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4 Steps You Can Take to Start Driving More Traffic to Your Website

The internet is an ever-changing digital landscape of best practices, search engine algorithms, and keywords. It probably feels like determining how to drive more traffic to your website isn’t as easy as it used to be, if it was ever easy at all. Fortunately, we’ve got some simple ways to drive more traffic to your website while doing more than playing by the rules. You’ll be giving your site’s visitors better, more valuable reasons to come back, and you should see conversions because of it.

Be Mobile Friendly!

You’re probably familiar with the word “Mobilegeddon” by now, and you’re probably not impressed. To many, it seemed to roll out not with a bang, but with a deflated whimper that left some scratching their heads. Unfortunately, that’s because a lot of the people that would have been looked at for impact were in the process of becoming or were actually already “mobile friendly.” In search results, this is the key identifier of Google’s algorithm update earlier this year.

If you’re still wondering “why is responsive design important?” then you should take a look at a few statistics: as many as 20% of people will be using your website from a mobile device, and some 60% of searches are made from or start with a mobile device. Couple this with the fact that people use the search options on their smartphones like we used to use the nearly-defunct phone book. And – not to mention the fact that the number of users integrating smartphones into their shopping experience or even outright shopping from their phone is steadily increasing, and you begin to see why creating a responsive website isn’t just a good idea, it’s a vital one.

What this means is that if you want steadily growing traffic, you must be mobile friendly. You will need to focus more of your attention on aspects of your business that are affected by mobile traffic and optimize them. This isn’t just to make it easier for users to browse your site, or just to appease Google. This will also enhance user experience and make them more likely to visit your site again.

By the way – making the update should be easy. Depending on the platform hosting your site, there may already be tools in place to make the switch smoothly.

Stay on Top of the Shifting SEO Landscape

SEO best practices are not static. On one hand, this is because technology and the programming behind it are always being updated and improved upon. How people build websites and use search engines are changing as well. On the other hand, this is also a constantly developing precaution against companies that want to game the system.

Abusing protocol might get a site more traffic for a short while, but invariably, that traffic won’t stick around because the site isn’t actually what users are looking for. And then, of course, Google, Yahoo, or another search engine will adjust their algorithm to downrank the site for its misguided efforts.

Even if you’re using best practices from years ago, that doesn’t mean your SEO techniques will still be effective. That may sound obvious on the surface, of course, especially with the aforementioned emphasis on change. However, it cannot be stressed enough how quickly your SEO strategy may need to be adjusted in response to algorithm changes.

You need to not only make use of SEO best practices to the best of your ability, you need to keep track of its changing requirements as well. Your site may need an SEO facelift in order to actually see more traffic flowing into your site.

What might make your SEO strategy seem more complicated is also the increasing level of nuance in optimization. It isn’t merely about keywords or about having new posts being put up every day. SEO algorithms are beginning to take quality and value into account. That means taking a fresh look at your content, which we’ll discuss in a moment, as well as making judicious use of long-tail keywords.

Long-tail keywords use three or more words to make a phrase, and are intended to emulate the phrases people will actually use on search engines. This not only diminishes competition for keyword ranking, increasing the odds of your page being found, but it improves the quality and type of user that finds your site. They will be more likely to want what your website has to offer, and thus be more likely to come back.

Content Is a Priority

As we just noted, SEO is much more nuanced than it used to be. This is due, in part, to last year’s Pigeon algorithm update from Google, which largely had to do with affiliate sites and deceptive ads. It also represented a shift in how Google viewed content, specifically with regard to low-quality content (ie., little or no added value), especially when it’s stuffed with keywords. Ergo, your site should regularly produce quality content that adds value to your business. If that sounds obvious, it’s only because you were probably attempting to do so from the beginning.

What you might not know is how to produce quality content, or even what kinds of content you should be producing. Of course, this will be influenced by your industry, but there’s a few basics to stay on top of.

  • Your content should be multi-platform ready. This means that the content you produce increases your search visibility as well as your social media reach. Multi-platform content can be shared and re-shared easily across a spectrum of social media platforms, all while linking back to your site, providing a digital word of mouth.
  • Blogs in particular can help your SEO ranking, especially if posts utilize different but inherently related long-tail keywords. Presented correctly and updated in a timely manner, a blog and social media outlets will also increase the perception of your site as authoritative in your industry.
  • Guest bloggers can improve your ranking and perception as well. While commerce is an inherently competitive endeavor, there’s a point at which thriving on the internet requires a certain level of intra-industry cooperation. This isn’t to say that guest bloggers are an immediate necessity, or that they’re going to be right for your site in particular. Guest blogging should go both ways, so having credible guests lends you authority while you, guest writing for another site’s blog, increases the visibility of your own site and further supports your own credibility.

