How to Succeed as a Small Business on Instagram

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Editor's Note: Matt Foster is a Content Strategist at Distinctly. Today he joins us to explain how a small business on Instagram can build their presence, and effectively engage with a diverse audience.

 

Since it was introduced in 2010, Instagram has become one of the most popular and widely used social media sites, competing with Twitter as a key platform for business users. So how can Instagram benefit you as a small business?

In December 2016, Instagram boasted over 600 million followers: a world of potential clients and customers for small businesses. This enormous market is often tapped by bigger brands looking to develop their social media marketing efforts, while smaller businesses sometimes assume it will not work for them; this simply is not true. In this article, we’ll show how to raise brand awareness and reach a larger customer base as a small business on Instagram. Let’s get started!

Target Your Content

After setting up an Instagram account, it’s time to post content. But where do you start? The key to success on Instagram is knowing the kind of content that will capture the attention of your audience. As a small business, it’s important that you know who your target users are, and tailor content to their interests. Begin by looking at your current customer base, and decide who they are in terms of age, location and gender. Once this information is clear, it’s easier to make an informed decision on content and hashtags.

Hashtags and trending topics are important on Instagram, and many will be relevant to you. When a hashtag relevant to your business blows up, it’s a great way to reach a wider audience beyond your followers. Adding hashtags to the content you post means it can be easily found, and posting content that is relevant to current trends can do the same. Both techniques are good ways to not only gain followers, but generate brand awareness in your target market.

Keeping your Instagram content related to your company brand is important, and this can be done by choosing a niche theme. When you have a theme, followers know what to expect, and will rely on you for similar posts down the road. It can take some experimentation to find something that is both unique and well-received, but once you’ve found something that works, you can focus on perfecting it.

A woodworking business based in Georgia, USA - Sons of Sawdust - reclaimed wood to create new products. By taking photos of their projects and posting them online, the company has created a popular online portfolio showcasing their work, and providing a behind-the-scenes demonstration of their processes. To make sure the right people see it, Sons of Sawdust uses relevant hashtags – #workshop, #oldwood, and #salvage, for example – so it will be found by a wide variety of users interested in woodworking.

A small business on Instagram

Engagement is Key

Being active and engaging your audience is vital to building a successful presence as a small business on Instagram. You can post great quality, relevant content, but if no one knows you have an online presence, you will struggle to grow it. Start by telling current customers that you have social media accounts by putting a link to your Instagram on your website, and advertise it on other mediums like Facebook and Twitter. Include all social media links in your email signatures to drive traffic.

Consistency is a tremendously important way to keep your audience engaged, so content should be uploaded on a frequent and regular basis. The more active a small business is on Instagram, the more engagement they will see in return.

There are optimum posting times for Instagram, so try to establish a routine and post when most of your audience is online. Social Insights and Iconosquare are tools that will help you find the best times to post for maximum engagement, and both use analytics to optimize for your unique follower-base.

Another way to gain a large Instagram presence is collaborating with another local business or organisation that has already established themselves on Instagram. Working together exposes you to a pre-existing audience, and expands your own base.

Instagram has become the social platform for influencer endorsements. Do research to identify an influencer who shares your product, service, or target audience on Instagram, and build the relationship through engaging, ultimately inquiring about them promoting your business.

You can approach and offer between $20 and $100 they will promote your product or brand to their followers. There are plenty of research tools you can use to target the right influences for the size of their following in set niches, although be aware this must be matched with high levels of engagement of their followers when they post content.
Alasdair Inglis – Marketing expert at We Are Grow

Be Unique and Stand Out

In order to create an engaging Instagram account, it is essential to stand out from the crowd. So where do you start in terms of generating unique content? Your business likely offers a product, service or experience that is sold to customers through a unique selling point (USP), and you can use this to attract followers.

The London Helicopter has special access to bird’s eye views of the London skyline every day. The company’s USP lies in offering an experience that many people want to see, and that very few get to see. As a visually oriented platform, Instagram is a perfect place for this company to showcase these experiences and share them with followers who are unlikely to forget the brand if they are ever on vacation.

The London Heli Instagram

Have a Consistent Style

As mentioned before, consistency is key to all forms of social media and Instagram is no exception. But while many companies remember to post consistently, they often neglect stylistic consistency. People follow a brand because they want to see more of whatever attracted them in the first place, so giving it to them is important.

A popular way of doing this is to concentrate on a branded color palette throughout your content. Oreo does this well by using the same house style and color scheme in each of their posts:

Oreo Instagram

Instagram is About More than Gaining Customers

While social media can absolutely help you to gain new customers, it isn’t just a quick way to boost your business and market your products. It also works to demonstrate excellent customer service, and the quality of people who work for your business.

There are many ways businesses and brands can benefit from this besides the acquisition of new customers:

Boosting Sales Among Existing Customers: Businesses who show great customer service on their social media accounts are likely to see a boost in sales and profits. Research by Aberdeen Group found that brands who are good at customer service benefit from an annual financial gain of 7.5%, against the typical 2.9%.

Creating Brand Advocates: Using social media turns your customers into brand advocates. If a customer has a good experience with a brand on social media, they are three times as likely to recommend that brand to a friend or family member. This is how word of mouth works in the digital age.

Creating a Positive Image: Social media platforms are a good way to show old and potential customers alike that you are interested in them, and this matters even if you aren’t getting direct sales from your content. 74% of shoppers list social platforms as a main influence on whether or not they made a purchase, so it is important for brands  to focus on customer care and maintaining a friendly, outgoing public image.

