Is Your Business Like Salad Dressing?

business tips from the salad dressing marketWhat can salad dressing tell you about where your business is headed?

Possibly a lot.

And the answer just might be in two directions simultaneously: up and down.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported (subscription required) about how the salad dressing market is a good indicator of how many markets in the U.S. economy are bifurcating – splitting into a discount market catering to lower income consumers and a premium market catering to the wealthy.

The middle, where you find the most popular brands, is getting squeezed as hard as an almost empty bottle of ketchup.

In the dressing world, the low end is represented by private-label/supermarket brands, while the high-end is represented by fresh and organic dressings and more upscale or exotic flavors.

Premium dressings that you find on refrigerated shelves near the produce section of the grocery store are growing two to three times faster than the regular brands.

If you’re one of our business web hosting customers trying to grow your business online, you might want to think about this up/down market bifurcation and how it may or may not be affecting your business.

Are you well positioned to appeal to the cost-conscious consumers looking to pinch pennies and cut corners? Are you positioned as a premium product or service provider able to command premium pricing? Do you offer options to appeal to both segments?

If not, you may be able to use your web site to test out some alternate products that appeal to either the high or low end of your market, or both.

For example, you might test offering product or service discounts through search engine marketing with Google Adwords (see our previous blog post about getting started with AdWords).

If you can’t (or don’t want to compete on price), you may want to see if you can put together a more premium package that you try to upsell to current customers via email marketing (our previous posts about getting started with email marketing and tracking your email marketing results can help you with that).

See how you can innovate with your product or service (or your marketing) to set it apart from the shrinking middle and help you generate increased growth and higher margins.

Good luck. And let us know how you’re doing.

Small Business Websites: Discover 7 Essentials for Success

Christopher Columbus sailing to discover the New WorldIt’s Columbus Day today. A day to commemorate and celebrate an explorer. Someone who ventured out into the vast unknown to seek fortune.

I imagine that’s how many small businesses feel when they first sign up for a web hosting service and build their own business website. It’s all such new and unfamiliar territory. They are, so to speak, in uncharted waters, heading for a new world, unsure what to expect.

So, this Columbus Day, we’ll provide a basic checklist of 7 simple but essential things that small businesses who have recently built a website (or are about to build one) should have to make their online expedition a profitable one.

