they wanted a framework that would allow them to customize various types of content (images, videos, etc.) on any of their pages. Their goal was to improve the user experience and increase conversions. They did have some concerns about the switch, he says. They feared Magento would be less user-friendly on the back end. But without taking risks, an organization cannot grow. The result? After changing to Magento, the company’s sales nearly doubled.
And it saw its organic SEO increase noticeably with almost no additional effort. At that time, the company completely redesigned its website. Again, prioritizing the customer was key. The location of optional items and upgrades on the site was improved, for instance. This allowed customers, Tarasiuk says, to “customize their orders and learn what upgrades would benefit them the most for their needs.” The site redesign, he says, increased company sales by as much as 15 percent.
Saving time with email
Another major part of refining the user experience and cutting costs at Discount Water Softeners entailed enabling customers to resolve some of their issues through email instead of over the phone. At one point, customer service reps were taking 45 minutes to handle each call that came through. Tarasiuk says he didn’t have enough employees to handle the volume of the calls. And hiring more workers would mean increasing overhead costs.
Instead, he solved the problem by allowing people to ask their most common questions through email. Through Magento, the company added PHP forms for people to fill out and used Crazy Egg to determine the best places on the site to put the forms. The company also increased sales by driving traffic to the forms by using Google AdWords. This solution cut, by 30 minutes, the time that its reps spent on each call, Tarasiuk says. It allowed the reps to handle a higher volume of calls without adding more employees.
Google AdWords has been crucial to growth.
Google AdWords has been crucial to the growth of Discount Water Softeners. In fact, Tarasiuk goes so so far as to call AdWords “essential to efficient performance and high ROI for sales.” He says he believes every company should have someone who is skilled at leveraging AdWords to its full potential.
Tarasiuk’s business has been using Google AdWords for over 10 years, and he describes learning how to leverage this tool as “pivotal in our growth.”
When the company first started using AdWords, it wasn’t selling much and was spending only $20 per day on the tool. But then Tarasiuk found Gail Gardner, an AdWords advisor teaching pay per click strategies at the now-defunct SearchEngineForums, and the situation changed. The advisor told him that if he wanted his company to be “discovered,” he should be spending at least $70 to $80 on AdWords per day.
Following that advice, Tarsiuk says, has revolutionized his company’s online presence and has been a decision he’s never regretted. At one point, when Gardner changed her work and switched to managing PPC accounts, the company had to go without an advisor for a period and instead rely on Google support. That situation wasn’t ideal because it wasn’t clear whether Google was prioritizing the company’s campaigns or focusing on its own interests, Tarasiuk says.
Google did help keep Discount Water Softeners going, but it also didn’t see a marked improvement in its campaigns at the time. The assistance of an advisor was what really made a difference in itsprofits. So Tarasiuk contacted Gardner and asked for a recommendation for a new AdWords manager. “That original AdWords advisor was essential at not only jump-starting our internet presence, [but] she showed us how to use and manage AdWords,” he says.
While there is no formula for growing a business successfully, there are principles that can guide you along that way. Take smart risks, and make your decisions based on what will help your customers. Because of the time and money Discount Water Softeners saved on strategies it adopted, it has been able to use the extra resources it gained to launch a new line of high-efficiency water softeners.
The company has also been able to diversify its merchandise, improve its product and benefit the environment, Tarasiuk says. “You miss 100 percent of the shots you do not take,” he says, quoting hockey star Wayne Gretzky.
This doesn’t mean you should be reckless. It means to get good advice, and then take a leap of faith based on that information. If you don’t, you’ll never know what you could be missing.
Technology has long been lauded as the savior of modern business, but some fear it may also hasten its downfall. Pew Research Center reported that a full two-thirds of Americans think robots will overtake most humans’ work over the next 50 years, inspiring feelings of both resentment and awe toward the technology we ourselves have created.
Rather than be intimidated by this looming possibility, however, entrepreneurs should recognize that this means they have more control than they realize. Technology’s power puts them in a position to create value, which should reveal opportunities and fuel the entrepreneurial spirit.
The problem is that most entrepreneurs have trouble shifting their perspective to see what’s overwhelming as empowering.
Stop fearing what’s already happening.