Like other social media platforms, Instagram gives your customers a space to interact with your company, a chance to retain old customers, and gain new ones. Using it effectively means appreciating the unique qualities of a visual medium, and being sincere in your efforts to build a positive image that your brand will be remembered for. Getting started isn't hard, and it's well worth it - hopefully the advice above will help you to build your presence on a platform that is teeming with opportunity.

Learn more with these related OMI classes:

B2B Social Visual Storytelling on Instagram, Pinterest & Tumblr

Creating and Curating Content People Love

Social Media Strategy for Business

Visit the Online Marketing Institute to browse over 400 classes in the digital and social media marketing space.

How to Choose the Right Hosting for Your Website

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Editor's Note: Jane Hurst is a business writer and regular OMI contributor. Today she joins us to explain the factors marketers should consider when picking the right hosting provider.

 

Having a great website is a very important step for any online business. However, choosing the right hosting is equally important: without it, your site will suffer from lag, crashes and downtime which can put a huge dent in your sales. In order to get the most out of your website, it’s vital that you find a great web host. So in this article, we’ll explain the different kinds of hosting plans you will come across, and how to choose wisely. Let’s get started!

Types of Web Hosting Platforms

There are three types of web hosting platforms:

  1. Individual Plans – Many companies will sell you a slot on servers they own and operate. This is the cheapest option, and it’s great for those who are just starting out on limited budgets. For example, an introductory package at HostGator is only $3.96 a month if you sign on for a three-year package. There are a few drawbacks: you can usually have only one domain, features may be limited, and bandwidth/data storage are lower than what you’d get on more expensive options.
  2. Dedicated Servers – These plans are much more expensive (they can be $139 or more each month), but if your business is growing, this may be a better option for you. Just make sure that your provider offers individual plans and dedicated servers so you have the option to switch if necessary.
  3. Reseller Accounts – Reseller accounts are way cheaper than dedicated servers, and in terms of functionality, they lie between individual plans and dedicated servers. With these, you can host multiple domains and websites on a single account. This is a good option for businesses that run a number of websites. You can expect to pay between $10 and $20 monthly.

What to Look for in a Hosting Plan

While you obviously need something affordable, price is not the only thing to consider when looking for a hosting plan. Free web hosts are never a good choice. Sure, they sound great, but you get a lot of on-site advertising, and not a lot of features. Other things to look for in a hosting plan include:

  • Customer Reviews – See what other users are saying about the host before you sign on and end up wasting your money. Look for multiple reviews from both current and past customers, and don’t base your judgment on a single review, positive or negative.
  • Customer Support – If the host doesn’t have great customer support, move on to one that does. You need to know that there is a dedicated staff you can depend on in case anything goes wrong. The best hosts will respond to queries 24/7, because the Internet never sleeps.
  • Storage and Bandwidth – Many plans offer unlimited disk space and bandwidth, so you probably don’t have to worry about this too much, but you still need to make sure that the host offers what you need.
  • Script Support – Make sure your host has built-in support for web scripts you will be using. For instance, if you plan on using WordPress, look for a host that makes installing the platform quick and easy. Some hosts limit MySQL databases which are necessary for running WordPress.

Know Your Hosting Needs

Once you have decided that you need a host, make sure you understand your requirements well. That way, you will know that you are not going to end up with features you will have to pay for but won’t ever use. If you don’t need WordPress, there’s no point dishing out extra money because a host will install it for you

Assess the following factors when making your decision:

  • The type of website you are building (entertainment, e-commerce, news?)
  • The need for WordPress or other common features
  • Whether you’d prefer a Linux or Windows based platform
  • Special software like Ruby, and up to date versions of special software like PHP
  • Anticipated traffic volume

Investigate Host Reliability and Uptime Guarantees

It is vital that your web host operates 24/7, and has a powerful server and stable network connection. If the score is less than 99%, you don’t want it. For obvious reasons, you should not trust what a server says about itself. You can get accurate uptime info by reading reviews, or tracking your web host with server monitor tools like Alertra.

Research Web Host Upgrading Options

Make sure that you research all of your upgrade options, because you may end up lacking what you need when you are ready to upgrade. You should have no problem using a shared web host which can handle a WordPress blog with up to 40,000 visitors monthly. But you may need more accommodation down the road, and you should have peace of mind that your host can manage the switch - if you expect to grow quickly, look for a web host that will grow with you.

Choose Hosting Based on the Site Engine

Unless you have a dedicated web design team, you’ll likely begin with a common site engine. Some hosts are better suited to these engines than others, so you can narrow down your selections by researching compatibility. For instance, WPBeginner has a great list of WordPress hosting providers, and HostingAdvice has a good list if you want to use Joombla.

Check Domain Options and Hosting Space

You should consider your host’s domain options and the size of its hosting space. Domains are cheap, and it can often be hard to have just one. In fact, a good number of site owners have more than five domains, and others have over 50. To manage this, you need more hosting space, so make sure that your hosting account will let you run multiple domains. Don’t make the mistake of signing up for a host that will only accommodate one domain.

Check Prices on Both Sign-Up and Renewal

Before you choose hosting, look at the prices for both sign-up and renewals. Sometimes web hosts suck you in with cheap sign-up rates, and then you are stuck with expensive renewal fees. This is a normal thing, but if you do your research, you can dodge this trick and avoid paying a small fortune in the long run.

