|By David Strom||
|November 7, 2012 12:19 PM EST||
If you run a small business and aren’t an expert in online technologies, you will end up in one of three situations:
- you will quickly learn how to do some of the more important aspects of online marketing yourself,
- you will pay a lot of money to people who are experts in taking your money and little else, or
- you will ignore the online world and continue to wallow in your Luddite-ness while others are building their businesses.
Here is my guide on how to avoid the latter two end states and get smarter about online marketing.
I have been spending time with a friend of mine who owns her own retail interior design business. Earlier this year, she decided to grow her business using online marketing. Over the past several months, she has acquired new customers and found her niche. But it hasn’t been easy. She has had to attack the online world on several fronts, and develop an expertise in Google AdWords, Houzz.com, HomeAdvisor.com, and Angie’s List. She needed to beef up a simple WordPress-based website, and learn how to screen consultants offering her a variety of deals, some pricey, some ineffective, and some that were just plain scams.
Let’s start with the website. Any retail business today needs a solid website that shows their product, contains recommendations from satisfied customers, and makes it easy for a potential customer to research the firm and understand what products and services are offered and at what price points. I told my friend to look around the Web and find a couple of local sites that she liked and then call the business owners and find out who developed the sites. With one restaurant, the site was beautiful but it was $40,000. Another consultant wanted $4,000. Nice but still a bit pricey, and this consultant wanted to build a site from the ground up in Drupal, which I had my doubts that my friend could maintain over time. She ended up with a third consultant who used a nice WordPress template. That was attractive because she already had some familiarity with WordPress and could make the changes herself. Total spend so far: $1,000.
To populate the website, she needed photos of her work. She found a budding photographer who could do appropriately lit interior shots at low cost, and would send her digital images along with watermarks to distribute online. Another $1000.
Then she heard about Houzz.com, a wonderful social media site. Designers post their pictures of their rooms and objects in them; the public indicates their preferences. Clients post their reviews of both. In the past, my friend has had to carry around a looseleaf notebook filled with clips from shelter magazines for her clients to indicate a preference. Now she can do it digitally.
But Houzz, and other specialty communities like it have another function. By writing comments on these discussion forums, she is sharing her knowledge with the people most likely to hire her. It doesn’t cost her anything to participate in these forums, other than her time, and she is reaching a ready-made audience of thousands of customers. As a result, she has gotten new clients and her work has been featured in regional design magazines.
The next step was expanding her reach to other places that people would look at when hiring a designer. Here sites such as HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List come into play. There are a variety of rules and regulations for each site, and how you get recommendations posted on each. Part of the trick here is again finding the right specialty sites that have the best fit in your particular market segment.
The next step was understanding and using Google AdWords to create a series of paid search ads that would direct visitors to her website. This is an entire world unto itself, and required spending some money and experimenting with various ad campaigns, keyword selection, and geo-targeting her ads. A good place to read about this world is in a series of posts by small business owner Paul Downs about his furniture making business on the NY Times Boss blog.
Downs writes, “Basic ad group maintenance requires checking how many e-mail inquiries we get, whether the click-through rates are comparable to the overall campaign, which keywords generate the most traffic, and whether the ads are being triggered by searches that are relevant.” He adjusts his keywords constantly to tune his AdWords spending, even creating negative keywords to prevent wasting money. Part of the challenge here is in understanding what you are paying for, too. Google “tells you what level of spending — the maximum recommended amount — it would take to buy the rest of the clicks. What it leaves out is that the additional clicks you buy may not be of sufficient quality to result in additional sales.”
Part of Downs’ marketing pipeline is taking the inquiries from his paid search campaigns and qualifying them. He has two salesmen that use a ten-question survey to ask what kind of furniture they want to purchase. He then produces a classy proposal that is easy to understand and can be passed up the decision food chain to the ultimate decision-maker, without tying up a lot of his time in the process.
The challenge of AdWords is in the amount of data you have to look at to understand what you are doing, where you are spending your money, and how to improve your campaigns. “Beyond the most important number (monthly sales), I look at Web site traffic; the number of inquiries coming in each day, week, and month; the number of proposals written; and how much each salesman contributes to these totals.”
Downs’ business was humming along until earlier this year, when he introduced a new and lower-cost product. After months of seeing his total sales volume drop, he realized that he was wasting his Google AdWords spending on clicks from non-profits and schools, foregoing clicks on bosses and less-price sensitive potential buyers. “By all of its own metrics, the AdWords campaign was a home run. I had received lots of impressions and bought lots of clicks. The only problem was that these apparently were the wrong clicks…. My AdWords spending was going to the wrong people.”