  1. A good website address. So what’s good? Simple. Short. Easy to remember. Easy to type. It should obviously relate to your website and your company. If it’s not your company name (or a close variation), it should ideally contain keywords related to your business that people would be searching for. This will help your SEO (search engine optimization) and help you generate more traffic. For most businesses, it should be a .com site, since most people assume company websites are dotcoms. Here’s an earlier post we did on the best website names for SEO, branding and online success.
  2. About Us. Most people expect that a company website will have an About Us, About, Company, Who We Are, or a similarly named link either in the top navigation or in the bottom footer navigation. Why? Not everyone who gets to your website knows all about you. Some visitors may know nothing and want to find out before they spend any time with you, certainly before they buy anything from you. So make it easy for visitors to find out who you are, where you are, and what you are all about. Be clear and welcoming, so people know where they are and who they are dealing with. Putting this link clearly visible in the top navigation makes it easiest for visitors to find.
  3. Contact Us. This is another website convention that people expect. And when people expect something online, you should give it to them or risk losing disappointed visitors. It’s also in your best interest to help people contact you, because one of the reasons people may want to contact you is to do business with you. Ideally your contact webpage should list some contact options people can choose from: phone, email, chat, a contact form. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to contact you on their terms. But don’t list a form of contact that you aren’t ready to monitor regularly. It’s worse to ignore an attempt to contact you then to never have given the opportunity.
  4. Basic website SEO. As we mentioned above, SEO stands for search engine optimization. It’s the things you do on your website to help it get indexed and ranked as highly as possible on the search engines. Many things that affect your SEO rankings are beyond your control (at least initially), like having a domain name that has been around for many years that has gained many incoming links from other websites. What you can do is make sure your domain name represents your company well. Make sure each webpage on your site has a unique TITLE tag that uses popular keywords for the content on your page. And make sure your headlines and webpage copy also use the popular keywords that the people you want to find your website are naturally searching for. Also make sure you structure your site in a way that makes sense to both users and search engines. 
  5. Social media to support your site. These days, your website is not an island. It needs to be connected to other forms of online promotion to help it thrive. Facebook and Twitter are the big names. Using your website to drive traffic to Facebook and using Facebook to drive traffic to your website are both important. Whenever and wherever you can generate some buzz about your business online you should. This will enhance your basic SEO efforts, build word-of-mouth marketing, enhance your brand, and generate more traffic for your site.
  6. A blog or other ongoing, fresh content to support your site. It would be nice if you could just take the time to build your website and wait for the traffic and sales to come your way. But one-and-done is not how it works anymore. Your site can’t be entirely static. You need regular content updates. Search engines won’t rank a site well without fresh content. And the less content you have on your website the more you’ll be missing opportunities to rank your site and pull in traffic. That’s why blogs can be so beneficial to small business websites. They give you lots of content to rank for and help position your website (and yourself) as a leader in your field. That’s why our web hosting services come with a free, simple WordPress blog installer, available in the EarthLink Web Hosting Control Panel. Of course, with time and resource constraints, you may not be able to do both social media and a blog well. If not, don’t do both half-way. Pick one and do it really well.
  7. A website that inspires trust and confidence. You know that out there in the real world there are businesses that you drive by or walk up to that you avoid because of the way they look. Online it’s no different. Visitors (especially new ones) don’t give websites much time at all before they make a judgment to stay or go. As in the real world, these snap judgments are often superficial: does this place look legitimate, does it look right for me, does it look safe. That’s why many small businesses turn to professional website design. Because even though EarthLink Web Hosting provides easy-to-use tools to design your own website, small business owners aren’t confident they can make a site that will inspire confidence (and generate sales). And if you have an ecommerce site that’s selling online, you need to make sure you have an SSL security certificate (which is included with our Ecommerce Hosting plans) so your visitors can feel confident about the security of their online transactions. Our Web Hosting customers can add SSL Certificates here.

Blogging for Small Business: How to Generate Ideas for Your Blog

Last week we published a post with some tips for starting a blog on a small business website.

We’re following up this week with 5 more tips that should help you generate ideas for your blog and ultimately make your small business website more successful.

1. Bring Yourself & Your Business to Life

How to generate good ideas for your small business blog

Especially in the early days of your website’s blog, establishing your personal presence can bring you and your business significant benefits. On your blog, you have the opportunity to personify your brand. Open up about yourself and create a bond between yourself and your readers/customers that can translate into Liking (on Facebook and other social media), blog engagement and return traffic, and increased likelihood to purchase from you.  You are one of your business’s most unique competitive advantages…but only if you take advantage of your uniqueness.

Blog ideas in this category to write about:

  • Your personal background/story
  • How you developed your passion for your business
  • How you started your business
  • How did you choose your business name, location or domain
  • Biggest challenges you’ve had in business
  • Your most important influence and why
  • Other businesses or business leaders you admire and why
  • What a typical business day is like for you
  • Any stories of unique days or time periods (if your business is seasonal, cyclical, or has built-in days of interest, like Mother’s Day for a florist)

2. Pull the Thorn Out of Your Customers’ Paw

Remember the Aesop’s Fable about Androcles and the Lion. Androcles pulls a thorn out of an injured lion’s paw and the lion is eternally grateful to him, eventually saving his life.  It’s the same in business. At a company I previously worked for, it was well documented that customers who had had a problem that was successfully fixed by our support staff had higher satisfaction and loyalty rates than even customers who never had a single problem. Look for those metaphoric thorns that your customers and potential customers are experiencing around your product area. Use your blog to write tutorials that can remove customer pain points and make them eternally grateful to you.

