The pressure on small businesses to keep up with the seemingly endless explosion of online tools and trends is relentless. Making an informed decision about what's right for your particular business can be frustrating, costly, and eat up an inordinate amount of time. As founder and president of SiteLogic, a Canton, Ohio-based online marketing consulting company, Matt Bailey has been demystifying these problems since 2006, and teaching clients how to make more money by knowing what's working and why. He is the author of Online Marketing: An Hour A Day, which has garnered glowing customer reviews on Amazon. Recently, business writer Robert Lerose talked with Bailey about managing your business's online experience.
RL: What are some of the common mistakes that small business make when it comes to their websites or marketing strategies?
MB: They'll go to a local web development company, tell them they want a website, and sign a contract. A couple of weeks later, the development company puts three different designs in front of the business owner, and the owner is supposed to choose which one looks best. That immediately is the start of their problems.
RL: How so?
MB: Because you're allowing the web design company to interpret what your business is all about and you're allowing an artist to determine what your website should look like. At that point, the business owner is essentially surrendering the soul of their business to that company. What should happen is to determine how you're going to make money with your website. What makes money is when people fill out a contact form and set up an appointment. If that's the case, then everything about that website—the content, the navigation—should focus on that specific action. The functionality and core of the business need to come first rather than designing a pretty picture.
RL: What are the first steps a small business owner should take concerning their online strategy?
MB: They need to take the time to learn about the process, what the pitfalls are, what some of the terminology is, and be ready to challenge what they're being told. Unfortunately, there are a lot of companies out there that will take advantage of their ignorance. I've talked to so many business owners who say they feel that whenever they ask a question, [it's like] they're asking for top-secret information or they're told that they'll never understand it. If you're ever treated like that, then take your money and go.
RL: You've said elsewhere that marketing a website is about much more than ranking well in the search engines. It's about building a reputation. What did you mean by that?
MB: It's so easy to get distracted with the little things like rankings or social media. People get caught up in the trend of the month and spend a lot of time and money trying to do the latest thing. They tend to forget the basics of marketing, such as a better customer experience and a clear call to action. Rankings provide a lot of eyeballs, but you're not necessarily getting sales off of them.
MB: Do what works for your business and don't feel guilty about saying no.
RL: About saying no to participating in social media?
MB: About everything. The social media realm is so filled with experts telling people you've got to be on Twitter, on Pinterest, on Facebook. It never ends. The thing to remember is, social media was not made for marketing. Social media was made for like-minded people to share information with each other. The trick is to identify what social media is good for your business. There are certain businesses where YouTube is a perfect channel for them because they've got video capability, they've got the resources that make sense. Twitter is an immediate news medium. There are some businesses we work with that have a time sensitive or time unique product or service, and Twitter's a great way to push it out there. But if a social media channel doesn't jive with what your business is good at, then don't feel guilty about saying no to it.
RL: In other words, you need to do what makes sense for your business.
MB: [Right.] Your time and attention are valuable. A lot of people like to use the example that Dell made $6 million in two years using Twitter. But when you look at Dell's overall revenue—which is $30 billion—$6 million is .01 percent of their total revenue. How much are you willing to spend [in your business] for .01 percent revenue? It's the iceberg effect. Social media people are rarely the best when it comes to measurement, revenue, and profit analysis.
RL: Final advice for a small business concerned with optimizing their website?
MB: Learn about search engine optimization and keyword research. The cool thing about keyword research is that you can see what people want to know about your business and your industry, and also when they want to know it, so you can see when the trends take place. Keyword research is really the core of search engine optimization, of pay-per-click marketing, and of social media marketing because knowing the what and when are key to doing your online marketing.
RL: Do you have a favorite tool for managing and researching keywords?
MB: One of the tools that we use is called Linkdex. It integrates with your Google analytics so that you can see which words are ranking and how many visitors they bring. It will also track how many websites are linking to your site, which is another side of things.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.