Downs spends several hundred dollars a month on his campaigns, my designer friend has a similar budget but varies it based on her availability and how many new clients she is taking on: she doesn’t want to grow too fast. She also runs short-lived campaigns because she has found that her clients are only shopping online at certain times. This way improves her ad placement (the more you spend, the higher your ad ranks on the results).
As you can see, setting all this up is time consuming, and does involve some cash outlay. You can certainly spend more and get an “SEO expert” and you can certainly spend almost no money and get something that doesn’t really deliver. The trick is finding that middle ground where you are comfortable and yet can continue to sustain or grow your business at the rate that you want.
Still to come: writing a regular blog that will feature her clients and some of her thoughts on design, and spending more time developing a following on Houzz et al. And probably an email newsletter too. It is an on-going process. None of these things cost a lot of dough, though: just time.
Part of what is going on here is balancing each of the different online tools to create what Downs calls your own business narrative: “Every day I tell myself a story about what is going on with my business, and I draft future chapters that help me decide what to do next.” The trick is making sure you don’t go too far afield and you can explain the results that you see from the various reports.
As more intelligent IoT applications shift into gear, they’re merging into the ever-increasing traffic flow of the Internet. It won’t be long before we experience bottlenecks, as IoT traffic peaks during rush hours. Organizations that are unprepared will find themselves by the side of the road unable to cross back into the fast lane. As billions of new devices begin to communicate and exchange data – will your infrastructure be scalable enough to handle this new interconnected world?
Oct. 13, 2015 12:30 PM EDT
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo in Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal an...
Oct. 13, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 205
Developing software for the Internet of Things (IoT) comes with its own set of challenges. Security, privacy, and unified standards are a few key issues. In addition, each IoT product is comprised of at least three separate application components: the software embedded in the device, the backend big-data service, and the mobile application for the end user's controls. Each component is developed by a different team, using different technologies and practices, and deployed to a different stack/target - this makes the integration of these separate pipelines and the coordination of software upd...
Oct. 13, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 411
As a company adopts a DevOps approach to software development, what are key things that both the Dev and Ops side of the business must keep in mind to ensure effective continuous delivery? In his session at DevOps Summit, Mark Hydar, Head of DevOps, Ericsson TV Platforms, will share best practices and provide helpful tips for Ops teams to adopt an open line of communication with the development side of the house to ensure success between the two sides.
Oct. 13, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 692
The IoT is upon us, but today’s databases, built on 30-year-old math, require multiple platforms to create a single solution. Data demands of the IoT require Big Data systems that can handle ingest, transactions and analytics concurrently adapting to varied situations as they occur, with speed at scale. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chad Jones, chief strategy officer at Deep Information Sciences, will look differently at IoT data so enterprises can fully leverage their IoT potential. He’ll share tips on how to speed up business initiatives, harness Big Data and remain one step ahead by apply...
Oct. 13, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 745
There will be 20 billion IoT devices connected to the Internet soon. What if we could control these devices with our voice, mind, or gestures? What if we could teach these devices how to talk to each other? What if these devices could learn how to interact with us (and each other) to make our lives better? What if Jarvis was real? How can I gain these super powers? In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Chris Matthieu, co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, will show you!
Oct. 13, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 278
Today air travel is a minefield of delays, hassles and customer disappointment. Airlines struggle to revitalize the experience. GE and M2Mi will demonstrate practical examples of how IoT solutions are helping airlines bring back personalization, reduce trip time and improve reliability. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect with GE, and Dr. Sarah Cooper, M2Mi's VP Business Development and Engineering, will explore the IoT cloud-based platform technologies driving this change including privacy controls, data transparency and integration of real time context w...
Oct. 13, 2015 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 303
The Internet of Everything is re-shaping technology trends–moving away from “request/response” architecture to an “always-on” Streaming Web where data is in constant motion and secure, reliable communication is an absolute necessity. As more and more THINGS go online, the challenges that developers will need to address will only increase exponentially. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Todd Greene, Founder & CEO of PubNub, will explore the current state of IoT connectivity and review key trends and technology requirements that will drive the Internet of Things from hype to reality.
