6 Rules You Must Know for Using SEO and SEM to Grow Your Business

If you’re managing a business, you know how important a web and mobile presence is. Whether you’re selling tacos, tiaras, or terabytes, customers need to be able to find you.

You’ve probably dipped your toe into the complex world of organic or “free” search, also known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and paid search, also known as Search Engine Marketing (SEM). But what do you really need to know about SEO and SEM?

I spoke with SEO/SEM expert Andrew Shelton, founder of the digital marketing agency Martec360, who gave me six rules that you need to pay attention to right now if you want to increase your sales through search:

1. Mobile is king

Need evidence of the importance of mobile? Some 96% of smartphone owners use their device to get things done. About 70% of smartphone owners use their phone to research a product before purchasing it in a store. Half of all web traffic comes from smartphones and tablets.

Furthermore, Google has begun to make its search index “mobile-first.” That means that Google will primarily index mobile content and use that to decide how to rank its results.

2. Paid search pays off on mobile

On mobile, paid search (SEM) is increasingly paying off. Shelton says he used to tell his clients to focus on free search (SEO) but with users putting mobile first, the continuum has changed.

“The greatest return on investment is email,” Shelton says, “because you have those customers in house. But paid search is next.” He estimates that paid search spending went up by factors of 25% to 50% in 2016.

3. Have a solid content strategy

The old adage is the new adage: “Content is king.” You need high-quality content for your website if it’s going to compete in the free search business. You can’t go about that blindly.

Consider what customer problem you’re solving. What customer questions can you be answering?

Do you have a mechanism for customers to ask questions? There could be a wealth of ideas for blog posts, FAQs, and buyers’ guides right there.

4. Social media is worth your return on investment

Social media can be vexing for many businesses. You definitely have to perform a cost-benefit analysis on it. Spending six hours a day sending out tweets that don’t lead to conversions is going to be a losing proposition.

Treat social media as “an engagement with an ongoing conversation with your customers,” Shelton recommends. “It’s not just for selling.”

In fact, if your social media channels are too hard-sell, they’ll be counter productive. You have to create value. Tools like Hootsuite, Falcon.IO, and Curalate can help.

5. Manage your online reputation

According to Shopper Approved, an app that helps its clients collect online ratings and reviews, 88% of all consumers read online reviews to determine whether a local business is a good business.

All of those reviews are part of the SEO equation. They can help you, or they can hurt you. But an app like Shopper Approved can help push more positive reviews where you need them.

6. Measure and monitor your progress

The only way you’re going see your business grow exponentially through SEO, SEM, and social media is to measure what you’re doing. You have to know where you’re starting, set some benchmarks, and monitor your progress.

Install Google Analytics. There is a plethora of other e-commerce tools you can use for analysis. Data is your friend. Get used to swimming in it.

And if you need help, find a consulting firm that understands your customer and your goals.

Just remember, effective search is process. You won’t get it right the first time. But you’ll get better at it with everything you learn.

About the author:

Kim Folsom is the Founder of LIFT Development Enterprises–a not-for-profit, community development organization with a mission to help underserved, underrepresented small-business owners – and Co-Founder and CEO of Founders First Capital Partners, LLC, a small business growth accelerator and revenue based venture fund. Learn more about Kim and her company’s mission to help grow and fund 1000 underserved and underrepresented small businesses by 2026 via their Founders Business Growth Bootcamp program at www.foundersfirstcapitalpartners.com.



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Want to Differentiate Your Business? Start With Finance Fundamentals

The idea and allure of innovation, including the buzzword disruptive, is important for business and large and small, but can be a make or break issue for small business. Carving out a niche in your market, outpacing the competition, and focusing on how to deliver value to your customers requires that you and your business continuously evolve. A fact that can often be overlooked, however, is the importance of finances and financial resources to sustaining innovation over the long-term.

Finance and the financial position of your business might not sound like they have anything to do with innovation, but if we drill deeper some connections become apparent. In order to pivot your business, develop new products, expand your service offerings, and continue to compete in a rapidly changing landscape you need financial resources.

Innovation, and rolling out new products or services may get most of the limelight, but finance fundamentals are what allow you and your business to develop these new ideas.

Let’s take a look at a few specific areas where your finance fundamentals can help, or hurt, you as you try to drive innovation:

1. Cash is still king.

Net income is a financial metric that receives a lot of attention, but you and I both know that cash flow is what pays the bills, buys supplies, and keeps your business going. Tracking your cash inflows and outflows, which is now possible in real-time using either desktop or mobile-first applications, is absolutely critical.

Keeping your finger on the cash pulse of your business can help you decided just how much you can afford to divert to your new ideas. Accounts receivables are nice assets (more below), but they are not cash — just promises to pay you later.

2. Know what you can leverage.

The balance sheet is something that every entrepreneur knows is important, but can be relegated to the back burner in some instances. Not knowing where you stand, in terms of your business assets and liabilities (debt) can trip you up if you try to launch new ideas.