People are worried about machines, computers and factories taking their jobs, dwelling on whether their own positions will be threatened. It’s not a question of whether it’s going to happen — it’s a matter of when. The takeover is already underway, but we’re so busy staring at what’s fading into the mist that we’re overlooking the amazing possibilities that come with technology.
Here a few steps we can take to reframe technology as our ally, not our enemy:
1. Identify the tasks you can automate to free your brain up for creative big-picture thinking.
Not that long ago, we lived without cellphones. Now, we carry powerful computers in the palm of our hands, telling us which roads to take when we’re in traffic, enabling us to check in for flights and letting us look up anything we need with the push of a button. They save us time, energy and money, freeing us up to spend our most valuable resource — our lives — on the things that really matter.
The same idea applies to our companies. Things that are time-consuming but not thinking-intensive — aka the stuff we called “busywork” in school — suck up the hours and brain cells that would be better spent on the difficult tasks we can’t hand off.
A study published in Behavioral and Brain Functions concluded that a prolonged cognitive load — too much to think about — results in mental fatigue. That means that when you finally do find the time to devote to those high-value tasks, you don’t have the energy to do so.
McKinsey & Company’s 2016 “Automating the Insurance Industry” report assessed how automation could be applied to the insurance industry’s current tasks, and it found that up to a quarter of the field’s existing roles could be combined or removed in the coming decade. Machine learning could take over up to 60 percent of an insurance sales agent’s job, for example, but only 35 percent of an underwriter’s. That means that in 10 years, insurance companies will be able to dedicate more of their team members’ brain power to more complex tasks while handing the easier ones off to computers.
2. Determine where you add the most value to your team, and then isolate the areas that take away from those tasks.
Entrepreneurs erroneously assume that everything they do for their businesses is valuable. It likely is all worthwhile to some extent, but some efforts add more value to their companies than others. Growing a company and leading a team makes it essential that you identify where you’re adding the most value so you put your focus there.
I’ve worked with leaders who realized their time was best spent working on developing business partnerships or on hiring executive-level positions for their companies, but they were investing their days in approving ad copy or backing up data — things that could be handled by automation. To be sure, backing up data is vital to a company, as GitLab could tell us after experiencing data deletion, followed by a backup failure.
GitLab’s incident initially occurred as a result of a system administrator accidentally deleting a folder of live production data. In the wake of this disruption caused by human error, industry professionals recommended that others use all-in-one platforms with analyzers to determine what should be backed up and then automatically back those files up. This underscores the fact that what those entrepreneurs I’ve known have spent their time on could have been better accomplished by technology than by them — and allowed them to spend time building high-revenue partnerships instead.
3. Assess what your company currently can’t do itself.
We all know entrepreneurs who wouldn’t have a blog on their website if it weren’t for a platform such as WordPress. Technology can be seen as an extension of your business that enables your company to do things and offer services or products it couldn’t otherwise.
My company has consulted with businesses that have held group brainstorming sessions to determine what they should be doing but couldn’t with their current technology, staff or skill sets. They were clients of ours that hoped our platform had the ability to assist them with their new efforts. In some cases, we already offered a way to do what they wanted and simply had to show them how to integrate it; in others, we discussed how we could create what they were looking for or tweak an existing feature to do so.
In both instances, my company — and theirs — took advantage of technology to expand our offerings and grow our businesses.
Technology may ultimately change how many of our jobs look. But this is a time of opportunity, not fear — what our companies and roles look like in the future will be enhanced, not diminished, versions of what we do now. If you free up some brain space, identify where you add the most value and pinpoint what you want to do in the future, you’ll be driving the technology changes you’ll encounter rather than be driven by them.
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Business intelligence, or BI, is changing the way small to mid-size companies are making decisions, and it is creating significant advantages for those that do it well. If you are an entrepreneur, you know how important information is when it pertains to decisions that involve the future of your business. Data-driven decision-making helps improve potential outcomes by reducing speculation in favor of analysis.
Industry experts are all talking about the ways in which data and BI are becoming essential tools for all business owners. Peter Sondergaard of Gartner Research summarized the importance of BI when he said, “Information is the oil of the 21st century, and analytics is the combustion engine.” Research firms like Gartner are not only predicting the importance of BI for decision-making purposes; they also think it can be monetized. A recent report projects that as many as 10 percent of companies will have profitable departments focused on “productizing and commercializing” the data they collect by 2020.
