7 Major Changes in Small Business Marketing in 2011

reflection - sunset over Mooloolaba

 reflection - sunset over Mooloolaba

As 2011 comes to a close, it is instructive to reflect on the massive changes to small business marketing that occurred during the year and to look at their implications.   These changes were driven by a number of landmark events that spawned innovations.

One of the key drivers of the changes that small business marketing confronts today, and into 2012, is the direct competition between Google and Facebook for Number One position on the Internet (and all the revenue that goes with this position).   The impact of this competition is being felt throughout the Internet marketing world and in social media.  There are many people becoming disengaged by the endless changes created by the two Giants of the Internet as they try to outpace each other.   One possible prognosis is that this could open up the arena for another player who undermines the customer base of the both the big players, as Facebook did to MySpace.

I want to focus on seven (7) key changes as a way to highlight the impacts from a small business marketing perspective.  This approach is in line with my suggestion to write blog posts in sets and sevens.  So here are the seven key changes  in 2011 affecting small business marketing:

1. Google Places upgrade and resurgence

Google introduced improvements to Google Places, the platform for local businesses to highlight their location, hours of business and their products/services.  Along with these changes, Google gave new prominence to Google Places in local search results, changing the display and increasing the value of a Google Places web presence.  Sadly, very few small businesses understand the value of this change and have failed to take up their allotted Google Places website.  In 2012, Google Places will be an absolutely essential part of your small business marketing.  Without it, you may find yourself dropping deeper and deeper in the list of local search engine results as your competitors make full use of this facility (one which Google itself hosts!).

2. Changes to Facebook Pages

The big news of 2011, was that Facebook had more web traffic (visitors) in March than Google and took over the Number One position in terms of search engine volume.  The race is now on and Google and Facebook are involved in a head-on tussle to capture (or retain) the number one position.  This competition has generated many changes on both sites.  Facebook has made major changes to its Facebook Pages to make further inroads into the business market.  These changes have complicated the scene for small business marketing.  It has meant that many small business owners have had to ignore Facebook or engage small business marketing consultants (who are struggling themselves to keep up with the changes).  But how can you ignore the Number One source of web traffic that is also a social media site with over 700 Million members?

3. Introduction of Google Plus and Google +1

Google quickly responded to Facebook’s resurgence with the introduction of its own social network, Google Plus.  It also introduced an equivalent to the Facebook “Like” in the form of the Google +1 button.   There are other major changes in Google’s search algorithm and results display that accompanied these changes.  The challenge for small business owners is, “How can you keep abreast of these changes and their implications for small business marketing?”.  Again, you cannot afford to ignore the Google changes or your competition will be appearing in a much more prominent way than you as Google attempts to “reward’ those who get on board with its new social network and related changes.

4. The resurgence of LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the world’s largest online network focused on business and in 2011 grew to over 130 Million members.  LinkedIn is a new and growing force in small business marketing.  Depending on the nature of your business, it can be a critical component of your small business marketing, particularly in the light of the overall growth of social networking which looks like continuing unabated in 2012.  The introduction of status updates by LinkedIn is an attempt to utilise its growing power to move into the Big League occupied by Facebook and Google. 

5. The growth of local marketing

During 2011, there was a massive switch of focus by Internet marketers from affiliate marketing to local marketing.  This was driven in part by two influences, (1) the decline of affiliate income owing to the depressed economy in the US and (2) and the recognition that around 80% of business for offline businesses comes from within a 5 kilometre radius.   The changes to Google Places and the emergence of social networking ‘review” sites, intensified this new focus.   What it means for your small business marketing is that you have to make the most of online local marketing tools because your competitors are being courted daily by Internet marketers who see this area of consulting as a the new “goldmine”.  The new superstars of Internet marketing generate their income from monthly retainers paid by businesses, small and large, for local marketing services.

