By Meredith Wood
How can business owners leverage existing technology and free (or low-cost) software to expand brand awareness and draw in customers?
According to a 2012 survey by Search Engine Land, 85 percent of customers said that they had used the Internet to find a local business. Of those surveyed, 75 percent stated that they trusted online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
In our web-centric culture, it’s clear that the website and online presence of a business are now a critical component of its marketing strategy. But in the absence of a large budget, is it possible for an entrepreneur to grow his (or her) business on the cheap? How could they leverage existing technology and free (or low-cost) software to expand brand awareness and draw in customers? Read on to find out more about several useful marketing tools from Google.
AnalyticsPowerful and constantly evolving, Google Analytics is widely regarded as the most popular and effective tool for measuring digital data and marketing ROI. With Analytics, entrepreneurs can understand diverse metrics such as the number of visitors, the location of visitors, which pages are the most popular and much more.
Though the Google Analytics interface may take some time to get used to, its sheer functionality, customization and data-crunching capabilities are worth it. Users can also customize their interfaces, creating a number of different dashboards that track various stats. For example, you could set up one dashboard for ad campaigns that drive the most sales, another for external websites drive the most traffic to your site, and a third to see what countries and locations are sending you the most buyers.
OptimizeOptimize by Google is one of the best, free software suites for marketers and entrepreneurs who wish to carry out simple, accurate A/B testing. Note: A/B testing, a term coined by user experience (UX) specialists, is when several versions of a specific page are shown to users, measured against the original, and assessed for effectiveness. A/B testing can be a very meticulous process: marketers test details ranging from more obvious features such as website taglines to smaller, peripheral considerations like the color and positioning of a call-to-action button.
Because it links to Google Analytics, Optimize allows users to easily understand and analyze results, particularly if they already have experience with Analytics. A quick look at the Optimize interface will show that not only does the program assess the best version (the winner, so to speak) of the A/B test, but it will also give suggestions to further improve your website’s performance.
AdwordsA pay-per-click advertising service, Adwords is deceptively simple — and highly effective. To use it, an entrepreneur picks a series of relevant keywords, which will trigger ads when input into Google.
The genius of Adwords is twofold: it only charges a business when users click the ad, and at its most basic level, is essentially a fire-and-forget service: entrepreneurs can simply set a budget, a length of time, basic parameters like location, and let it run.
Still, leaving an ad campaign on autopilot is not recommended. Adwords can be somewhat complicated and often run into snags, such as sending users to your homepage (and not a specific product page), ensuring that those who click the ad won’t actually buy anything on your website. Instead, to get the most out of your campaign, it’s important to understand how Adwords (especially its auctions model) actually works.
Keyword PlannerExtremely helpful when it comes to keyword-based campaigns, Keyword Planner is essentially a brainstorming tool that helps entrepreneurs develop new, relevant search terms and keywords for their existing products, business and customers. Think of Google’s Keyword Planner as a thesaurus for Adwords: the more relevant, exacting words you have, the greater the ROI will be on your Adwords campaign. Instead of randomly generating barely relevant terms for an ad campaign, you can target certain search users and audiences with pinpoint accuracy.
AlertsUsed by politicians, corporations and PR specialists the world over, Google Alerts is a simple, easy-to-use service that’s fantastic for entrepreneurs. Alerts allows you to set notifications based on specific keywords, essentially allowing you to monitor the latest news and developments in a particular area.
For instance, if you own a think tank that specializes in analyzing current affairs and world news, you would set search terms which are relevant to your field of work, such as “President of the United States,” “ISIS,” “global trade” or “recession.” As such, your inbox will fill with alerts every time such terms appear in the media — allowing you to stay one step ahead of your competition and newsjack the current news cycle.
Conversely, you can also use Google Alerts as a very effective little tool with which to spy on your competition, and keep up-to-date on their latest marketing materials and web copy.
TrendsAs the name suggests, Trends allows users to gauge the popularity of any given search term over a set period of time. For instance, you can use Trends to find, and even compare, the popularity and frequency of several given search terms over a period of time. When it comes to entrepreneurs, Trends can accomplish the same thing, albeit in a more specialized form: business owners should seek valuable intelligence on a number of subjects, from how current events drives interest in their marketing and products to how keywords rise and fall in popularity.
Mobile-Friendly TestBecause more and more people are on their smartphones each day, it’s important to gauge how quickly and seamlessly your website loads on multiple formats, ranging from mobile web browsers such as Safari to desktop programs such as Chrome or Firefox. That’s why Mobile-Friendly Test is a great tool: just type in your website URL and wait for Google’s crawlers to scan your page, then read the report.
Are you using Google effectively?It’s more than possible to use both free and low-cost tools to effectively market your business. But unlike hiring a marketing professional, DIY search engine marketing requires time, research, and a willingness to experiment and take risks, from A/B testing different versions of your web pages to launching Google Adwords campaigns and regularly tracking your results.
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