It doesn’t matter what niche or industry you are in. Competition is part of the game, and if you’re dealing with customers online you might have to deal with competition that’s local as well as competitors from around the world. What that means is that providing a fantastic online customer experience is more important than ever before.
Here are some suggestions to help you ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience for your online customers.
Go Mobile Friendly
As of 2015, more online searches were conducted on mobile devices than on computers, a trend that is expected to continue into the foreseeable future. To give your customers a great mobile experience, you should pick a mobile responsive design for your website, and make sure that any emails you send out are optimized for mobile users. Some things to keep in mind for email include keeping your text in a single column and including alt tags for your images in case they don’t load properly.
Streamline the Navigation of Your Site
Bad or confusing site navigation is one of the most common reasons that web users hit the dreaded “back” button on their browser. The navigation for your website needs to be extremely user-friendly and intuitive. That means that your menu should appear either at the top of your home page or on right margin. Everything should be clearly labeled.
Other things to keep in mind are making it easy to return to your home page from anywhere on your site by making your logo a hyperlink back to your home page. You should also have a search option at the upper right-hand corner of your site, and contact information on the footer of every page.
Minimize Data Collection
When people sign up for your mailing list, how much information do you request? Research shows that every field you add to your opt-in form reduces your conversions by approximately 11%. If all you’re doing is collecting names for your mailing list, consider limiting your form to just an email address – or at most, an email address and a first name so you can personalize your emails.
Payment screens require additional information, but again, keep it to a minimum. If you don’t need a company name or an age, don’t ask for it. Stick to the basics and you’ll increase your conversions and sales.
Highlight Reviews and Testimonials
Research shows that an overwhelming majority of online consumers look at reviews before making a buying decision. Furthermore, even one negative review can be enough to change someone’s mind about buying a product or signing up for a service.
You can do a lot to ease customer doubts and overcome fears by linking to your review pages on sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, and Google My Business. Linking to off-site reviews is especially helpful because they are perceived as objective where customer testimonials on your website are not.
That said, it is also a good idea to include some testimonials or case studies on your site. People want to know that your company has helped people like them, and testimonials are a good way to demonstrate that to them.
Do A/B Testing
One mistake that a lot of companies make is not testing their websites and emails. The truth is that conversion is a science. There are many psychological factors that go into the buying decisions we make, including things like:
- Color choices
- Font choices
- Page layout
A/B testing, which is also sometimes referred to as multivariate testing, can help you test out multiple options of every aspect of your website and marketing materials. Sometimes even a small change, such as switching a call to action button from red to green, can make a big difference in your conversions – and in how customers feel about your company.
Maintain an Active Social Media Presence
The days when companies can afford to ignore social media as a marketing tool have long since passed. With more than two billion social media users worldwide, you need to maintain some kind of social media presence to keep up with your competitors. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Choose the social media sites you use wisely based on your customer avatars or personas.
- Don’t set up accounts that aren’t active. Any active account you have must feature regularly updated content.
- Don’t post identical content across multiple platforms. Modify your content to fit the medium. For example, on Pinterest you might share an infographic with a link back to your blog. On Twitter, a link to your blog with a few well-chosen hashtags is the way to go.
- Monitor your comments and reply to them as needed. The people who follow your company on social media want to feel valued.
Manage Your Online Reputation
What are you doing to manage your online reputation? Your reputation is the sum total of everything that is said about you online, including what’s on your website as well as:
- What you post on social media
- Social mentions, including mentions that are made on sites where you don’t maintain an active presence
- Online reviews
- Online listings
Everything you say and do online is part of your online reputation. To manage it effectively, you need to:
- Maintain a consistent tone and brand image across all online media
- Respond quickly and professionally to customer service requests
- Deal with negative reviews in a calm way that mitigates bad experiences and turns them into positives
- Makes customers feel engaged and valued
If you do all of these things, the image you project will be consistent and an accurate reflection of your brand.
Provide Great Customer Service
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you need to provide excellent customer service everywhere your customers find you online. That means having clear help links on your website, a well-thought-out FAQ page, and contact information that’s easy to find. It also means integrating your customer service with your social media presence so that customers who ask questions receive quick and accurate responses that help them resolve issues.
Providing a great user experience online doesn’t have to be complicated, but you do need to make a real effort to coordinate everything you do so that wherever customers encounter you or your brand, the leave satisfied.
Get any group of marketers together and ask them what they think about customer referral programs. The chances are extremely good that you’ll hear a universal chorus of approval.