Social Media Engagement Connects Customers to Your Site

Social media is literally digital word of mouth, but making an impact on social media takes more than just shouting into the void. Turning that impact into site conversions is a step further than that. The key is engagement.

Now, engagement as a term can come off as jargon, but it’s quite literal. Just as sales are more effective inside a store by interacting with a customer, your social media outlets should be engaging, letting you interact with users that will, in turn, follow your social media content back to your site. This can sometimes be as basic as customer service, but it can also be used to draw customers in with contests, pictures, and updates about your industry. Keep in mind that being engaging will also have long term payoffs, bringing in conversions that you wouldn’t have reached without it.

Much more than that, social media analytics can give you clear feedback about what is or isn’t succeeding about your site and your business overall.

In the end, the best ways to drive more traffic to your website aren’t complicated or difficult, but they do require time, effort, and above all, quality. Take these steps and you’re sure to see your traffic swell.

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10 Scary Digital Marketing Mistakes You DON’T Want to Make

Halloween is right around the corner, but here in Houston, it’s not ghosts and ghouls were afraid of, it’s bad marketing. So bring your tablet around the campfire and check out these 10 very scary digital marketing mistakes you most definitely DON’T want to make.

1. Failing to Understand Your Audience

Come on now, it’s 2015. With all of the different ways there are to engage with, and learn about your audience there’s no excuse for not understanding them. And even if your target audience is zombies, if your base thinks you’re out of touch you can bet they won’t be paying you any attention.

2. Not Having Defined Goals

This is one of the scariest digital marketing mistakes you can make, because having ill defined marketing goals can throw a whole campaign out of whack. If you don’t know what you want to achieve with your marketing, you risk choosing a marketing technique that is ineffective for the situation, or else not tracking the proper metrics to allow you to accurately see whether the campaign was a success or a failure. You’ll be marketing-walking dead, wandering aimlessly, arms outstretched.

3. You’re Trying Too Much

No one expects you to become a marketing superhero overnight, especially if you’re just starting out. Think of yourself as more like a marketing Karate Kid instead. Start small, and see what works. Wax on. Wax off. Learn how to A/B test your campaigns, and you’ll be able to identify what works best for you in no time.

4. You Have Unrealistic Expectations

The internet is really a wonderful thing. While you’re reading this post you could, in mere seconds, order that gorilla costume you wanted for Halloween, and have it appear at your doorstep tomorrow morning. Instant gratification at it’s finest. But (unfortunately) digital marketing doesn’t work like ordering a gorilla costume online. It takes time.

Often times advertisers get frustrated with a digital campaign when it doesn’t immediately yield results. But let’s use this as an example, the average social media campaign takes six months before it shows results. That’s a lot of tweets, but patience pays off in the end.

5. Not Budgeting Properly

Creating a digital advertising budget can seem daunting to the uninitiated, but it’s really quite simple. So simple that even the slowest of digital marketing zombies could follow it.

6. Too Much Social Media

When it comes to social media, your business doesn’t need to be everywhere. As long as you’re engaging your audience where it counts. Pick one or two social media sites that are most appropriate for your strategy and stick with them! Professional businesses seem to do best on sites like Twitter and LinkedIn, while restaurants and retail stores, for example, might find a more welcoming audience on Facebook or Instagram.

Wherever you choose to get social, don’t post too much, lest you see your audience begin to tune you out, and your social pages turn into digital ghost towns.

7. You Don’t Understand the Importance of Content

Creating content and/or blogging not only helps you get found online but it helps educate your customers and position you as a leader in your industry. And even more, it works for driving conversions! In fact, inbound marketing drives 54% more leads into your marketing funnel than traditional methods.

8. You Don’t Understand Keywords

Keyword stuffing is a terrifying digital marketing mistake, and there is a lot to learn about how keywords work today. It’s more about the quality and placement of your keywords and not the quantity. Search engines algorithms have gotten smarter and are ranking your website based on how useful viewers find the content, not by how many times a keyword appears. Brush up on your SEO best practices and watch your site climb the ranks today!