Forrester, another research firm, found that enterprise data is an untapped resource for most organizations. It reported that a mere 40 percent of enterprise data is ever used to enhance operations. Organizations that can use that information to improve existing processes will likely see significant improvements in their strategies, and those that learn how to market and sell that data will achieve higher revenues. The following are three major trends business owners need to know to better leverage BI for their organizations.
1. Self-service BI for small business.
Until recently, big data was inaccessible for smaller organizations. But the rise of platforms that provide self-service BI solutions is allowing access to anyone who wants to evaluate the data that drives their business. Many organizations that leverage internal data collect it from multiple processes or departments, which makes it difficult to aggregate in a way that makes sense for everyone. This is especially challenging for large organizations that have much more data to process. The result is often data-centric blind spots that open the company up to significant risks.
Uday Hegde, CEO of USEReady, a company that works to help business leaders leverage data and analytics, explains how companies are consolidating these functions. “Businesses are shifting toward using application program interfaces (APO) to transfer their data to user-friendly applications. As a result, they can trade clunky dashboards for more useful apps. Converting to an app-centric approach empowers companies to make their data more interactive across multiple connected devices. Self-reliant solutions help businesses make data more actionable.”
2. Data for visualization.
The good news is data is becoming more and more useful, as there are more companies working to provide quality data visualization that is geared toward being accessible to even the less technical members of the team.
Organizations like Tableau, Domo and IBM are all innovating at a rapid pace, aiming to gain market share by helping their customers improve the usefulness of their data. Tableau released its own predictions about where data analytics are headed in the coming year, highlighting visualization as the second most important development in big data.
Why is visualization such a compelling method for presenting data? Hans Rosling, a scientist known for his videos depicting interesting data, explains in a TED Talk, “The idea is to go from numbers to information to understanding.” Data presented in compelling visuals helps guide the viewer toward comprehension.
3. Security for data.
As self-service applications begin to democratize data for organizations, and visualization helps more members of the organization access and comprehend crucial information, the need for securing that information increases. More people accessing and sharing data means more opportunities for proprietary data to leak, and more potential points for external attacks.
Gartner estimates that by 2018 20 percent of organizations will be looking to develop sound data security governance plans to protect themselves from data breaches on the cloud. Those that fail to do so will likely encounter damaging security breaches and subsequent fallout.
Firms like USEReady take an integrated approach, helping companies use business intelligence tools while creating plans for securing their data. Hegde explains, “BI systems in large organizations often create security challenges when not managed correctly. It is important for these businesses to evaluate their data infrastructure and create governance strategies to keep it secure.” Businesses that successfully integrate security into all data applications will help prevent the hardships that come from breaches.
BI and big data have enormous potential for improving the quality of decisions and strategies. Companies that leverage self-service tools to collect and present their data to all members of the team will increase the number of informed decision makers and will likely see an increase in operational efficiency and business performance.
Hegde reminds us that effective business intelligence, “empowers leaders to ask crucial questions, the answers to which will help them make better decisions about allocating limited resources, how to refine processes, and where to place people.” In doing so, business owners, entrepreneurs and leaders can identify opportunities for growth, while limiting the potential for risk.
We’ve all heard the saying patience is a virtue.
If you are a business owner, entrepreneur or marketer, my guess is that patience may not be your strongest quality. In order to grow a business and keep things afloat, you need to be moving quickly at all times. Yet, if you want to populate on the first page of Google organically and improve your SEO, patience is what differentiates the pretenders from the contenders.
Here’s my story.
In 2012, my marketing agency had just celebrated its two-year anniversary. We were a very young company. My sister and I started The Media Captain in 2010 and two years later, we had just landed our biggest account. We would be responsible for managing the SEO of a national company in a very competitive industry. We were somewhat blindsided, however, when we found out that we’d be working alongside a much larger agency. Not a huge deal — we were just excited to prove we could manage this campaign by ourselves.
Before getting started on the account, I did research on the larger agency we’d be working with to see how it deployed SEO on its own website. To my surprise, it didn’t even rank in its local market for keywords like “SEO Company.” This definitely raised a red flag to me from the get-go.
It was this point in time that the light bulb went off in my head. I said to my sister, “I want to outrank every competitor in our industry on Google within our local market.”
