The Local Marketing Stack

Business Presence

HOW TO USE THIS GRAPHIC
Generally speaking, you should read the graphic from left-to-right and bottom-to-top. Points lower and to the left are more fundamental to the overall success of your business than points higher and to the right in the sequence.

THE STOPS
A suggested timeline of steps to build your Business Presence Stack follows below.

Name Address & Phone

Zone 1 • Difficulty: • Free Options Available

Your Name, Address and Phone are foundational to your identity as a business, and they’re not something you should change frequently, if ever.  If you’re just starting up, there are some less-than-obvious things to keep in mind—it’s harder than you might think.

Considerations:
  • When possible, your name should be descriptive, unique, and memorable.
    Sure, there’s moderate SEO benefit to using keywords in your name, but it’s easy to go overboard and that’s a short-term strategy. Before you settle on a name, consider looking at namechk to make sure there are acceptable social media profiles and usernames available, as well as the TESS portal of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Even if you’re not planning to file a trademark application it’s a good idea to know whether there’s a high risk of brand confusion.
  • If you’re a local business (as opposed to e-commerce), your location should be in the city from which you intend to draw most of your customers.
    Locating in a suburb or surrounding town will make it much more difficult to draw customers from a population center. A home office is just fine but consider whether you’re OK with people knowing it about it in your marketing materials. Keep in mind that a P.O. Box will not be eligible for a listing by many major online business portals including Google My Business.
  • Should I get a local phone number or a toll-free 800 number?
    While 800 numbers may work well for ecommerce, if you’re a local business, area code phone numbers have actually been found to increase your conversion rate by as much as 100% in digital advertising case studies.
Recommended Vendors:

Launchaco

Launchaco aggregates domain name, social media, and font face searches to help you identify the best available name (and brand) for your business. And it’s free!

Cost: free+

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Namechk

Namechk is a little more domain-focused than LaunchaCo, and is targeted at a little more technical audience. Its differentiators are the option to make offers on domain names that are currently registered but might be available, and a wider range of social sites across which it checks name availability.

Cost: free+

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Branding

Zone 1 • Difficulty: • Initial Cost: $40+

While the old advertising adage is true that in the end, your customers define your brand, you can certainly influence that definition with a professional image.

The building blocks of a brand
Your logo, color scheme, messaging, and packaging and other collateral all play a role in this image, and consistency across online and offline media is critical.

Build up over time
But branding is not something that you set-and-forget, as this excellent Harvard Business Review article emphasizes. It’s something that requires constant cultivation, reinforcement, and improvement.

Recommended Vendors:

Tailor Brands

Tailor Brands is a cheap and easy DIY logo creator.

Cost: $3+

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Dribbble

Dribbble is the #1 portfolio website for creative types of all shapes and sizes. Browse visuals and find designers who match your vision of your company’s branding.

Cost: free+

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Photos & Videos

Zone 1 • Difficulty: • Initial Cost: $160+

As companies like YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat have proven, we live in a visual culture.

A universal medium
Regardless of the platform on which consumers see your business, they want photos and videos! And good ones!  Google My Business listings are twice as likely to generate interest with photos or a virtual tour, photos make up 93% of the most engaging posts on Facebook, and there’s not even any point to having a Pinterest, Instagram, or Snapchat account unless you’re going to post visually.

Usable and re-usable everywhere
One of the most important investments you can make as you’re starting your business is in compelling photography and videography–assets that can be used in both online and offline marketing, and even in-store.

Recommended Vendors:

Waymark

Waymark generates great looking videos for your business in just a few seconds, at a very reasonable price.

Cost: $99+

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Snappr

Snappr pairs you with vetted professional photographers in your area, starting at only $59.

Cost: $59+

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Offline Collateral

Zone 1 • Difficulty: • Initial Cost: $50+

Roughly 90% of transactions still happen offline. And while we expect that number to decrease over time, it’s unlikely to fall under 80% anytime soon.  No matter your business, it’s still important to present a good offline impression with items like business cards, menus, posters, and presentations.

Important regardless of customer source
Good photos and professional branding go a long way towards this goal, but these kinds of collateral pieces are important to your overall ability to recruit and convert customers, even if you’ve attracted those customers digitally.

Recommended Vendors:

GotPrint

Cost: free+

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Canva

Canva helps you create great offline collateral and social media images if you don’t have the budget for a professional graphic designer.

Cost: free+

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Website (CMS)

Zone 2 • Difficulty: • Sugg. Monthly Budget: $200+

When thinking about their website, most small businesses understandably go right to its design. But in reality, designs can be updated relatively cheaply and easily at any future date–as long as you don’t shoot yourself in the foot with this component.