9. You’re Not Thinking About Mobile

Mobilegeddon — Google’s latest algorithm update — was six months ago, and if you haven’t optimized your site for mobile yet, you are seriously harming your search engine rankings, and regardless of what updates are made to the search engines we know that mobile matters today more than any other time. With 60% of internet access mostly mobile, it might even matter more than any other format.

10. You’re Not Tracking Your Efforts

One of the biggest advantages that digital marketing has over other mediums is its enhanced ability to track the success (or failure) of your marketing efforts, so that you may improve future campaigns based on what did/didn’t work in the past. It’s what separates a banner ad from skywriting.

So there you have it. Can you identify if your business is making any of these fatal digital marketing mistakes? Heed these warnings, and begin to improve your overall digital strategy today. If you dare!

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Is Your Business Haunted by Poor Online Reviews?

As a small business, you know all too well how important word-of-mouth marketing can be for your reputation and bottom line. In this age of internet revolution, poor online reviews can leave a nasty mark on your online presence. But sometimes, these unfavorable reviews show up even when your business has done nothing wrong, simply because the reviewer, for whatever reason, wants to inflict unnecessary harm on the business to be spiteful.

Regardless of the reason, justified or not, business owners know that you can’t please everyone; there are some customers that will never be happy, and one bad client is worse than hundreds of happy ones.

People are relying heavily on reviews found on online review sites like Yelp, and the quality and quantity of these reviews can dramatically affect your business’s ROI. With online reviews being a critical part of your business’s reputation, it’s important to understand the best ways to deal with negative reviews.

What to Do With a Business That Already Has Poor Reviews?

It’s time to embrace managing your business’s online reputation as part of your marketing strategy. Whether you want to believe it or not, reviews can make or break a small business. BrightLocal’s 2015 Local Customer Review Survey just found that 87% of potential customers won’t even consider a business with low ratings. So, what do you do if you already have poor reviews?

First, go to the source. Look past the review for a moment and determine what your business needs to do to improve. Was the review bashing your customer service? If so, did they mention or describe who the employee was that gave them poor service? It may be worthwhile to speak with that person to get their side of the story, and take further action if necessary. Your employees need to understand that you’re running business, providing a service, or product, and they must always act in a professional and friendly manner. 

One thing you should NEVER do is pay for companies to “remove” your bad reviews. We have remove in quotation marks because once it’s out there in the Twitterverse, it can never be fully removed. Unfortunately, most people who review businesses fall into one of two extreme categories: they either loved the business or they absolutely detested it. Most people who fall in between those two sentiments don’t tend to take the time to write reviews. What this means for you is, customers that had a terrible experience see to it that everyone knows about it. If they find out you’ve “removed” their review, they may continue to post negative feedback on multiple social media and review platforms. 

Instead of trying to buy the reviewer’s silence, try to handle the situation with great customer service. Respond to the negative comment publicly, address their issues, and offer a way to remedy the problem. This will not only show the reviewer, but potential customers looking at your reviews, that you’re paying attention and care about customer satisfaction. Oftentimes the reviewer can make amendments to their review. If you respond to a negative post, it’s not uncommon for the reviewer to update their review with a better rating and a less biased opinion. Conversely, this can work the other way, where a once good review turns sour based on more recent experiences.

Paying the Price for Paying For Reviews

Positive online reviews are the crucial lifeblood of your business’s online reputation. However, going to any lengths to get a good review — like paying for it — can land you in hot water. Take for example the true and cautionary story of Catskills hotel, Union Street Guest House. This boutique hotel wanted positive reviews so badly that they went so far as to create a policy where they’d fine guests $500 for every bad review. Below is their policy:

“If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event. If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500 fine for each negative review.”

So you may think that this hotel has a clear reputation full of positive four and five star reviews, right? Wrong. The internet has a way of banding together in certain unethical situations like this and the backlash from their ridiculous policy has led them to mostly 1-star reviews on Yelp and tons of negative PR. So, can online reviews hurt business? Most certainly. This hotel’s determination to land great online reviews by any means necessary resulted in an epic, widely covered, backfire.

Moreover, it’s most certainly not a best practice to write fake reviews, and will only temporarily deceive your customers. They’ll find out firsthand if your business is actually worth those stars. In fact, in New York, 19 companies were forced to pay $350,000 in penalties for misleading practices.