6. The massive growth of mobile marketing

With the advent of the Smart Phone and the associated growth of mobile usage, mobile marketing has taken off as the new frontier for Internet marketing.  This growth is being aided by the focus on local marketing and has spawned the development of thousands of apps for mobile phones.   Two new areas of online riches are emerging, (1) the creation and sale of mobile phone apps and (2) the development of mobile marketing strategies and tools (software).  As a small business marketer, you are going to need mobile compatible websites and mobile marketing tools.  One advantage of Google Places discussed above is that  it is already mobile-compatible – which is another reason why it is so critical for small business marketing.

7. 2011 – The Year of the PlugIn

With so many changes on so many fronts, WordPress developers have had a field day.  There has been a massive growth in WordPress Plugin development in 2011.  I receive an invite every day to purchase two or three new plugins.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep abreast of these software innovations.   However, the WordPress plugins are designed to make it easier for you to accommodate your small business marketing to the changes that are occurring in Internet marketing.  Many of the plugins help you to automate your small business marketing process.

In succeeding posts, I will further explain these 2011 changes and highlight their implications for small business marketing moving into 2012.

Leverage Your Blogging: Create a Small Business Ezine

Mooloolaba rocks

Mooloolaba rocks

One of the easiest ways to leverage your blogging, is to create your own small business ezine.   An ezine is basically an email newsletter where you share articles, news and blog posts with members of your mailing list (customer list).  This approach to small business marketing serves multiple purposes and achieves leverage on a number of levels. 

Your regular small business ezine enables you to maintain contact with your customers, educate them about your products and services and offer free information and advice.  Most email service providers offer ways to further leverage your ezine via RSS feeds and automatic posts to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. 

If you are blogging regularly, you are creating the content for your ezine.  If you blog daily, you will be able to provide a small business ezine of considerable substance. 

How to use your blogging in your small business ezine

If you blog regularly, you can easily create an ezine from your blog posts.   Since I blog daily, I send a weekly ezine to my mailing list covering a number of posts around a theme, e.g. Squidoo or LinkedIn.  You need to decide the frequency of your small business ezine based on the regularity of your blog posts, the nature of your business and the kind of information you are offering.

Most autoresponders will replace the blog links in your email with their own generated links (if you specify that you want open rates and click-through-rates measured). 

Another option is to use the URL shortener bitly.com to shorten your blog links.  The advantages of this approach are that you can share each individual shortened link automatically with your Facebook and/or Twitter account and you can also get statistics on click-through-rates on the Bitly link.   It is a good idea to add a comment (like a status update) before you share your link on Bitly.

Blogging has lots of benefits, not the least of these is that it provides you with content to share with your mailing list via your small business ezine.

How to Create LinkedIn Ads: The Basic Steps

LinkedIn advertising

Linkedin Ads is a great medium for targeted advertising for business-to-business (B2B) marketing or where the market for your small business can be segmented by profession, job title or company.  Now with over 130 million members, the LinkedIn professional network allows small businesses to get their message across to a highly targeted audience.

Good conversion rates and leads can be generated from LinkedIn Ads – as long as you have the right tools and the right people to tailor your message correctly. There are plenty of blogs and articles that can teach you how to create a great online ad campaign to achieve a high return on investment (ROI), but this blog post gets down to the very basics of creating Linkedin Ads.

What do you need to do first? How do you set up a Linked Ad? What are your options?  This blog post will address these questions and more by spelling out the basic steps to get your LinkedIn Ads up and running.

Step 1 – Getting started with LinkedIn Ads

You must have a Linkedin profile to start.  From there, you can go to Linkedin Ads by clicking the link located at the top left hand corner of the page:

LinkedIn Ads login

You can also create a Business Account if you have created a company page.   By doing so, you can add additional people to control and monitor your campaigns.  This runs separately from your individual LinkedIn Ads account, so you can choose to run a campaign for yourself and then run a company campaign. These are also billed separately.

There is an additional registration required to create your LinkedIn ‘Business Account’ as indicated in the following image:

LinkedIn Ads - business accounts

Step 2 – Create a LinkedIn Ad campaign

To create a LinkedIn Ad campaign you need to understand the basic terms used by LinkedIn:

Ad campaign: Covers up to 15 Ad variations and a single target audience.

