Want Qualified Leads From the Internet?

This article is the complete guide to attracting qualified leads for your professional practice.

You can think of marketing your business online as constantly completing three steps:

  1. Telling the internet why and how your business is unique
  2. Telling the (right niches of the) internet you’ve told the internet your business is unique
  3. Telling the internet you’ve told the internet that your business is unique.

There are numerous steps. Click the link below to take you to the relevant section for your situation:

(Or, skip the menu by clicking on this.)

Find the right topic for your problem

When Word of Mount is No Longer Enough

You’ve been relying on your friends and your happy clients to spread the word about your practice. But what happens when your word-of-mouth referrals dry up?

This is the fear of every professional who relies on referrals.

Fortunately, the internet has made it possible for us to get clients another way, without relying too heavily on referrals and without paying for expensive advertising in print, on billboards or on TV or radio.

Internet marketing – or digital marketing – allows you to both better target their marketing efforts and to handle these efforts ourselves, if we’re willing to spend the time.

There are only four ways to get found on the internet:

  • search – people look for your service or your business name or your name
  • referrals – someone on the internet tells someone about you
  • directly – people know you already
  • through social media.

Though this might seem intimidating it’s really no different than marketing offline. In fact, it’s easier and less expensive than marketing offline.

This guide covers how to market your business online. But, for most people to do so, first you need a website:

Do I Actually Need a Website?

Everyone tells you that your business needs a website, don’t they? And the truth is, they’re probably right.

What matters is what you want out of marketing on the internet.

Am I Getting Enough Business the Old-Fashioned Way?

The first question you should ask yourself is, are you getting enough business offline?

Are you getting enough business from the following sources?

  • referrals
  • offline advertising (flyers, direct mail, billboards, Yellow Pages, radio and TV ads)
  • walk-ins.

If the answer is “I am getting enough business,” then maybe you don’t need a website.

Or, maybe you just need a website to prove to people offline you exist. Then you just need a contact page, really.

But, if you are planning for the future, it’s still worth thinking about getting a website.

And if you’re not getting enough business the traditional way, or you can’t spend money for big ads, then you need a website.

Am I Happy with My Knowledge About My Clients?

The other major question to ask yourself before you build a website is, “what do I know about my clients?” and “do I need to know more about my clients?”

For example, wouldn’t you like to know more about the following?

  • who your clients are
  • what your clients do for a living and for fun
  • where your clients are from and where they live
  • why your clients chose your business
  • how your clients found your business.

The other main advantage a website will give you is it will give you the ability to learn more about your online clients than you have ever known about any of your offline clients.

If you have a website and you don’t know this information, you need to spend some time with your web analytics.

If you don’t yet have a website, you should ask yourself these questions before you hire someone to build your website because, just because everyone else has a website, doesn’t mean that every single company needs a website. (Look at key cutting services – they don’t have websites.)

What Type of Website Do I Need?

Once you decide to have a website, you need to make a decision about what kind of website.

A tailor might only need a page showing the location, hours, phone number and an email address.

But an ecommerce store will need something completely different.

There are different types of websites and there is too much information online about the different types. What do you do?

All websites are not created equal.

There isn’t just one kind of website. There are, for our purposes, at least three kinds of websites:

  1. out-of-the-box sites
  2. CMS sites
  3. Custom sites

You can think about these three types in ascending order of complexity. Unless you plan on making all sorts of changes to your site all the time, you likely just need the out-of-the-box variety.

Out of the Box Websites

In the last few years, a new type of website has emerged allowing people with zero knowledge of website design and coding to create their own websites. These are known as “out of the box” websites because they are pretty much ready to use after you purchase them. Here are the major providers:

Many big hosting companies, such as GoDaddy, now also provide them.

Who Should Use a Site Creator?

If you just want a webpage for your business, say you just want a place for people to look you up, or find your contact information, this is for you.

If your business provides a product or service that is easily presented in pictures, I’d recommend Squarespace.

These sites even support e-commerce so if you are planning on selling items on your site, but you don’t want to make many changes to your site, this is also a good option. The average small business owner is probably fine with an out-of-the-box website service.

However, if you want access to the “back end” of your site, or you want to customize elements of your site, these services may not be for you.

Content Management System (CMS)

The most common type of website currently is a CMS or Content Management System. A CMS is software for a website that allows you, the average person, to do things to your website that used to require a coder or a designer, or both. The three most common CMSs are:

  • Drupal
  • Joomla
  • WordPress

All three of them are written in PHP, which is a programming language for the web. That’s not seemingly something you need to know, but there are different web languages and the advantage of these being written in the same language is that, theoretically, your site can be moved easily between them.

WordPress Above Everything Else

Though all three CMSs have their supporters and detractors and their pluses and minuses, Wordress is the most popular which has some distinct advantages, namely that you will be able to find templates and wordpress-centric designers and coders for WordPress much more easily than for the other two.

The short of it is: When in doubt about a CMS, choose WordPress.

Drupal and Joomla are good for certain specific requirements, including very large sites, among other things, but are unlikely to be necessary.

Anyone can set up a WordPress site, just like anyone can set up an out-of-the-box website, there are a couple of extra steps with WordPress, but they are way easier than you’d think.

Website Contracts

There are many design-and-build website companies out there who will either ask you to pay for a maintenance contract after they deliver the website to you or they will included such a contract in the original bid.

There is no good reason for you to pay a monthly maintenance fee to the company which built your website.

Maintaining a website that is well-built is not very expensive unless it is a very big website.

So if you are paying $100-$500 per month for “maintenance,” stop doing that.

I can help you go independent, so please contact me if you’re int this situation and want to get out of it.

Custom Sites

It’s hard to come up with a reason, at this point, why you should pay someone to create a custom site for you.

If you need something really, really specific – say, a completely customized checkout process that meets security standards imposed upon you by regulatory body – you might (I stress might) need a fully customized site built from scratch.

But most of the most successful companies on the internet now use CMSs for their websites for the same reason small business owners often do: a CMS removes the need for a developer on staff.

So if you are thinking of hiring someone who is offering you to build you a website, do not go the custom route without making sure you really, really need it. (This is especially if that person or company offering to build you a custom website is offering you a deal to build your custom site. They’re doing this specifically because they know a custom site will keep them employed after the site is built.)

So What Site Do I Need?

What do you want your website to do for you?

  • Provide legitimacy offline: out-of-the-box site creation service
  • Brand awareness: out-of-the-box
  • Potential and current customer contact: out-of-the-box or WordPress
  • Resource for your industry or your community: out-of-the-box or WordPress
  • Grow your “list”: out-of-the-box or WordPress, depending upon the integration
  • Closing sales: probably WordPress

How to Buy a Domain

What Is a Domain?

Before you put your site online, you need to purchase a domain.

A domain is the url for your website. The domain of this site is https://rileyhaasmarketing.com and I own it. (Though “rent” is probably a better word for my relationship to the domain name.)

It’s the thing you type in to get to your website. It’s the name of your site online, in many ways.

Your domain name is ideally [yourbusinessname].com (or .ca for Canada).

Purchasing Your Domain Name

But you shouldn’t get depressed if you cannot get your brand as an exact URL.

If your business is Canadian ABC, you should not be upset if someone else already owns canadianabc.com, canadian-abc.com, canadianabc.ca and canadian-abc.ca.

That’s because “exact domain match” (when your business name and your domain are the same) is less important than it used to be.

It’s good to be as close as possible, but it’s also not the end of the world. If you do a good job of marketing your business online, your domain name will be insignificant. (The most prominent example: live.com, which is for Outlook, formerly Hotmail.)

In order to purchase your domain, you must do the following:

  1. Pick the name of your url, and be sure to list variations when you search:
    • canadian-abc.ca,
    • canadianabc.ca,
    • canadian-abc.com,
    • canadian-abc.ca,
    • canadianabc.business,
    • etc. (There are now hundreds of different top level domains and you can get clever and try something like canadian.business.)
  2. Go to a trusted Registrar to see if your desired domain is available. There are tons of registrars and many of them are equal while others are not great. (Want to know who the use?) Here are some things to keep in mind about a good Registrar:
    • Your domain is available through the Registrar (.ca domains are not available through American-only registrars, for example)
    • They should not charge you more than USD$15 per year for your domain
    • They let you purchase your domain with out purchasing additional services (such as hosting)
    • They let you upgrade to additional services (such are privacy protection) for a nominal fee (i.e. they do not rip you off for additional services)
    • (This may take some time and price comparisons.)
  3. If they are reasonable, create an account and purchase your domain. You should purchase your domain for as long as possible.

That’s it! Now that you have a domain, it’s time to purchase hosting.

How Much Does a Domain Cost? Don't Pay Lots of Money for a Domain

Back in 2018 I wanted to buy a new domain.

I found that both the domain I wanted – 123.com let’s call it – and a variation, the123.com, appeared to be available. The former was for sale from a brokerage, the latter through any registrar.

Though I’m perfectly content with the123.com, I contacted the domain brokerage out of curiosity, to see how much it would cost. I was expecting a silly quote, in the $100s, possibly even in the $1000s. Instead, I got this reply:

Hi Riley,

My name is [redacted], and I am a Broker with [redacted].com. I represent the current owner of [example: 123.com].

I was able to speak with the seller and based on many criteria they have determined a value of $95,000.00 USD.

If you have any questions, please let me know.

I laughed out loud – seriously – and nearly fell off my chair.

What did I find so funny?

Well, I was laughing at the idea that anyone in the world – especially an individual but even a large company – would pay 5 figures US (6 figures Canadian!) for a domain name in 2018. Now, I don’t doubt that there are people out there who would do this, but they are foolish.

Why?

Your domain name does not determine your traffic to your website.

Sure, it’s helpful for branding to have a domain name that is exactly-your-brand.com, and there is a very minor SEO benefit, but if your domain isn’t an exact match, it’s hardly the end of the world.

Websites succeed with different urls all the time, and there is now a trend of getting cute with your url, such as the podcast platform tryca.st, to pick but one example.

The point is that your exact url does not matter all that much and so many other things matter more.

So to spend 10s of 1000s of dollars on a url is bonkers.

What is perhaps more bonkers is that this brokerage thought that a random person contacting them could be bilked into spending that much money on a url. It suggests that there are still many people – and companies, no doubt – who are foolish enough, or rich enough, to think that paying US$95,000 for a domain name is a good use of money.