Check Hosting Control Panel

A very important factor to consider before you choose a host is its control panel: it must be user-friendly and fully functional. You can use cPanel, Plesk, or a proprietary control panel such as the one used by GoDaddy. While IX Web Hosting is very inexpensive, the custom control panel is generally considered poor, and what you’ll save in money, you may pay for in the time it takes to get things done.

Conclusion:

The right web host takes a back seat to your website, runs consistently with little downtime, and adapts flexibly to your needs as your business expands. Hopefully this article has given you an idea what to look for, and what to take account of so you can find a host that will put your website first, and create a smooth experience for your company and visitors.

Learn more with these related OMI classes:

Building Digital Destinations & Customer Experience

B2B Website Design

Visit the Online Marketing Institute to browse over 400 classes in the digital and social media marketing space.

Infographic: How to Get Sales with Facebook Advertising

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Editor's Note: Ted Chong is a Business IT expert and director at Ice Cube Marketing, where this infographic was first published. Today he joins to share his insight on using Facebook advertising to generate leads.

 

It’s statistically safe to assume you are a Facebook user and you don't buy every single item advertised on the social media platform. In fact, you may not have ever purchased something advertised on Facebook. This is largely because, although it presents an incredible opportunity for targeted marketing, many companies fail to use Facebook effectively by correctly tailoring their ads to an ideal audience.

Advertisers sometimes forget that Facebook is primarily a social network, rather than a commercial platform. As advertisers competing in a content barrage with endless cat videos and selfies, we need all the tricks we have to stand out.

In this infographic, we summarize the most important factors in Facebook advertising. By following good strategy, you can take advantage of Facebook's diverse audience, and reach the people who matter most.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • When choosing your audience, remember that Facebook has more data about them than you can imagine. Make sure you go beyond broad interests, and select nuanced criteria.
  • The best results on Facebook occur with low-commitment, foot-in-the-door offers with subsequent upsells. For the B2B market, free demo/consultations/eBooks/trials work very well. For B2C, events/workshops/samples/discounts/contests can do magic.
  • In your ads, using feeble words just doesn't cut it. Use power words that short-circuit the brain and demand attention.
  • If you hope to generate leads, go for website clicks or conversions as objectives that Facebook's algorithm can optimize for.

 

fb101

A case scenario: I gave away a free SEO checklist to my audience and it attracted around 200 opt-ins from Facebook. Some of them ended up buying my service, and I made 3-4 times my adspend - not to mention that I got to build my email list at the same time!

There's no one-size-fits-all foolproof strategy. Everything from your offers to your ads hinge on your audience's wants and needs; the winner is the one who understands her audience better than her competitors. By taking the time to learn, strategize and focus your criteria, Facebook advertising can be a very lucrative boost to your business.

Learn more with these related OMI classes:

Facebook Advertising and Targeting

Fundamentals of Facebook Marketing

7 Elements of Highly Effective Facebook Marketing

Visit the Online Marketing Institute to browse over 400 classes in the digital and social media marketing space.

5 Easy Ways to Find The Right Keywords For Ads

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Editor's Note: Roy Dopaishi writes about content marketing and advertising for Paidtraffic. Today, he joins us to share the best methods for finding great keywords to use in content and PPC campaigns.

 

An AdWords campaign is driven by keyword research. Target the right keywords, and your ads appear at just the right moment when prospects are searching for the products and services your business offers. But if you target keywords that are too broad or narrow, you run the risk of failing to reach customers and wasting your adspend.

This is why it’s so important to identify the right keywords before launching your campaign. But what’s the best way to do it?

There are many tools to help you with this vital task. Google’s Keyword Planner is often cited as a useful start - in addition to giving keyword ideas, it uses analytics to make predictions and improve suggestions.

The problem with Google’s tool is that thousands of others use it, so there will most likely be plenty of competition for your target keywords. Relying solely on this tool also restricts your reach, as it only provides limited keyword samples.

Fortunately, there are many other methods of finding the right keywords to target. Implementing these can give your AdWords campaign a major competitive advantage, since most advertisers don't bother. Let’s get started!

  1. Question and Answer Sites

Quora is an excellent way to find common questions that prospects are asking.

A search for “kitchen remodeling” yields the following results:

quorasample

Browsing through Quora results provides rich keyword suggestions that you may have otherwise missed. These queries can then be plugged into Keyword Planner to generate even more ideas.

For example: if your business does kitchen renovations, then after reading related conversations, you might include keywords such as “cost of kitchen remodel” or “finance a kitchen remodel” in your ad groups. These are also excellent topics to create blog posts around.

Yahoo Answers is another popular question and answer site you can use to find keyword ideas.

  1. Google Keyword Suggestions

When typing in a search query, Google displays keyword suggestions in the search box.

keywordsuggestions

This is another way to find related keyword ideas based on your initial search query. Entering in different letters of the alphabet displays additional results. However, typing in each letter and copying the results can be rather tedious.

KeywordTool.io is a free keyword research tool that uses Google Autocomplete and other search engines including YouTube and Amazon to generate a comprehensive list of keywords. This tool parses the results so you can easily select relevant keywords and export them to a spreadsheet.

keywordtool

Here is an example of Google Autocomplete results:

autocomplete

And results from Amazon:

amazonresults

One thing to keep in mind is keyword intent and type. Simply adding every single keyword to your ad groups is a recipe for disaster. Instead, think about the intention behind your keywords and whether they apply to your business.