Lastly, don’t let one bad apple spoil your bunch…of reviews. Dilute negative reviews with positive ones. Of course, we’re not suggesting you go home and write a bunch of great reviews for your business under fake Yelp accounts. Simply encourage happy customers to share their experiences with others. Be careful not to outright ask for reviews, as this may lead customers to feel like they’re being used as a promotional vehicle. Instead, encourage engagement.

Many customers are more than happy to help out local businesses that they think are great. The BrightLocal study previously mentioned found that 73% of customers form an opinion after reading 1-6 reviews, and 69% believe that reviews older than three months are no longer relevant. So take a deep breath, that bad review will be watered down by great ones in no time.

Best Practices for Dealing with Bad Reviews

So, you’ve got a bad review. The way in which you handle it can turn the bad review into a nightmare, or hopefully, a positive exchange in which the reviewer’s complaints are mitigated. Here are a few rules for handling bad online reviews:

  • Respond in a Timely Manner: Monitoring your reviews will allow you to respond to negative posts promptly. Reply directly on the comment to make things right. Offer apologies, and encourage the customer to give your business a second chance, perhaps with an incentive to come back, like a 20% off offer.
  • NEVER Respond in Anger: We get it — this business is your baby and you may get defensive if someone has a less-than-stellar experience. Take a moment to compose yourself before you reply to a negative review. Many businesses have responded in anger, and it has cost them dearly. Often times reviewers exaggerate their experience or make things up completely to heighten the severity of the review. This can be incredibly frustrating and embarrassing, but being professional and avoiding replies out of anger or aggression is important. Replying in a defensive or belittling manner can compromise your business’s reputation and worsen an already bad review. Instead, apologize and offer to make things better with a refund or special offer.
  • Issue a Response From the Owner/Manager: This will make the reviewer feel as if their opinion was important enough to be handled by someone in charge. It’ll also show the reviewer or potential customers that you take customer service and satisfaction seriously and you want to make sure all clients leave your establishment feeling happy.
  • Encourage Engagement: While you don’t want to flatout ask for positive reviews, you can encourage interaction by subtly driving awareness that you’re on review sites like Yelp, but stopping short of asking for a review. Ways to do that include posting signs and stickers around your business that encourage people to find you on review sites and including a call-to-action on your promotional materials that lead people to these sites. As long as you aren’t specifically soliciting positive reviews, you aren’t violating any official policies. Your main goal should be to get people talking.

The Moral of the Story

You crave success. You know that your product or service is exemplary, now you just need to get it into the right hands and have the people attached to those hands write you great reviews! But, the internet can be a harsh and dark place and sometimes that’s not what happens. Don’t let one bad review define your business. Address it properly and in a timely manner to diffuse any bad feelings.

You have happy customers, and you know how they feel about your business, but for reasons unknown to you, they aren’t writing reviews. So, it’s harmless to write those reviews for them, right? Wrong! Crafting fake reviews sets you up for all sorts of backlash; there are much better ways of getting good reviews.

Instead of desperately asking for, paying for, or removing bad reviews — take a look at your digital marketing plan and how you can begin to harbor organic, positive reviews. Ultimately, the moral of the story is simple. Provide a great product or service, the best customer service you possibly can, and do it consistently. Engage with your clients, value their opinions, even when they’re negative or constructive. Take those bad reviews as opportunities for improvement. Doing these things will naturally result in great reviews. And there is nothing more satisfying than earning four or five star reviews that you didn’t pay for.

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Five Infographics That Will Change Your Online Strategy

If seeing is believing, the following five infographics will make you a believer. They present ideas, tips, facts, and figures that can improve your online presence and inspire your next marketing campaign—all provided by some of the top leaders in their fields. Their nifty graphics and attention to hard data will help your business flourish on the Internet.

1. The Client’s Guide to Creating a Website

Your website is your face to the world. An unattractive site can send searchers packing. A beautifully designed, interactive, and well-curated site can increase your views and have your audience coming back for more—but making this perfect website is more than just picking a site name and writing out text. Great websites take time, goals, research, creativity and professionality to launch. In this infographic by Reed Design Group, learn how you can build and design a site from the ground up that will captivate and inspire.