The choice of Content Management System (CMS) — the platform on which your website is built — is far more consequential and has far longer-lasting consequences than does the initial look-and-feel you choose for your website.

Too many small businesses are lured by slick radio ads or ridiculous marketing promises and don’t take a step back to think critically about the strengths and weaknesses of the platform they’re about to select.

Here are the most important considerations:

  • How well does the CMS integrate with other marketing products?
    While your website remains the central piece of your marketing infrastructure, these days more and more consumer activities are happening on other platforms. So it’s essential that your website “talk” to other platforms.For example, are there widgets that collect email addresses for a Mailchimp or Constant Contact campaign? Can you easily publish customer reviews as testimonials? Can you pull in a feed of your Instagram photos? These are just a few of the basic integrations that your CMS should offer.
  • How well-supported is it?
    If something goes wrong–and it will inevitably go wrong, no matter how good the platform is–how easy will it be to find someone who can fix your site? What about if you want to add bells-and-whistles? Can you hire a freelancer or an agency to change or add at low cost?Just because a CMS is cheap to set up or maintain does not mean it won’t be a costly long-term solution.
  • How easy is it for you (or someone non-technical) to update content?
    You shouldn’t be on the hook to hire a designer or developer every time you want to change a headline or add a new page.  The back end of the CMS should be easy enough that anyone who’s digitally savvy enough how to send an email can update a website.
  • How search-engine-friendly is it?
    This is a harder question to evaluate if it’s a new or niche-industry CMS. As a general rule, though, there’s a clear winner on search engine friendliness: WordPress.

If you go with WordPress, there are plenty of free themes you can use to get started, but typically to involve a web developer will put you in the neighborhood of $1,500 – $3,000 annually. It may be just as easy to use Kick Point’s Squarespace service.

Other CMS platforms have monthly subscription services ranging from $20 – $200/month (which may end up costing you roughly the same as WordPress).

Recommended Vendors:

WordPress

Used on more than 60 million websites worldwide, WordPress is hands-down the best content management system on which to build your small business website. Third-party developers have created over 50,000 plugins and countless themes to customize its features and look-and-feel. It’s great for SEO and if for some reason you ever need to migrate to a different platform, exports are a snap.

Cost: free+

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Clyde

If you need something simple and easy without a lot of customization, the new Clyde App is your best bet. It’s got SEO best-practices baked-in, takes seconds to set up, zero time to maintain, and is affordable for every budget.

Cost: $19+

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Squarespace

If you need something in-between Clyde’s simplicity and WordPress’s customization, Squarespace is your best bet. It’s got a lot of room for improvement in terms of SEO, but its sites are sure beautiful on every device. And if you need help getting set up, check out Kick Point’s Squarespace service.

Cost: $12+

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Shopify

Shopify is the best eCommerce platform, and its growing suite of marketing tools holds a lot of promise as well.

Cost: $29+

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Content

Zone 2 • Difficulty: • Free Options Available

Too many small businesses overlook the importance of content in their web presence, either ignoring it altogether or outsourcing it to an SEO agency who just writes some keyword-laden drivel in the hopes of attracting search engines.

Your content should be authentic, informative, and focused on your customers.

  • Why should customers choose you?
    Do you use the freshest ingredients? Have the fastest service? Unmatched years of expertise? You should clearly convey your value to your customers (and if appropriate, how that differs from your competition).
  • What are the most common questions that customers call, email, or ask you about in person?
    Answering the questions that people are already asking can not only help you rank for those same questions when prospects type them into a search engine, but also convert them once they land on your website or see them answered on social media.
  • Don’t forget–photos and videos are content, too!
    Don’t know what to write about? That’s OK! Think about visual case studies, video interviews with staff or clients, portfolio pieces…any visual that conveys what it’s like to work with you is great content!
  • Share others’ content.
    It’s not kosher to steal content, but sharing a snippet and giving your own perspective on it will interest your audience and flatter the original creator. It also positions you as a thought leader on top of the latest trends in your industry.
  • Ask your customers.
    Customer testimonials and reviews are some of your most powerful content. Not only are they persuasive and illustrative of what it’s like to visit you or work with you, but they’re likely to be peppered with keywords that will help you rank better in search engines.
Recommended Vendors:

Tidings

Well, we’re obviously a little biased. But we’d like to think we’re the easiest way to stay in touch with (and get referrals from) your clients via a weekly or monthly newsletter.

Cost: $19+

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Answer the Public

A tremendous free resource that highlights the top questions consumers ask surrounding given keywords. Type in a few phrases related to what you sell and figure out what answers you should be providing with your digital content.