  1. Competition Research

There is one source you should never overlook: your competitors.

Competitors in your industry are more than likely using AdWords to bid on relevant keywords, so keeping an eye on your competitors can provide additional keyword ideas. Identify competitors by searching for your target keywords and entering their URLs into SEMrush.

Here is an overview of top organic keywords for trekkinghero.com:SEMrush

And top paid keywords:

SEMrushtop

 

Note that the tool only provides limited keyword data. To see a full report, you need a paid subscription to the site, but you can perform basic keyword research for free.

  1. LSI Keywords

Search engines are getting increasingly sophisticated.

LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) keywords are phrases semantically related to your main keywords. For instance, if a page contains keywords like “Apple”, “Macbook”, and “computer”, Google knows the page is about technology rather than fruit, and won't deliver it to the wrong people.

Use tools like LSIGraph to generate a list of LSI keywords:

LSIGraph

These keywords can not only be added to your campaign, but included within the content on your page to help it rank better in organic search results.

  1. Your Own Search Data

If you have a Google AdWords campaign running, then you already have potentially valuable keyword data at your fingertips.

You can view actual search terms that have triggered your ads from the Campaigns menu. Simply click the “Keywords” tab, and then click the “Search terms” button:

adwordsmenu

 

The Search Terms report shows queries that are triggering your ads.

This information is valuable for two reasons, as you can:

  • Identify search terms with high profit potential
  • Identify irrelevant terms to add as negative keywords

Be sure to regularly comb through your own data to find more valuable keywords to add to your PPC campaign.

Conclusion

Finding the right keywords is essential to gain measurable results, and it doesn’t take much effort. Less than half an hour of your time can dramatically increase the effectiveness of your ads, so there simply are no downsides to doing the research. Take advantage of your new knowledge, gain an edge on your competitors, and get started today!

Learn more with these related OMI classes:

Fundamentals of Measuring Search ROI

Creating and Curating Content People Love

SEO For Business Owners

Visit the Online Marketing Institute to browse over 400 classes in the digital and social media marketing space.

Infographic: Boost Your Social Media Presence Without Ads

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Editor's note: Belle Balace is a social media strategist with Visme. Today, she joins us to explain how companies can maintain a social media presence with limited resources. A version of this article first appeared on The Blog Herald.

 

While social media should never be an afterthought for online businesses, remaining active can be a struggle without the resources to maintain a paid manager, or launch paid ad campaigns.

Good news! There are ways to boost traffic to your site and increase your social media presence without paying a dime. By launching a social media employee advocacy program, you don't have to find new talents or overload your staff with extra responsibilities.

Social media employee advocacy reasonably assumes that almost everyone uses social media on a day-to-day basis, and if everyone in your company pitches in a little by sharing the latest content from your brand, you can boost your social media presence quickly and organically.

In this infographic, we’ll explain how it’s done.

Key takeaways:

  • Inform employees about the need for a social media presence and what it will do for your company.
  • Ask them to like or follow company pages across social media networks.
  • You or your company leader should take charge, and set the example by staying personally active in sharing brand content.
  • Have good content to share: interesting, informative, and not blatantly promotional. Everyone should feel good about it.
  • Start slow, and build over time. Less is more when employees do not feel coerced.
  • Incentivize social media sharing by issuing prizes to the most active employees.

Here’s the graphic. Enjoy!

Latest Visme Graphic

Learn more with these related OMI classes:

Social Media Strategy for Business

Creating and Curating Content People Love

Visit the Online Marketing Institute to browse over 400 classes in the digital and social media marketing space.

5 Ways to Boost Your Video Marketing Strategy for Millennials

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Editor's Note: Joydeep Bhattacharya is a digital marketing evangelist who writes for SEO Sandwitch. Today he joins us to discuss good video strategy for attracting a millennial audience.

 

An extensive knowledge of all things digital make millennials a complicated segment of consumers to attract. So why do marketers put up with them? Maybe because millennials also have the greatest buying power of any generation, which automatically gives them the biggest consumer voice. Marketers are therefore willing to overcome a multitude of quantitative and qualitative challenges to fulfill their requirements, starting with a rapid pace of technological advancement.

Changing Face of Video Marketing Strategy

Out with the old, in with the new – that’s the mantra video marketing professionals should bear in mind if they wish to stay relevant and sell their products online to millennial consumers, who value originality, sincerity, and creativity above all else. Marketers should focus on finding an original voice for video marketing, one that captures the attention of a culture that gives precedence to personal expression.

At the same time, they should be also mindful of brand consistency and utilize performance marketing data to optimize their content. This is more complex than it sounds, and there is no single, overarching solution. But don’t let the messiness scare you away: by following generally good practices and mixing in your own ideas, it’s not hard to create video content that millennials will appreciate and respond to.

Below you will find five points for devising a competent video marketing strategy targeted to millennial customers -

1. Build Your Strategy on Video Marketing, Not the Other Way Around

In the millennial age, videos no longer play a merely supporting role in your marketing campaign: they have grown to become their own unique marketing strategy. A millennial audience will often begin by consuming video content before entering your sales funnel, and they respond to a style that emphasizes personal expression and reflects consumer sensibilities. For this purpose, the fundamentals of video communication are vital components in your new marketing strategy. Communicating effectively through videos will drive emotional engagement across various disciplines, from customer relationship management to product marketing and cross-platform paid advertising. Learn how a good video is constructed on a fundamental level, and use that knowledge to drive content across your marketing efforts.