Oct. 13, 2015 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 317
SYS-CON Events announced today that Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, will keynote at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Oct. 13, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 248
SYS-CON Events announced today that Super Micro Computer, Inc., a global leader in high-performance, high-efficiency server, storage technology and green computing, will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Supermicro (NASDAQ: SMCI), the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions® for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/Big Data, HPC and Embedded Systems worldwide. Supermi...
Oct. 13, 2015 09:30 AM EDT Reads: 203
"Matrix is an ambitious open standard and implementation that's set up to break down the fragmentation problems that exist in IP messaging and VoIP communication," explained John Woolf, Technical Evangelist at Matrix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Oct. 13, 2015 07:00 AM EDT Reads: 6,011
Nowadays, a large number of sensors and devices are connected to the network. Leading-edge IoT technologies integrate various types of sensor data to create a new value for several business decision scenarios. The transparent cloud is a model of a new IoT emergence service platform. Many service providers store and access various types of sensor data in order to create and find out new business values by integrating such data.
Oct. 13, 2015 04:00 AM EDT Reads: 682
There are so many tools and techniques for data analytics that even for a data scientist the choices, possible systems, and even the types of data can be daunting. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Harrold, Global CTO for Big Data Solutions for EMC Corporation, will show how to perform a simple, but meaningful analysis of social sentiment data using freely available tools that take only minutes to download and install. Participants will get the download information, scripts, and complete end-to-end walkthrough of the analysis from start to finish. Participants will also be given the pract...
Oct. 13, 2015 03:00 AM EDT Reads: 407
Too often with compelling new technologies market participants become overly enamored with that attractiveness of the technology and neglect underlying business drivers. This tendency, what some call the “newest shiny object syndrome,” is understandable given that virtually all of us are heavily engaged in technology. But it is also mistaken. Without concrete business cases driving its deployment, IoT, like many other technologies before it, will fade into obscurity.
Oct. 13, 2015 03:00 AM EDT Reads: 258
WebRTC services have already permeated corporate communications in the form of videoconferencing solutions. However, WebRTC has the potential of going beyond and catalyzing a new class of services providing more than calls with capabilities such as mass-scale real-time media broadcasting, enriched and augmented video, person-to-machine and machine-to-machine communications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Luis Lopez, CEO of Kurento, will introduce the technologies required for implementing these ideas and some early experiments performed in the Kurento open source software community in areas ...
Oct. 13, 2015 12:45 AM EDT Reads: 852
Electric power utilities face relentless pressure on their financial performance, and reducing distribution grid losses is one of the last untapped opportunities to meet their business goals. Combining IoT-enabled sensors and cloud-based data analytics, utilities now are able to find, quantify and reduce losses faster – and with a smaller IT footprint. Solutions exist using Internet-enabled sensors deployed temporarily at strategic locations within the distribution grid to measure actual line loads.
Oct. 13, 2015 12:00 AM EDT Reads: 273
“In the past year we've seen a lot of stabilization of WebRTC. You can now use it in production with a far greater degree of certainty. A lot of the real developments in the past year have been in things like the data channel, which will enable a whole new type of application," explained Peter Dunkley, Technical Director at Acision, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Oct. 12, 2015 11:15 PM EDT Reads: 7,128
Today’s connected world is moving from devices towards things, what this means is that by using increasingly low cost sensors embedded in devices we can create many new use cases. These span across use cases in cities, vehicles, home, offices, factories, retail environments, worksites, health, logistics, and health. These use cases rely on ubiquitous connectivity and generate massive amounts of data at scale. These technologies enable new business opportunities, ways to optimize and automate, along with new ways to engage with users.
Oct. 12, 2015 06:00 PM EDT Reads: 262
Through WebRTC, audio and video communications are being embedded more easily than ever into applications, helping carriers, enterprises and independent software vendors deliver greater functionality to their end users. With today’s business world increasingly focused on outcomes, users’ growing calls for ease of use, and businesses craving smarter, tighter integration, what’s the next step in delivering a richer, more immersive experience? That richer, more fully integrated experience comes about through a Communications Platform as a Service which allows for messaging, screen sharing, video...
Oct. 12, 2015 05:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,227
WebRTC converts the entire network into a ubiquitous communications cloud thereby connecting anytime, anywhere through any point. In his session at WebRTC Summit,, Mark Castleman, EIR at Bell Labs and Head of Future X Labs, will discuss how the transformational nature of communications is achieved through the democratizing force of WebRTC. WebRTC is doing for voice what HTML did for web content.
Oct. 12, 2015 03:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,489