How to efficiently use coupons to market your business

I recently took advantage of a company discount at a local dry-cleaning business. And though I am not going to complain about how inefficient their discount process was because they didn’t have to give me a discount, I can’t help but offer a suggestion for a more efficient way to reward customers.

Here’s how it went down. Usually at my company we get a 10% discount at surrounding businesses. I decided to use my discount at a local dry-cleaning company. But when I went to pay and redeem my discount, the clerk said I couldn’t redeem it right then, and that they would give me a gift card with the amount of the discount on it. Figuring it was only 10% I wasn’t going to argue. So I paid and left the store.

A few days later I received an envelope in the mail. Inside the envelope was a gift card made out to me in the amount of $7.43, 10% of what I spent. And though I appreciate the clerk’s follow-through I can’t help but wonder if there was a more efficient way to reward their customers.

There are many reasons to offer discounts. You may want to get people into your store and introduce your product, you may want to reward your loyal customers or you may want to promote a particular product or service that you’re offering. Whatever the reason, redeeming the discount should be easy and efficient for you and your customer.

Here are some suggestions to streamline the process:

  1. Create a paper coupon redeemable at time of purchase – include details like expiration date, whether or not it is valid with other offers, company name, address and contact info.
  2. Create an online coupon redeemable at time of purchase – include a code for the customer to submit for redemption for tracking purposes.
  3. Create an ongoing discount card for frequent shoppers to redeem each time they purchase something at your business.

I really do appreciate the 10% discount and regardless of the discount I will frequent their store again. However, the envelope, the card, the stamp and the labor to coordinate it all seems like a bit of a waste for $7, don’t yout think?

Is your business using the SEO Pyramid?

Trends are showing that businesses are cutting back on their marketing budgets this year. This of course comes as no surprise given the state of the economy. But it has left some small business owners in the dark when it comes to where to put their marketing dollars and how best to spend their budgets. Let’s face it there are an endless supply of online marketing tools out there. The question is, which one’s should you choose and where do you start?

While searching online for a visual to show to one of my clients, I came across the following SEO Pyramid and I thought it was a great visual to help pave the way to greater online visibility.

seo-pyramid-large4

Basically, to more efficiently market your business online, the following rules should be in place (and they are in order of importance):

  1. You have compelling web content
  2. Your content and page elements are optimized
  3. You’ve created and are maintaining a linking campaign
  4. You business is visible in the social media space

Compelling web content – First and foremost, your site must have compelling and relevant content; useful content that will attract and retain visitors and offer them something they can link to. You want your visitors to buy your product or service and come back for more. So give them something to come back to.

Optimize your content and page elements – Your web content should be keyword rich. Establish a list of keywords that people search on to find your product or service and include these in your content. They must be relevant to each page so don’t go overboard. These keywords should be weaved into not only your web content but all your page elements (i.e. title tags, meta tags, H1 tags, etc.) as well.

Linking campaign in place – Spend some time finding relevant sites to link to and from.  The more relevant sites that are linking to you the more likely the search engines are going to find you.

Social media plan– Once everything else is in place, build your business page or group in a social network that speaks directly to your audience. Start a conversation and start networking. Also, don’t underestimate the value of a blog. Yes, it takes time to upkeep but it’s well worth it in the end. Not only does it give your business a personality, it augments your SEO strategy. Get out there, get networking. It’s free!

And finally, BE PATIENT! Gaining visibility online takes time. Keep at it and be patient. And remember you get out of it what you put in.

Good luck!

Google personalizing search

logo_40gry1The future of search engine rankings is changing right before our eyes. It used to be that when you typed your keyword into Google you could measure your ranking according to where you placed on the results page. Though you can still check your ranking that way, it might not be the most accurate measurement anymore.