Ad Campaign Name: If you intend to segment your audience, name your campaign accordingly for easy tracking and easy metrics beyond the campaign, e.g. as seen in the image below – ‘Performance Conversations for Networks/Groups’ ([Training Workshop Name] for [Targeted Group]):

LinkedIn Ads campaign

Ad Destination: You can link the Ad straight to a page on your website or to a page created from your LinkedIn account. If you are going to send visitors to your website, ensure the link in your Ad takes them directly to the related page – do not send them to your homepage and expect them to look around for the right information. That is an easy way to instantly lose a possible sale.

If you have created a page from your Linkedin Company Page, you can also send people who view your Ad to the address of that Company Page. For e.g. a job advertisement you’ve posted, or a service that your company offers.

In addition to the above terms, you need to understand the LinkedIn Ad structure.  This covers items such as image for your Ad, headline and description:

  • Image for your Ad must be 50×50 pixels.  
  • The headline must be no more than 25 characters. Unlike Google Adwords, the headline for your LinkedIn Ad does not have to be “keyword specific”, so you can use a title that will catch your audience’s eye.
  • The description must be no more than 75 characters (but you have two lines to be creative with these limited characters). With character restrictions, you must get to the point but grab attention at the same time.  Some common tips are:

–  Tell them what you’re selling – get to the point

–  Appeal to an emotion (fear, stress, relief, excitement)

–  Use a Call to Action (e.g. Register today).

To round off your LinkedIn Ad you need to complete the ‘From” field with either your own name or your company name.

Step 3 – Targeting your LinkedIn Ad

This step is what gives you the most value so be sure you know exactly who you are trying to target.  Your options for targeting with LinkedIn Ads include location, company, job title, group, gender and age.  You can make your targeting as broad as you want (all members from one location – Australia) or as defined as you want (only members from Brisbane, Australia AND who work for the Queensland Government AND who are in a Senior Position AND who are a member of the AHRI Network group).

On the top right hand corner of your screen you will see your Estimated Target Audience. The more defined you get, the more this number shrinks, but don’t see this as negative. If your goal is to gain awareness of your brand, keep your target broad. If you are looking to generate conversions and believe you’ll have a high click-through-rate (CTR), then save yourself from advertising to unnecessary audiences costing you unnecessary clicks (and money). The more defined your targeting, the more likely you’ll be able to convert your LinkedIn Ads to sales because your Ad will actually mean something to your audinece.   To everyone else – your Ad is just another ad with no relevance or significance for them.

Step 4 – Setting the budget for your LinkedIn Ads

LinkedIn Ads is a paid advertising platform.  You have two basic options in terms of what you pay for: 

  1. Pay per click (CPC): You only get charged when someone clicks on your Ad.
  2. Pay per  impressions (CPM): You pay for the number of times your Ad displays for a visitor to LinkedIn (on the basis of ‘per thousand impressions’).

This choice is dependent on your goal. Linkedin will always suggest a click bid range for you. The minimum is $2.00 per click.  The Bid Range is based on competition. The higher you bid, the more likely your ad will be shown over competitors who may not be willing to pay as much. Don’t worry about over-spending. That’s where the Daily Budget comes in, allowing control over your clicks so that you can stay within your online advertising budget.  You need to choose whether you want to run your campaign continuously or until a specific date.

(Side note: there is a one time activation fee of $5.00 – this is then credited to your LinkedIn Ads account and used as the initial credit towards Clicks/Impressions)

LinkedIn Ads - Budget and cost per click

Step 5 – Let your LinkedIn Ad run for a period…and evaluate

Keep an eye on your campaigns every day. It is important to monitor how your Ads are going so you can make adjustments if necessary. If your Ads aren’t getting any clicks – edit or delete them. If you’ve identified which variations of your ads are working the best – disable the others. If you’re reaching your daily budget every day and not getting any conversions to sales – lower your bid per click and/or alter your daily budget. Watch your campaign to ensure it is working for you and what you are trying to achieve.

