Two Steps Forward And One Step Back? US Small Business And Online Marketing

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Despite the usual impression that small business is flocking to the Internet and embracing online marketing and social media, now and then we are reminded that the reality may be a bit different. The American Express OPEN survey results (conducted with SEMPO) released this week at SES is an example of this. The survey was conducted by Echo Research between March 14 and 17 using a random sample of 400 US small businesses currently using online marketing, and the findings included some particularly interesting details.

I think the one finding that surprised me the most was that although 82% of respondents believed that “word of mouth” was most responsible for new customers finding them (while 66% chose search engines/Internet), some of the online marketing techniques that are likely to most influence “word of mouth” referrals — with little to no cost — are not high up in current or planned use.

These include “rich local listings such as Google Places” at 10%, “rich profiles in consumer review sites (such as Yelp) at 4%, and video (such as a YouTube channel) at 13%. Social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) is at 44%, but this is a labor-intensive technique that requires constant upkeep to remain effective.

When asked if they plan to implement these techniques in 2011, only 6% planned to pursue “rich local listings such as Google Places” and only 4% were planning to enter “rich profiles in consumer review sites (such as Yelp). Another 29% were planning to exploit social media techniques.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen suggestions that one of the easiest — and most effective — ways for a small business to increase their visibility online is to make sure they claim their Google Places listing and explore the free review sites out there to ensure they have listings on all the available ones. Even with the increasing use of GPS devices in place of looking up directions to a business via online mapping properties, I believe that this is a vital technique. Perhaps more significantly — it’s free and requires very little upkeep.

If you are looking for an easy way to boost your online presence but — like 60% and 57% of those who were involved in this survey — are concerned about the cost to implement and manage new marketing channels, start with some of the easy and free-to-cheap options available. If you don’t know what these are, there are plenty of good blogs that specialize in local business and small business online marketing that can help you zero in on possibilities that may work for you. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that you either have to pay someone a lot of money to put together any kind of online marketing plan or spend all your time doing it yourself. There are some easy first steps you can take, see how they affect things, and then move on to consider more expensive (both time and money wise) options.

For more results from the survey, go here to download a report of some of the results.

About the Author

Frances Krug has worked in market research since graduating from UCLA with an MA and CPhil in Latin American history. As an editor and online content provider for the last 7 years, she currently is Associate Editor at iNET Interactive, where she also directs Search Marketing Standard's email marketing program.

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