In Google’s quest to offer more relevant search results, they are personalizing search so that the language you use in your search query is more closely related to the language on the web pages that show up in the results. These results are based on several factors including recent search engine queries, language, keyword phrase, search activity, browser and location. For example, if a site ranks well on a particular keyword phrase for someone living in Florida, it might rank differently for someone living in Alaska with that same keyword phase. It depends on what their search history is, where they are located, etc. This makes it a little more difficult for marketers to measure page rank as it will be different for different users.

What does this mean for marketers?
•    You should no longer measure your success by where you rank in the search engines. You should use other measurements such as ROI, conversions and traffic to measure your results.
•    Your site should be optimized with keyword rich content.
•    Your website content should speak directly to your audience, offer relevant information and give your audience a reason to stay and return to your site.

What does this mean for users?

•    Users will be offered more targeted and relevant results to their search queries.

The good news is the personalization of search will offer businesses a more targeted visitor to their site which in turn could lead to a higher conversion rate and ultimately increase your ROI.

So if I were you, I would begin measuring my overall site traffic, conversions and ROI and let measuring my site rankings be a thing of the past.

For more information on Google’s  Search Personalization check out these articles:
The Future of Google’s Search Personalization

Google Awarded Patent for Language Personalization

Yes, and…

With this economic downturn, businesses are tightening their budgets and marketers are required to do more with less money. This may be a daunting task for some, but for others, this is an opportunity to really get creative.

I read an article this morning by Sage Lewis called I love Crazy Link Ideas which suggested that this is the time to really put your best foot forward and “think outside of the box” (I know, that’s so cliché) to better market your brand. Lewis suggests writing down the craziest ideas you can come up with and offers some suggestions of his own. It’s funny because as you read his suggestions, the first few are outrageous but as you read further these ideas seem to spark some realistic ones.

This reminds me of a team-building game I facilitated at a previous job. It is called Yes, And…The object of the game is for someone to throw out the craziest idea they can think of and the next person is to only add to the idea no matter how outrageous it is by saying “yes, and…”. As you can imagine, the first few ideas are usually just plain ridiculous but as you go on down the line and people start adding to it, innovation begins to emerge.

So, in your quest to do more with less, embrace this opportunity to really shine. Use some of these exercises to brainstorm some viral marketing opportunities, linking strategies, events, etc. There are so many opportunities that cost little to no money. They do however, take some time and a little creativity. Have fun with it and see what happens. After all you have nothing to lose.

Good luck!

Consumer-generated content

I recently did work for a company who resisted consumer-generated content for fear they would lose control over their message. Consumer-generated content is a just buzz term for something that has been happening since the beginning of time; it’s called word of mouth. The only difference today is that word of mouth is happening online.

Today people can talk about your product virtually via social networks, blogs, forums, Wikis and bulletin boards, to name a few. And instead of fearing it, businesses should embrace it.

With the rise of the virtual world, a lot of businesses have lost touch with their consumers. So engaging your customers in a conversation online can only benefit your company, spread the word of your brand and help you to grow your business.

Take TripAdvisor for example. TripAdvisor recently announced that the growth of traveler reviews and opinions grew from 15 million earlier in the year to 20 million. (For more details on TripAdvisor’s growth read Trip Advisor displaying rapid growth over 2008). People are already talking about your business. Why not take part in the discussion?

 

The .com versus .biz debate

While trying to come up with a business name, last week I posed the question whether a URL with .biz was as professional as one with .com, from a SEO standpoint as well as a consumer perspective. I asked the question in various Internet marketing forums on LinkedIn and also asked my readers to take a poll on my blog. The majority of responses I got were directing me towards a URL ending in .com.

Though .biz implies that you are a business and is considered a top-level domain (according to the List of Top-Level domains on Wikipedia), it has been suggested that .biz is usually recognized as a new venture whereas, a .com name suggests an established presence.

When considering a business name and URL, you should always take into consideration who your audience is. The name should be short, easy to remember and describes what you do. Chances are most people are going to assume that a company’s URL ends in .com and that’s what they will search on. And because our browsers have become pretty intuitive, in some browsers you only need to enter the name of the business and the browser auto-completes it with .com.