I realized that the majority of marketing agencies don’t utilize the same SEO tactics that they preach to their clients. I decided that moving forward, I was going to wake up early, spend time in the evenings and on the weekends, to improve the SEO of The Media Captain.
It seemed like a no brainer that ranking well on Google would be a good way to close new business. To me, they went hand in hand. If a prospective client found The Media Captain on Google searching for a term like “Columbus SEO Company” (which is where our agency is located), then we were doing something right. I believed that this had to help our chances of being able to close any new account.
It can take years.
You have to realize that on the first page of Google, the first five results account for 67.6 percent of the clicks, according to a Moz study. It is one thing to rank on page one. It is a completely different animal to rank in the top positioning. Ranking on the bottom of page one versus the top is the equivalent to making it to the NFL as a quarterback and just being a backup versus actually starting, making the Pro Bowl and winning the Super Bowl.
Back in 2012, when I had my “a-ha moment,” we had very few terms ranking on the first page. This meant we had very few leads coming in the door through Google.
Fast forward one year to 2013. By this time, we began populating toward the bottom of the first page for many of the keywords we were after. According to Moz’s study, the results from ranking in the six to 10 position on Google account for only 3.73 percent of clicks. We started to get leads from some random businesses who were finding us on Google, which was exciting. Still, there was not a lot of frequency. Just based off of percentages, we knew that if we could get into the top five results, things would drastically change.
In 2014, we continued moving up within the search results. For some less competitive terms, we were ranking in the top three positions. We also moved our way towards the middle of the search engines for more competitive search queries. We were starting to close new business due to our Google strategy. Yet still, two years later, the phone wasn’t ringing every day with new leads, which was what we desired. So, we kept going.
2015 was the real game changer. We moved into the top three positions for the majority of search terms for our business. Our phone was ringing daily and we were closing a lot of new accounts, which allowed our agency to grow. The beauty of this is that since organic placement is earned media, we didn’t have to pay per click. This made what we were doing a very profitable marketing initiative.
Related: 7 SEO Mysteries Solved
Think like a local bakery.
I’m not trying to toot my own horn here by telling you how we rank well on Google. The point I’m trying to convey is that it took over three years for our agency to truly reap the benefits of a solid SEO strategy. We are in a very competitive industry in one of the top 15 markets in the United States, which meant that it took time to deploy a strategy and for Google to recognize our efforts. We had to be patient.
I recently met with a business owner who couldn’t get over the estimate I gave him that it would take him six months to potentially start ranking well on Google. He was in a less competitive field and already had some good natural backlinks coming in, since he’s been in business for over 10 years. Six months in the grand scheme of thing is not a long time, yet business owners want results yesterday, which is why they often times don’t invest in SEO.
You wouldn’t believe how many businesses decide to put the majority of their budget into pay-per-click ads (PPC), since that can generate leads the very next day. It’s instant gratification, and I’m not just saying this due to my agency experience. SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization, estimates that 87 percent of search engine dollars are spent on PPC versus only 13 percent spent on SEO efforts.
Look, we manage a lot of successful PPC campaigns, and this is a great strategy if you need leads coming in ASAP. If you can rank towards the top of Google organically, however, there is not another marketing effort that can yield a better ROI. Once you begin ranking in the top positions on Google, your business will be in a whole different ballgame.
Think of your SEO strategy like opening a bakery. If you are trying to compete with the local baker down the street who has been in business for 30 years, it isn’t going to happen overnight. You might have to stay open an extra day of the week to lure in customers who can’t go to the more established baker on his day off. You’ll have to go door to door to businesses to inform them of your corporate baked good packages. You’ll need to hand out samples so people can try your delicious pastries for free. You’ll need to sponsor a local baseball team so all the parents of the kids get your cakes for their kids’ birthdays, which will help expedite word of mouth marketing. Just like it takes time to establish a customer base, it takes time to earn credibility in the eyes of Google. Trust me, if you can be patient, you will reap the benefits.
This is our strategy.
Step 1: Come up with a defined plan.
Make sure you know what kind of customer you want to lure into your business. Too often, I see businesses trying to rank nationally for keywords, when their focus should be local. Or they try to rank for every suburb in their city rather than just focusing on one location, which can confuse Google.