Cost: free+

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Google Trends

A simple content idea tool that anyone can use, Google Trends shows you the popularity of any keyword search at Google (even down to the metro-area level) as well as related terms to those keywords. It’s particularly useful for generating ideas for what to write about.

Cost: free+

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Website (UX)

Zone 2 • Difficulty: • Initial Cost: $100+

It’s important to put your best foot forward with your website — 60% of consumers are less likely to buy from a small business that offers a poor website experience.  In addition to representing your brand visually, your website should be designed to convert visitors into customers.

To that end, here are some key User Experience (UX) considerations:

  • No “splash” page
    If the primary page on your domain has a link that says “Enter Here” or “Skip Intro,”  delete that page entirely. Visitors hate those kinds of pages, and they’re absolutely crippling to your Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
  • Responsive and mobile-friendly
    The term “responsive” means that your website should respond automatically to the device a visitor is using to browse it — pinching and scrolling to zoom in and out should not be required on a mobile device or tablet.  In addition, your site should load quickly so that impatient visitors don’t bounce before they’ve even viewed content.
  • Clear navigation
    The structure of your site should be obvious to visitors, with your most important pages linked from your primary navigation and a unique page for each of your primary products or service lines.
  • Prominent contact information and strong calls to action
    Make it easy for visitors to contact you (and clear that you want them to contact you). Include your address (if you’re a brick-and-mortar business) and phone number in the header and footer of each page, and make sure that your contact forms require the fewest number of fields possible.

Community

Zone 3 • Difficulty: • Sugg. Monthly Budget: $100+

“Community” is a concept that means different things to companies of different sizes.

The big-brand view of community
Larger companies frequently try to build their own communities around shared interests, shared goals, or shared content.  Examples from larger brands are initiatives like “My Starbucks Idea” for Starbucks enthusiasts to connect directly with each other and share suggestions with Starbucks employees, or the Quickbooks Community in which Intuit fans and experts answer questions from newer members. Both of these platforms build incredibly positive associations for the brands that operate them and loyalty from the customers who interact on them.

The local business view of community
There’s nothing to say that local businesses can’t build this same kind of community themselves, but it takes a lot of time and energy to build them, and frequently the connections with your customers are much more direct, so there’s no need to build out an entire community online.

Don’t build your own (at least right off the bat) — barnacle onto other communities.
A better bet is to leverage existing platforms (such as NextDoor or Facebook Groups) to build these same kinds of positive brand associations.

Real-world involvement wins the day
But where community really matters for small businesses is in real-world involvement.  Participating in your local neighborhood association.  Sponsoring local charities.  Pitching in for school fundraisers.  You need to be sure this offline involvement gets translated online, though, for maximum exposure, so leverage all of your community involvement with

  • creating and posting photos and/or videos of your involvement
  • adding your logo and a link to your website or social profiles from the organization’s members or sponsors page
  • getting occasional shout-outs from the organization on social media

Start small and shoot for $100/month in sponsorships or time donated.

Represent offline community involvement online
As our friend Mike Blumenthal likes to say, it’s no longer enough to have your logo on the back of the little league team jersey, or to get a participation plaque from a charity. These are both great, but they don’t really do anything for your business beyond the few families who have kids on the team or might happen to glance at the plaque in your lobby. You need to make sure that search engines and social media followers can see this involvement represented online.

Recommended Vendors:

Mighty Networks

The modern version of a forum, with custom-app-like bells and whistles, Mighty Networks is a great option for more advanced businesses in knowledge-intensive categories.

Cost: free+

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NextDoor

A local version of Facebook, NextDoor has grown substantially in the last couple of years and is expanding its business offerings in parallel. Helping your neighbors with questions and needs is one of the best ways to build word-of-mouth.

Cost: free+

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Zipsprout

Zipsprout’s unique matchmaking service pairs local businesses with non-profit organizations and events in their area whose audiences align, and who provide digital recognition of their sponsors.

Cost: $99+

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Local Profiles

Zone 2 • Difficulty: • Sugg. Monthly Budget: $10+

Local Profiles (in particular Google My Business and Yelp) are the foundation of any local business’s search engine presence.

Your primary digital channel
We are moving into an era in which searchers or social media visitors may interact with your business entirely on your local profile, whether that’s placing a call, getting driving directions, knowing when you’re open (or busy), reading reviews, booking an appointment viewing photos of your business, or learning about your service offerings.

Don’t stop with Name, Address, and Phone number
Claiming these profiles, keeping them up-to-date with accurate information, adding rich business attributes like photos, menus, and certifications–all of these are essential to convert people who are looking for your business into customers, and may even help you attract customers who don’t yet know you by name.