In conclusion, though it is possible to have a successful business with a URL ending in .biz, I decided to change the name of my business slightly so that it ends in .com in hopes that it will be easier for my customers to remember.

Dot biz versus dot com

Recently, I have been trying to come up with a name for my business. I wanted one that is clever, easy to remember, describes what I do and has an available URL. After months of picking the brains of friends and family, I came up with what I think is a great name. It’s clever, concise, speaks to what I do and is easy to remember. But the URL .com is not available. Only .biz is.

I’ve posed the question as to whether this makes a difference to search engines and/or site visitors and customers on various forums in LinkedIn. I’m curious to know what you think.

[polldaddy poll=1034472]

I would love to hear what your opinion is. I will post the results of both this poll and of some of the comments I receive in other forums in my next blog post.

Viral marketing; let’s hope it works

Viral marketing simply refers to marketing techniques that encourage people to pass along a message via word-of-mouth or, in this day and age, electronically. Today’s word-of-mouth message is about the importance of voting. We can only hope this is one viral marketing campaign that will be passed along to five friends, and they’ll tell five friends and so on and so on.

[youtube=http://youtube.com/watch?v=-UaRXvRwhOk]

Today, as we begin to approach the deadline for voter registration, I can’t reiterate how important this presidential election will be. Regardless of your views on the economy, the war in Iraq, women’s rights, healthcare and the environment, it is imperative that we the people have a voice and pass it along. Together we can make this the most successful viral campaign in history.

Add your biz to Google Maps

In my last blog entry, I talked about using Goog-411 to find information on businesses. This prompted me to do a little research on how to get a business listed in Goog-411. Aside from geo-targeting in your PPC campaigns, I found there are other ways to include your business in Google’s 411 directory.

First and foremost, optimize, optimize, optimize. If you do nothing else, you must make sure your site is optimized. This is becoming more and more important as business and competition continues to grow on the web. Optimizing your site will help get you found in the search engines and now in Goog-411.

Google gathers information for Goog-411 from websites, directories and other sources. So, just as you would submit your site to Google to let the web crawlers know you’re out there, submit your business to Google’s Local Business Center to let people know where you are. It’s easy and, of course, free.

There are a few steps to this. You must first sign up for a Google account if you don’t already have one. Submit your business information. Google will then send a PIN to your business address and you are to verify your address with that PIN. Once verified your business and address will be listed in Google Maps search results. And Voila! there you are in business directory when someone dials Goog-411.

Ah, the marketing opportunites never end. I love Google!

Google continues to raise the bar

Google continues to rock my world. Aside from having one of the largest search engines, they offer business applications for small business’, email, blogs, Google Analytics and more, all for the low, low price of NOTHING.

But they don’t stop there. With their 411 information system (1-800-GOOG-411) you can find the phone number to anything you need whether you know the business name or not. The system works just like calling 411 and like a search engine in that if you’re looking to go out for Chinese food you can call Goog-411 and ask for ‘Chinese food in Burlington, VT’ and they will give you all the options in that area. They will also send you a text message with information about that business if you’d like. And if that isn’t enough you can ask them to “map it” (of course your cell phone must have an internet connection) and they will send a map of the neighborhood for the business you selected. And to top it all off, once again folks, it’s FREE.

From a consumer standpoint, this is great. I no longer have to pay the 65 cents or so, to call 411. From a marketing standpoint it’s brilliant. Google is finding every way possible to collect data from consumers so that they can better accommodate users and advertisers. As an advertiser, the more information Google has the better targeted your marketing campaigns can be. And as a user, Google can offer more targeted options to your query. This company never ceases to amaze me.

Goog-411 is now programmed into my phone and I use it quite frequently so I figured I’d spread the love, in case you’re not in the know.

Happy Googling!