LinkedIn Ads can be a profitable medium for small business marketing if you target your Ads appropriately and evaluate your results continuously.

Why Use LinkedIn Ads for Small Business Marketing?

Targeting a group on LinkedIn

Targeting a group on LinkedIn

LinkedIn Ads have a number of distinct advantages for small business marketing, particularly for businesses in the professional sector.   We decided to use LinkedIn Ads to raise awareness of, and participation in, one of our new training workshops.   This approach was designed to complement our normal email marketing campaign for our human resource consulting business.

Linkedin Ads is much the same as most click-based advertising programs, and just like Facebook Ads, you can segment your target audience.  What makes this targeting more valuable and relevant is that you can target your audience based on their current professional status or career interests.  In contrast, Facebook Ads tend to focus more on lifestyle interests, while Google Adwords enables targeting geographically by search terms/keywords.

LinkedIn Ads: The Advantages

The advantages of LinkedIn Ads revolve around targeting/segmenting features and cost structure.   The key advantages for us were:

1.  Ability to target professionals and business people

We could select a target audience based on Location (capital city, state, country), Gender and Age and then segment them further by selecting Companies they work for, Job Titles or even a Group they had joined.

target marketing on LinkedIn


2,  Option to run your campaign for different target audiences

We focused on three different target audiences in this campaign – (1) people in Senior positions (as our workshop focuses mostly on managers and team leaders),  (2) those that worked at specific Companies and (3) those who belonged to certain Linkedin Groups (usually professionally based).

3.  Ability to create up to 15 variations of an ad

Initially we had two variations – each had the same copy but with different images. Eventually we added more variations to include Call to Actions. We ended up with 12 variations in total.

4.  Relatively cheap for a highly targeted service

As with most click-based advertising, you have the power to set your daily budget and how much you are willing to pay for each click. While Linkedin Ads do have minimum amounts that you could set ($2.00 per click and $10.00 daily budget), these were relatively inexpensive considering how targeted you could make your audience, ensuring that only the most relevant people are viewing your ads.

Related to this last advantage is the capacity to view in advance the numbers that make up any specific targeted audience – so you can very quickly see whether the target audience is too large or too small.  The following illustration shows that one of our earlier choices of audience resulted in an estimated target audience of 281,994.

estimated target audience for LinkedIn Ads

Linkedin Ads: The Disadvantages

Two distinct disadvantages from our first experience of LinkedIn Ads were:

1.Actual reach

 With the option to target your audience as broad or as narrow as you wish – we found that the more we wanted to tailor our campaign, the less people we could reach.  While this sounds like common sense, it still felt restricting – we were not able to fine tune our targeting as much as we would have preferred to because the estimated target audience was in the low hundreds.   This disadvantage could be a function of the location and population mix.  The same audience choices in aUSenvironment would have resulted in much larger numbers.

2.  Relatively low click through rate (CTR)

There were tens of thousands of impressions of our ads in the 2 weeks that we ran this campaign but we only received a .022 CTR (22 clicks per 1,000 impressions).  This could be influenced by the nature of LinkedIn and the regular behaviour of the audience (high resistance to online ads?).  Another influencing factor would be the quality of our ads – title, description and the image.

What we learned from this experience of LinkedIn Ads

Our key learning related to the nature of the image, the click behaviour of specific audience types and the impact of ad changes mid-stream in a campaign.  Here are the key findings:

1. The image used makes a difference

In choosing an image, the audience clicked on the company logo image more often than a content-related image.  This stat could be influenced by the fact that our logo is recognised in the marketplace after 15 years in operation.

Images for LinkedIn Ads

2. The more senior group (higher organizational ranking) generated the most clicks.

 By contrast, the campaign that targeted “Groups” was the least successful.   What would influence this latter result is the nature of group membership (focused on discussion, not ads) and the perceived relevance of the ad to the focus of the group discussion.