You need a clear strategy on your most profitable keywords. You also need to determine whether you need a strong focus on your local market or if you should be targeting keywords nationally. Once you have this understanding, you can deploy a strategy to structure your site in a way that will be appealing to Google. If you miss step one, everything else listed below could be a lost cause.
Here’s an example: A dentist in Tempe, Ariz., should just go after the city of Tempe since this is where his office is located. Even though it would be enticing to target Phoenix and Scottsdale, he has a higher chance of ranking in the Tempe market due to the physical location actually being in Tempe. This dentist would also have a higher chance to convert on traffic since most people want to find a dentist nearby and might not want to travel 15 minutes from Phoenix to Tempe. If the dentist wants to go after Scottsdale and Phoenix, I’d recommend setting up a PPC campaign to target those nearby cities. He should put his SEO focus on Tempe.
On the other hand, if there were a local Tempe jeweler who ships products throughout the country and has 80 percent of her revenue coming from her ecommerce store, I’d advise her to have more of a national SEO approach. She could still promote her storefront location in Tempe but she’d want to make sure her website was set up with a national presence.
Step 2: Measure your success.
Domain Authority is a score (on a 100-point scale) developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engines. We like to use Domain Authority when comparing one site to another or tracking the “strength” of your website over time.
For our agency, I plugged our website into Moz and tracked it versus the top three competitors in our industry and our market who were ranking high on Google. This provided me with a benchmark of how far I had to take our website in order to give us a realistic shot of ranking towards the top of Google. Even though it took me a couple of years to get into the top-ranking positioning, I was able to track my progress and see measurable results.
Step 3: Generate great content, and in turn, acquire backlinks.
If you are familiar with Google’s algorithm, you are aware that it is predicated based off of backlinks. This is simply a hyperlink on an external website that links back to your website.
We decided to conduct outreach and try to contribute article content onto five external websites, all of which had a strong domain authority and were credible. We made sure some sites had a national presence while others were more hyperlocal to the Columbus market. We were able to establish credibility, generate great referral traffic and of course, acquire links through the articles.
We also went pretty crazy with Help A Reporter Out (HARO) by responding to at least five pitches every day for three years. HARO is one of the greatest tools for PR and SEO any business owner or digital marketer can make use of. It’s free, it generates amazing exposure (if executed properly) and it can really be a game changer (again, if executed properly).
HARO provides journalists with a robust database of sources for upcoming stories and daily opportunities for sources to secure valuable media coverage. Sign up and use this resource as much as you can to build credibility and establish media relationships for your site. If you spend the time and send back two pitches per day for a one-year timespan, you will get tremendous exposure on some of the most popular sites on the web. This will not only help increase your brand exposure, it will greatly help your SEO as well.
Step 4: Optimize your on-site content.
Moz has a “page optimization” feature that every company should make use of. You can literally throw in any keyword and the page you want to optimize it for and it will give you recommendations on how to change the title tag, H1 tag, alt image attributes and other key factors that go into this. You want to make sure the pages of your website provide great value and are optimized for the keywords you want to rank for. Of course, it is important to have a mobile-friendly website as well.
A good trick is to dig into your Google Analytics to see the top visited pages on your site. For instance, with our agency, we realized that our “About” page was the second most visited page on our site. We recently redid this page and added new photos and new verbiage to convey a better story for people who land on this page. We also looked at pages where there was a high bounce rate and figured out ways to improve the user experience on these pages.
This isn’t rocket science. Just spend a weekend analyzing the data and putting together a plan to fix low performing pages. You know your business and your website better than anyone, so you’ll most likely understand and recognize the things that could use some improvement.
Step 5: Focus on local.
If your business has a physical location, make sure you submit your site to a local directory like Moz Local or Aabaco Small Business. If you were ever curious about how an address appears on MapQuest, for example, it is due to submitting your address to a directory, which will make your localized presence consistent across the board.
If you are focused on a local market, it is also important to get connected with local businesses and organizations. Sign up for the Better Business Bureau. Sponsor a youth baseball team and see if they have a “sponsor” section on their site where they’ll link back to you. Ask your customers if they’d write a recap about your service somewhere on their website.
In order for Google to give your business local credit, it needs to see local action taking place.
For entrepreneurs, taking a tour of America’s backbone industries can be interesting and inspiring.
