3 Things to Know: Spring Cleaning Your Business

Spring cleaning isn't just for your home. It's also a great time of year to tidy up many aspects of your business, including your brand, finances, and important documents.

 

The sun is shining, the birds are singing—spring has finally sprung in Cleveland. Many of us use this time to accomplish some spring cleaning around the house. But it can also be a good time to clean up your business and get organized. Here are three things we think are important to consider as you work on spring cleaning your business.

First thing to know: Breathe new life into your brand

Is your brand about as dusty as your baseboards (*checks baseboards*)? If it’s been a minute since you really sat down to review your brand, there’s no time to waste. Check out these 4 Ways to Refresh Your Brand. If budget is a concern—and isn’t it always?—we come bearing gifts. Here are 13 Tips to get Your Brand Balling on a budget, as well as four free ways to accomplish Branding on a Budget.

Second thing to know: Freshen up your finances

Handling your finances is more than just knowing your bottom line—it’s also about understanding how fiscally fit you are. Does your financial future need some invigorating, or do you have everything under control? Find out with this short quiz to Check Your Fiscal Fitness.

Let’s not forget about financial planning. There are steps you can take during each of your Financial Stages of Life that will help you build, and then maintain, your personal financial security. And be sure you understand the Importance of Business Succession Planning and what steps you need to take for a secure future.

Third thing to know: How’s your handbook (and other documents)?

Does your business have its own employee handbook? No business is too small for this important document. If you don’t have one, now is a good time to get started putting one together. If you do already have an employee handbook, we bet it’s probably due for refreshening.

From at-will information to disciplinary actions, you should ask yourself, Do You Have These 10 Things in Your Employee Handbook? A good employee handbook will make sure your entire team is on the same page when it comes to understanding the expectations and policies of your business.

Why stop there? Your business has many important documents that need regular sprucing up. Check out these other resources:

5 Must-Have Items for Your Staffing Toolkit

7 Tools You Need in Your Legal Toolkit

9 Things You Should Include in an Offer Letter

 

Check out more articles in our 3 Things to Know series.

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  • Next up: How to Set Up an Effective SEO Content Strategy in 4 Steps

    How to Set Up an Effective SEO Content Strategy in 4 Steps

    If content is king, then an SEO content strategy is your ace-in-the-hole. Check out these four simple steps to creating an effective strategy to get your small business noticed.

     

    The saying “content is king” has become a cliché in marketing circles—but it still holds true.

    To attract customers to your business, you need to first attract them to your website. And to attract them to your website, you must first have some valuable content in place. Developing an SEO content strategy streamlines the entire process of content creation and optimization.

    So the question is: How can you create great content on a regular basis? While there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer, there are certain steps you can take to make sure that your content is driven by SEO best practices, and delights your users at the same time. Let’s dig into some of the details.

    Here are four basic steps to creating an effective SEO content strategy.

    Step No. 1: Identify Your Target Audience
    First and foremost, you need to clearly identify your target audience. In other words, for whom you are writing.

    Of course, you may say, “We are writing for everyone who needs our product!”—which is true. But the more details you can uncover about your “ideal customer,” the more effective your SEO content strategy will be.

    This is where a buyer persona really comes in handy. A buyer persona is a semi-fictional profile of your ideal customer. It’s based on attributes like age range, gender, education level, income level, occupation, and so forth. But you can expand your buyer persona to answer questions like:

    What are my ideal customers’ goals, interests, and concerns?
    What pain points are they dealing with?
    How can our product solve those pain points?
    Why would customers buy from us, instead of our competitors?

    As you flesh out your buyer persona, you’ll be able to create content that resonates with your target audience. As a result, you’ll gain new visitors to your site—and you’ll keep existing customers coming back for more.

    Keep in mind; your buyer personas will evolve as your business does.

    Assumptions you may have made initially about who would benefit from your products or services may not have been in your business’s best interests. For example, you realize that the initial version of your personas can’t afford or aren’t willing to spend for the value you bring to the table.

    It is therefore imperative to regularly validate and update your buyer personas to make sure your content is hitting its mark and resonating with the right audience.