 3.  Creating different variations in the middle of the campaign did not help at all and may have possibly harmed our campaign. Clicks almost immediately halted after releasing variations and very few clicks in total were gained from the new ads then from the original ads.

Why use LinkedIn Ads?

LinkedIn Ads provide a particular form of targeting because of the professional/vocational focus of the membership.  We were able to learn a few things in our first campaign on LinkedIn.   There’s a lot of trial and error with any form of click-based advertising.   Patience is required along with a good analysis of your campaigns.   Constant review and matching of all elements – heading, description, image and audience – are essential for success with LinkedIn Ads.

Expand Your Business Through Your LinkedIn Connections

LinkedIn for small business marketing

 LinkedIn for small business marketing LinkedIn is the world’s largest online professional network with 130 Million members and thus provides a great opportunity for small business marketing.  It represents a powerful network of educated, affluent and influential people. 

Unlike Facebook and YouTube, which were established primarily for entertainment purposes, LinkedIn was created to develop business/professional connections.  Once again, this background and purpose shape the etiquette and usefulness of this social networking site.

LinkedIn is used for multiple purposes by different groups of people.  Employers seek out potential employees, job applicants display their work/professional knowledge and experience and business people seek to expand their professional and industry networks and locate business partners.  Increasingly, employers are looking at the “Internet Footprint” of potential employees and LinkedIn has a pre-eminent status in this evaluation.  Some organizations actually acknowledge that LinkedIn is their sole or primary source of job candidates.

For small businesses and Internet marketers, LinkedIn is a superb way to build a brand/profile that is professional and grounded.  At the personal level, LinkedIn enables you to enrich your Internet profile by bringing both your offline and online knowledge and experience to the fore.  It provides, like Facebook, the opportunity to integrate the personal and professional.

Here are some indicative facts about LinkedIn:

  • LinkedIn is ranked the 13th most visited site on the Internet (12th in the USA) – it ranks in the top ten sites in countries like Netherlands, India and Ireland
  • LinkedIn has a Page Rank of 9/10.

These stats highlight the power of LinkedIn as a medium for marketing and establishing a real professional presence on the Internet for yourself and/or your business.

If you have a LinkedIn profile, it will typically appear on the first page of Google results for a search on your own name or a search on a small business that you are part of.  For example, if you search on the name of my small business, Merit Solutions Australia, you will see a number of individual LinkedIn profiles and the company’s LinkedIn profile on the first page of results.

From a search engine perspective, LinkedIn provides an excellent forum to capture attention and generate traffic for your website, company or products/services.

LinkedIn membership: the audience for small business marketing

LinkedIn is a superb site for building your online social network and creating new business connections. Here’s some interesting information about people on LinkedIn that is relevant to small business marketing:

  • LinkedIn is 59% male and 41% female
  • 78% of LinkedIn members have a college or postgraduate qualification
  • 69% of the people on LinkedIn live in theUS
  • Average household annual income for LinkedIn users is over $100,000
  • LinkedIn visitors spend about eight minutes on the site per visit and tend to browse the site from work rather than home
  • 3 out of 4 LinkedIn members use the site for things related to their business – developing relationships, new business and business news
  • Compared with the overall internet population,

LinkedIn profiles show that:

– LinkedIn users are disproportionately well educated and affluent

– LinkedIn has a very strong representation of key business decision makers

– 18 to 24 year olds and people over 65 years are under-represented

– representation of other age groups is similar to the general Internet population.

[Sources (used with some statistical license):  http://advertising.linkedin.com/audience/  & http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/linkedin.com ]

Small business marketing on LinkedIn

As an overall observation, it is important to remember that heavy selling and overt, continuous promotion on LinkedIn breaches the etiquette of this professional network and will result in complaints and being ostracized. Besides if you are using this site to promote yourself and/or your business, it is essential that you present a professional demeanor and respect the rights of other people on the site.  In a previous post, I listed ten top tips for small business marketing on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is a powerful social network for small business marketing as it provides a superb opportunity to develop your professional profile, create connections and build your customer base within a highly ranked, expanding business network.