Top 5 Small Business Marketing Trends for 2013

Tuesday Jan 29th 2013 by Vangie Beal
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From mobile marketing to SEO, we look at five hot small business marketing trends for 2013 to help you capture new customers and capitalize on Internet sales this year.

Five years ago a solid email marketing strategy combined with offline marketing endeavors—like print and radio ads—would see your small business rolling along just fine in the marketing department.   

Today, however, the list of small business marketing tasks is both exhaustive and overwhelming. Marketing has become a whole new world with social media, email marketing, ecommerce and search engine optimization to name a few. 

In 2013, mobile optimization and creating excellent, top-notch content are the two trends that run through all types of marketing activities. Overall, mobile is this year's exceptionally big trend, and we see it deeply tied to most aspects of online marketing.  

5 Online Marketing Trends Small Business Owners Need to Know

Small Business Computing spoke with marketing experts to find out what's trending in small business marketing this year. These five new trends—mobile marketing, SEO, email marketing, ecommerce and social advertising—will help you to improve your Web presence and capture new leads and customers.

1. Mobile Marketing Is Here and Now

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last year, you're probably aware of the growing number of mobile users and the resulting need for small businesses to offer mobile versions of webpages and marketing campaigns. 

Massive Impact's CEO, Sephi Shapira believes that small business owners need to focus on mobile marketing this year—including mobile sites, mobile commerce and mobile apps.

Last September the Macquarie Group, a company that tracks Web searches, noted a decline for traditional desktop search as consumers warm to mobile search.  There's no doubt that mobile is where consumers are and where you need to be. 

Of all the marketing trends to act upon, Shapira says it's vital to make sure your business has a mobile Web presence, because more of your customers will go online with mobile devices this year.  Many vendors can make your website mobile-friendly at a reasonable cost, but remember that not all sites can be copied and replicated. You might need to outsource the mobile design if you have a complex website with back-end integration for services and ecommerce.

The good news is that the entry barrier to mobile marketing has significantly lowered over the past few years. Shapira says that small businesses can create mobile marketing campaigns, have a mobile Web presence and even accept mobile payments with little to no upfront costs today.

If the budget can't handle going fully mobile, a small business can do things like create a social presence on Facebook or Twitter (which is mobile-optimized for you) and render key marketing and landing pages for mobile devices.  While these are small steps toward creating your mobile Web presence, Shapira says "it's better than doing nothing at all."

2. Content and Content Promotions is the New SEO

Another important investment for small business websites is search engine optimization (SEO) and the strategies to obtain a high-ranking placement in Google and other Web search engines.  

There's now a big focus on content and promotion and you may find old tactics just don't work as well in 2013, thanks in part to search engine algorithm updates rolled out by Google last year.

"This year, you're going to have to earn your Google search result," says HubShout, LLC President, Chief Editor and Co-Founder, Adam Stetzer, Ph.D. "The days of handing over a hundred bucks and getting links is over." 

According to Stetzer, "earning it" means small businesses will need to produce quality website content and promote it using social media and other online channels.  He says the typical breakdown for SEO success is really a combination of on and off-site factors: 30 percent of what makes your search result position (rank) is on-site SEO and 70 percent is off-site SEO factors.

"I think that's surprising to a lot of small businesses. Early on you would build a website, do occasional updates and have a great online presence," said Stetzer.  "Now you need to put seventy percent of your effort into off-site promotion by creating a buzz about your content."

Stetzer says this is new territory for a lot of small businesses. To fulfill the on-site requirement for SEO, you need good content, and this is where most small businesses may have difficulty.  "A carpet cleaner, a plumber or even a doctor or lawyer is smart in their own ways, but that doesn't mean they're good writers," he explained.  "The answer is to outsource the content writing if you can't do it yourself."

Adam Stetzer's 4-Step Plan for Small Business SEO

To be successful in search engine optimization in 2013, Stetzer recommends this four-step SEO plan for small business owners:

  • Identify demand via keyword research: This must be done first to know what phrases people search on and to find topics you know something about.
  • Create great content: Use humor, How-Tos, technical information, training, controversy or politics. Videos are awesome for this, but you need at least 300 words on the page.
  •  Tune your page: Use industry-leading on-site SEO tactics such as titles, tags, keyword density, H1 tags, alts, onsite Links, stunning images and call-to-action phrases.
  • Track and promote:  All SEO should be goal-oriented. Track new pages in search results. If it doesn't come to page one (which it likely won't), apply off-site SEO (buzz, link building, syndication, social media, social bookmarking, RSS, forums and guest blog posts).

