Thursday, October 7, 2010

5 Mistakes Brick and Mortar SMBs Shouldn’t Make Online


10:51 PM |

Would you believe me if I told you that I have seen sites that confirm every single stereotype about their industry?  I have seen “official websites” hosted on free blogging platforms, local business listings that have nothing to do with what the business in question does, people attacking customers whose reviews were not favorable, etc.
I also saw a number of restaurants that market themselves online better than Seth Godin ever would if he had a restaurant.
This story is about mistakes that small and medium sized businesses make on the web.

1. Failing to Understand the Basics of Internet Marketing

This is perhaps the most dangerous of all mistakes that SMBs make online, because it can come with a hefty price tag.
Internet marketing is a young, unregulated industry with a very small number of legitimate educational opportunities which makes it look like a typical market for lemons, and a breeding ground for scammers.
Although complex, Internet marketing is not rocket science. A little education can go a long way in protection from scam and wrong Internet marketing decisions.
On the other hand, running a small business is stressful enough without learning about search engine optimization, PPC, conversion rate optimization and a number of concepts that take time to sink in.
There is an easier way to cut your chances of being scammed.
Just avoid dealing with Internet marketing businesses:
- That solicit you
- Without any professional affiliations
- With no certifications (except when it comes to SEO)
- That can’t promptly prove their track record
- That guarantee high organic rankings
- That won’t even consider being paid for performance
- With lots of bad reviews
- Can’t provide any references
- That aren’t members of their local business associations such as BBB or their chamber of commerce.

2. Unreasonable Expectations
More than 72% of people in the US are Internet users. For majority of them, Internet is the primary source of information about local businesses.
Granted, those numbers are impressive, but that doesn’t guarantee that even the best, perfectly executed, Internet marketing strategies can make your phone ring of the hook.
Why?
Internet reflects the state of the “brick and mortar” world.
The size of your market might create obstacles
If your market is small (you run a cleaning business that covers only 1-2 towns) online demand for what your business has to offer will reflect that.
If you are selling a luxury product or service in a region that is not very affluent, demand will not be great.
If your business goes through seasonal cycles, there will be periods when you will generate only a fraction of what you normally would in the peak of the season. Holiday season is great for retail businesses, but not for home improvement industry.
Competition might be strong and well established
It is reasonable to say that Internet offers the level playing field. But sometimes corporations and bigger businesses can have a stronger grip on Internet marketing, thus reducing the chances for a smaller or newer business to fulfil their Internet marketing potential as fast as they would like.
You still shouldn’t put your whole marketing budget online
The Internet might be the best marketing tool ever, but it’s not the only one. Every business owner should concentrate on providing remarkable service before anything else. Word of mouth marketing can’t be beaten, and more traditional forms of marketing still offer some value.
3. Having a Subpar Website
Dozens of books have been written about customer service, and most of those emphasized that customers see your employees as the company. As a result, most businesses go through great lengths to keep the level of costumer service they provide as high as possible, empowering employees to make the right choices and make every contact with a business an experience worth sharing.
At the same time, those business owners who wouldn’t hire a person who doesn’t smile often, would accept having a website that looks like it had been made 10 years ago, even though it was finished recently.
This attitude can impact the bottom line negatively because websites represent businesses online the same way employees do when they deal with customers face to face.
Subpar web design and development can cause:
- Credibility issues
- Low conversion rates
- Problems with search engines
- Usability issues

All these problems can cost a business a lot more than a professionally built site.
4. Google Centrality
With 65.7% of US search market share according to the latest comScore analysis, Google looks like an obvious starting point of all Internet marketing efforts for most small businesses.
Concentrating most of your attention on Google is a smart move. But focusing exclusively on Google means giving up on more than 30% of market share.
The number of businesses with this attitude is surprisingly high.
Being Google-centric can be especially damaging for brick and mortar businesses for many reasons – the most important reason being local search.
Unlike other verticals of search, like video for example, local search market is extremely fragmented, with Google controlling “only” 26% of the market according to the latest available data.
SMBs should work to acquire traffic from all the major local search engines, but also from:
- Major Internet Yellow Pages Sites
- Vertical Directories
- Regional Directories
- Local Sites
- Classifieds

5. Misunderstanding social media
Social media related mistakes are typical for SMBs who want to get “on board” with Web 2.0.
They engage in social media without thinking about ROI, while spending valuable resources and time creating profiles that nobody cares about and tweeting what no one reads.
To think of social media as anything else but a set of communication platforms can lead to resource drains.
Every social media platform offers a chance to connect with your customer base and the community of people that could care about your services or products. But no social media platform can create those communities.
Connect with people who already care (your customers) and they will do the rest.

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