Hero Images | Getty Images
1. Brooklyn Brewery’s Small Batch Tour
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2. Harley Davidson “Steel Toe Tour”
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Harley-Davidson Motor Company
3. Bluett Bros. Violins Workshop Tour
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Bluett Bros. Violin
4. Sterling Hill Mine Tour
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5. Martin’s Potato Chip Factory Tour
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Martin’s Potato Chips | UncoveringPA.com
6. Gillinder Glass Tour
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Gillinder Glass Tour | Facebook
7. Steinway & Sons Piano Factory Tour
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Steinway & Sons
8. Wedding Gown Preservation Company
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Wedding Gown Preservation Company
9. Stickley Furniture Factory Tour
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Factories and manufacturing used to be at the heart of the American workforce. Of course those days are long gone, but America’s innovative spirit can still be traced back to the plant floor. According to The New York Times, factories and farms employed 60 percent of the workforce in 1900, but by 1950 that number was 36 percent. By 2014, it had dropped all the way down to 10 percent.
Be that as it may, there is still a lot to be learned from factories still in operation today. That’s why factory tours can be such an enriching experience for entrepreneurs. Whether you’re looking for inspiration, actionable ideas or just an inexpensive-yet-stimulating day out of the office, this list of my favorite factories can help.
Location: 79 North 11th St., Brooklyn, N.Y.
Brooklyn Brewery is one of the most recognizable craft breweries in the world, and visitors are treated to a first-hand look at how the beloved elixir is produced. You can even bring your dog.
The tour begins with a quick history lesson of the brewery, followed by a tour of the brewhouse and packaging hall. The tour experts are open to answering any questions throughout the process and there’s a guided tasting of four different Brooklyn beers. Throughout the experience, the experts peel back the layers of the rapid growth the business experienced over the years, and entrepreneurs can compare this to their own business’s growth while enjoying the atmosphere.
Location: 1425 Eden Road, York, Penn.
Few brands conjure up a stronger sense of old-school America than Harley Davidson, and the iconic motorcycle company lets visitors take a behind-the-scenes look at their operations with the Steel Toe Tour.
The tour goes through the manufacturing of fuel tanks, frames and fenders, as well as many “employee-only” areas in paint and polish. Throughout the tour, you become familiar with the production process behind the company’s Softail, Touring, Trike and CVO model families. Plus, at the end of the experience, you come away with a greater appreciation for the assembly process behind the brand.
Location: 122 Hill St., York, Penn.
The Bluett Bro. Violins Factory Tour is the most intimate stop on my list. The shop, first opened in 1984, allows visitors to get up close and personal with the production process of some of the world’s highest-quality and most ornate stringed instruments — particularly violins and mandolins.
To call this a factory tour makes it seem like there is a large operation going on, but in reality, at Bluett Bros. Violins, you can see nearly all of the workshop in one view . . . which doesn’t make it any less impressive.
Throughout the experience, you witness the Bluett team assemble, polish and even re-string instruments. They utilize age-old strategies that seem to be fail-safe, which just goes to show young entrepreneurs that, sometimes, you have to look to the past to produce a high-quality product.
Location: 30 Plant St., Ogdensburg, N.J.
While this mine isn’t operational anymore, there is a lot of information to be gleaned at this historic New Jersey site. Within the mine passages are numerous pieces of mining equipment, and the mine-turned-museum has exhibits set up throughout the tour that allow entrepreneurs to develop an appreciation for the mining industry. You’ll see the lamp room, shaft station and galleries dating back to the 1830s.
The entire tour is well-lit, and thankfully, there is no climbing involved — hard-packed gravel paths lead you the whole way. The highlight of the tour is the Rainbow Tunnel, where brightly fluorescent zinc ore is exposed in the mine walls in order to mimic what it would look like when ore was actually being produced.
Location: 5847 Lincoln Hwy., Thomasville, Penn.
Some call York, Penn., the “Factory Tour Capital of The World” because of the blast-from-the-past aura induced by the plethora of factories in the area. One of the most invasive and impressive of the tours in town lies at Martin’s Potato Chips, Inc.
Local lore states that Fairy Martin started the factory when she grew tired of her son always buying chips from the Utz’s and decided to make her own. Now, years later, Martin’s is one of the few factories that allows you to actually walk the production floor. While this may make it a little harder to hear your tour leader, you truly get a feel for the factory — a strong sense of what happens when humans work together with technology.