It’s not. Don’t do it.

Purchasing Hosting (Where Your Site Lives)

Buying your domain is not the only thing you must do in order to get a website up. Many people are confused between purchasing a domain – the name of your site – and purchasing the server space to host your site, known as hosting.

Note: If you are using an out-of-the-box site creator – such as Squarespace, Jimdo, Weebly, or Wix – hosting is part of your package and you don’t need to worry about this.

There is basically one rule for purchasing hosting:

Purchase Your Hosting from a Hosting Provider, Not a Registrar

Your Registrar will likely make it very easy for you to purchase hosting. Many registars now offer hosting packages in addition to hosting. The important thing to know is that some companies are registars first, and hosts second, and some companies are just hosts (or hosts first, and registars second). You want to purchase hosting from a company who started as a host, because they will be hosting experts. Registars are not normally hosting experts. There may be exceptions – GoDaddy appears to do both fairly well – but, for the most part, using your registar to host your website is a terrible idea. You will have all sorts of technical problems – including downtime.

Hosting Costs

You can expect to pay anywhere between CAD$4 and $20 per month for hosting. The amount you pay depends upon:

  • the host you purchase from (not all hosts are created equal)
  • the amount of server space you purchase (after all, this is what you are paying them for), and
  • the additional services you purchase (for example, some hosts charge for email services).

Both Dreamhost and Siteground, the hosts I use, are not the cheapest but among the most reliable, which is what you want. Speaking of which:

Downtime (How long your website is down)

The most important issue with hosts is “downtime,” which is the amount of time in a given year that your site’s server is “down” (i.e. not working).

You should judge a host not on cost but on how often its servers are down. Hosts will (and should) publish their downtime information.

You want a host which is “up” 99% of the time or more. If the host doesn’t tell you it’s average downtime/uptime, do not purchase hosting from this company.

Riley's Recommended Hosts

If you are setting up a WordPress site, there are hosts specifically dedicated to hosting WP sites. Here are some great ones:

I use both of them and like both of them very much.

But there are many out there and you should find the right one for you. I can help you do that!

Go Daddy is the most popular host in the world. They are adequate but they also really try to up-sell you.

Don’t use the following:
  • your registrar (unless you registered your domain with a hosting company)
  • Netfirms
  • any host with bad reviews and ratings below 4/5 stars

Who Should Build Your Website?

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Once you have decided what type of website you should have, you need to decide who is going to build it.

  • If you are using an out-of-the-box website builder, you may need no help, especially if you yourself have an eye for design. (If you do not have an eye for design, you should get help.)
  • If you are using a CMS like WordPress, you may or may not want to get some help, depending upon your expertise level. If you are okay with your website looking like the one you are on right now, you don’t need a designer, you can just buy a template. But you may want or need help setting up the CMS.
  • If you are getting your site custom built you will need two things, a design specifically for the web and a development team. But, let me remind you: you don’t want a custom-built website.

Here’s a handy chart:

What You NeedOut-of-the-Box Site Creator (Jimdo, SquareSpace, Weebly, Wix)CMS (Drupal, Joomla, WordPress)Custom Built
DesignNot required, unless you are uncomfortable designing your site. But if you are, hire someone who has designed specifically using your site creator.Purchase a theme template. If you want more of a customized look, you can do it yourself, but you may want to hire someone with experience changing a template. Custom designs are not a great idea.You must have a designer familiar with designing specifically for the web.
Coding/DevelopmentNot requiredOnly required for customizations (not recommended)The only way your site is getting online is if you have a development team

One last piece of advice before we move on to the specifics and it’s the most important piece of advice I can give you if you are building a site from scratch:

Do not hire a designer to code your site and do not hire a coder to design your site

Under no circumstances.

People will tell you they can do both. Coders will tell you they are okay (or even very good at design). Designers will tell you they know how to code.

In most cases, they are lying to you. They want the job and they are worried you won’t hire them if they cannot do both.

Agencies employ both coders and designers. If you can afford an agency, you can usually rely on them to do a good job of both. (But check their reviews first!)

Who Should Design Your Website?

Unless you are using an out-of-the-box website creator, or a CMS template you find is perfect for your needs, you likely need a web designer. But there are a few things you need to consider.

The first thing to think about is, what type of site are you building?

The type of site you are building should determine if you need a designer and what type of designer you need.

Designer for an Out-of-the-Box Site Creator (e.g. Squarespace)

If you are using an out-of-the-box site creator, such as

  • Jimdo
  • Squarespace
  • Weebly
  • Wix
  • or one provided by your host or registrar, such as GoDaddy or Namecheamp

then you do not normally need a designer unless you do not like the template or you feel, like I feel, that your design skills are so bad that you would prefer someone arrange your template for you.

If you do want a designer, you should look for someone who has previous experience helping people with the templates specific to the site creator tool you are using.

The last thing you want is someone who is going to create a beautiful picture for you which cannot be realized in your template.

So do not hire someone who has pretty work but has never used your platform to create anything.

Designer for a CMS (e.g. WordPress)

The point of a CMS is to use the pre-existing templates.

If you don’t like any pre-existing templates, you can pay an agency to design and build your website. Here are three reasons not use to an agency to build your website:

  • The site will be more expensive than if you just have someone install a CMS and a template and then pay someone to make the template look nice.
  • The site will usually be more complicated to use (for you) than it needs to be for two reasons:
    • First, because these agencies usually have preferred ways to build sites that involve customizations that they like, that don’t necessarily benefit or serve your business.
    • Second, because you are paying them lots of money, they will offer you chances to customize lots of things, adding to the complexity of the site. (Who doesn’t like bells and whistles?!)
  • This kind of customization could create all sorts of problems in the future. Why? Because the more customization of a the code of the template you have – and even an agency is using a template – the greater the likelihood that things will break.

So just pay $50 for a pre-existing template. Nobody will notice or care.

However, sometimes those templates don’t quite look quite right or sometimes you don’t even want to set up the template yourself.

If this is your situation you want a designer who is comfortable customizing templates for your CMS.

In this case, and this case alone, that person might actually be a coder/developer too, but they might also just be good and moving stuff around using their favourite page builder.

You need to find a symmetry between whatever was used to build your site and their design abilities.

Just like with the out-of-the-box scenario, the last thing you want is someone who is going to create a design from scratch which cannot be realized in your template.

Make sure you’ve selected or purchased your template first, OR hire a designer who has templates they use (for your CMS) first, and don’t just hire someone because their work looks pretty.

Designer for Your Custom Site (e.g. no CMS)

If you must build a custom site, you must make sure you hire a designer who can design for the web.

Usually, the company you’ve hired to build your website will have both designers and developers on staff. Make sure that’s true before you hire them!

If you are working with one person to developer your site, know that this one person likely cannot be relied on to design it first.

Designers and coders are not the same! 

Just because a designer says he can code doesn’t mean he’s a good developer. And just because a coder says she’s got an eye for design doesn’t mean she can design.

Do not hire one person to do both! Ever!

So, if you insist on building your site from scratch, you need:

  • a person or a team to design the look for your site – this person or team needs to have experience designing sites for the language your coder is going to use;
  • a person or a team who builds in the language you want to use (php, .net, python, or just straight html if you are living in another decade) and can translate the designs into code reality.

So hire the coder first but get the designer to do the work first, if that makes sense.

Hiring a Webmaster (Developer) for Your Website

There was a time when every person or business with a website needed a webmaster, unless you built that website yourself (i.e. you knew what you were doing).

But times have changed. You do not need a webmaster who works for you full time or even part time. Depending upon your website, you either do not need a webmaster or just need someone you can call periodically.

You may or may not need to hire a developer for the maintenance of your website.

Just like with your site design, who you hire (and whether or not you hire anyone) depends a great deal on the type of site you are building.

So let’s breakdown if and when you need to hire a developer/programmer/coder (they are one and the same) for your website.

Type of SiteDo I Need a Webmaster?
Out-of-the-box site creator (Jimdo, Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, etc)No
WordPressDepends upon your time level and expertise level
Drupal or JoomlaDepends upon your time level and expertise level
Custom built site without CMSYes

Maintenance for Out-of-the-Box Websites (Squarespace etc)

If you are building a site using one of the following website builders, you do not need a developer:

  • Go Daddy site builder
  • Jimdo
  • Namecheap site builder
  • Squarespace
  • Weebly
  • Wix

(This list is incomplete.)

The whole point of these site builders is that you do not need a developer to build a website.

Yes, it’s possible to add some custom HTML to these sites but, if you are thinking of trying to further customize your site, you really should change your website to a CMS.

Maintenance for a CMS Website (WordPress etc)

If you are using a CMS, such as Drupal, Joomla or WordPress, you may or may not want a developer. WordPress sites are designed to be maintained by lay people without coding ability.

As mentioned above, when setting up your website there are two things a developer could do for you in the case of a CMS site:

  1. Installing and setting up your site
  2. Customizing your theme and other aspects

You can do both of these, depending upon your technical expertise. (Installing wordpress is very straightforward. Customizing a theme is less so. Installing Drupal is a lot harder.)

But if you have a CMS with custom code, you will need a webmaster or an on-call developer for maintenance. You need one because custom code will eventually break during plugin/module or CMS core updates. And you won’t be able to fix it.

You need to make sure the developer has the following skills:

  • PHP coding experience (the code these CMSs are based in)
  • CSS (design and styling language)
  • HTML (the basic building block of the internet)

Ideally, you should not overly customize a theme beyond making basic changes to its design (so that it no longer looks like a generic theme).

The whole point of using a CMS is to reduce the amount of custom code which needs ongoing maintenance.

If you hired a developer to add customized PHP (or Javascript) to your theme, you will need a webmaster going forward, which is an expense you don’t necessarily need if you don’t customize the theme.

Maintenance for Custom Sites Built From Scratch

If you built a site from scratch, you need a developer unless you know a programming language well enough to edit a functioning website without breaking it.

Ideally, the developer should be the person who built it, or a member of the team who built it. (The alternative is to hope the documentation is excellent.)

But, as I’ve said before, you do not need one of these custom sites.

Additional Features for Your Website

I think it’s natural to want all sorts of bells and whistles for your website.