What’s not to love about customer referrals? They’re a free way to generate leads. Even if you offer an incentive for referrals, you’ll probably end up paying less for them than you would for advertising.
There’s a reason that so many businesses offer referral programs…
But what you may not know is that most of them are actually failures.
That might surprise you, but it shouldn’t.
Referral programs fail because companies just set them up without thinking about them. They don’t consider the three big questions:
1. What makes customers refer their friends and acquaintances to a business?
2. What are the benefits customers receive from your products?
3. When and how should you promote your referral program?
If you’re shaking your head and realising that you’ve made this mistake too, don’t worry. We’re here to help you figure out how to make your referral program a big success.
Why Do Referrals Happen?
Let’s start with question number one: What makes a customer want to refer a friend to a particular business?
That’s a big question and an important one. If you don’t understand it, you might just end up spinning your wheels with a referral program that appeals to nobody.
According to Jonah Berger, who wrote a book called Contagious: Why Things Catch On, there are six potential factors that might make your customers want to give you a referral:
- Social currency comes first. Will a referral make your customer look good on their own or in comparison to other people?
- Emotions play a big role in decision making. If your referral program engages customers’ emotions, they’ll be more likely to refer.
- Virality is up next. When an idea or concept is easy to remember, it’s also more likely to spread. That’s just as true of referrals as it is of cat videos.
- Stories are important to people. If your referral request comes disguised as a story, then it’s more likely that people will want to share it.
- Practicality is really at the core of referrals. Is your product practical? Is the incentive to refer it practical too?
- Publicity is the final factor. People tend to follow what others do, but only if they can see that they’re doing it.
The good news is that you don’t have to engage all six of these factors to make your referral program a success. You just need to use the ones that make sense in the best possible way to inspire referrals from your existing customers.
How can you optimize the “why” of your referral program? The key is making it clear that your product aligns with your customers’ core concerns, beliefs, and values.
For example, Apple sells its products by talking about their desire to challenge the status quo. They encourage their customers to think of themselves in a certain way that tells a story and taps into their emotions.
Keep in mind that this aspect isn’t about what you offer in return for a referral – although it’s a good idea if you can connect it to those same values.
What Benefits Does Your Product Provide?
Next, let’s talk about the benefits that existing customers can gain if they refer their friends to you.
This question relates most closely to the issues of practicality and social currency. If someone is going to give you a referral, they want to know:
- Will it make me look good?
- Will it help my friend?
- What’s in it for me?
To understand how this might work, let’s look at an example.
Cloud storage company Dropbox increased their sign-up rate by 60% in 2010 by using a simple referral proposition that hit all three of these points perfectly.
The specific offer was that for every friend who signed up for Dropbox, the customer making the referral would receive 500 MB of free storage – and so would their friend. They placed of 16 GB on the referral program.
This offer makes the referrer look good because they’re offering their friend a practical and valuable solution for cloud storage along with a freebie. The benefits to their friends are obvious – and then the person making the referral gets a freebie too.
Think about what you can do to highlight the practical benefits of participating in your referral program. The more obvious they are, the easier it will be for people to make the leap and take part.
When and How Should You Promote Your Referral Program?
The last step is knowing when and how to promote your referral program. Where do you advertise it?
The key is making sure that your customers see it (there’s no point in showing it to non-customers) at the time when they are most likely to take action.
A lot of companies make the mistake of putting information about their referral program in the footer of their website or on their home page.
That does nothing to speak to the emotions of your customers, or to trigger them to take part.
Instead, a better bet is to consider the best way to reach out directly to your customers when they are at their most emotional – and most likely to be enamored of the practicality and value of your products.
In case you were wondering, that’s right after they make a purchase!
The best way to get it to them is to use an email autoresponder. Most customers expect to see a follow-up email after they make an online purchase, and it’s the perfect opportunity for you to outline the benefits of your referral program.
If you want referrals to pour in like rain…
Don’t just dump your referral program in some out of the way corner of your home page.
Instead, make it clear why people should give you referrals and what they (and their friends) can gain from doing so.
Then, hit them with the information about it at exactly the same time – and sit back and collect the referrals that result.
There is a unique challenge to online local marketing. Your competition pool is often smaller and much more unique. Therefore the goal of getting to the first page of search results seems easier to obtain. It may even seem cheaper, since all you have to do is beat out a few hundred businesses.
Perhaps you, as a business owner, have decided to do your own online local marketing. You’ve searched online for information on how to get the results you want. You’ve created a plan, and now you’re ready to take action.
