5 Lessons I Learned Marketing a Small Business Website

websiteAbout a year and a half ago, my former roommate Andrew approached me with a business proposition. He was about to purchase a high volume dental practice in the Bronx, and wanted me to build and market his website.

At the time I was making my living off of two websites, which focused on global market news and education. I told him my experience was with sites that have a global audience, and that I did not have a lot of experience building and marketing websites for local businesses. However, as long as he was ok with me using it as a learning experience, I would take the project.

Fast forward to today, and Andrew’s new site has been a large success for both of us. His dental practice is thriving, and I enjoyed the process so much that I started FitSmallBusiness.com, a site focused exclusively on helping small businesses market and grow their business.

Here are 5 lessons I have learned, that I think will help any small business successfully build and market their website:

1. Make sure whomever builds your site uses either WordPress, or a well known website builder.

Many web developers code websites by hand. This is a problem, because if your web developer moves on, it makes the transition difficult. Often times, in order for a new web developer to make changes to the site, it has to be rebuilt from scratch.

I told Andrew at the beginning that it was important that I could stop working on the project, if it started taking up too much of my time. Building his site on WordPress would make the transition easy if the need ever arose. There are 10’s of millions of sites that run on WordPress, so finding someone else to manage the site if I wanted to leave, would not be an issue.

2. Have a plan, and get everyone’s expectations in line from the beginning.

We agreed from the beginning that we were going to focus on three different areas for generating traffic to the site:

  1. Organic search – When people search Google using terms like “Bronx Dentist”, we want his website to show up in the first few results.
  2. Paid search – When people perform those same searches, we want an ad to show up either on top, or to the right of Google’s organic search results.
  3. Facebook – We want to promote the business, and the website, using a Facebook page.

Using paid search, I could start generating traffic to the website immediately. The tradeoff is that paid search is also the most expensive of the three paths we chose. Ranking the site in the organic search results, and building a Facebook following, was going to take at least a few months. However, traffic that comes to the site from Organic search is free. Facebook traffic is either free, or very inexpensive, in comparison to paid search.

I made sure Andrew understood and was on board with this plan from the beginning. This way, he was not in the dark about the time and budget it was going to take to start seeing results.

3. Facebook Advertising Works

Many small business owners spend a couple hundred bucks on Facebook advertising, and don’t see any results. Understandably, this has led to some bad press for Facebook. While it took us a little while to figure it out, since we did, we have had a lot of success with Facebook advertising.

The key for us was to make it a two stage process. Initially, we did not try to sell anything with our Facebook ads. We simply ran ads to build up “likes” for our page. Facebook gives you the ability to target your ads by age and location. We targeted our ads to people over the age of 20 who lived within 2 miles of the office.

Since everyone needs a dentist, we didn’t care if the people who were liking our page were interested in finding a new dentist at that moment. We just wanted them to like our page. Because of this, the ad we ran had nothing to do dentistry. We ran ads asking people to click like if they Love the Bronx, are cheering for the Yankees, and other things like this.

Once we built up a following, we followed the 80/20 rule when posting to our Facebook page. 80% of the things that we posted were things we thought our fans would find useful or entertaining. 20% was promotional in nature. Also, when we made a promotional post, we used Facebook ads to get that post in front of more of our fans. Since they were already familiar with us, they were much more likely to take advantage of whatever it was we were offering.

4. Differentiate your ad copy.

Have a look at the screenshot I took below, which shows the ads that come up (highlighted in red) when I search google using the term “dentist”, in New York City.

Google Maps

As you can see there is very little variation in the text used in the ads. With the exception of the first result, the ads all use a slight variation of the search term. New York city is probably one of the most competitive market’s in the world for dentists trying to advertise on Google. If there is this little variation in ad copy in this market, you can bet that the same is true for other markets and businesses as well.

While I am not going to give away the golden goose on what worked for us, you can see that there is a lot of opportunity to vary your ad copy, and make your ad stand out. In addition to bringing more traffic to your website, having a higher clickthrough rate also lowers your cost per click.

5. One type of offline advertising is as effective as ever.

I think it’s safe to say that the phonebook Yellow pages are dying a fast death. While other forms of advertising like TV, radio and billboards still work, my experience has been that you get a lot more bang for your buck online.

What was shocking to me however, is how well another form of offline advertising was working for my friend. Handing out flyers on the street is bringing in a ton of business.

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