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QAfacebook_Body.jpgby Cindy Waxer.

Imagine being able to target one-seventh of humanity using a single, cost-effective marketing tool. That’s precisely the power afforded small business owners who launch a Facebook business profile. In fact, 68 percent of small business owners say Facebook is the social media tool they use most for business, according to The Small Business Social Media Survey conducted by website provider

“The number one reason that you need a Facebook page is because it has close to one billion members,” says Mari Smith, Facebook marketing expert and author of Facebook Marketing: An Hour a Day. “I rarely come across a business whose target market isn’t on Facebook. But more importantly, if you’re a small business and you don’t have a Facebook page, you’re likely to be seen as someone who’s behind the times and might not even come up on a customer’s radar.”

Recently, Smith jumped offline long enough to explain how entrepreneurs can craft the best Facebook page possible.

QAfacebook_PQ.jpgCW: How can a small business avoid bombarding its Facebook ‘friends’ with advertising while still pitching its products and services?

MS: The job of a small business owner is to get on the radar of prospective customers. But if a business’ small business profile features too much advertising, spam and solicitous content, the members will get frustrated. The secret, therefore, is for small business owners to come across as more like Facebook members and almost befriend their customers and prospects. For example, an entrepreneur can humanize his or her brand by signing off each Facebook post with a first name. Moreover, studies show that about half of the comments posted by members on Facebook are ignored. However, when a business owner responds to these comments and posts, 80 percent of members will go on to make a purchasing decision. People just want to know that they’ve been heard and that they matter.

CW: Where should entrepreneurs draw the line between being friendly and sharing too much information with its Facebook members?

MS: There’s a clear distinction between the two. Humanizing your brand is about letting your online community know that there are real people behind the brand name. But it’s not necessarily appropriate for a small business owner to put up pictures of his kids. Generally speaking, unless you’re a mom-and-pop store, then I would say just keep it strictly business, but you can certainly have an element of fun by posting off-topic items every now and then.

CW: It’s not uncommon for people to post personal information on a business’ Facebook profile. How can a small business owner use this information to his advantage without infringing on a member’s privacy?

MS: You could keep a spreadsheet of your top 50 customers and really observe them online. For example, you could find out if they’re celebrating a birthday or an anniversary, or if they’ve just had a baby. In fact, a small business can have a profound competitive edge simply by just paying a bit more attention to its customers and by digging for those golden nuggets. Imagine if your son was graduating from college and you received a gift from a retailer because you posted that information on the business’ Facebook page. That’s pretty impactful.

CW: Many small businesses watch their Facebook profile explode with new members and then slowly peter out over time. How can an entrepreneur prevent a Facebook page from plateauing?

MS: I would highly recommend experimenting with posting content at different times of the day, especially outside of business hours. Studies show that Sundays are a very profitable day for businesses to connect with their customers online. In addition to posting during the evenings and on weekends, experiment by increasing the frequency with which you post. Or run a contest. Contests have a viral element that encourages Facebook fans to go ahead and do some of the evangelizing of your business for you. A contest that’s well executed can really make a difference.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

UpyourRank_Body.jpgby Cindy Waxer.

Have you ever conducted a quick Google search of your company’s name? You might be shocked to discover that your website doesn’t even appear in the first few pages of results. In fact, according to a 2012 study entitled “Small Businesses Just Don’t Get SEO,” conducted by Online Marketing Coach, a whopping 62 percent of small businesses don’t even rank on the first page of Google for even one keyword or phrase.

That’s because many entrepreneurs simply don’t understand how Google rankings work. Simply put, a ranking is a series of algorithms Google’s search engine uses to find the most relevant documents for a user query. Results are based on everything from locally relevant content and page links to keywords and authority.

UpyourRank_PQ.jpgUnfortunately, getting outranked or, even worse, stuck on a page behind your competitors can cost your business hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue and prospects. Luckily, there are ways you can optimize your small business’s website to earn top ranking without having to break the bank on technical bells and whistles.

Just ask Lourdes Balepogi. President of Chispa Marketing, an interactive marketing firm in Miami, Florida, Balepogi says there are a few simple and cost-effective ways growing businesses can boost their company’s Google ranking. Here’s how

1. Don’t judge a website by its cover

Just because your website is appealing to the eye doesn’t mean it’ll earn a high ranking within Google. In fact, a website’s aesthetics have very little bearing on its overall search positioning. Instead, variables such as fresh content, page titles, and navigability are far more likely to influence where your website will surface in a search. “There are sites that are absolutely hideous that make millions of dollars on a monthly basis,” says Balepogi. “In the end, it’s not about how beautiful the site is.”

2. Consider content

The right keywords—words that best describe your business’s products and services—are critical to your website’s ranking. But rather than focus on single keywords, Balepogi believes in the value of selecting keyword phrases. Adding relevant titles to each page on your website can also help as Google displays search results as a link using the page’s title description. Plus, adding a title might just give you a leg up on the competition: an Online Marketing Coach study reports that only 51 percent of small business web sites use home page titles for strategic keywords.

3. Shop for domain names

Purchasing unused domain names can be a cost-effective method for driving more traffic to your site and boosting your search engine ranking. “For example, if you’re a marketing firm in Miami, find out if “” is available as a domain name,” recommends Balepogi. “If so, I would purchase it and reroute any traffic to my actual marketing company. Repurposing domain names with special keywords is a great and inexpensive strategy.”

4. Embrace social media

By starting a blog that offers consumers everything from tricks of the trade to educational resources, you can significantly increase traffic and boost your Google ranking as a subject matter expert. “If you’re a carpenter, blog about places to find the best wood or teach customers about the different types of wood,” says Balepogi. “These keywords play just as much a factor [in improving a site’s ranking] as a big search engine optimization campaign that you would be paying thousands of dollars for.”

5. Make the proper connections

Google looks at links both to and from a site to determine page rank. That’s because Google considers the words a website uses in its links to help determine the content of Web pages. For this reason, Balepogi recommends that small business owners introduce a healthy number of links – two or three per page – to related sites. Exchange text links with other relevant websites or make a point of including hyperlinks in each blog posting on your site. Just remember: no matter how you choose to incorporate links, make sure you keep them current.

6. Hire an expert

These days, there are plenty of search engine optimization (SEO) firms to choose from – agencies that can help you optimize your website for top search engines including Google, Yahoo, and Bing. “If a small business is participating in social media, and they’ve already purchased a few domain names, and they’re still being outranked, then it’s probably time to at least get a consultation from an SEO firm,” says Balepogi.

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