When we’re online we see all sorts of neat widgets and tools on other websites and think how great our own website would be if we just had that extra touch, if we just had that custom program that lets our clients solve their problems.

But there’s a huge problem with this and that is: custom coding requires maintenance.

And it is best if the person who maintains the code is the person that built the code, meaning that your expensive developer who you hired to build your site also has to be on call to fix anything that breaks.

This is a bad idea.

People who build sites usually don’t want to be webmasters.

But, far more importantly, the more custom code you have, the more problems you have.

And the more problems you have, the more money you spend.

So here is an easy way of deciding if you need some custom work: will your business function without it?

If the answer is yes, then don’t get the custom code work done.

Another important thing to remember:

If you want a feature on your website, chances are someone else wanted to have that feature already.

If a similar widget/app/tool exists already, you might be able to embed it on your website instead of getting something custom built.

Often you can embed such tools for free. So, unless it’s easily embeddable into your site, don’t bother with it.

Why Not to Use PDFs for Your Website Content

One of my clients asked me the other day if he should be publishing his blogs as pdf files.

I reacted in abject horror which probably shocked him and seemed inexplicable. So I explained myself but we realized that this may not be so obvious to small business owners. I mean, PDFs are really handy, why not use them?

There are many reasons not to use PDFs for your every day content but I will cover two of them here:

  • the first is a “user experience” (UX in the lingo) reason,
  • the second is a efficiency/practicality reason for you, the business owner.

Why PDFs are AWFUL for User Experience (UX)

Have you ever gone to pdf hosted on a website and seen something like this instead of the PDF you wanted to read?

PDF file didn't load

“Please wait…” That’s not a very appealing webpage. But it represents your business. It’s like you put up an ad in your business window and instead it says “Please wait…”.

There are many reasons why you might have received these message, but the two most common are

  • your Adobe Reader plugin for your browser is not up to date or
  • the browser’s own PDF reader plugin is out of date or otherwise incompatible with the pdf file you are trying to view. (This happens a lot.)

Most internet users over a certain age – probably most internet users in general – and certainly many of your clients will not be able to diagnose this problem and most who will be able to may not care enough about your content to bother dealing with it, they’ll just leave.

Posting your daily/weekly/monthly update or any other posts you want to share as PDFs will cause at least some percentage of your users (your potential clients) to encounter this problem and leave your site. And so your audience will be considerably less and so your clients from your website will be fewer.

Why PDFs are Just Not Practical

Using PDFs for “e-books” (and white papers and the like) makes perfect sense – it’s the preferred format for browser reading (if anyone does that any more… 🙂 ) and can be read by most (if not all) e-readers in addition to their proprietary formats.

The PDF format is good for longform documents you have no intention of editing, and it’s good for graphics embedded into longform documents.

If you have produced something for offline circulation and you want to share the digital copy online, PDF works fine.

But if you’re just putting up a couple hundred word or couple thousand word post, I don’t see why you’d bother.

Especially if you use a CMS, such as WordPress, where you can make edits to your content instantaneously. If you want to edit a PDF, you have to open the source document and republish, and then re-upload it to your server. Why do that when you can just edit your post?

Remember: PDFs are for publishing permanent content that you don’t want to edit. Uploading your brochure or menu as a PDF is a fine idea.

Spreading information about your latest sale or tonight’s special as a PDF is a huge headache and might also keep your users from learning about it.

If you’re using PDFs because you don’t think you can learn how to use a website publishing tool, trust me, you can. Send me an email if you’re not sure.

Launching Your Website

There are a number of steps you need to go through in order to launch your website, including

  • building your website,
  • uploading your website to a server and
  • ensuring that it can be “indexed” (found) by the search engines.

You can approach launching your website on a spectrum from a bare-bones approach to the most thorough approach.

Let’s see how those approaches compare:

 Bare-BonesThorough
Site BuilderOut of the BoxCMS or Custom Site
DesignTemplateCustom Design
CodingNo CustomSome Custom to Lots of Custom
Domain PurchaseNo DifferenceNo Difference
HostingOut of the Box Site Builder hosts sitePurchase hosting
Installing siteOut of Box doesn't require itUpload to server
Site MapAuto-generatedCustom
IndexingBare minimum effortActively submit to search engines
TrafficWait and seeAggressively drive traffic

The short version is that you can pay a small fee to an out-of-the-box site creator to have a webpage online, where you essentially do everything yourself, you can get a blog and a small store, or you can have a large website with a store and lots of other features.

Where you fall on this spectrum depends upon the needs of your business and the competition in your industry.

Creating a Site Map for Your Website

Before you let the search engines index your website, you should be sure to create not one but two sitemaps.

A sitemap is essentially a directory of pages on your website. Think of it s the mall directory for your public side of your website.

However not all sitemaps are created equal: you need both a sitemap for the search engine and a sitemap for the user.

XML Sitemaps for Search Engines (Google and Bing)

The most important site map you need is for the “bots” which “crawl” your website: Google and the other search engines send robots around the internet indexing websites so that they can appear in the search results.

When you go click on a link in google, that page has been “indexed,” i.e. put in Google’s giant directory of websites. It makes it a lot easier for Google to index your site – put it in Google’s directory so your clients can find your website – if you provide Google your own website directory. This is called a sitemap.

Sitemaps for the search engine robots use a language called XML so these sitemaps are called “XML sitemaps.”

Depending upon what type of site builder you are using, there are different ways of creating one such xml sitemap:

  • If you are using an out-of-the-box site creator, such as Jimdo, Squarespace, Weebly or Wix, the sitemap should be created for you.
  • If you are using WordPress, there are lots of plugin options! Just type “plugin” into the “Add New” search feature.
  • If you are using Drupal, there are lots of modules which will install it.
  • If you have had your site built from scratch, you will need to pay your webmaster to do it or you can use a sitemap generator such as this one.

If you have a particularly large website, you will need sub-sitemaps (i.e. sub-directories) so that the sitemap itself isn’t too large for the search engine to handle.

This may seem really complicated but it’s actually pretty easy compared to writing code.

Once you have an xml sitemap, this is only half the battle. Users need a sitemap too.

Sitemaps for Users (People)

The average person does not want to read an xml sitemap.

Here’s my highest level sitemap. It’s not exactly user-friendly.

For your site to truly be user-friendly and accessible you should have a sitemap for your visitors.

It’s unlikely many people will use this sitemap these days, as Google does such a good job of indexing, but it’s considered a basic courtesy.

If you don’t have a user sitemap, all other things being equal the search engines will treat your site worse than your competitors’. At this point, having a user sitemap is just standard practice.

To create one,

  • Just open up your XML sitemap (yoursite.com/sitemap.xml) and make a list of all the pages. (In my case, I need to check all my sitemaps.)
  • Create a new webpage with this list on it.
  • Link each page on your list to the actual page on your site.

That’s it! You’re done. Now you have sitemaps for the indexing robots and your users.

You’re one step closer to launching your website.

Ensure Your Site is Indexed (i.e. "on Google")

The whole point of having a website for your business is so that customers using the internet can find your business.

Customers can find your business one of a few ways:

  • they enter your address into their browser (i.e. they already know your site address and want to go there)
  • they click on a link from another site to your site
  • they click on an ad you have paid for to your site
  • they put your business name or a keyword related to your business into a search engine.

In order for customers to find your website through the last option, your site must be in the directory of the search engines, i.e. indexed.

In order for you go get links from other sites, usually those other sites have to find you and think your site is valuable, and so your site must be indexed for this method as well.

In order for someone who has never been to your physical business to put your url into their browser, it’s a safe assumption to think that they may have already heard about you some way, so you want your site to be indexed for this reason as well.

How to Get Your Site Indexed

DO NOT listen to those scam emails you are going to get from various scammers, asking for money to index you.

That’s not how this works.

You do not have to pay to get your site indexed.

Ever.

If you are using an out-of-the-box site creator, the act of publishing your site will usually get it indexed.

If you are using WordPress, you can turn indexing on or off. (Though this is just a suggestion. Google and Bing will still know your site is there and they may crawl it anyway.)

If you are using a larger CMS, they also have options to turn indexing on or off.

If you are unsure, just ask your developer to make sure your site is indexable or, if you are feeling tech savvy, check your robots.txt file.

Is My Site Indexed? How to Confirm

Especially with brand new sites, or small sites, it’s going to take some time for your site to appear for the keywords you want it to. (Depending upon the quality of your SEO, this might never happen.)

You can check to see whether or not your site is indexed in a couple of different ways:

  • Check using google search
  • Check using Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools)

Check Whether or not Your Site is Indexed Using Google Search

To search to see to what extent your site is indexed, go to google.ca or google.com and type in the following: “site:[yourdomain].ca”

So, for example, I would search for “site:rileyhaasmarketinc.om”

The results will show all the pages Google has indexed..

Check Whether or Not Your Site is Indexed Using Search Console

If you have a Search Console account (and you should) you can check whether your site is indexed or not based upon your sitemap or just by manually “fetching as google.”

This article does into more detail about Search Console below.

Ensure You Have No Duplicate Content

Figuring out what to have on your website can be tough. There’s the easy part: home page, contact page, product/service pages. But then what else do you need?

The answer to that question is part of the strategy of Content Marketing. This section is not about Content Marketing, however, but just an introduction to one of the fundamental mistakes a website owner can make: duplicate content.

When launching your website, you want to make sure that you have enough content related to your business that potential clients will find your site. How to do that is covered below. Here I just want to talk about what not to do.

Certain pages on your website are going to be pretty unique:

  • your homepage should be an attractive place for your potential clients to find you,
  • your contact page should contain all the many ways – address, phone, email, fax, social media, text – that people can contact your business
  • your about page (if you have one) should tell your company’s story.

But what do you do about your service or product pages, where the easiest thing to do is create a template and reuse it?

And what do you do about a blog? Isn’t the easiest thing to do to hire someone cheap in India to do it for you?

There’s a temptation for the small business owner to use templates or to use cheap labour to create tons of content for their site.

There is one thing you need to keep in mind before creating content, especially if you are using templates: your content must be unique.

When I say “unique” I don’t mean 100% unique. What I mean is that it must be different enough from other content to unique in the eyes of Google and other search engines.

What we’re talking about is about 20-30% similar words from another page, whether that page is on your website or someone else’s.