2. What Is Digital Marketing

With so many new advertising avenues, it can be hard to keep up with all the buzzwords. “Digital marketing” is often believed to be just one of those all encompassing ways to say online advertising. However, Ashdown Group’s infographic dispels this rumor by breaking down what really occurs when you invest in digital marketing and why it matters to your business. This helpful graphic also explains the smaller points of digital marketing that make all the difference including sitemaps, reports, and webmaster tools.

3. 11 Reasons to Care About Mobile Performance in 2015

Did you know that 1.2 billion people use their phones to access the web? This infographic by Web Performance Today does. And if that is not enough for you to want to know more about what your business can do in the mobile arena, they give you eleven more reasons to get started with your mobile campaign. For example, do you know why 97% of mobile shopping carts are abandoned? It’s often because of slowness and experience. That’s just one way this graphic will show you how to improve your website for a new type of viewer.

4. 10 Social Media Marketing Trends to Watch Out for in 2015

A new year brings new trends. CJG Digital Marketing created a breakdown of the ten most important social media behaviors to watch for. It even explains what is and isn’t working in terms of B2B social media marketing. And if you’re looking for what is new and ahead of it’s time, check out the last tip which shows the newest social media sites that are slowly catching on.

5. Understanding Consumers Local Search Behavior

Google is the king of all things online, so why not trust their fact based infographics. With this informative graph curated by Think With Google, small businesses and those looking to target specific locals can learn a thing or two about how consumers use Google to seek out local businesses, products, and services. After all, four out of five people want advertisements that are customized to their location or home ZIP code. Knowing how best to optimize your search listings can open your business up to nearby customers and visitors.

Putting Visuals to Work

Staying up to date on online trends and best practices can be tough on any business. With so many facts and figures as well as conflicting opinions, there is just too much to sort through. But by utilizing informative infographics from reliable sources, you can get the breakdown on what is important for your digital or mobile marketing and online presence.

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Red, White, and Social: Social Media Marketing Ideas for the Fourth of July

Independence Day marks a day of festivity; family, friends, food and fireworks take center stage…and so should your business. Promoting your business on the Fourth of July can be done pool or beachside if you utilize social media promotions.

Here are seven Fourth of July social media marketing ideas to drive sales and engagement throughout the holiday:

1. Run a Photo Contest

Bring the celebration over to social media by having visitors post their most patriotic moments, or their best red, white and blue photos. Or, create a brand and holiday-specific hashtag just for your event.

The Clymb, an outdoor gear retailer got creative with their Fourth of July Instagram campaign last year. Customers were encouraged to upload photos of their outdoor Independence Day celebrations and three winners were awarded gift certificates.

Non-retail businesses can also take advantage of Fourth of July social media promotions. This Warford Orthodontics Fourth of July photo contest encouraged followers to post firework and patriotic photos on their Facebook page. The winning entries were awarded Visa gift cards.

2. Choose a Brand Specific Holiday Hashtag

Promoting your business on the Fourth of July can be as simple as creating a brand specific holiday hashtag to be used across all platforms. A brand specific hashtag will help you sort through contest entrants, as well as create higher visibility for the campaign.

The Clymb’s Fourth of July photo contest required entrants to use both their business name in a hashtag (#TheClymb) in addition to a brand specific holiday hashtag (#RWBCLYMB).

Edelman Digital offers a great roundup of 5 websites that offer hashtag generation help, if you’re struggling with creativity.

3. Curate Holiday-Specific Social Content

Provide added value by sharing Fourth of July specific content with your customers. BBQ recipes, an article highlighting local events (fireworks, parades, etc.), even trending national stories help build engagement with your community on social media platforms.
Offerpop suggests creating a Pinterest board with a roundup of the best summer cocktails.

4. Promote Holiday Specific Products

Get creative! Discount red, white and blue or holiday-related products. Lowes knocked it out of the ballpark with this Vine they posted, creating a fireworks display with a selection of their many products.

5. Create a Promotion for Visitors to Use In-Store or On Your Website

Up the ante and use a program like Offerpop’s Viral to spread the word about your promotion. Share your promotion on your company blog or through your email newsletter and have your followers retweet the promotion to unlock the discount code.

6. Run a Social Media Specific Promotion

This is a great time to grow your mailing list! Offer a Fourth of July promotion for customers who sign up for your newsletter.
Can your product be showcased in tandem with the Fourth of July holiday? Combine the idea of a photo contest with a brand specific hashtag and encourage your customers to share on social media in exchange for a coupon or discount code.