But wait. Before you take that first step, there’s something that I need to tell you: chances are the information you’ve gathered is woefully out of date.
In fact, chances are most local business owners are using online marketing tactics that may be ten years old.
“How is that possible?” you ask. After all, you checked the date of your information. Some of it was published as recently as a few days ago.
Search engines change their algorithms daily. These changes are often minor, but they add up to bigger changes, like Google’s recent change favoring mobile-friendly websites (more on that later). So tactics that may have worked ten years ago do not work now. In fact, search engines penalize some of those tactics. If you get hit with penalties, it’s improbable that you will show up in the search engines at all.
Here is a list of seven local marketing myths you may be buying into that are keeping your business from achieving online success.
Myth #1: Quick SEO Can Help You Get on Page 1
There are no shortcuts when it comes to ranking in SEO. A long term, consistent approach is needed in order to be successful. Sometimes, even the best plan to get on the first page doesn’t come to fruition.
There are hundreds of factors that decide where your website is going to rank in a search engine. One of those factors is how long your website has been around. If it’s less than a year old, your chances of getting on page one are about 2-3% at best.
Search engines put their trust in older websites with an established history. Those websites that are ranking on page one for your keyword have been around for years. Even if they haven’t, they’ve probably got other ranking factors working for them that you aren’t seeing. It is highly unlikely that any “quick SEO” technique is going to work in your favor. It’s better if you simply invest in a solid, long term plan and exercise some patience.
Myth #2: Microsites Will Help You Boost Your Rankings
The logic is fairly simple. Ranking a microsite is easier than ranking a huge site, right? And the microsites will contain general information that will point people back to your business. So you can pull in traffic from these sites without investing a lot of money in SEO for your company website.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it doesn’t work like that anymore. The days when you could use dozens of keyword-based microsites to get search engine rankings are gone.
Search engine algorithms have been updated to exclude any network of websites that point to the same domain. So if you’re looking to use 50 plumber-based keyword microsites to point back to your business websites, think again. You’re more likely to get penalized than be rewarded.
Myth #3: Your Keyword Needs to Be in Your Domain
This springs from the second myth involving microsites. Having someone search for “laptop repair” and seeing “laptoprepair.com” at the #1 position will garner clicks.
Except for one thing: if you actually search for “laptop repair” in a search engine, the first results to come up are going to be businesses with brand names as their domains, like “geeksquad.com.”
Brand names are more important than keywords in search engine results. The moral: focus on establishing your brand instead of trying to rank for a keyword. If your brand is associated with that keyword, you’ll be rewarded with higher rankings.
Myth #4: You Need Multiple Phone Numbers for Tracking Purposes
This is another myth that springs from myth #2. When setting up microsites, each site would have its own separate phone number. That way the business owner could see which sites were performing the best, and which ones needed to be cut.
A search engine uses your phone number to identify your business as unique. Multiple phone numbers confuses the search engine, and can hinder your online marketing efforts. Stick to one number. It’s easier to maintain.
Myth #5: You Don’t Need Social Media
It is true that some businesses won’t get a lot of attention on social media. But you still need to use it to your advantage. You can use it to connect with other local businesses that compliment your services. You can report on local events, or curate information that is of interest in your niche. Doing these things can position you as an expert in your field.
Myth #6: Optimizing Your Site for Mobile is a Waste of Time
Maybe this was true a few years ago, but now it’s a necessary part of having a website.
In fact, in early 2015 Google launched an algorithm change that rewards mobile-friendly websites with higher rankings. They’re placing more emphasis on mobile traffic, since more than 50% of internet traffic comes from mobile sources. That number will continue to grow.
Optimize your website for mobile. You’ll boost your rankings and get more traffic.
Myth #7: Reviews Affect Your Rankings
Your reviews have nothing to do with your rankings.
Your reviews are just that: reviews. They do affect how customers view your business, but they don’t affect how search engines rank your website.
If you’re worried about bad reviews and a bad reputation, you shouldn’t be. Be proactive. Respond to negative reviews in a very professional manner. Most of the time you’ll find you can resolve the issue. This impresses upon potential customers that you care about their experience with you and you want to satisfy them.
In truth, the right response to a bad review is better than a dozen glowing reviews.
Local marketing can be pretty confusing. It’s easy to come down with information overload. If you’re still using any of these myths in your local marketing plans, make immediate adjustments. You don’t want to purposefully hold your business back from reaching its full potential.