Online marketing is essential for all businesses, none more so than for SMEs. As avenues for growth continue to pop up we’re faced with the question of which outlets to invest our time (and money) into and how to maximise our investment. To answer the burning questions we sat down with start-up champion and growth hacker, Ryan Wardell. Ryan recently delivered a rousing talk on growth hacking at the BlueChilli ‘Start up wind down’ event supported by Reckon and took a moment to take us through the keys to online marketing for SMEs.
Min Kumar (MK): What are the basics of online marketing?
Ryan Wardell (RW): The great thing about online marketing is that you can test things quickly and cheaply before committing lots of money to it. You can’t do that with magazines, radio or letterbox-drops. So make sure that you run a few small-scale tests – spend $100 or so each time – to ensure that you’re converting clicks into sales. There’s nothing worse than spending big on marketing and having zero results.
At the very minimum, you need these:
- Google Analytics (free) – for tracking website visitors & conversions
- CrazyEgg ($9/mo) – see a heatmap of where visitors are looking on your web page
- Mailchimp or Aweber – email marketing
- WordPress (free) – blogging. Download from WordPress.org and host it yourself.
MK: How important is social media?
RW: Social media is important, but not as important as some people think. The 3 channels that really bring sales are Pay-Per-Click (AdWords/Bing Ads), Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Email. Social media is important mostly because it is a good way to distribute content (SEO) and is a low-cost way to grow your email list (email). Unless you’re a big company, I would focus on Twitter and maybe Pinterest if you’re in ecommerce. Facebook is nowhere near as useful as it used to be.
Did you know that a post from your Facebook page without an image or link will only be seen by approximately 3% of your page’s fans?
MK: What are some common stumbling points for SMEs?
RW: Two common stumbling points are: firstly, trying to grow before you have established that people want what you’re selling and secondly, investing in more staff, systems and software before you have the traffic to justify it. The only time “build it and they will come” works is in the movies.
MK: What is ‘friction’ and how can businesses use it?
RW: “Friction” is something that comes between a visitor and what they want to achieve. Some friction is necessary – you usually need users to enter their email address and credit card info, for example – but too much friction will result in lower conversions. Make it as easy as possible for people to buy your product, sign up for your service or book an appointment. Here are some ways you can reduce friction:
- Cut unnecessary form fields. Do you really need them to create a username or re-enter their password?
- Split up form fields so you’re only asking for relevant information each time. Do you really need their shipping address up front? Or can it wait until after they’ve actually purchased something?
- Wherever possible, allow people to sign in with their Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google account. This speeds up the signup process for your users, and allows you to pull data across from their account without asking them to enter it manually.
MK: Can you build trust on a shoestring?
RW: If someone has never heard of your company before, they’re probably sceptical – about you and about your product or service. I strongly recommend you include some social proof on your website – some testimonials or case studies from happy customers, well-known publications that have written about your company, well-known clients who are household names, or the number of sales, listings or customers you have if it’s impressive.
Make friends with journalists; a lot of start-ups seriously underestimate the power of PR. Signing up for SourceBottle is easy, but you really need to reach out to journalists via twitter, email or phone to get their attention. You can position yourself as a thought leader by guest posting on well-known blogs, by doing helpful educational videos – see Moz’s “Whiteboard Fridays” for an example of this done right – by speaking at events and conferences and by interviewing well-known thought leaders in your industry or niche. None of those things cost money, just some time and effort.
MK: How important is word of mouth?
RW: The internet in general and social media in particular, has amplified traditional offline word of mouth, but the general principle is the same. Unless you delight the customer and deliver an amazing experience, no one will post, share or link to you. That said, if you deliver a wonderful experience for your customers and make it easy for them to tell the world about it, they will. If your competitors are not doing this, then you can definitely gain a huge advantage by doing so.
MK: Is there value in curating 3rd party content
RW: Creating high-quality content is difficult and time-consuming, whereas sharing somebody else’s high-quality content is easy. It doesn’t matter to your audience – if anything, it actually boosts your credibility, because you bring them high-quality content that adds value, instead of just your latest blog posts. Additionally, sharing other thought leaders’ content is a great way to build a relationship with them, which makes it easier to ask them to share your content with their audience in future. Sign up for Buffer, and add any interesting articles, tweets or links you come across to it.
Every business owner should know at least the basics of online marketing. Fortunately, there are some truly excellent resources out there. Moz has great beginners’ guides to SEO and Social Media and the KISSmetrics blog is chock full of great online marketing tips for beginners and experts alike.