7. Support a Cause

Take a look at your community – are there any events or organizations your business can support? Entrepreneur.com says that ‘”Cause marketing’ is now the norm, and customers who visit your website and see your advertising want to know that you share their desire to make the world a better place by supporting an important cause.”

With careful planning, social media marketing can allow you to enjoy the holiday, reach the community and your consumers, and translate into Fourth of July sales. Think outside the box and enjoy engaging with your customer base, but most of all, enjoy the fireworks!

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Why Social Media Marketing is Critical for Your Houston Business

According to Pew Research Center, 74% of all internet users engage on social media every day—which is why social media sites have become the most efficient way to market businesses. Whether you tweet, post status updates, share photos, or write quick blog posts, being active on a variety of social media sites can help your business generate leads and engage consumer bases.

A New Way to Connect

Social media users come from all walks of life and touch almost every corner of the globe. They are eager and conditioned to use social sites to connect and share. This makes integrating social media into your Houston marketing strategy the perfect avenue to find and engage with potential clients and consumers.

Unlike other marketing routes (such as traditional or digital marketing) where advertising may reach a general audience that may or may not be specific to your business, social media sites are more targeted than ever. Based on the platform your business utilizes, you are able to correctly reach the client base that works for your needs.

For example, if looking for the biggest audience, look no further than Facebook. Pew Research Center says that 71% of Internet users have a profile on Facebook, making up more than 51% of the entire adult population. B2B organizations in particular should utilize LinkedIn, a social media site specifically for career-based networking, where the users are largely college graduates and high income earners. For finding younger consumers, sites like Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr, that allow users to quickly share snippets of photos or statuses, is quickly becoming the most effective medium for reaching out.

Businesses can choose to stick to one of these targeted platforms or to branch out with unique cross posts targeted for a variety of different audiences. An example of this would be a sharing a photo on Instagram of a new menu item to reach younger, mobile audiences.

A New Way to Engage

Overall, the main purpose of social media use by businesses should be to foster engagement between the business and its audience. This begins with drawing the consumer to the central hub — the website. Social media, according to Entrepreneur, is used by nearly half of Internet users as their “go-to” source for online discovery. An additional 28% say that using links provided by social media sites has helped them discover new websites. This means that social media has a huge potential in terms of generating unique, targeted website traffic without much effort, time, or financial investment.

Where social media really shines is in being the anti-website. Instead of just being a pitch from a business to a consumer or client, social media provides the chance for a two-way conversation. This includes having a comment section where users can communicate with one another or with the business itself or having a space for the customer to make suggestions for better business ideas.

Social media also provides a space for business owners to evaluate their organization’s performance. While it may be frightening, social media allows consumers to be honest and open– more so than ever before. This may mean that your business fields complaints or receives negative reviews. However, it also allows you to discover what is and isn’t working directly from the customer. It is the instant feedback that makes utilizing social media marketing in Houston worth it.

A New Way to Market Your Houston Business

Embracing social media marketing can be challenging at first. However, discovering ways in which to engage with a new audience and seek feedback through sites like Facebook, Yelp or Pinterest can open up a wide variety of opportunities for your business. From connecting and sharing to driving targeted traffic back to your website, social media has become today’s most critical media space for Houston businesses to stake their marketing claim.

The Dos and Don’ts of Back to School Advertising in Houston

back-to-schoolWith more than 300 private schools, eight public school districts, and dozens of colleges and universities in the Houston area, the market for back to school advertising is not lacking and may benefit your business. Here are some dos and don’ts for successful back to school marketing for your Houston business for the next school season and beyond.

Do: Plan your Marketing Campaign Early

Studies have shown that back to school shopping, internet searches, and planning increase the first two weeks of July. Savvy moms, dads, and college students are getting a big head start these days. Begin preparing for this time a few months early. Think about the sales and promotions your business would like to offer, and the means by which you will advertise (i.e., via social media, paper mailers, email list campaigns, and if applicable, store front displays).

Don’t: Forget the Dads

Traditionally, moms have been the target audience for back to school advertising. But more and more dads are getting involved with the school shopping/preparation process and can be great targets for your business’ marketing campaign.

In line with increasing your digital device campaign, a recent report from Microsoft Advertising cited that “50% of men are influenced by digital ads and 44% are influenced by online search results.” So, focus on your digital device ads and promotions to appeal to the men shopping for their kids.