2. Take Time to Analyze Your Target Audience

Some marketers think it’s important to deploy an especially complicated and well-researched video strategy when catering to millennials. This can give marketers a feeling of paralysis as they reflect on possible inadequacies in their finances, logistics and brand. It is true that best practice for video marketing geared towards millennials requires some fine-tuning, particularly in terms of identifying the right audience groups. However, that does not mean companies have to sit down and completely rethink their brand to accomplish this.

Narrowing the broader domain of ‘millennials’ into manageable segments is a much easier task thanks to digital marketing tools that largely automate the work. Insight into the best millennial-targeted video marketing strategy comes from testing, analysis, and scale. This is vital to your marketing strategy, since the millennial generation has a hard time trusting too many people too fast.

Instead of attempting to impress your target audience with a traditional advertisement-focused video marketing campaign, your video strategy should be different: it should be extremely visual, experiential, personal, and easy to comprehend.

3. Have the Right Video Marketing Support

Video marketing professionals should have provisions in place to counter the consumer shift in digital platforms. This means arranging for video support that complements your existing production plan:

  • Understand your budget. A large budget will allow you to create impressive 360-degree videos which are sure to draw audience’s attention. Even if you’ve got a smaller budget, you can still create amazing video marketing content in VR.
  • Kajabi is a great platform for people to create and sell content, courses etc. For video makers, this is a great way to make money from their work; for you, it’s a great resource for supplementing your video library.
  • ClickMeeting is a leading webinar solution that enables you to easily generate instructional campaigns.

In every case, you should not rely on any single solution to generate great video content. Creativity and thoughtfulness is essential to set your brand apart from competitors, which means that experimentation is a must.

4. Crowdsourcing, and other creative strategies

When settling on a long-term production strategy for your video content, there are three possibilities:

  1. You can rely on an internal video-marketing team
  2. You can outsource these responsibilities to freelancers
  3. You can crowdsource your content

While the end goal is always to become as self-reliant as possible, don’t forget the importance of creativity in reaching out to millennials. Before settling on a style, be willing to try things out. Find different approaches, and see what works best. By reaching out to freelancers from popular sites like Freelancer and Upwork, you can find diverse talents. Crowdsourcing platforms like veed.me will also give you instant access to new and exciting ideas.

When you find something that works well, you can stick with it and build from there, but don’t confine yourself in the beginning. Strict boundaries will only put a limit on your versatility.

5. Consider Utilizing Artificial Intelligence

The video marketing landscape has greatly changed in the last decade, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is partly responsible for that. Believe it or not, AI can be used to generate creative ideas for video content. Understandably, some people find the idea of machines driving creative output bizarre and borderline offensive. But when properly utilized, AI will drive and augment human expression rather than supplant it. Don’t think in terms of creative cannibalization, but rather in terms of extended capability.

Martech Advisor has done a good story on how AI can empower video campaigners. New tools like Magisto can speed up the video production process by an exponential factor, helping you to set a good pace and dramatically decrease costs. While it may seem like a novel idea, it’s one more creative solution to consider in order to further differentiate your brand and appeal to a market driven by an appetite for innovation.

Conclusion

In an Internet-driven world, millennial audiences have become extremely fragmented, and video marketers must contend with new challenges if they wish to tap into the millennial market. That being said, the sheer potential of a properly executed video marketing strategy, combined with the purchase/social media power of millennials makes for a blockbuster formula.

The points mentioned above will help you in exploring and defining your video marketing strategy for a new generation of millennial buyers. The risk is small, and the upsides are massive, so find a point that seems helpful and get started today!

Learn more with these related OMI classes:

Marketing to Millennials

Video & Multi-Screen Strategies

How to Create a Content Segmentation Plan

Visit the Online Marketing Institute to browse over 400 classes in the digital and social media marketing space.

How Storyteller Marketing Can Build Your Brand

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Editor’s note: Josh R Jackson is contributing editor at BestMarketingDegrees.org, where an earlier version of this piece first appeared.

 

People would rather be told a story than be told what to do.

That’s why instead of shelling out for traditional advertisements that simply tell us what to buy, organizations from almost every industry have also been using storyteller marketing to frame their purpose, scope, and reach. This is showing rather than telling, and it just so happens that more industries than usual are using this method today, from automotive, to education, to online media, to manufacturing, to construction.

Why? Because good marketing is storytelling. In drafting a message, marketers intrinsically testify to a brand’s value for its audience. Simply put: every time a brand markets something to us, they are telling and selling us a story that is meant to persuade us that their brand is worth our time, money, and attention.

Brands also engage in storyteller marketing because the practice is one of the best, most surefire ways to build brand identity, and secure the trust of discriminating prospects.

So how can your brand harness the power of storyteller marketing? The answer is simple: understand and imitate the greatest minds in storyteller marketing history, and take a page out of their books.

Book 1: The Bill Gates Story

On January 3rd, 1996—over a year after the Internet was privatized—Bill Gates published a column on Microsoft’s website, decreeing “Content is King.” In what would only take a few short scrolls, Gates declared (in “Hear ye, Hear ye” fashion) that the Internet would soon become a boon to publishers everywhere, predicting that on the information superhighway, the value of “information and entertainment” would reign supreme, and that “Those who succeed [at monetizing its value] will propel the Internet forward as a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products—a marketplace of content.”