Blog tutorial ideas to write about:

  • Most common customer problems and how to avoid them (before they happen)
  • Most common customer problems and how to solve them (after they happen)
  • How to save money in your product area
  • How to choose between different purchase options
  • How to fix product x, y, or z
  • How to use product better
  • How to make product last longer
  • Do-it-yourself tips to help avoid repair or support charges

3. Turn the Spotlight on Your Customers

 One good turn deserves another, right? So build up some good will (and wait for your good turn back) by using your blog to show some love to your customers (partners too). The social psychology (and marketing) principle of reciprocity means they will be more inclined to do something positive for you, such as purchase your product, Like your business, or make a recommendation to a friend. All good things. Plus, your customers can provide you with a pretty easy source of ongoing blog posts.

Blog ideas in this category to write about:

  • A case study of how a customer uses your product
  • A testimonial post praising how easy a partner/customer is to work with
  • A testimonial post about why you are a customer of one of  your customers
  • A customer-of-the-week (or month) spotlight on a customer (may want to start with the most loyal/high-value customers)
  • A customer-of-the-week (or month) contest where customers are randomly selected to win something or get an extra discount

4. Turn the Spotlight on Your Products

 You need to approach this category with caution or you’ll turn off your readers. You’ve got the rest of your website for sales copy; your blog needs to be different, with goals of education, engagement, branding, etc. Done well, you will also encourage sales, but make that your secondary goal. Work to find ways to focus on your products with a primary customer focus. How can you help them and provide value to them while examining your products or services.

Blog ideas in this category to write about:

  • Chose two products and provide a comprehensive product comparison, educating customers on the features, benefits, and reasons some may choose one or the other
  • Highlight your top selling products and offer insights into why they sell most
  • Discuss a product or product category offering tips to save customer frustration: common complaints or issues with product and how to avoid them
  • How certain products are best for certain specific uses, niches, or customer types
  • How to take care of a certain product to make it last longer or perform better
  • Create a post highlighting customer feedback about a product

5. Write About the Top Ranking Keywords

One of the benefits to having a blog on your website is SEO, or search engine optimization. If you want your site to come up when people type keywords into search engines like Google and Bing, you need to have good content that’s relevant to those keywords. And that’s where your blog comes in. Don’t know what keywords to focus on? The Google Keyword Tool can help. Enter some words or phrases related to your business (as many as you can think of), or enter the URL of your business website (you can also choose a Category if you see one that works for you) and click the Search button to get a list of the top keywords people are searching for. You can then use this keyword list as your guide to writing blog content that people are actually searching for. You can pick and choose keyword topics as they appeal to you, but you’ll get the most return for your effort if you focus on the keywords with the highest search volume, as long as they are relevant to your business. Keep in mind, the Keyword Tool doesn’t know your business as well as you so not all suggestions will be on the mark.

If you’re an EarthLink Web Hosting customer, you may also want to look back at our earlier posts about how to publish a blog on your website and how to publish your first blog post using WordPress. All EarthLink Web Hosting plans — both our build your own website plan and professional web design hosting plans — come with a WordPress installer to make getting started with a WordPress blog simple.

8 Blogging Tips for Small Business Owners

Start a blog for your business - EarthLink Web Hosting customers get WordPress blogging software.If you have your own business, you’ve undoubtedly heard that you need to have a blog. Not all business do, but if your business has a website, a blog can be a valuable content marketing tool to help you succeed online.

Once you’ve decided that you do want a blog, here are some tips that we hope will help you get started with blogging for your business.

If you’re an EarthLink Web Hosting customer, you may also want to look back at our earlier posts about how to publish a blog on your website and how to publish your first blog post using WordPress.