Paid services can augment your basic listings — to a point
You can extend your local profile presence using paid services, but be wary of services that tout the breadth of sites to which they distribute your data–if you haven’t even heard of those sites, let alone use them yourself, chances are they’re not all that valuable.

Recommended Vendors:

Google My Business

For many small businesses, Google My Business is the digital marketing starting line. Make sure you’re giving customers correct information and great photos of your business at a minimum by claiming your free profile. GMB also provides remarkably easy to understand insights about how customers are finding and interacting with your business on Google properties.

Cost: free+

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Apple Maps Connect

Apple is the most widely-used mobile mapping application after Google Maps, with about a 25% overall market share. Make sure iOS users can find your business by claiming your free profile.

Cost: free+

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Yelp for Business

Don’t ever waste money on ads from Yelp. Under no circumstances should you trust any of their dashboard analytics about how many leads they’re sending you. And prepare to be hounded to no end by their salespeople. Despite all of that, it’s important to put your best foot forward to Yelpers by claiming your business profile there.

Cost: free+

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Moz Local

While we recommend directly claiming your Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp, and Apple profiles directly, Moz Local takes over from there, helping you manage your local profiles on the important directories and data aggregators in the local search ecosystem.

Cost: $8+

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Social Profiles

Zone 2 • Difficulty: • Free Options Available

Whether or not your business has the time, energy, or budget to be active on social media, all businesses should claim a profile on each major social media channel.

Claim whether you’ll use it immediately or not
The primary reason? You never know how big your business will get, or what direction you’ll decide to go in, and it’s important to claim a desirable username for your business as soon as you can to ensure it’s still available when you want it.

Good for reputation management and SEO
In addition, your social media profiles often rank well in Google when people search for your business. Not only is this good for reputation management, but the strong brand associations between your social media profiles and your website can help your website rank well for keywords far beyond your brand name.

Direct customers to an alternate channel where you are active
So take at least a few minutes to claim a profile on the major social media networks in your industry. Upload a good logo and/or photo, and if you don’t plan to be active on a particular network, direct customers who visit that profile to the network where you DO plan to be active in your bio or descriptive text (if any–maybe it’s your email newsletter, or even just your website!).

Recommended Vendors:

Namechk

Namechk is a little more domain-focused than LaunchaCo, and is targeted at a little more technical audience. Its differentiators are the option to make offers on domain names that are currently registered but might be available, and a wider range of social sites across which it checks name availability.

Cost: free+

Visit Website

Blogs & Columns

Zone 4 • Difficulty: • Free Options Available

Few techniques establish you as a thought leader with prospects and customers to the extent that a consistent, authentic blog can. Demonstrating your involvement in and knowledge of your industry and community helps establish trust with your customers and also helps you attract more of them through organic search and social media.

Answer questions your customers and prospects ask
Many small businesses don’t have the time to blog regularly, though, and even if they do it can be hard to come up with topics to write about. The best place to start is to answer common questions that your existing customers ask, and then move on to questions from the broader public using freely available online tools like Google Trends and Answer the Public.

Doesn’t have to be on your own website
If you’re unsure as to whether you can sustain a consistent blogging regimen, you might think about establishing a monthly or quarterly guest column with a local newspaper or neighborhood blog. Guest columns can help you get in front of a wider audience and may help your SEO as much or more than a post on your own blog, if the placement of the column is sufficiently authoritative.

Recommended Vendors:

Answer the Public

A tremendous free resource that highlights the top questions consumers ask surrounding given keywords. Type in a few phrases related to what you sell and figure out what answers you should be providing with your digital content.

Cost: free+

Visit Website

Google Trends

A simple content idea tool that anyone can use, Google Trends shows you the popularity of any keyword search at Google (even down to the metro-area level) as well as related terms to those keywords. It’s particularly useful for generating ideas for what to write about.

Cost: free+

Visit Website

Native Apps

Zone 6 • Difficulty: • Sugg. Monthly Budget: $50+

Very, very, very few small businesses should spend money on a native app–i.e. a software application distributed through the iOS App Store or Google Play.

Better options available
The primary reason is that so few consumers will use the app regularly, and typically the most useful features for small business owners (such as receiving appointment bookings, sending appointment reminders, or conversing with the customer) are easily accomplished with more widely-used technologies like SMS messaging or email.

Expensive and hard to market
Even if you’re able to build a unique, “killer” app, the expense involved in marketing that app, getting customers to download it, getting customers to use it regularly, and maintaining it, is better spent marketing your business itself.

Recommended Vendors:

Shoutem

In a space riddled with overly-complicated software that generates unreliable and unappealing apps, Shoutem stands out as an easy-to-use, reasonably-priced option.

Cost: $20+

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