So, if you use a template for your service or product pages, you’ll need to check each one against each other to ensure you have changed enough of the page.

If you hire someone cheap to write for you, you need to make sure they’re not just copying someone else’s stuff.

How do you do that?

Checking for Duplicate Content

It’s really quite easy. There are a few steps:

  1. Put your home page into Siteliner. Siteliner will tell you the percentage of duplicate content you have on each indexable page of your site versus all the other pages. You can use Siteliner to see exactly which words and phrases are copied or you can use CopyScape.
  2. Put any specific pages created for you by a freelancer into CopyScape. This site will check a particular page against much of the internet. It’s not perfect, but it’s easier than doing it yourself.
  3. Use the CopyScape Comparison tool to see exactly what is the same on any two pages on the internet. This tool is easier to use than Siteliner’s, in my opinion, and will let you work through a page making enough changes to lower your percentages next time you check your site through Siteliner.

That’s all you need to do.

I suggest doing these steps before you launch your site initially and then running step 2 every time you purchase a piece of content from someone.

Any time you add more pages yourself, you should run step 1.

A Beginniner's Checklist for Putting Your Practice Online

We’re about half way through so I just wanted to summarize what you need to do to successfully get your business online.

(If you’ve already got a website, skip down below.)

So here are some basic things to think about when putting your practice’s site online:

  • Is your contact information (phone, address, email, etc) clearly visible on your site? Is your phone number and email on all your webpages?
  • Are all your webpages necessary for your practice? Do you really need that “our story” page and that testimonial page?
  • Is all your content unique? (Google ignores pages that are too similar to other webpages.)
  • Do you have an xml sitemap?
  • Is your site indexable? Sometimes, developers deny access to search engine robots during development. Make sure the robots can crawl your site!
  • Is your site healthy? (I.e. are there any crawl errors? Are they serious?)
  • Do you have a Google Business page? (Or, if you’re shy, do you have a Google Brand page?)

These are just a few basic things keep in mind when you launch your first website.

If you have covered all these bases, you should be okay to move on to the next step, launching your Pay Per Click campaign, or your other marketing efforts.

Who Visits My Site? Website Traffic

Every single time a computer visits your site, that visit is tracked in your site logs.

But site logs are awful to look at; the log is a list of IP addresses and, if you have a busy site, that list can be incredibly long. So your logs are painful to read but they also only give you a recent portrait – you can’t look at your traffic over the course of the last year, or what have you, unless you’ve saved them all.

And you certainly can’t segment your traffic in any way that lets you analyze it. So you need a program to do that. Fortunately, there’s Google Analytics.

There are multiple website traffic analysis programs, but the gold standard and the one that the vast, vast majority of site owners use is Google Analytics.

If you do not put Google Analytics or an equivalent program on your site, you will never know who visits your site.

And therefore you will not be able to effectively market your business online.

Is Google Analytics Set Up and Working on Your Site?

Recently, one of my clients launched a new site for a program he just recently launched. He was really proud of it and rightly so; it looks beautiful.

So he showed it off to a colleague. One of the first things the colleague noticed is that Google Analytics was not installed on the website.

This is a great reminder of one of the fundamental lessons for small business owners setting up new sites: your developer does not do SEO and will not set up any tools unless you ask them to do so. (Some out-of-the-box site builders will provide analytics. Others will provide easy GA integration. But if you are working with WordPress, you have to ask your developer to set it up.)

Do I Need Google Analytics on My Website?

Yes, yes you do.

Unless you either a) don’t want to know what traffic is coming to your website or b) have an alternative program that you know and like (and then you wouldn’t be reading this post…), then you need Google Analytics. It is a requirement, one of the fundamental requirements of having a website.

If you’re not comfortable setting up GA, your developer should have zero problems setting it up for you. But you must ask your developer to do this. I have launched many websites and in every single case the developer did not set up Analytics until asked, or I did it myself.

More than once I have gotten angry with a developer for not setting up Analytics but later realized that I had never asked him to do so. Once again: Don’t assume your developer will set up your Analytics account.

How To Set Up Google Analytics

  • If you’re using a site builder, there should be a field which allows you to add the code.
  • If you’re using WordPress, as most of you are, setting up Analytics is quite simple.
  • If you are using a different CMS, such as Joomla or Drupal, the process is different but not that much more complicated.
  • If you are not using a CMS, then it will require a developer.

This guide will deal with setting up GA on WordPress.

Set Up Google Analytics in WordPress

Once you are logged in to your site, find “Plugins” on the left-hand side menu. Click on “Installed Plugins”:

Wordpress plugin menu
Plugins

Click “Add New”:

Plugins

In the search field type in “Google Analytics Dashboard for WP” or some combination of those words.

You do not have to pick this plugin; it’s just my preferred plugin for Analytics.

But it’s worth looking at both the installs (800,000 in this case) and the star rating before picking the plugin that’s right for you.

Add plugins

Click “Install” and then “Activate.”

If you can’t activate it from the same screen as you installed it, you will have to go back to “Installed Plugins” to Activate it. How you do this will depend upon which version of WordPress you are using.

Go to analytics.google.com. If you don’t already have an Analytics account, you will have to create one, either with a gmail address or with the email address associated with your practice and your website.

Once in the Dashboard, click on “Admin” and then click on “Create New Account” on the left panel of the Admin page.

Analytics: create new account

Complete the steps to name your account and property. Don’t forget to pick the correct time zone.

In your wordpress backend, go to the plugin’s “Settings” and click “Authorize Plugin”:

Plugin authorization

Click “Get Access Code”:

Get Access Code

Click “Allow”:

Paste the code into the appropriate field in the other tab, which should still be open, and save the code.

Double check that the UA number is the same in your plugin and your analytics account!

Same UA number!

Save changes and you’re now tracking your website visits!

There is more to Analytics, of course. But in order to measure your traffic and learn how to market to your online audience, you need to record your traffic. This is the first step to marketing more effectively.

How Do I Know if My Site Has Problems?

I’m sorry to say that putting a website online is not as simple as uploading it to a server and leaving it there untouched forever. Technology is constantly changing and your site will require updates.

If you are using an out-of-the-box site creator, these will be handled for you. You won’t even realize they’re being done, most of the time.

But if you are using a CMS, you will need to perform your own updates.

Additionally, there could be other problems with your site, unrelated to out of date plugins or themes or code. There could be errors missed when uploading the site, or unforeseen issues that pop up.

Checking for Updates

If you are using a CMS (Drupal, Joomla, WordPress), your CMS will tell you about updates when you login to your website.

Even if you are never going to add new content, it is a good idea for you or your website to periodically log into your site to see if there are updates. I’d recommend once a week, at minimum. If you do not update your website, it will get hacked.

If you are using an out-of-the-box site creator most mandatory updates should be handled for you by the service you are using.

If you have a custom built site you will unfortunately need a webmaster on call to discover what you need updated and when. Once again, a custom site is a terrible idea.

Checking for Problems with Your Website

There are other problems that will arise over the life of your website.

Fortunately, most of the problems which will impact how potential customers find you can be found using Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools).

I did a presentation on how to set up a Search Console account in 2017.

Using Search Console, you should be able to discover most problems which will affect how people find your website through search engines.

Unfortunately, for typos and other non-fatal errors, you’ll just have to read your site content (or have someone else do it).

How to Set Up Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools)

Once you’ve set up Google Analytics, which will let you see your visitors, you should also set up Google Search Console (which used to be known as Google Webmaster Tools), which will tell you about your site’s health, how it complies with Google’s requirements for a good site experience, and other information.

It seems confusing, but basically think about it this way:

  • Search Console is for basic site and search information
  • Analytics is for site traffic (visitors)

Don’t worry! You don’t need to a be a webmaster to do this!

Once you have your Analytics account set up it’s actually quite easy.

Go to google.com/webmaster or webmaster.google.com:

Home page

Click on the green button.

Once you are in the console, you want to “Add A Property,” which is the red button in the top-right:

Add A Property

Then you put your url in the pop up. Click “Add.”

Then you will be asked to verify your account.

The “Recommended method” used to be to upload a file to your server.

Now they usually want you to do it through your Domain provider but I made these screenshots before that change, so that’s how we are going to do it.

Recommended Method

This is not something you’ll have to do if your site has already been added to Analytics. Instead, you can click on “Alternate methods”:

Alternate method

And then once it’s verified you will be able to use Search Console to see your site health.

Also, Google will email you with suggestions about how to make your site better.

Make Sure Your Site is Mobile Friendly

If there is a desktop version of your site and a mobile version, Google will show the mobile version in search results.

WHAT?!?!

Relax. It might not be the end of the world.

If your site is “responsive,” that is, if the site adjusts to fit the size of the device, then everything is fine. You may not have to do anything.

But if your site is not responsive, if it is serving two different versions of the same page, the regular webpage and a special mobile page, you may want to change things.

There’s a debate in the SEO world between having special “accelerated mobile pages” and having a responsive site. What you should do depends upon your clients, but a responsive site is the simplest solution.

Is My Site Responsive?

How do you know whether or not your site is responsive?

  1. Use a tool like MobileTest.me or mobiReady
  2. Enter one of the urls from your site
  3. If the page displays correctly on all the devices, you’re okay.
  4. If not, you might need to speak to a developer.

(Alternatively, you can just visit your site on your smart phone.)

Hooray! My Site is Responsive!

If your site is responsive, the next thing to do is to make sure your site is mobile friendly in other ways.

What I mean by this is that what worked for desktop doesn’t necessarily work for mobile. Google has certain standards for things like page speed (how long it takes for your page to load) that are higher for mobile. You’ll need to make sure your site is up to stuff.

You can use mobiReady to get tips, but Google also has a tool. Since Google is the way most people find your site, you should take what this tool tells you seriously. Unless you’re very handy with code, you’re going to need a developer to make these improvements.

You’re already more than half way there, with a responsive site, but you need to make performance upgrades in order to keep pace with everyone else.

Oh no! My site isn't responsive!

If your site is not responsive, meaning that you see different pages displayed on the devices in a mobile test, or you see broken page elements on different devices during the test, you will need a responsive site, eventually.