Location: 39 Erie St., Port Jervis, N.Y.
Gillinder Glass is celebrating their 156th year of business in 2017, and visiting its facilities for a tour genuinely feels like stepping into a time machine.
During the guided factory tours, you’re exposed to glass-working demonstrations and first-hand views of the gathering, pouring and pressing of glass production. If you catch them at the right time, you can also view special glass-blowing demonstrations, but most days you will be exposed to inner workings of the factory, which creates parts for lighting fixtures. The factory floor is extremely busy and the team there allows you to take a peek behind the curtains of a very focused and calculated operation.
Plus, watching molten glass form into solid glass pieces can give visiting entrepreneurs a strong sense of the focus and vision it takes to mold your ideas into their highest form.
Location: 1 Steinway Pl., Queens, N.Y.
Steinway & Sons’s pianos are some of the highest quality pianos in the world, and with just a short subway ride from the city, you can see how a world-class instrument is produced. It’s said that no two Steinway pianos are the same, which highlights how effective a personalized approach can be.
Over the course of the one- or two-hour walking tour, you’ll witness the entire process of creating a piano from raw wood to the final tuning. It’s truly a rare opportunity and it gives entrepreneurs a sense of wonder to witness the production of a world-class item up close.
Location: 707 North St., Endicott, N.Y.
The Wedding Gown Preservation Company is a family-owned business that combines modern equipment with a special, time-tested, anti-sugar treatment to prevent yellowing and discoloration. Visitors to the factory get a first-hand look at the conveyor belt system and a tour of the entire facility to better understand the process. In this tour, then, the Wedding Gown Preservation Company gives entrepreneurs a sense of just how valuable a specialized, effective approach to business can be as the company has earned national respect by trusting in their system.
Location: 1 Stickley Drive, Manlius N.Y.
Stickley Furniture prides itself on a British approach to American craftmanship, in what Gustav Stickley called “honest funiture.” The first step of the tour involves a behind-the-scenes look into how the Stickley team makes custom pieces, using tools like bandsaws and jigs to work as efficiently as possible. After the custom pieces, you move on to the company’s stockpile of high-quality lumber, with everything from cherry wood to sapele wood that gets scanned by a computer in order to decide the most efficient way to cut it.
For entrepreneurs, this is a classic example of efficiency in the workplace, and it’s extremely interesting to see a time-tested business like Stickley Furniture utilize technology.
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When it comes to blog posts, “engagement” doesn’t just indicate quality. Often, it also correlates with the number of conversions your sales-oriented content generates.
And, since many SEO-ranking factors are based on human behavior, engagement really is a necessary metric for optimizing already high-ranking content that appears on the first page of Google search results.
The problem is that the way most people measure content-marketing efforts today is via the Time on Site metric in Google Analytics, which fundamentally limits your ability to optimize your blog posts for higher engagement.
That’s a problem. Alternatively, I present below a process for measuring engagement that’s designed to achieve the higher engagement levels that I believe will bring you 80 percent of your desired outcome using only 20 percent of your effort.
Why “time on site” is the wrong criterion (and a better alternative to use)
Why is Time on Site in Google Analytics a bad metric for content engagement? Two main reasons:
By default, the Google Analytics tag is activated only when users interact with your website by visiting different pages on its domain. This means that Google Analytics will omit data on readers who read only one blog post on your site during their visit, no matter how much time they actually spend there.
It is a fundamentally flawed method of measuring engagement. Time on Site tells you just that: the time users have your site opened in their browser tab. It puts into the same category a highly engaged user who reads your content intensely for 10 minutes with one who opens your blog post and then goes off to the kitchen to make a coffee.
Luckily, data advocate Simo Ahava has developed a great way to measure user engagement based on research done by Chartbeat — i.e., one based on actual mouse moves, clicks, scrolls and key depressions. This is a much better method for tracking user engagement, and you can start mastering it, using this step-by-step tutorial.
Assuming you’ve implemented this algorithm, let’s jump into what I call the four rules to follow to increase engagement.