What happened over the next 20 years bore out his prophecy. While the private Internet initially served as a two-dimensional billboard for advertisements that were based predominantly in brick-and-mortar businesses, it soon became a multi-dimensional space for the exchange of goods, services, and ideas: an online marketplace based on the concept of creating a global village where any transaction could take place.

The takeaway? Like Gates, pay attention to cultural trends that your brand can not only participate in, but drive. Write strong opinions that are based on the direction your brand is pushing the market, and work to ensure that your brand is consistently pushing the market in that direction—not just through marketing, but through investment and action.

The reason Bill Gates seemed to predict the future in 1996 is not because he was a prophet, but because he worked to tell and sell a story that many people at the time either believed or were already working to make a reality. Gates saw that the market was headed for the industry of communication and technology, and explained that direction in terms that anyone could understand. Then he worked tirelessly to ensure that story became a reality: Microsoft was an early adopter of the World Wide Web, and used the platform to build a website rich with content to promote both their products and their brand.

Book 2: The Content Marketing Story

A few years after Bill Gates’ declaration of the content monarchy, banner advertising gave way to paid content, while new and complex software became a hot commodity. Online businesses were starting to need people who could explain the purpose of their product, software, or service to those who weren’t tech-savvy. They started needing people to tell their stories, and they started needing a new medium with which to do it.

What they got initially was news coverage, like a CBS story from 2005 on a little startup called Facebook. Along with Google, Facebook quickly became one of the largest Internet companies in the world, and a medium that online brands would find indispensable for spreading their story.

Online businesses began to hire full-time, in-house brand managers to explain the value of their company. Creative role titles like Chief Storyteller, Explainer in Chief, and Content Manager were coined to refer to someone who tells a company story. It would be the job of these professional explainers to condense and simplify a company’s message into a few short sentences that were so easy to understand, even a five year old could get it.

The takeaway? Use every medium you can to tell your brand story. If budget permits, hire talent to accomplish this. That talent doesn’t have to be a seasoned storyteller with degrees in journalism, new media, and marketing—they just need to be a clear communicator.

The reason brands need this level of media engagement and talent is not only to earn a seat at the table. It is because, as communications guru Carmine Gallo has written, “no rhetorical tool is more effective than the story,” which means that working to spread a brand story with maximal talent carries a guaranteed return on investment.

Book 3: The Revolutionary Story

Five years after Facebook, four years after Twitter, and the same year as Instagram entered the scene, an industry had grown up that fed demand for creating and telling a brand’s story. By 2013, even small startups were grooming themselves to join the ranks of new media publishing companies that were participating in what has been called the “content marketing revolution”: the marketing movement in which storytellers have come to play the most important role, telling an informative story with every word, image, and video on this side of the screen.

As Alexander Jutkowitz tells it, this movement “signals more than a mere fad.” Indeed, it is a turn of the page to “a new chapter in the history of business communications,” the new chapter of “corporate enlightenment.”

The takeaway? Telling brand stories has become an art form. Do it in a way that places your brand firmly within the context of broader social, political, and ethical movements. Do it in a way that is artistically relevant.

The reason this type of marketing works is not because “all the cool kids are doing it.” If it were, all brands would be the same, and arguably none of them would be cool.

Storyteller marketing works because we’ve entered a new era of marketing history, and it’s become necessary for every brand to illustrate that it is different. A brand must prove itself to be more socially, politically, and ethically aware of its surroundings than its competitors are, or might have been in a previous day and age.

So What’s the Big Story?

The art of telling a brand story has become not only popular, but essential to surviving as a business in the twenty-first century.

The rest, as they say, is history.

How will you tell your brand’s story? Consider taking stock of your brand’s purpose, scope, and reach, and take a class on what makes for an effective storytelling strategy.

Learn more with these related OMI classes: 

Storytelling in the Digital Age

Best Digital Branding Practices for Small Businesses

Creating and Curating Content People Love

Visit the Online Marketing Institute to browse over 400 classes in the digital and social media marketing space.

Best Email Marketing Tools for Small Business

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Editor's note: Stacey Marone is a social media marketer who has joined us today to explore the best tools for managing an email marketing campaign.

 

Social media is often portrayed as the ultimate marketing tool for small businesses. But before there were social networks, people relied on email to stay connected. In fact, everyone on a social network has an email address, but not everyone with an email address is on a social network. It stands to reason that you can reach a lot more people with email marketing than with social media marketing alone.

Even with a strong social media strategy, email marketing opens your business to many leads and opportunities you might otherwise miss. Furthermore, the two strategies can be combined to create more powerful campaigns.

What is email marketing?

Email marketing is a kind of targeted marketing.

If you’re like most people, you sometimes open your mailbox to find brochures and invitations from different companies offering product information, samples, free seminars and other promotional material.

Email marketing is something like that, except in digital form. In both cases, you need contact information to promote your business. When it comes to email marketing, this information takes the form of an email list compiled from your existing customers, or email addresses you got from site registrations.

There are many ways to obtain a list of email addresses. But once that’s taken care of, you have a new challenge on your hands: turning them into customers. In order to make the best use of your leads, it's essential to have a versatile email platform that will help you to send the right information where it counts.

To help you find what’s right for you, we’ve compiled a list of the best email marketing tools for your business. Let’s get started!

Mail Chimp

mailchimp

In spite of its humorous style, MailChimp is a very serious email marketing tool, and one of the most popular and user-friendly ones around. It is especially useful if you are just starting out on your email marketing journey.

