Digital Marketing Steps Small Businesses Need to Take to Thrive

Part of Kathy Caprino’s “Leading Entrepreneurial Success Today” series

Entrepreneurs and business owners of all sizes know that generating more traffic, sales, and leads is of utmost importance. But many continue to grapple with the best ways to achieve this and identify ever-evolving best practices for building a recognizable brand, maximizing exposure, and gaining recognition for the products and services they offer.

To learn more about the latest digital marketing trends, I recently caught up with Neil Patel, Digital Marketing Manager. Patel is the CMO of NP Digital, a marketing agency serving startups, small businesses and publicly traded companies to help them generate more traffic, sales and leads. A New York Times best-selling author, Patel was named one of the top influencers on the web by The Wall Street Journal. Entrepreneur magazine shared who created one of the 100 most brilliant companies.

Patel was also recognized as one of the Top 100 Entrepreneurs Under 30 by President Obama and one of the Top 100 Entrepreneurs Under 35 by the United Nations.

Here’s what Patel shares:

Kathy Caprino: Neil, what is the state of digital marketing today compared to, say, five years ago? What do small businesses need to understand about these changes and their impact on their success?

Neil Patel: The big difference is that five years ago you could grow a business through a single channel. Whether it’s SEO or paid advertising, or even email marketing, a single channel can make the difference. Companies these days are raising millions, if not billions of dollars. And the majority of their money goes to marketing and sales, which leads to all the good marketing channels becoming saturated. So if you want to be successful in digital marketing today, you need to take an omnichannel approach and leverage them all.

Caprino: How have some of your clients been able to reach new customers in new and impactful ways?

patel: Most of our clients reach people through basic digital marketing channels such as SEO, paid ads, social media, or even content marketing. Marketing is not complicated. It’s more about being willing and able to do the heavy lifting.

For example, with SEO, you need to fix your page code so Google can crawl it. With social media, you have to continually create content that people want to share and like. With paid ads, you need to continually test messages and images. With content marketing, you need to create content that people want to read and share.

Caprino: In content creation, what have you found that makes quality content better and different from lower quality content?

patel: Google is one of the most popular sites in the world and its algorithms tend to favor content-rich sites over non-content-rich sites. So if you want some of that traffic, you need to write great content. Just think of it this way: Do a search on Google for any topic you want your site to rank for. Whatever pages you see at the top, ideally your content should be better than theirs. Good content has a few key ingredients:

  1. It’s easy to understand. When people read it, not only do they understand what they read, but they are able to act on the information.
  2. It’s short and direct. People don’t want to read fluff.
  3. It’s new and unique. No one wants to read regurgitated content.
  4. Contains visual elements. A picture says a thousand words. Use images, video or audio to explain your overall message.

Caprino: Why has it apparently become much more difficult to stand out from the competition than in the past?

patel: It’s harder to create a “gap” these days. Whatever you do that is unique, eventually someone will be able to copy it. And with solutions like Amazon Web Services (AWS), the time it takes someone to copy you these days is even shorter. The best way to stand out is to build a brand. Nike makes shoes similar to Adidas or Reebok, but many people prefer Nike because of their brand. You have to build a brand.

Caprino: OK, but what should companies do? More precisely to “build a brand” that attracts and engages loyal customers. In other words, where can entrepreneurs and businesses start making the marketing/branding changes they need?

Neil Patel: Building a brand starts with providing a good product or service. No matter what you do with your marketing, if you can’t provide a good product or service, you won’t build a good brand. Solicit feedback from your customers and as you receive it, you will need to continually adapt your product or service so that you can improve it, which will help build the brand.

On top of that, you will have to continually market. Brand building really starts when people see or interact with your brand 7 times. To achieve this, you will need to use multiple marketing channels, such as email marketing, social media marketing, SEO, advertisements, content marketing, and even channels like text messaging and push notifications.

Caprino: What do small and large businesses need to do differently in terms of marketing to make an impact and reach a growing community of customers and customers eager for their services and products

patel: The strategies you deploy for small and large businesses are very similar. The biggest differences we see are that larger companies are spending more because they are trying to capture a bigger market. In addition to this, large companies usually take their marketing globally as they reach many other regions. Regardless of the size of your business, you need to keep trying new approaches to reaching people. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Testing and experimentation is the best way to determine what works for your business.

Caprino: Can you share the three most important things we need to understand about SEO today that most of us don’t understand?

patel: I would share these:

Search engines prefer to rank brands – Brands are trusted, people like to click on them, and they’re less likely to produce fake news.

User experience will win – If you want to rank at the top, you need to figure out how to give users what they want as quickly as possible.

You need to be consistent – With SEO, you can’t just do a little and expect to do well in the long run. You need to do this for a long time and take advantage of all the major factors for on- and off-page SEO.

Caprino: Businesses are told that achieving “domain authority” is important. Tell us about domain authority: how do small businesses get it and why is it important? And what should companies do when they are continually being introduced by people who want to place links or articles on their sites?

patel: First, ignore anyone who asks if they can post a guest submission or paid article on your site. You don’t want to violate Google’s guidelines, which clearly state that you shouldn’t buy links or sell them.

Second, you build high domain authority by having an amazing site, from great content, and great products and services. The better your site and your offerings perform, the more people will access it and the more your domain authority will increase over time.

Whether it’s using images, being more detailed, or providing step-by-step instructions, think about what you need to show to provide a better experience.

Caprino: What about advertising campaigns for our businesses? What makes the most successful ad campaigns? And if we don’t want to run ads but want a powerful funnel for new customers, what’s the best approach?

patel: The best campaigns tend to be unique campaigns that resonate with your ideal customer. Something out of the box that makes them want to pay attention. Remember that most people ignore ads, so you need to stand out. You would have to write tons of amazing content if you don’t want to run ads, so without content it will be hard to get organic social traffic or SEO traffic. This organic traffic will help you drive more visitors and eventually leads into your funnel.

Caprino: In my own small business, I’ve worked with many marketing agencies over the years that claim to create great success through ads, and they show credibility reports that they’re good at it, but their campaigns have failed (often miserably). How can small business owners check and select solid advertising agencies or contractors they use, to make sure they really know what they are doing.

patel: The best way to vet agencies is to check out their past case studies. Did they work with a competitor? Have they worked with anyone else in your field or in a similar field?

If they did well for others, chances are they could do well for you as well. You also want phone referrals from clients. Case studies are not enough.

Finally, whether you hire an agency or not, what most people don’t realize is that your ads are only half the battle. For them to work well, your website must be optimized for conversions. Just look at your competitors’ sites – what copy are they using, how are they optimizing their site for leads or sales. All of this will give you some good ideas on what to do.

Caprino: A final word for companies hoping to grow and use marketing as a tool?

patel: Be patient. Don’t expect amazing results overnight.

For more information, visit NP Digital and listen to him talk in depth about this topic.

Kathy Caprino is a career and leadership coach, author, speaker, and podcast host who helps professionals build rewarding careers impact.

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