Do: Use Social Media to Bring in Back to School Customers

According to Experian Marketing Services, 64.8% of moms are social media users and are very willing to promote businesses to their friends, if they are pleased with the service and prices. They will also let their friends know when the service and/or prices aren’t to their liking. So prepare well and outshine the competition with your outstanding customer service and promotions.

Don’t: Forget the College Students

They are a large pool of customers to pull from. Marketing to college students has some uniqueness. For example, some students attend school all year-fall, spring, summer, and winter sessions. There is your opportunity to engage beyond the typical back to schoolseason.

During the summer and winter sessions, take special care to market your business through sales and promotions targeted to college students. This is especially beneficial if your business is located in a college town, but even if you don’t, your town still likely has highschoolers departing for college at the end of summer.

Do: Increase Campaigns to Target Different Digital Devices

According to a recent Nielsen report, the average family /individual owns four different digital devices. Do your research so your business can reach each type of device. If this isn’t your cup of tea, hire a tech-savvy professional who can literally hook your business up and get your marketing campaigns seen and heard over the wire (or network).

Don’t: Ignore Opt-in Inbound Marketing

Examples of inbound marketing are SEO (search engine optimization); PPC (Pay-per-click) advertising based on keywords; social media; and blogging. This type of marketing requires constant work and sufficient resources dedicated to producing high quality marketing around the clock. There also has to be excellent communication between your inbound and outbound marketing teams. They need to be working towards the same goals and objectives and collaborate with each other often.

Do: Engage your Customers Beyond the First Day of School

Sometimes in the hoopla of trying to advertise, create sales, and bring in real customers, businesses forget to focus on keeping the back to school customers for the rest of the year and beyond. Keep in mind the students who wait to see what their friends are wearing and bringing to school then shop after the rush. And don’t forget mid-year shopping. Engage well beyond that back-to-school season.

Don’t: Ignore the Good PR You Can Earn by Donating a Percentage of Sales to Local Schools

In the recent economic downturn, schools have received less state and federal funding and many parents aren’t able to contribute financially as much as they once did. A community-involved promotion can surely help to build sales and help the community, in turn, creating lasting relationships.

Marketing for back to school goes well beyond simply lowering prices, shouting out sales, and crossing your fingers that you’ll get some customers. Start planning early; target the right audience; use social media; target various digital devices; engage beyond the rush; don’t forget dads and college students; and be vigilant when using inbound marketing.

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A 101 On Why Social Media Marketers Should Use Instagram

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So what is this Insta-picture, photo, candy gram business anyway? The social media network you’re referring to is properly named Instagram, and if you don’t know about it, it’s time that you learn.

Instagram has quickly become one of the most popular social media networks on the scene in Houston and around the world. It provides viewers with a constant stream of photos from people that they choose to follow, updating constantly throughout the day as people continue to post more and more.

Why does it work for online marketers in Houston? The same reason that photos are the most popular item on Facebook. People want to visualize. They want to actually see what people are doing, wearing, selling, and boasting about. As social media continues to grow, words are becoming less and less important, and photos are taking the forefront. Instagram caters to just that.

So where’s the appeal? It’s just photos, what’s in it for me? When uploading photos to Instagram, you can add filters to them, crop them, angle them, add a border and basically ‘Photoshop’ them up to make them the best photos that they can be. Cue the ‘likes’ people! Each photo ‘like’ and comment increases your views on the network by sharing to other users. That’s not all. Not only can you upload photos for all of your followers to view, but now you can even upload 15 second videos right to your feed.

Even better? The videos can be pulled from the storage in your phone and be cut and merged together into a single 15 second clip. That’s right, you don’t have to record directly into the Instagram platform. This gives users endless opportunities to edit whatever they need to cater to their audience.

Once you’ve posted something, you can then choose to share it to all your other social accounts with just one click. Instagram allows its users to link to Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Tumblr, AND Flickr! All you have to do is select which accounts you want to share with, hit “post” and voila, you have now shared one picture/video to numerous other social networks. Are you seeing the endless marketing opportunities yet?

Instagram has even started to experiment with sponsored posts, one of the most popular sponsors being Michael Kors. We all know that clothing genius, and if you don’t, I guarantee your girlfriend does. Why would Instagram do this? For the same reason Facebook and Twitter have allowed users to now sponsor and pay money to further the success of a post… MARKETING.