MailChimp will do much of the work for you, including product follow-ups and stock availability updates. It will track what your customers are buying so you can target them with related product offerings. You can also integrate MailChimp with your Twitter and Facebook account, allowing you to bring social media and email marketing together.

If you have an e-commerce store, MailChimp has a lot of great options for you; it will connect directly to services like WooCommerce, Shopify, Magento, or BigCommerce. This integration allows you to create email campaigns directly from your store.

Beginners will appreciate the intuitive drag-and-drop interface in MailChimp’s email builder, and the dashboard is also very simple to navigate. To track success, you can easily generate reports of your campaigns to learn how many people opened their emails, which links got the most clicks, and what customer segments respond best to different offers.

MailChimp is also very fairly priced, with a free plan to send up to 12,000 emails to 2,000 subscribers a month. This is usually a great place for small businesses to start. Once you gather steam paid plans start at $10 a month.

Litmus

litmus

Next up on our list is Litmus, a versatile platform that takes analytics to the next level. Litmus specializes in testing and tracking emails with advanced features to help you fine tune your email marketing strategy. It’s a step up from MailChimp, but still quite easy to use, and makes a great supplement to email campaigns that you might be running on another service.

Litmus not only tests email optimization for PCs and laptops, but also mobile devices. Since the market is increasingly going mobile, this is an important strategy for success. If you test your emails before sending them out, you will see exactly how they look to your recipients. By refining the look and load time of the emails you send, automatically removing broken links and streamlining design elements, Litmus will ensure you get the most bang for your buck.

Litmus will also track your emails so you get important information such as what devices were used to open emails, when they were opened, and how much time recipients spent on them.

As a testing and tracking tool, Litmus takes the cake. Beginning with a 7 day free trial, using Litmus permanently will cost you a cool $79.00 per month. Given how much it can improve your results, the investment can be well worth it for those with a medium to large email marketing list.

Reach Mail

reachmail

For those with smaller budgets who would still like to benefit from email analytics and optimization, Reach Mail is a good, affordable option at a mere $10.00 per month.

Like Litmus, Reach Mail offers message testing and tracks email performance. It also has a Spam Checker, which tests your emails to see whether they might be flagged as spam. A nice feature of Reach Mail is that it considers your emails as entire compositions, taking into account both subject lines and content in its analysis. This is important for determining how successful your campaigns will be ahead of time.

Like MailChimp, Reach Mail offers hundreds of attractive templates for creating your emails, so you won't need graphic or layout chops to send a professional-looking email. And if you do want something a little more unique for a special occasion, you can easily request custom design directly through the service.

ActiveTrail

activetrail

Formerly known as TargetHero, ActiveTrail is an email marketing solution which specifically targets the growing population of users who read emails on mobile devices.

Aside from the usual email composition and sending features, ActiveTrail will automatically send targeted emails to people on your list who perform certain actions on your website, such as registering for a newsletter, or entering a particular campaign. These auto responses can be a “Thank You” or verification email which include product offerings and other promotional information relevant to the target user - you do your marketing every step along the way!

AvtiveTrail’s pricing comes in tiers. For $7 a month, you can manage up to 500 subscribers, and it goes all the way up to $55 a month for 10,000. This range of options makes it easy to start small, and expand according to your means. If you’d like to give this tool a spin, there’s also a free trial, so take advantage of that before committing!

There are many other options in the world of email marketing to help you accomplish your goals, but these are great choices for beginners; even simple tools like MailChimp are used by very large corporations to manage their email marketing needs. There’s no better way to learn than by doing, so pick one and give it a try!

Stacey Marone is a freelance writer and a social media marketer. She creates magnetic content optimized for search. In her free time, she also does volunteer work and organizes some activities for children. Her passions involve painting, reading, and writing. You can follow her on twitter.

Learn more with these related OMI classes: 

Using Social Data to Improve Email Marketing

How to Create Mobile Friendly Emails

Successfully Measuring Email Performance

Visit the Online Marketing Institute to browse over 400 classes in the digital and social media marketing space.

How to Boost Your SEO With Internal Backlinks

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Editor's note: Guy Siverson is a web consultant with ViralTNTeam who specializes in SEO. Today he's shared an article with us about using internal backlinks to optimize a website.

 

Backlinks.

Those clickable links that hold the Web together.

They come in two major varieties:

  • Internal (Within your own domain)
  • External (Outside your domain, pointing to you)

Both are very important, and ordinary external backlinks are essential for bringing more sales to your online business. But when you publish a blog post or article, you should also be linking to it somewhere on your website. And, if done correctly, this will increase your SEO rankings, get your readers to explore your content, and ultimately bring in more visitors. In this article, we will be delving into the intricate details of exactly how you should be tapping into the power of internal backlinks.

I guarantee that this is stuff very few other people are doing, which means there is exponential value should you tap into these principles.

Unlocking Internal Link Building Secrets

HOT TIP: You are about to find out my own personal favorite method and exactly how to make it work for you. I guarantee that this is super simple, yet painfully few webmasters are doing it.

Internal backlinks connect one post or page to another. This can be done by linking textual or image content as the connecting source. Creating hyperlinks via words is more common than using images because it flows more naturally within the context of an article.

Increasing Value Within Anchor Text

When creating internal links, webmasters often link directly to key phrases. So for instance, an apple pie recipe might be linked to the phrase ‘apple pie recipe.’ This is known as “exact match anchor text link building” and it is a bad method for several reasons. 