  1. Just Start Your Blog: Waiting for the perfect moment to start your blog may mean you never start it. Don’t think you need everything planned or that you need to make everything perfect. Don’t worry that you’re not a writer. Don’t think your business may not be interesting enough. Just (can’t remember where I heard this advice) do it. You can always refine and change as you go along.
  2. Make a Blog Plan: Yes, this really does make more sense as #1, but sometimes the need for a plan gets in the way of starting. If you know you can plan first without delaying too long, make the plan first. Your plan doesn’t need to be overly detailed. Decide how often you think you’ll be able to write. Give some thoughts to the types of posts you want to do. Map out some topics to cover. Think about your audience: what different types of customers (or site visitors) do you have and what sorts of things would they find helpful or interesting?
  3. Decide on Goals for Your Blog: This is an important enough part of your planning that I wanted to call it out separately. For your blog to be a success, you have to know what success will look like to you. You need to decide what your goals are. You may want to start blogging to build your company’s brand, to position yourself as an expert, to build customer loyalty, to solve customer issues and divert support calls, to increase site traffic, to build your social media presence, to increase sales or repeat sales. If you’re very good and very lucky, you may end up doing it all, but you should start with a few goals to focus on. And make sure the goals of your blog align with the goals of your business.
  4. Make an Editorial Calendar: Don’t let this scare you if it sounds too much like you need to be a publisher. You just need to map out a few things. Decide how often you think you’re going to write. Most successful blogs post at least 2 -3 times per week, and the more you post the faster you may reach your goals, but don’t worry if you have to start small with once-a-week posts. Decide about the different content categories relating to your business that you want to post about. Consider the different kinds of posts you could do. Will you be interviewing experts? Will you be doing product reviews or writing tutorials? Will you be answering customer questions? Are you going to have guest bloggers, a staff of other bloggers, or tackle it all yourself? You can always grow and change your editorial calendar, but try to develop one early.
  5. Be Yourself & Write with Passion: So you’re not a writer. But you are someone who’s passionate about your business. You are someone with a point of view and a voice. Let all those things shine through. Yes blogging is writing, but don’t think about the writing part too much. It’ll slow you down and lead to writer’s block. Write like you’d talk to a friend if you were trying to solve his problem. Yes, blogging should position you as an expert, but don’t worry about sounding like some abstract idea of an expert. Write like you talk to your friends who you share your interests. If possible, let your authentic voice and point of view shine through without editing it out because you think your blog should sound like something else.
  6. Don’t Only Focus on Your Business: A blog is not a place to write more and more sales copy. Nor is it a place for you to talk about how great your business is. Again and again. Sure, share what’s new and cool in your business. Don’t be afraid of promoting products when they fit into a post on a larger topic. But make sure you broaden your blog’s focus to help position either you or your company as an expert in your field. Tackle what’s new or noteworthy in your industry. Comment on larger trends. Provide unique insights and offer tips. This is one of the ways you bring value to your readers and grow your readership.
  7. Focus on Your Customers (and Potential Customers): This is the flip side to the last point. Don’t focus your blog only in; turn your focus out. Provide value by knowing who your customers (or audience) are and what they are interested in. Even better, know what their problems are and solve them. Help people make smarter decisions, save time, save money, etc. If your blog can do that regularly, you may strike gold.
  8. Don’t Expect Too Much: Yes, I just said “you may strike gold,” but don’t expect to. At least not in the short term. A blog is a medium-to-long-term investment that you need to be patient with. Unrealistic expectations are what’s most likely to make you quit blogging prematurely. First, you need to be patient with yourself. You will make mistakes. You will change your mind. You will miss deadlines. You will have to feel your way through the early going. And you also need to be patient on the audience/reader side. Even if you are on your A-game from Day 1, no one may read your blog on Day 1…or 2 or… Keep in mind that some of what you do early on will be of value to your business later even if nobody reads it when it’s written. It will have some SEO value when the pages are indexed. It will help build your brand when people do get around to reading early posts. And you can always update early posts later to give you more fresh content. So don’t worry…start writing.

If you already have a blog up and running, let us know how it’s going. Tell us what has worked or not worked for your blog.

We’ll be publishing more blog tips in the future. Good luck with your blog.