Appalachian small businesses unfortunately don't focus on digital marketing as much as their peers in other regions of the country. Small businesses across the nation often lack a cohesive online strategy and a modern website, but the problem is especially acute in Appalachia. Here are interesting stats from the Wall Street Journal's Dennis Nishi: "Of the 64% of small U.S. businesses that have websites, says RBC Capital Markets, only 33% are optimized for mobile viewing. The result? It can be like having a 'closed' sign on the door, says John Scheer, founding partner of Herman-Scheer, a creative design agency in Santa Monica."
In Appalachia, our experience is that fewer than 64% of small businesses have websites and less than 33% of these websites are mobile-friendly. When we approach many small business owners in the area about developing their company's first website, we often hear, "But we already have a Facebook page!" Let's make this very clear: A Facebook page, no matter how engaging, is no substitute for a business website. Period. We're not saying that because we offer website design services; we're making this point because it's true! A website offers unlimited branding potential, enhanced search engine visibility yet need not be expensive. If you're able to develop your own website, the total cost can be under $50/year! Remember that your website must be able to pass this mobile-friendly test: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/
Test Your Knowledge:
In Appalachia, Forward View-designed websites are accessed through mobile devices by what percentage of visitors?
(Answer at the end of this article.)
Forward View's digital marketing guru, Jamie Brown, would like to remind you that creating a website and forgetting about it is also a bad idea. Instead, you should engage with visitors through a blog while also connecting your website to social media (and vice-versa). Jamie offers the following advice:
Blog Publishing Schedule:
Post on your blog as often as you can - weekly is optimal, but if you can’t do it weekly, at least aim for twice a month. A regular posting schedule is best - so your followers know when to expect your next post.
Also, aim to vary the topic categories. So, for example, if your business is kitchen-related you might post about cooking or recipes one week, and then write about cleaning tips the next time you post, etc.
Share all of your blog posts on social media (include the link to drive traffic back to your site), and if you are able to create or use any visual assets to go with it, that’s even better. Social media posts with images or video get more attention.
If you plan to do email marketing, once you build up an email list, you should also send your posts out in newsletter form.
Beyond sharing your blog posts on social media to generate backlinks, social media posts can, and should, consist of re-sharing helpful articles from trusted sources that are not competitors, and posting links to related news items with a very short commentary - like one or two lines tops.
Social Post Frequency:
A social media content calendar would optimally involve:
three-four posts a week on Facebook & Twitter
one-two on LinkedIn
one on Instagram (if you use it), and
two-three on Google+ (if used)
You can alternate between posting original content when available, and sharing that curated/newsworthy content - share the same post across channels on different days if possible.
Set up Google alerts to get a digest of news that is relevant to your industry delivered directly to your inbox every morning: https://www.google.com/alerts - great source for finding shareable content.
Use tools like https://serpstat.com/keywords/questions/ to find commonly searched questions that you can help answer for your potential clients - it’s a great tool for generating post ideas.
Also, http://buzzsumo.com/ is good to explore.
Social media management apps like HootSuite improve sanity.
Check analytics a couple of times a month to see which posts are getting the most attention, and use that to shape future topics.
Keep in mind that you probably won’t see the search ranking effects of any of this for 3-6 months of steady posts. It can feel like you’re posting into the wind at first, until you start gaining ground. People might not be listening, but search engines are. Be patient!
After you have developed a website and created a consistently effective social media and blog presence, consumer-centered small businesses in Appalachia should claim their company's Yelp and Trip Advisor pages. Yelp and Trip Advisor offer unique opportunities to interact with customers while also cultivating new leads. Never ignore chances to reach out to your target market!
In summary, your website is the equivalent of the Christmas ham, and everything else you do online is a side dish. Focus on the website first, and then build the rest of your digital presence one tweet, blog entry and Facebook post at a time. Be creative, have fun and use this current holiday shopping season to test your strategies!