Two other options that are commonly seen include:

  1. Naked URL – Slapping down an entire URL in the body of your text without attaching it to words or images.
  2. Untargeted Anchor Text Internal Link Building – Works the same way as the exact match concept, but without targeted keywords to the page being linked. If you’ve ever made a “click here,” or “see more” link, then you’ve done this before.

Which of these three do I recommend?

None!

Here’s why.

Google wants everything to be natural. These approaches look manipulated and cheap. As a reader, you’re unlikely to click on a small series of targeted words or a completely naked URL. A much better option is an integrated approach that I’m about to explain.

Let’s say you have a sentence in your document that goes something like:

healthy Granny Smith apple pie recipe instructions

Don’t make “apple pie” into a hyperlink, and don’t put the link somewhere else (“Click here to see it”). Instead, why not link the entire phrase?

This way you:

  1. Are using the exact match words without specifically targeting a single phrase.
  2. Decrease the possibility that a duplicate link will ever appear on your website (Google does not like duplicate links)
  3. Increase link diversity within the project you are building.
  4. Increase the relevance of the linked content to your readers, thereby increasing the likelihood that they’ll check it out.
  5. Appeal to Google’s desire that everything in your design process is unique and organic.

For many people, this a new thought when it comes to link building. Others intuitively realize the effectiveness of this strategy, and use it without being told.

But there’s another key to unlocking the power of internal links. Let’s continue.

Link Wheels in Motion

If you've been building on the Web for any length of time, you've probably heard of Google’s tremendous dislike for external link wheels. So why bring up the concept at all?

Because the link wheels I’m telling you about aren’t external - they exist entirely on your website.

This method will build the interconnectedness of your site, reduce bounce rates, and keep your visitors around. Let’s get into it!

HOT TIP: I recommend capturing all links on a notepad to make this process easier to implement. I personally create a private file within WordPress which contains a map so that I keep reference notes together. This makes for easy processing and accessibility when I need the document.

Here’s how a link wheel works internally.

  1. Post 1 links to Post 2
  2. Post 2 links to Post 3
  3. Post 3 links to Post 1

Did you see the difference with post 3?

It connected everything together.

I typically build these wheels in sets of 5 based on how many items have been added to a given category. You have a lot of flexibility to create whatever structures make sense to you; the point is that visitors can navigate away from a page, and end up right back where they started.

Here’s another point: in the above examples, I’ve used the word ‘post’. But if you’re running a WordPress site, you can create internal link wheels using pages as well as blog posts. Does this matter at all?

Yes, but before I reveal the reason, let’s have a brief word about posts and pages.

Posts Versus Pages

What’s the difference between blog posts and pages?

Typically speaking, posts form the constantly updated blogroll of a website, while pages are more static. You may update your pages, but in general, they stay in the same place. The advantages of each and how exactly to implement them within your own project is often debated.

The model I follow is to use pages for focal content.

For example, the 3 main services I offer include:

  1. Writing
  2. Coaching
  3. Public Speaking

And these pages are all located in the category of ‘Marketing’.

For the rest of my content, I use posts. The posts come together to form link wheels while the pages are brought in as tiers.

Integrating Tiered Link Building Strategies

So the primary content of a good site is built on pages, which become the top level tiers. I recommend between 3 to 5 such documents. Think about the main services or products of your site, and dedicate a big page to each one.

Once I have links to each of these tiers, I make sure that every other page of my website points to at least one of them. Thus, the power of the internal link wheel structure is fed up to your most critical content.

As your project grows, Google will see this and reward those pages accordingly.

This is what is known as “tiered link wheels” and they are powerful. That’s why they are my own personal favorite way to build links internally.

If you haven’t started already, there’s no time like the present! Follow the advice in this article to raise your SEO, lower your bounce rates, keep visitors on your site, and ultimately bring in more sales.

Learn more with these related OMI classes: 

How to Utilize Social Media for Effective Link Building

SEO For Business Owners

Strategic User Experience Design

Visit the Online Marketing Institute to browse over 400 classes in the digital and social media marketing space.

23 Better Ways to Write a Follow Up Email

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Editor's note: Belle Balace is a social media strategist with Visme, and Leslie Ye is a marketing editor with HubSpot. Today, they've shared an infographic with us designed to help marketers send more effective follow up emails.

When contacting business prospects, writing a follow up email is as crucial as reaching out. In follow up emails, you have to be straightforward yet engaging in order to elicit a response without coming across as pushy.

It may take days or weeks before you get replies, even if you’ve already sent a few emails, and this can be discouraging. But when you don't get a response, don't immediately give up! Here’s a little wisdom from Thomas Edison: “When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this - you haven’t.”

You may be doing or saying the same things over and over again and forgetting to try new ideas in your follow up emails. Be persistent, but don’t be that annoying person who constantly says ‘just following up’ like a verbal tic - that's just stating the obvious, and it will turn people off after awhile.

Next time you write a follow up, try being creative and thoughtful. The more personalized and unique your emails, the better your chances of getting a response. Take time to investigate good ideas, seek advice from the email marketing experts you know, and run A/B tests to see what kind of follow up emails work best for you.

If you're looking for inspiration, here are 23 follow-up emails you can try when you've used up all the generic templates:23_better_alternatives_to_the_just_checking_in_email_1

Learn more with these related OMI classes: 

Email Marketing Tactics

Successfully Measuring Email Performance

Click here to sign up!