Remember, that when you attempting to increase your credit line, obtain a new loan, or seek some alternative form of financing, your business (and perhaps yourself) are viewed as a package. It doesn’t matter how good your idea may be, if you already have high debt levels you are going to find it difficult to finance your expansion idea.

3. Set up an innovation account.

Just like you are able to redirect certain dollars or percentages of a direct deposit to different accounts, you can do the same with the funds you want earmarked for innovation. Instead of, for example, having to take out a loan or bet the proverbial ranch on a new idea, you can gradually build up capital that you can afford to dedicate to new product ideas.

This will not always be possible for every business, but it’s worth at least thinking about as an alternative to borrowing funds to help innovate and drive growth.

4. Stress test your finances.

The small business landscape is littered with small businesses that over-expanded, opened one location too many, or didn’t track how individual initiatives were performing — don’t let that happen to your business. Putting down on paper, and documenting just how bad certain things can go is not an easy task, especially when you are in a growth oriented mindset.

That said, taking this step, analyzing what might happen if everything goes according to plan, or if things go poorly, will provide you with relevant and important information. For example, a good problem might be increased sales, but can you re-order inventory and pay your suppliers quickly enough to meet the increased demand?

5. Growth doesn’t always equal profits.

Innovation is a trendy and hot topic, and that can be said without a doubt, but innovation ideas do not always lead immediately to supercharged profits. Linking back to some of the points above, increased sales and business growth also can come with increased costs and levels of stress on your business finances.

If you aren’t careful, and don’t really drill into your cost structure, both current and projected based on your innovation plans, you may end up a new product or service that actually hurts your bottom line.

Innovation and finance fundamentals might not seem like two topics or ideas that go hand in hand, but really are quite closely connected. Drilling down, understanding your finances, and linking together your plans with your bottom line will put you in a better position so innovate, grow, and succeed.


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Three Keys To Driving Business Growth

Business development is crucial for any new start-up, without it, your business will struggle to survive let alone thrive.

When it comes to developing your business, and let’s be clear about what we mean by this, we mean increasing your revenue.

And simplistically speaking there are only three ways that you can do that, and these are: sell more, sell to more, and sell for more.

Too often we overcomplicate things, but in terms of revenue growth, these are the only options and the clearer that we can see them the easier it is to address them, and all of your efforts should be directed to these three tasks.

Your business should have strategies for all three of these opportunities because if you don’t then, you are missing opportunities and potentially leaving the business on the table for your competitors to profit from.

Sell More

The easiest way to grow your business is to sell more products or services to your existing customers. Your existing customers already have a relationship with you, they probably already know you, like you and trust you, so it should be fairly easy to sell additional items to them.

Some studies have shown that it costs seven times as much to add new customers than it does to sell to existing customers.
That means that there are bigger profits to be made in selling additional products and services to existing customers as you have already borne the customer acquisition cost previously.

So what other products and services can you offer to your existing customers. These might not even be services that you produce; these could be complimentary services where you take a small percentage from a partner. Look at airlines who look to offer additional services like car hire, hotels, etc., etc. as they look to maximise the revenue from their customers.

You also need to have customer satisfaction high on your agenda, because for every customer you lose it will cost you significantly to replace them.

You need to have strategies for increasing your revenue per customer.

Sell to More

This is probably the area that most businesses focus on, attracting new customers and increasing market share and penetration. You need more customers if you want to dominate your market and also to drive efficiencies and economies of scale which can help increase profits. But you need to be smart about how you go about this, and to look to keep your customer acquisition costs as low as possible.

One of the cheapest ways to attract new customers id through referrals from existing customers. If your existing customers are happy with your products and services how can you encourage them to become your advocates and to recommend you?

How can you set up win-win arrangements so that both of you benefit?

Remember, if it costs seven times more to acquire a new client than it does to sell to an existing client when clients are recommended to you much of this cost is saved and could be used to reward those who recommended you.

Affiliate programs take a similar approach, where you let someone else bear the cost of finding you new customers for a percentage of the sale.

There are many options for finding new customers, and you need to have strategies that best fit your business model, and also optimize your profitability.

Sell for More

I am always amazed at the number of clients I work with that undervalue the services that they offer. There are often several reasons for this: they lack confidence and so underprice; they don’t understand what the market can bear, or they don’t see the real value in what they are offering.

This last one can come from too much familiarity, which can lead to a form of contempt for our own goods or services which then leads us to lower the price.

Price increase is probably one of the easiest ways to increase revenue, but it does come with risk. Raise the prices too high, and we could lose business and customers.

But the same is true when our prices are too low, if you do not see the value in what you offer, then why should someone else.

One client, I worked with, we doubled her pricing. As she rightly predicted it lost her some customers, but it also attracted new customers who were both able and willing to pay the higher price, and she actually increased overall demand and revenue.

If you have a quality product then you need to sell it for premium prices, if you seel it at budget prices, it will be deemed a budget product.

There are only three ways to increase revenue, sell more to your existing customers, sell your products and services to more people, and to sell them for more money. By having strategies for all three of these will allow you to maximise your business potential.

Ignoring one or more of these just leaves more money for your competitors to take.


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