However, maybe the time to do that isn’t now. Maybe you don’t have the budget for it. In the meantime,

  • If your site serves mobile pages (meaning that there are special pages that display to mobile phones and tables, often denoted by /mobile/ or /m/ in the url) then you need to check those pages (all of those pages) to make sure that they are working and that they have the same (or better) content than your regular pages. The mobile pages will be what your users will land on.
  • If your site doesn’t have mobile pages and isn’t responsive, you need to figure out which is the better option: temporarily serve mobile pages while you can prepare to go responsive (which means creating a host of new pages and content), or go responsive. Not an easy choice I know, but if you don’t do it, you risk eventually dropping out of the search results all together.

I Have No Idea If My Site is Responsive or Not!

If you are not sure, even after running the test, you should ask your developer. If you do not have a developer you can get a hold of, you should reach out to someone who can help you.

How Do People Find My Website?

There was a time when all you had to do was put up a webpage on the internet and people would find it.

However, that time is long past. As in, decades past. The time when you can get people to come to your website without doing anything is over.

In the 2020s, you need to attract visitors using a variety of online and offline methods. If you do not do this, you will not get any traffic, unless you have the most niche business, or you have a large, pre-existing clientele who suddenly decide they need to tell other people about your site. (Neither of these things is likely.)

The above video describes the 3-step process you need to complete in order to get your business found on the internet:

  1. Tell the internet about your Unique Value Proposition (UVP)
  2. Tell the internet you’ve told the internet about your UVP
  3. Tell the internet you’ve told the internet that you’ve told the internet about your UVP.

This article goes into the specifics below.

If you want the general overview, watch the video.

The Ways People Find Websites

There are only five ways people can find your website, be they potential clients, current or former clients, or total strangers:

  • They to go your website directly (Direct Traffic)
  • They go to your website from another website (Referrals)
  • They use Google or Bing (Search Engine Traffic)
  • They click on your ad (Paid Traffic)
  • They click on a link in an email you sent them (Email Traffic)
  • Someone comes to your website through something shared on Social Media.

That’s it.

If someone does not find your website through one of these six “channels,” they are not getting to your website.

I am going to cover these five channels in detail later, but here is a brief overview:

What is Direct Traffic?

Direct traffic encompasses direct visits to your website: someone types in your website url into their browser, or copies and pastes it into their browser.

Direct traffic can come from:

  • typing in your site url that they saw offline
  • typing in your site url from memory
  • typing in your site url and it populates in the browser because
    • they’ve been there before
    • it’s a really popular website
  • pasting your site url from an email or a social media post.
  • clicking a browser bookmark.

Clicked links in email are often considered direct traffic as well, if the email wasn’t sent by your business.

Direct traffic is good because it means the visitor wants to go to your website. The more direct traffic you have, the better your website will do.

What is Referral Traffic?

Referral traffic is traffic that comes from links on other websites which are owned by other businesses or people. (Technically, social media traffic could be considered referral traffic as well.)

You can get traffic this way when someone

  • clicks a link to a page on your site embedded in the text of another webpage
  • clicks a link to a page on your site embedded in the text of a forum post
  • clicks a link to a page on your site embedded in the text of a comment on a site or post.

Referral traffic is good traffic because it is considered a sign of trust. Think of it as another site vouching for the trustworthiness of your site. The more links you have, the better.

Link-building is the art of getting other sites to link to yours.

What is Search Engine Traffic?

Someone finds your site by using Google (or Bing) to find what they are looking for, such as “Digital Marketing Consultant Toronto.”

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art of convincing Google (and other search engines) to show your site over your competition.

Content marketing is the art of convincing Google (and other search engines) that your site is the authority in your industry.

What is Paid Traffic?

Most businesses have trouble getting “organic traffic to their website, particularly in the early going. (“Organic” means traffic from search engines.)

So they pay for ads

  • in search (Google, Bing),
  • or in social media (Facebook, Twitter),
  • or on related sites.

When a user clicks on the ad, she comes to your site. You pay for the click, hence “Pay per click” ads.

Paid traffic is good because it’s both usually relevant (the user clicked on your ad on purpose) and because you can control more of the user’s experience of your brand.

What is Email Traffic?

Most email traffic is considered “direct” because a user is clicking on a link in their email, which functions as if they just typed your url in browser. (If the email was somehow publicly accessible, it would be a referral visit instead.

However, when you send out your email newsletter, that traffic is different: you’re sending specific links to your previous site visitors. This should be tracked. And, provided the links are tracked, the traffic is different than “direct”, because of its nature.

What is Social Media Traffic?

Social media traffic is a type of referral traffic, but not as permanent as a link from a website, because of how social media functions. Social media posts get buried in the feed pretty quickly, meaning that any links to your site are less likely to be clicked on the longer they exist.

These are the only ways potential customers will ever find your website. And you can’t just rely on search traffic any more.

So, what do you do with this information?

How to Get Potential Clients to Go Directly to Your Website

As we said above, there are are essentially five ways someone can come to your website:

  • Directly
  • Through a link (known as a referral)
  • Through a search engine such as Google or Bing
  • Through the ads you see on the internet (known as pay-per-click ads)
  • Through social media.

Direct visits are when the user enters the url of one of the pages of your website into their browser and go directly to your website.

Direct visits are the best visits. Direct traffic, the sum total of all your direct visits, is incredibly valuable.

Direct visits are considered the best visits for a simple reason: user intent. The idea is, the person went to the trouble of typing in (or copying and pasting) your url; they must really want to visit your website.

Therefore, a high proportion of direct traffic in your total traffic is good for your site (provided your traffic is good).

There are two types of direct visits: real direct visits and referrals posing as direct.

Referral Visits Posing as Direct Visits

One way you can get direct traffic, perhaps the most common way depending upon your site, is by users copying your url from somewhere – a social media post, a website, an email – and pasting it into your browser. This visit is counted as a direct visit even though it’s not.

The good news is that it’s still good traffic.

Get Direct Visitors

There are two ways to get direct traffic:

  • Offline
  • Online

People See Your URL Offline and Visit Your Website

If your site url is somewhere offline – anywhere offline – and a user types it into their browser, this is a going to be counted as a direct visit.

Here are some ways you can get direct traffic:

  • Url on a business card
  • Url on a billboard or other public ad or display
  • Url in the Yellow Pages
  • Word of mouth.

If you pay to have your url on a business card, public ad or in the Yellow Pages (or other business directory) you will not know where these potential clients are coming from unless you track it.

Example: I might not want to just have https://rileyhaasmarketing.com on my business card because I don’t know whether or not the person coming to my home page is from my card. https://rileyhaasmarketing.com/card is going to mostly get traffic that is only from people with my business card.

People Come Directly to Your Website

It’s a lot harder to do this online.

Basically, direct traffic coming from online (without any offline effort) is going to either come from the referrals as direct traffic listed above, or through online word of mouth, i.e. branding.

Making your site so well known enough that people decide they are going to visit it is really hard.

Think about whether or not you’re ever done this: entered a url you’ve never been to before because someone online told you to visit this site (without a link) or you otherwise heard about the site.

Basically, it’s much better to focus your efforts offline until your company is famous enough (or niche enough) to be famous online.

How to Get Traffic From Other Websites (Referrals/Links)

‘Referral Traffic’ is the technical name for links to your site. A referral is when someone on another website clicks on a hyperlink to your website and lands on one of your webpages.

Links have formed the basis for determining “trust” on the internet for much of its existence. It was, in part, Google’s use of link analysis that allowed Google to revolutionize search engines and dominate the internet.

Though Google has claimed that links play much less of a role in determining search results than they used to, most people in the SEO world strongly suspect or believe that links are basically as important as they’ve ever been.

The long and the short of it: if you can’t get direct traffic, you want referral traffic. It’s the second best type of traffic. (Arguably the best in many ways.)

  • Links send people to your site from other sites.
  • Traffic through links indicates to Google and Bing and others that your site is valuable and trustworthy.

 

More has been written on how to get links (“link-building”) than any other topic in Search Engine Optimization (SEO). There are more guides than any one person could ever read or, probably, count.

So I won’t give you a guide here, but instead just outline a basic process:

  1. Create something people might want to link to (“content”)
  2. Put that content up online
  3. Tell people about it.
  4. Get links.

That’s it. It sounds very simple but, because people have been doing this for 20 years, there’s a lot of competition, probably even in your niche of your industry.

Creating Linkable Content

Creating content for the internet is a topic in and of itself. So here are just the briefest of guidelines:

  • The piece of content has to be interesting to your potential visitors/clients and to people who might want to link to it.
  • It can be an article but it could also be an embedded or hosted picture (“infographic”), video or audio file, with your business name on it.
  • If the topic has already been covered online – especially if it has been covered online by lots of people – your take on the topic has to be unique and, ideally, better than everyone else’s
  • It should be “evergreen” – i.e. it will remain relevant in the coming months and years.

Doesn’t sound so easy now, does it?

Putting Your Linkable Content Online

  • If you’ve written an article you need to upload it to your site in a way that makes sense with what is already on your website. (If you’re a wordpress user: Is it a post or a page?)
  • If you’ve made an infographic, you should embed it on your site with some text, but you should also put the infographic on social media with links to its original home
  • If you’ve made a video or audio file then there’s controversy about where to store it – teach the controversy!!!

I cannot stress enough that, wherever you put it, the content has to be accessible by users and robots.

Because the internet is now quite graphic-driven, as people are visual, written content without graphics is going to struggle, all other things being equal, so having some graphics is a big plus.

Your content should be added to your sitemaps and, if it’s a page rather than a post, it should also be added to your homepage or wherever your directory of pages is.

Telling People About Your Content

The process of letting people know about your new content is part of “content marketing” – using your content to drive sales – but also part of link-building.

The easiest way of telling people about your content is posting it to social media. This won’t help with links unless you get lucky.  In this case, getting lucky means:

  • Your content is shared tons of times (goes viral) and the likes and shares keep it prominent in social media feeds, causing your post(s) to, in essence, be a link to your site
  • Someone sees your post and decides to write about your content, creating a link on their site

If you have a newsletter, this is a relatively simple way of telling people who already know your business about your content, though it won’t help with links unless those in your newsletter list have sites of their own, or they share your newsletter with people who do, and those site owners choose to link to your post.

If you are a member of a forum related to your business, and that forum allows commercial posts, you can post links to your content in the forum, following the forum’s guidelines. This is an actual permanent link, so it’s better than the above two options.