1. Create a captivating headline.
Based on my experience split-testing blog posts, the element which has the single biggest impact on engagement levels is the headline. It’s the first thing that people read when they land on your blog post, and it can help them decide whether to read further, or take their attention elsewhere. That’s why it’s crucially important to always test your headlines for engagement. In fact, big brands like BuzzFeed test their headlines on a regular basis.
Related: 26 Ways to Bring Your Blog to Life
A study conducted by Conductor revealed that among classic headline templates, “X ways to do Y” is almost always the best choice. I concur: I saw a significant engagement spike on my own post about how to make a website, after adjusting the article title to this format template.
Psychologists don’t agree on why this type of headline is the most engaging, yet a likely reason is that it gives a reader the impression that the article is densely filled with easy-to-access information.
The takeaway: When testing headlines, always consider playing around with these tried-and-true formulas.
2. Write a compelling introduction.
Another example of the 80/20 rule in optimizing blog post engagement is split-testing your introduction, which is the second thing that readers will concentrate on after the headline.
The most fruitful approach to writing introductions is to treat them like sales copy: Imagine that you’re writing a gated-content piece that asks readers to buy straight after the introduction.
What will you say to make them think that your post is going to be the most important thing they read all week? How are you going to show them that your article is a way for them to escape their fears and achieve their desires? How are you going to make your writing help them rationalize a purchase?
The takeaway: Of course, these aren’t the only questions that can help you write a captivating introduction, so don’t feel limited. But, overall, they’re a good start. So is using personal story, or a controversial opinion.
3. Increase your post’s perceived value by adding great graphic design.
Like it or not, people judge a book by its cover. If you’ve ever bookmarked a well-designed piece of marketing content without reading it, then you know what I’m talking about. This is the effect you should be going for with your own readers.
Graphic design, done right, can be the single best way to increase user engagement and conversions, and is a classic way to increase perceived value. Bloggers who earn significant money understand this concept: Blogger Pat Flynn, for instance, has dedicated resources to redesigning his blog seven times to increase engagement and conversions.
The takeaway: Of course, graphic design can be expensive, so it’s worth checking the conversion data in Google Analytics to decide which landing pages are worth touching up. You can easily do this in Google Analytics by clicking “Behavior” -> “Site Content” -> “Landing Pages.” On the right-hand side, you can see the goal completion data for your specified conversions.
4. Format text for different types of readers.
Research done by the Nielsen-Norman Group shows that online content is read in a very scattered fashion.
The most important conclusion from these studies is that most users don’t read text word by word. Instead, they tend to stop at headlines, bullet points and the beginnings of paragraphs to try to pick out information that they find relevant.
Another study by Nielsen-Norman concluded that people are likely to read only 20 percent of the words on a given web page during a visit — that is, if they actually devote their time to reading.
In order to maximize engagement for your content, adjust your format to the preferences of the average reader who prefers to scan content for fragments of interest. To achieve this, be sure to:
Write short paragraphs and avoid large chunks of text. Paragraphs with no more than three sentences generally yield the best results. Most importantly, remember that large chunks of texts are hard to digest at first glance.
Make frequent use of subheads and of ordered and unordered lists. These are the elements that readers focus on the most, so include them in your writing often. Also, try to make your headlines descriptive, so that readers can easily navigate your text.
Use graphics to depict some of your ideas and break up the text. It will make the article more digestible, and the graphics will draw the attention of your readers.
Optimizing user engagement is about getting to know your readers. However, no amount of split-testing will help you if you don’t make great content your top priority.
And high-quality content is always worth it. It may not be easy to create; it may be time-consuming and research-intensive. But it’s worth the effort.
Rest easy: Over time, you’ll gain more awareness from your content and increase your web traffic from organic search results. And the more valuable your content, the better your business results will be in the long run.
In this video, Entrepreneur Network partner Mark Kohler explains how to get out of debt and stay out of debt in six steps.
The first step is to make minimum payments on your credit cards. Don’t try to get rid of credit card debt as quickly as you can and spend too much too quickly. Instead, make minimum payments and use your savings to create an emergency fund, which should be at least $500 but can be as much as you can afford.
That way, if you have an emergency, you’ll be using your savings rather than putting more debt onto your credit cards.
Click play to learn why this is important and to learn the other five steps to ridding yourself of debt for good.
Related: Which is Better: an IRA or a 401K?
Watch more videos from Mark J. Kohler on his YouTube channel.
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