The fact that Instagram has now realized its marketing potential should not be overlooked. If you are looking to jump on the train, now is the time. Instagram will continue to grow in success and you want your Houston-based company to establish itself in this photo realm before it becomes swallowed by the corporate sponsor giants.

So what’s the hitch? Instagram runs mainly off of mobile devices/tablets. Although the site instagram.com is accessible on a desktop and laptop computer and allows you to ‘like’ and comment on photos, you cannot actually load a photo to the network unless it is through a mobile device/tablet.

Has this put a dent in the company? Instagram is so far from hurting.  “The mobile app boasts over 50 million users, despite only living in iOS and Android devices. Instagram launched on Android just this year and it quickly earned 5 million downloads in six days. Its success caught the eye of the most valuable social network in the world. Facebook acquired Instagram in April for $1 billion.” (Mashable.com)

The biggest social media network in the world has bought them out! “Instagram’s presence on the web has improved enormously in the last year. You can now use the web version to do just about everything — edit your profile, comment and like photos, discover and follow other users — except upload pictures and videos.” (Mashable.com)

Instead of hurting themselves with this move, Instagram is working overtime to ensure that they are exclusive so their idea and also one of the most popular and current social media networks to date.

Setting up an account is very easy, if you can’t figure it out our friends over at Mashable have given a very nice step-by-step “Beginner’s Guide” to Instagram here.

My parting words… Get on it. Don’t be a fool, Instagram is where it’s at. Get your company on it. The best part? You don’t need to spend hours updating it. It IS possible to overshare on Instagram. Users who post too much do have a higher “unfollow” rate. This means that starting off, your company only needs to post once a day, or a few times a week at that. We can’t make this much easier for you. If you aren’t Instagramming, you’re losing.

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Social Media Best Practices for Your Houston Business

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With the popularity of social networks on the rise, more Houston businesses are turning toward creating their own followings on these sites to market their own businesses. While some small businesses question whether they have the time or resources available for delving into social networks, they stand to gain from turning their marketing into sales by using simple techniques and best practices for social media.

Not only do businesses benefit from highlighting their own products and services, businesses seeking a competitive advantage can incorporate social marketing to stay ahead of the competition. Follow these best practices for social media for small businesses to effectively promote your business:

Engage Frequently with Followers

Even before they sign up, users of social media are drawn to the idea of interacting with other users. As a best practice for social media for Houston small businesses, it is recommended that they have frequent interaction with followers by providing fun and helpful information, without directly pressuring them to buy. Houston businesses can promote what they’re selling by posting “liked” company news on Facebook or micro blogging about new product launches on Twitter.

Connect Social Media and Traditional Marketing

While some Houston businesses prefer traditional marketing over social marketing or vice versa, the two can be used to complement each other. Small businesses can promote the link to their Facebook page on packaging or other printed materials in-stores in order to give customers more options in learning more information.

Promote Participation Using Contests

As a way to directly connect with current and potential customers, another best practice for social media for Houston small businesses is to create contests to increase user participation and raise brand awareness. Companies gain new fans as their followers win items that are either related to their own business or highly sought after like iPads.

Link Social Media to Other Websites

While each social networking site has a distinct persona, small businesses can link their pages together on different sites to boost their social marketing. Houston businesses are able to promote their how to video guides uploaded on YouTube and share them using links on Facebook. When a business links its social media accounts together, this can increase the followings of their social media accounts with weaker numbers as users cross over from one site to the next.

Reward Loyal Followers

To encourage social media users to join their small business fan pages, businesses reward their loyal followers with exclusive information about new features or give them the chance to try out new products. Allowing followers to have new information or promotions first gives them incentive to continue visiting a business’ social marketing pages.

Acknowledge New Fans and Other Businesses

Since engaging with social media users is integral to successful social marketing, encourage new fans and other businesses to learn about your business by following them or liking their pages. Using a career-oriented social site like LinkedIn allows a small business to network with others in its industry and to increase connections with like-minded individuals and businesses.

When strategizing about social media for small businesses, marketers should concentrate on improving user interaction and participation. By engaging with their followers on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and more, businesses can raise awareness of their online presence in order to effectively promote and sell their products and services to targeted customers. After learning about the best practices of social media for small businesses, companies are better capable of growing their business online and off.