Depending upon the type of content, you may be able to post it on certain other sites that fall somewhere between forums and social media (Reddit for example) or in a directory-type site which compiles links to content like yours. You may have to ask for permission depending upon the site’s policies.

But none of this is really going to get you links quickly, unless something you created goes viral (or you’re followed by people who really want to link to your stuff).

So How Do You Get Links?

As I said, there are link-building guides everywhere – many of which are much better than anything I can tell you – but the short answer is: you ask for them.

  • You make a list of websites you think would be interested in linking to you. You do that by:
    • Searching your keywords for your content and finding non-competitors who might be interested in your content
    • Seeing who links to your competitors
    • Finding broken links on sites related to your business.
    • Advanced Strategies: https://gaps.com/advanced-link-building/
  • And then you contact those websites and ask them to link to you:
    • You ask webmasters if they would be interested in linking to you
    • You ask webmasters with broken links if they would like to replace their broken links with your content
    • You ask webmasters (if you’re really brazen) if they wouldn’t want to link to your content instead of your competitor’s (your content must be better to do this!)

It’s time-consuming and disheartening but it works much better than posting your content on facebook and hoping that someone who sees it will write a post on their site linking to you content.

Moz’s list of Stupid Myths About Link Building

How to Get Clients Through Search Engines

For most websites, the most important source of traffic is through search engines, the biggest of which is Google.

Because Google results in such a high percentage of worldwide searches, most people have decided to prioritize attracting search traffic through Google. The assumption is that tactics to attract visitors through Google will be effective with Bing and other lesser search engines.

There are two ways to attract visitors through search engines. The oldest and most famous is called Search Engine Optimization aka SEO.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is a buzzword but it actually means something: improving your website so that more visitors come to your website. There are two or three types of SEO:

  • non-technical SEO, that anyone with time and patience can do themselves
  • technical SEO, which requires a developer, i.e. someone who understands and can edit html, php, css, etc
  • “off-site SEO” aka link-building.

Searches from mobile phones constitute over 50% of total searches as of 2017. Tablet searches are also greater than they used to be. Because of this, some people think of mobile SEO as something distinct from technical SEO.

Content Marketing

The other way of attracting search traffic – and the better, more important way – is through what is known as “content marketing”.

All content marketing is is the creation of “content” (text, video and audio) which attracts people to consume it.

We’ll go in depth into content marketing later on this page. First, let’s deal with SEO.

What the Hell is SEO?!?!

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.

It’s online marketing jargon for a category of things that a site owner can do to make their site perform better online, all other things being equal (and they’re not).

Think of it as the signals you send to Google (and, um, Bing) that tell them when to show your website, and to whom.

So often SEO is treated like some kind of mystical spirit. I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard a business owner say “I need SEO” or “I need my SEO to be better” or, more honestly, “What the hell is SEO, anyway?” I’ve even heard people within the online marketing industry use the term in such a way that I wasn’t sure they knew what it means. And that’s okay because it’s not something most people know the definition of.

Because SEO was one of the earliest acronyms coined to describe online promotion techniques, it has remained the most mysterious. PPC (Pay Per Click) is not mysterious at all: you pay someone (Google, Bing, Facebook) to display your ad. It’s simple. Not SEO.

This is because what SEO is has changed over the years, at least in terms of techniques, if not the end goal. And it’s also because SEO is not one thing, it’s a set of things.

I think the best way of thinking about SEO is by breaking it down into two categories: non-technical SEO and technical SEO.

Non-Technical SEO (The Stuff You Can Actually Do)

When I say “non-technical” what I mean is that anyone can do this kind of SEO.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. The goal is to make your site as appealing as possible to the search engine (principally Google these days), and ideally more appealing than your competition.

There are various ways of doing this but the biggest and most important has always been the use of keywords – words that your potential customer or client is using to search for what you provide. 

If I am running a Vietnamese restaurant just outside of Gerard Square mall, I need to think about which keywords I want to use to get people to come to my restaurant. Here are some possibilities off the top of my head:

  • Vietnamese East End
  • Vietnamese Gerard Square
  • Pho East End
  • Pho Gerard Square
  • Pho Gerard
  • Vietnamese Gerard
  • Etc

In the early days of search engines, you could “stuff” these keywords into the top of the page and rank really high in the search results. (Un)Fortunately, those days are long gone.

But you still need to tell your prospective customers where your Vietnamese restaurant is located, so you need to make sure that the content on your site contains all of these keywords and more while, at the same time, making sure your content is readable, user friendly and answers the questions of your visitors.

Google (and Bing) uses a whole host of metrics to determine whether or not people like your site once they find it, so you can’t just list off a bunch of keywords and hope for the best.

There are other aspects to non-technical SEO – such as meta-tags, which sound technical but are not – but basically it all amounts to the same thing: showing Google that your site is relevant to a particular group of people.

(If you want to know about meta-tags, just comment and I’ll add a section. Or sign up my upcoming course.)

You can do this yourself. Seriously. (I can show you how.)

Local SEO

If you run a small business, one advantage you may be able to take within SEO is to focus on your local business area.

There are a number of tactics you can use to dominate local search results but an important aspect is a Google Business Page (see above).

Otherwise, it’s using traditional SEO tactics with a focus on the hyper-local. (For example, your neighbourhood.)

Technical SEO (You Need a Developer or a Plugin)

The other side of SEO is the technical side. In this case ‘technical’ means that it involves working with the code of your site at some level. (Truth be told, there are a few aspects of non-technical SEO that can involve your code, but many CMS have plugins so that you don’t have to touch the code.) And that means that you usually need a developer to do this stuff for you.

Basically, technical SEO involves making sure your site complies with the standards set by Google (and Bing, to a much lesser extent) in terms of how your website functionally operates. This includes things like

  • the load time of your site (how long it takes for a page to display to a user)
  • whether or not you use a secure connection
  • and whether or not your code is following Best Practices.

These things need a developer to fix, but you have a ton of free resources online that can tell you what’s wrong before you go out and hire developer. So there’s some good news.

Search Engine Marketing: Pay-Per-Click Ads

Pay-per-click (PPC) marketing is the industry name for the ads you see on Google and also the ads you see on websites and social media. It’s the name for ads on the internet because you as an advertiser pay for the ads when users click on them (never when they do not).

Here are the main types of PPC ads:

  • Ads on search engines like Google and Bing
  • Ads on websites
  • Ads on social media.

As such, pay-per click ads are both a guaranteed way to get traffic and a more economical way to get traffic than ads in the real world.

Why?

PPC Ads are Virtually Guaranteed Traffic (Eyeballs)

If you are not getting (enough) traffic, you can pay for it.

Because the internet is gigantic, and is used by billions, it’s pretty unlikely that you will set up an ad campaign, no matter how niche, and get zero clicks.

Whether your advertise on search engines, on websites or on social media, you will probably get some traffic. (Search engines being the best option.) Whether or not that traffic converts to clients is another story.

Internet Ads are More Economical/Efficient than Real World Ads

Provided you are set up to convert the traffic, PPC ads are more efficient than ads in the real world. Why is that?

Say you have a billboard in the real world; you pay for the billboard.

With PPC ads, you only pay when someone not only looks at your internet billboard, you pay only when they actually follow that billboard to your virtual storefront.

That is a much more specific group of people, as you are only paying for the people who “travel” to your store, not the people who just look at your billboard, nor the people who drive by it and don’t even notice it.

So you’re spending money only when people decide to visit your virtual store. That’s much better.

What Could Go Wrong with PPC Ads?

Well, as anyone who has ever set up a Google Ads (formerly AdWords) account can tell you, PPC is expensive. Very, very expensive.

Inefficient or poorly designed Ads (AdWords) campaigns can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars a month, and even efficient Ads (Adwords) campaigns can cost this much, depending on your settings.

Google will just charge you even if your ads are up without you realizing you published them. The same is true for Bing Ads and the social media ads – you must be ready to go “live” with your ads when you set up the campaign, otherwise you are literally throwing money away.

Prepare Before You Advertise

You need to make sure you have a good landing page, which should convert, before you launch your PPC campaign. Don’t just use your homepage as the url for your search or display ads.

If you’re using social media PPC, you need to have a strategy how to make money off of those ads before you start paying.

Unless you find the dashboard for your ads account super intuitive, it is worth looking into getting help from an expert or getting help from the provider as well. A PPC expert will help you save money and get a better ROI.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, you should hire an expert before you even set up the account.

Where Should You Pay to Advertise?

You should pay for search ads (Google Ads and Bing Ads) if you have a service that has broad demographics, i.e. that a lot of people need.

You should pay for social media ads if

  1. You know your potential clients use that social media network AND
  2. You need to drill down on the demographic specifics.
  3. You should pay for ads on other websites (“display”) if you can convert these visitors well. (People on other websites are not originally looking to buy your service, right?)

Is PPC Worth It?

Whether or not PPC is worth your money is a complicated question.

A PPC expert will tell you that you should advertise, as will representatives of Google Ads (AdWords), Bing Ads, or any of the other PPC providers. But I won’t.

Deciding to spend your advertising money on PPC is a huge, expensive decision which could lead to much bigger profits or huge losses. Whether or not PPC makes sense for your business depends upon what your business is.

If you are selling $15 t-shirts enshrining current internet memes, PPC may make sense. If you are offering a complicated, expensive service, it’s hard to imagine why PPC would make sense.

So what’s the short version? If your product or service is affordable, there is a low threshold for the customer to buy, it or it’s an impulse buy, PPC is a great option to improve your sales.

However, if you need to convince your potential clients over time, PPC makes basically zero sense if you don’t have the budget.

Still not sure what to do? I can help you decide whether or not to invest in PPC ads. I have years of experience with PPC ad campaigns (for search and for social media) and alternative marketing strategies that have replaced PPC ads or made them irrelevant. Contact me for more information.

How to Get Contacted by Prospective Clients Online

A lot of small business owners still imagine that if they get a website online that their phone will start ringing. Though that may have been true in certain niche industries 15 years ago, it’s not longer true. Getting clients through your website means getting traffic and getting traffic can be really difficult.