3. Email Marketing:  Focus on Mobile Optimized Messages

Email marketing also takes a lead from strengthening mobile numbers. This year, small businesses need to focus on optimizing all email communications for mobile subscribers.

"It's critical for small-to-midsize businesses to optimize email for mobile consumers—especially local customers," says Kara Trivunovic, vice president of marketing services at StrongMail. She suggests adding strategies like barcodes that can be scanned on mobile devices and putting mobile coupons in your marketing messages.

The biggest challenge in taking your email messages mobile is having the email render correctly on mobile devices. Trivunovic says you need to change some design elements—such as keeping the message a narrow width, not using fixed width tables, making clickable buttons larger and using a single-column layout.  She also recommends that any clickable link in the message loads a mobile-optimized page on your website.

Email message content is also something to think about.  Trivunovic compares mobile marketing messages to billboard advertising. "The message needs to be consumed in 8 seconds or less," she says. "On mobile the consumer will glance at the message and decide to open and read. The call to action (CTA) has to be engaging and clear."

Like HubShout's Stetzer, Trivunovic also stresses the importance of quality content.  To stand out, she says you need to provide content your customers are looking for. "You can create top 10 lists or offer expert tips to give subscribers value-added content that provides guidance and makes your business a trusted advisor."

4. Personalize and Customize Ecommerce Marketing

Many small businesses offer some type of ecommerce component, and this year Doug Sternberg, executive vice president of client strategy for Dotcom Distribution, says personalization and customization are hot ecommerce-marketing trends for this year.

"We see a solid growth emerging in flash sales and subscription-based models," he says. "Customers seem to love daily deals and member-based programs."

While daily deals and flash sales have unique challenges, they are both tied to successful marketing campaigns to get word out about the program via all small business marketing channels.

Sternberg sees member-based programs (where the business curates products for personalized offers) growing in popularity. "You're creating a level of personalization that customers can't find elsewhere," he adds.

Another area of customization that small businesses should look closely at this year is branding and packaging. 2013 might be the year for many online retailers to say good-bye to plain brown shipping boxes.

"We're seeing more emphasis being put on selling your brand this year," says Sternberg. "The package you ship products in represents your brand, and more retailers are changing up packaging to reflect better branding."

Sternberg says that customers should feel like they're receiving a gift when the item arrives, and using customized packaging as part of your overall branding and marketing efforts is effective. 

5. Social Advertising is Hot

Eddie Machaalani, co-CEO at Bigcommerce believes social advertising is a hot trend for 2013, especially for small business e-tailers. While many business owners are still trying to understand how best to deliver relevant content to customers via social media, they also want to engage with and reach new prospects.

"Advertising on Facebook and Twitter can be that missing link to an entirely new social audience," he says. "While the value of social advertising is still up for debate, it is tough to argue how it offers some of the best targeting available to business owners; especially when you take into account the amount of time U.S. consumers spend on social media channels every single day."

To craft the best social media marketing strategy, small businesses should first consider the target audience and keywords. "Also think about the length of a campaign and possibly do a test-run for a few days to keep close tabs on the effectiveness, and then invest accordingly," he adds.

For small business owners who want to get started with social advertising this year, Machaalani recommends they consider the size of the social user base, the ability for targeting, and brand compatibility. For example, Twitter has about 200 million monthly active users, while Facebook has more than 1 billion. So in terms of sheer volume, Facebook wins.

"Another advantage of Facebook ads is the rich data behind their targeting. Small business owners can target very specific audiences even on a small budget," said Machaalani.

"That being said, some brands are a better fit on Twitter—especially if your demographic tends to be more active there than on Facebook. It pays to do the legwork and find out where your potential customers spend their time and start there," he advises.

Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has been covering small business, electronic commerce and Internet technology for more than a decade. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!
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