But in addition to getting the traffic, you need to make sure you make it easy for your visitors to contact you. So, you need to decide how you want to be contacted

You should have all your contact information on your Contact page and in your header or your footer. But you should try to emphasize the way you prefer to be contacted on your page.

So if you want people to call you, the emphasis should be on your phone number, not your email address.

Getting Email Leads

Your business email should be on your contact page and your header or your footer.

You should only make your email the primary point of contact on your landing pages if it’s an email address that is checked all the time.

Email is certainly the easiest way of of contacting a website, but you should be aware that you will get some spam emails once you put your email address up online.

Getting Fax Leads

Do people still use faxes? This is a good question.

If you have a business fax line, you may want to include your fax line on your contact page. But don’t emphasize your fax number elsewhere unless you need people to fax something to you. (Then you need to make it clear to them that they need to do this.)

A publicly available fax number will lead to fax spam. But you knew that already.

Getting the Phone to Ring

Though a lot of younger people prefer using email and text to contact you, many older people still prefer the phone. You should always have your phone number available to people on your contact page and your header or footer.

But you should not emphasize your phone number on your landing page unless you have the ability to answer it. If you do not have the staff to answer your phone during your hours of operation, it’s best to emphasize new technologies.

Getting Leads by Text

A lot of people, young and old, prefer to communicate by text nowadays. And text can be a good medium for getting leads.

There are many providers of text messaging for businesses. A common example is a web browser interface that you or your staff can use to track and respond to text messages.

Leads from Your Website Webform

Every website should have a contact form on their contact page. But you can have these webforms on any page you want visitors to contact you.

There are a number of advantages of webforms over email:

  • filter out spam
  • control the information your visitor is providing you.

With a webform, you can get your visitor’s phone number and email address and other relevant information the visitor may omit from an email. Here’s mine:

Leads through Chat Apps

There are now many chat applications available where a user can chat with your staff directly when they land on your website.

The advantage is that a user is prompted to communicate with you and you can attempt to convert them immediately.

But there are a number of potential disadvantages:

  • You need to staff your chat app, which may not be possible if you are a solopreneur
  • Chat bots (automate chat apps) are still easily identifiable as robots, which can be off-putting
  • If you hire a service to run your chat app, chances are they will not know your business.
  • If you do have a real person (staff or service) monitoring your chat app, you should be aware that they will have to deal with spam bots and, unfortunately, the same types of people you find in internet comments sections: they’re not serious about your business and they are crass.

Leads from the Internet Not Through Your Website

Yes, You Need a Google Business Page

After you create your website, there are few things more fundamental to being found online than having a Google Business or Brand Page.

This video gives basic steps for how to do that for those who are not digital natives.

The Google Brand Page allows users to find your brand and your site through Google’s search engine even if your individual pages may not be ranking that well. It also provides a place for customer reviews to display right in the search results, allowing potential clients to learn about your previous successes.

It is an essential part of any small business marketing endeavour.

Get Your Practice Noticed Through Content Marketing

Content Marketing is basically the use of “content” – blogs, videos, podcasts, reviews, and other internet content – in lieu of or in support of traditional advertising, to get the attention of potential leads.

This webpage is an example of content marketing – I give you some information for free in the hope that you will not only like the information but come to trust me as an expert and a person you can trust. Maybe one day you’ll hire me. Or at least talk to me.

We can break down “content marketing” into three broad categories, based on the medium:

  • blogging/article marketing – what is traditionally meant by “content marketing”
  • video marketing
  • audio marketing.

Text: Blogging/Article Marketing

Blogging is the original form of (online) content marketing. At some point somebody realized that writing about you and your business online helped convince clients to hire you.

But content marketing is much, of course: businesses have been using brochures, white-papers and even books for decades to “soft sell”. Content marketing is just doing that on the internet.

The basic strategy is this:

  1. Figure out what your clients are looking for (what problems they are trying to solve)
  2. Write about those problems and how you solve or help solve them
  3. Present what you’ve written in a way that is appealing to both users and search engine robots
  4. Share it all over the internet.

That’s basically it.

Of course, doing it well is much more complicated, especially since content marketing has become one of the dominant forms of internet marketing – everyone does it. And because everyone does it, you have to do it better.

So how do you stand out from your competition?

  • You write about things which haven’t been written about (well) yet
  • You do a better job than another business (by going more in depth, by presenting it better, etc)
  • You show why you can and should be trusted
  • You show that you are both likeable and in reach
  • You show that you are the authority
  • You make it easy for the potential client.

And you do all of these things consistently, over time.

Not every piece you publish has to have all these features, but they have to have some of them. It depends where on the buyer’s journey the user is as to what you are showing them.

Video Marketing

Video marketing is expensive and requires a fair amount of work.

However, when done well, it connects with the client better than anything else. (Think of a good video as a personalized message to a lead.)

There are all sorts of questions to sort out when contemplating video marketing, many of which are logistic. We’re only going to go into biggest one of those here. If you would like more advice on this I can refer you to someone with years of experience in the field.

YouTube or Not YouTube

It’s important to know what camera to use, what mic, what light(s), where to film, etc. I cannot help you with those things. (Though I know people who can!)

What I can help you with is whether or not you should use YouTube.

So, should you?

YouTube

  • is easy to use (it’s relatively intuitive)
  • is easy for your potential clients to to use (and they all know it)
  • has videos which are embedable and shareable basically anywhere
  • acts as a search engine
  • has the added bonus of allowing you to accept third party ads on your channel (who will pay you money if you have enough views).

However, there are concerns:

  • Some people believe that YouTube videos steal credit from your site when they are embedded on your site.
  • If you are making videos for others, it’s not a platform that makes it easy to collaborate and workshop.
  • The YouTube algorithm can easily associate your video with things you don’t want it associated with it.
  • YouTube functions as its own internal social network and viewers may never leave it for your website.

So the answer is, as always, “it depends”.

Audio Marketing (Podcasts)

Everyone has a podcast. (I have two.)

As the kids say, we’ve reached Peak Podcast. That means there are too many.

I would strongly suggest not starting your own podcast to promote your business for two reasons:

  1. Everyone has a podcast. You’re already behind.
  2. What’s more effective? A 30 minute audio recording or a 3 minute video?

If you’re going to spend your money on audio-visual content, video is more direct. Podcasts take time to find an audience and they take time to win people over.

Also, you can very easily turn your video studio from making soft sell videos to ads. You don’t have as many opportunities.

Now, if you have such a unique niche that there is literally not another podcast in your language in the niche then, by all means, make your podcast.

Otherwise, you should save your audio marketing to guest appearances on the podcasts of others, who already have audiences interested in your message and solutions.

Get Your Practice Noticed Through Social Media

A few years ago I held a webinar about how to use social media for your business:

Getting Leads Through Facebook

There was a while there when everyone was telling you “You have to get on Facebook.” If you asked why, you probably didn’t get a very good response. There’s a reason for that.

You can use Facebook for your business – for some businesses it makes a lot of sense. But for many, many businesses, investing a lot of time and money into Facebook makes very little sense. Will likes, shares and comments within Facebook really benefit your business?

Before you decide whether or not to spend time with Facebook, you should decide how you want to use it.

3 Ways to Get Clients Through Facebook

There are basically three ways to use Facebook for your business:

Using Facebook as a Person (User) for Your Business to Get Leads

If you are your own brand – for example, you are a therapist – it’s possible that you can use Facebook effectively for your business while only using your personal profile.

Upside: You can use Facebook more actively than a business and you can engage with Facebook Friends, and Facebook Friends of Facebook Friends, in ways businesses cannot.

Downside: Your family and your actual friends that you are Facebook Friends with will likely find your constant business promotion annoying.

Basically, you should only use your personal profile for your business if you have no interest in the social aspects of Facebook.

Getting Leads Through the Facebook Business Page

A Facebook Business Page is the official way businesses use Facebook. Every brick-and-mortar business should a Facebook Business Page, brands should to, and if your business is a pop-up style, you should definitely have one.

The question isn’t whether or not to have a Facebook Business Page. Rather, the question is, how much time to devote to it. I discuss the Facebook Business Page in more detail below.

Getting Leads Through Facebook Ads

Like all pay-per-click (PPC) ads, Facebook ads have both their downside and their upside.

Facebook ads are significantly different than search engine and website ads. Customization and targeting are quite different (and far superior) but you must ask yourself a simple question: do you really want to pay for Facebook page and post likes? Is there any value in that?

For many businesses, there is no value in Facebook ads. It really depends upon how you are using your business page and whether or not it’s part of your sales funnel.

So, Should You Use Facebook for Your Business?

Not sure whether or not you should use Facebook for your business? I can help. Contact me to discuss the pros and cons of Facebook and other social media for your business.

You Need a Facebook Business Page (Whether or Not You'll Use Facebook for Your Business)

If you’re a small business owner or solopreneur, whether or not you should use a Facebook business page to market your business on Facebook depends upon why and how you use Facebook.

Facebook business pages can be useful, but they’re quite limited in what you can do with them in terms of outreach. So, what do you use Facebook for?

  • If you do not intend to market on Facebook, you need a Facebook business page for the reviews so that anyone searching Facebook for you finds your contact information. (You should check your messages at least once a week)
  • If you have been on Facebook for years, you need a Facebook business page.
  • If you haven’t used Facebook personally, but intend to do so at any time in the future, you need a Facebook business page.
  • If you are not comfortable “being your brand,” then you need a Facebook business page.
  • However, if you have not used Facebook for social or personal reasons and you are comfortable being your own brand, you shouldn’t use a Facebook business page as your principal Facebook marketing strategy.

Facebook was originally intended as a social tool. It is still a social tool, but it is being used increasingly for business and even as a search engine.

If you have not put up photos, personal posts or expressed personal opinions on Facebook that you might not want associated with your business, then you can use your profile to promote your business, rather than a page. Why would you want to do that?

Well, because a Facebook page is limited in how it can interact with potential customers – someone has to interact with your page before you can contact them. Your profile page is not limited in this way: you can approach new people regardless of whether or not they’ve ever heard of you (or indicted to Facebook that they’re interested in your business).

Mind you, you still have to respectful, follow good social media etiquette and not come across as hunting for profits but, provided you do those things, you’re in much better shape using your profile to perform outreach, rather than your business page. (Note: you should still have a business page!)

But, if you like Facebook for the connections it allows between your friends and family, or you want to give that a try, using your profile both for personal connections and your business is unwise and I would strongly recommend sticking to a business page if this is how you intend to use Facebook.

Should You Use Instagram for Your Business?

Should you use Instagram to market your business online? After all, don’t all the kids use it?

Instagram is a unique way of reaching potential and current customers. But, due to its uniquely visual nature, it’s not for every business. Yes, it’s true, you can post text as a picture on Instagram but if people are going to see that text, they need to follow you. Though you may get followers with text, you get most followers on Instagram visually.

So, you should only put time and effort into Instagram if you can present your products or services visually. If you cannot conceive of a way to visually present your products, your services, or your staff, in a compelling visual manner, it’s just not worth it.

Social media takes time. In order to have a successful social media account you need to put in tons of time and effort and you also need to be lucky. If you cannot create compelling visual content for your business, there is no point in wasting resources on Instagram.

Should You Bother With Twitter for Your Business?

Should you use Twitter to market your business? After all, isn’t everyone on it?

Well, first of all, not that many people are actually on Twitter. Twitter has 6% of the users of Facebook.

But really, the question of whether or not to use Twitter is really a question of what you intend to use Twitter for and how much time you plan to devote to it.

Do you get lots of customer service inquiries? Then it absolutely makes sense to use Twitter regularly for your business.

Is your business mobile? Then it absolutely makes sense to use Twitter regularly for your business.

But, if you do not have a lot of customer service inquiries, or you don’t have tons of updates about your business location or hours, then it’s likely that Twitter is not the best way to promote your business.

Unless of course you are your business; you are the face of your brand and more – you are your brand. If this is the case, Twitter can be very useful at allowing you to communicate directly to your potential customers/clients.

But be warned: using Twitter effectively is extremely time-consuming. For Twitter to be worth your time, you have to be on it a lot.

Should You Use YouTube to Promote Your Business?

For a long time, people lumped in YouTube with the other social media networks. This was an odd thing to do because YouTube is extremely different from social media in a couple of ways. Marketing on YouTube can be incredibly effective but it is also expensive and requires a lot of trial and error.

But before you decide whether or not to use YouTube (or another video platform) you need to decide whether or not to use video. (See above.)

What is YouTube Exactly?

This might seem like a silly question, but since people have long referred to it as a social media platform its worth talking about what it really is.

YouTube is at least three things:

  1. A video hosting/viewing service
  2. A forum/social network
  3. A search engine

It is all of these things rolled into one.

What that means for you, the small business owner, is that you can market on YouTube in at least three different ways:

  1. Video marketing
  2. Social media marketing
  3. Search engine marketing

All of these methods involve cost:

  • It costs a fair amount to make a decent video, though the price can go down over time once you develop a process. (Take it from me, I have supervised a YouTube channel with thousands of videos, tens of thousands of subscribers and millions of views.)
  • If you want to use YouTube primarily as a social media network it means spending time and money on participating on YouTube. (If you comment without creating videos, you will get very little ROI.)
  • Lastly you can spend money on ads.

Basically, if you’re going to use YouTube, you’re going to have to spend money.

Is it worth it?

Well, that really depends.

You may have heard about people making tons of money from YouTube, but those people are the tiny minority. And the math just doesn’t add up for most people; it takes millions of views to generate thousands of dollars and it takes a very long time (and luck) to get to the point where you are getting millions of views.

In the past, mearly everything you did marketing on YouTube was internal, meaning that you were paying to send someone to a different part of YouTube. That meant that most of your efforts on YouTube were more for branding than they were for actual clients. (Getting the clients from the network to your site is one of the big hurdles with marketing within any network.)

Things are better than they used to be, in this regard, but effort still needs to be put in to move the traffic from YouTube to your site.

With the right commitment of money, you can dominate branding among younger clients, and with the right calls to action in your videos, you can get clients to contact you. Successful YouTube campaigns can be very successful. But they will cost a lot.

Understanding Social Media For Your Business

Everyone tells you that you should use social media for your business.

So you start using it, you post some of your content, and maybe some other content you like and…nothing happens. Nobody clicks on your links, your traffic doesn’t increase and, worst of all, there are no new sales. What is happening?

Well, to really make use of social media for your business that requires engagement.

And engagement requires you to both spend time on social media – rather than just occasionally posting a link – and to interact with people – whether or not they are potential customers – on social media.

Below are the basic social signals on four of the biggest social networks. Let’s examine what messages they send so you can engage with the right people to both get your content shared more widely and to get actual leads.

Social Media Applause: Likes, Favourites, +1s

What I’m calling “applause” is the most basic level of engagement between a user on a social media website and your content. Applause signals are called different things on different social networks:

  • Facebook: Like
  • Google Plus: +1
  • LinkedIn: Like
  • Twitter: Favourite

But they amount the same thing: a social media user has indicated that they like your post.

But that’s all they have done. If you have included a link, a user “liking” your post does not even indicate they clicked on your link. In fact, many studies have shown that most people who “like” a post with a link on Facebook, for example, do not actually click through to the link.

The positive side of this is that when a Facebook user likes your post, or a Google Plus user gives your post a +1, or a Twitter user favourites your post, that post gets more exposure. When a post is liked, that post appears in the feed of the user who liked it – this is true of all three of the major social media networks.

What that means is that their friends and contacts – people who you are not necessarily networked with – will see the post, if only for a moment. And the more people who like your post, the more this will happen.

For example: if you post on Facebook and a Facebook friend likes your post, and then a Facebook friend of theirs likes your post, your post will appear in both your Facebook friend’s feed and also their friend’s feed, albeit briefly.

Facebook and LinkedIn have expanded their”Like” buttons to include emoticons expressing emotions other than approval, which is good for users and can give you some idea of what users think of your posts. (Google Plus and Twitter has not expanded the meaning of their similar signals.)

The problem is that a like does not guarantee any actual engagement with the post, even if it gets seen in other feeds. Moreover, a like will only get the post to appear briefly in another user’s feed and, more often than not, it will be drowned out by other posts.

So a like on Facebook or LinkedIn, or a +1 on Google Plus, or a Favourite on Twitter doesn’t seem to mean much to you or your business. Sure, it’s better than nothing, but this is not what you want. You want actual engagement.

Social Media Amplification: Shares and Retweets

Applause is nice but relatively meaningless. Lots of it is good, little of it is pretty insignificant. What you really want is amplification of your message and your content. Like appplause, amplification goes by different names on the different social networks:

  • Facebook: Share
  • Google Plus: Share
  • LinkedIn: Share
  • Twitter: Retweet

As with applause, the names are different but the results are the same. In the case of amplification, a social media user is referring your post or tweet to others, sometimes with a comment of their own (see below), but often with no comment.

Just like with applause, an amplification exposes your content to more eyes; when someone shares your post or retweets your tweet, that action enters into the feed of the person who shared or retweeted your message just like a like/+1/favourite but, this time, there are two further benefits:

  1. The amplification usually stays in the new feed longer than if the user just applauded your stuff and this becomes even more true if friends of the user applaud the amplification. (For example: If I share your post on Facebook, and my friends like it, that post is hanging around longer than if I just liked your post, or if I shared your post and nobody liked it.)
  2. Second, especially if the person amplified your post comments upon it, this is clearer endorsement of the post than if they applauded it – that’s how people and the social network algorithms interpret it, as a clearer indicator that this is something worth checking out.

Studies have shown that many people share links without clicking on them. But you shouldn’t find that discouraging. Shares are still better than likes and you should try to get your content shared as much as possible.

If you’re lucky, you’re share could become so big that someone screen caps it and uses it in an article as happens with tweets and the occasional Facebook post.

If someone amplifies your content, you should:

  • follow them, if you haven’t already
  • like/+1/favourite content they share if you actually like it (on Facebook and LinkedIn you can express different non-positive sentiments, as well)
  • amplify their content if they post or share something you think your followers would appreciate
  • comment on their posts if you think it’s appropriate
  • private message them only if you think there’s potential for something more (this is less of a faux pas on LinkedIn than anywhere else).

Social Media Discussion: Comments and Replies

The last and best social signal is actual discussion about your post, link or tweet. The most common form for each social network is:

  • Facebook: Comment
  • Google Plus: Comment
  • LinkedIn: Comment
  • Twitter: Retweet with comment or tweet at you about something you tweeted earlier

Though the feedback will not always be positive, this is the best sign your content is getting attention and discussion will keep your post/tweet in your feed and in the feeds of those who have liked it, commented upon it or shared it for even longer. It will create more exposure for your content than the other signals.

You should respond to every comment/reply. Even if they are negative. You should always be professional in your responses and project the image of your brand that you want the world to see, but you should respond.

Responses will engage the initial commenter and possibly others and increase the visibility of your content. (If there is an exception here, it is trolls: if someone is obviously trolling you, especially if the trolling is really inane – “You’re inane.” etc – then ignore them. But you should only do so if it’s obvious to you, and others, that this person is a troll. If you don’t want to ignore trolls, click this link.)

In addition to responding to comments, you should

  • follow the commenter if you haven’t already
  • like posts of theirs you actually like
  • share posts of theirs you think your followers would appreciate
  • comment on other posts of theirs if relevant
  • private message them if it would be better to discuss whatever it is they are commenting about in private (but indicate on the post you are private messaging them so that it doesn’t seem like you ignored the comment)

Social Media Direct/Personal Messaging

The final social signal that you should pay attention to – but which is not necessarily as great because it’s not public and, therefore, not social – is the direct or personal message. This can be really positive for your business, because it could be a lead.

But you shouldn’t just go around direct messaging just anyone. Direct messaging can be considered a faux pas in some circumstances. Direct message someone only if they have already expressed interest in you or your work.

You can direct message:

  • Facebook: friends, friends of friends, people you find (don’t do this last one!)
  • Google Plus: no ability to direct message, though you can do so if they have a YouTube channel (and you have one) linked to their Google Plus account
  • LinkedIn: primary and secondary connections (It’s much more socially acceptable to send private messages on LinkedIn than anywhere else)
  • Twitter: only your followers (so if you want to private message someone, you have to convince them to follow you first!)

So, that’s your guide to the basic social signals on some of the most used social networks. I hope you get a good sense of how they work and how to use them.

If you have any questions, please contact me.

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