    Customer persona validation doesn’t have to be a tedious or expensive process. In-person interviews and online surveys (using tools like SurveyMonkey and Typeform) are powerful ways to get real-time and actionable data to help you understand your customer and hone your content.

    Here’s a great video highlighting some key points to keep in mind.

    Step No. 2: Develop Topic Clusters or Content Themes
    The topic cluster model is an SEO strategy that focuses on addressing topics rather than just keyword phrases. It’s important to remember that Google and other search engines have been focusing more on user intent rather than just strictly keywords.

    By creating content themes or topic clusters, you cast a wider but more focused net to attract and capture the attention of potential clients. By adopting a topic cluster model, you improve your site architecture; you make it easy for users and search engines to find related content, ultimately improving your site visibility and rankings. It does this by creating a semantic relationship between your related content and demonstrating that you are an authority in the subject matter worthy of attention and rank.

    This model works as follows:
    --You create pillar content for each broader concept and create supporting content with specific long-tail keywords to flesh out each sub-topic or aspect.
    --The pillar links out to each cluster page, and each cluster page links back to the pillar content using the same anchor text/keyword phrase.
    --That way, when any piece of content in the cluster does well, the entire cluster gets a boost.

    Here is a short Hubspot video that explains the model.

    Step No. 3: Determine Which Keywords to Use
    Once you’ve clearly identified your target audience and developed your content buckets, the next step is to identify which keywords to incorporate in your content.

    Remember, when it comes to SEO content, you’re actually writing for two audiences: your human customers, and the search engines they use. You want to develop your content so that it’s relevant to your customers’ search queries, but also ranks as high as possible on Google.

    Using the right keywords is essential. For some companies, broad keywords are the best option. For instance, if you type in “iPad,” which corporation do you think will pop up first in Google’s results? However, smaller businesses often find that geo-specific search phrases (like “pizza near me,” for example) or long-tail keywords (search phrases with three or more words) work better. These keywords often come with less competition from companies in the same industry—and are usually more relevant to your target audience anyway.

    RELATED: Effective SEO trends for your small business in 2021

    How can you identify the best keywords to use? There are several keyword research tools on the Internet, and some of them are free. Others charge a monthly rate for their services. These tools can help you to determine which keywords have the highest volume of search traffic, and which ones come with the stiffest competition.

    Once you determine which keywords to use in your content, you’ll be ready for the next step of your SEO content strategy, which is…

    Step No. 4: Create the Content!
    Now it’s time to actually write that blog post (or have someone else do it for you if that’s not your jam).

    You have your target audience and the topic clusters in mind, and you have the keywords to build around. Here are some other elements to keep in mind:

    Brand voice: You want the “voice” and “tone” of your content to reflect the sensibilities of your ideal customer. For instance, if you are targeting conservative housewives who don’t like aggressive language, then leading off your content with: “ARE YOU READY TO CRUSH YOUR DAY?!” may not be the best strategy.

    Linking: There are two basic linking tactics you can employ—back-linking and internal linking. Back-links are links you include in your content that redirect the user to another website. These are great ways to back up your claims with authoritative data—but only if you link back to trustworthy sites!

    Internal links, on the other hand, are links to other pages on your site—and ideally to those pages in your topic cluster. Think of these links as a way to gradually build up your own credibility as far as Google’s algorithm is concerned.

    Metadata: It’s a good idea to incorporate metadata into your content (i.e., data that’s visible to search engines, but not necessarily to users).
    Metadata like tags and descriptions for your content can help search engines to more effectively categorize your web pages, and return more relevant search results for your target audience.

    Of course, some metadata is visible to users, as well. For instance, a page’s meta description on Google Search acts as a brief summary of what the content includes and can drive traffic to your site.

    Content delivery schedule: It’s important to post content to your site on a consistent basis. You don’t want to confuse or frustrate your followers by posting 10 new articles in one week, but only two in the next.

    With that in mind, make sure you have your content strategy planned out several months in advance. Create a workable schedule with some built-in flexibility in case you need to make an adjustment “on-the-fly.

    Also, schedule out when to update your content—outdated content is not only a no-no for SEO purposes, but it doesn’t reflect well on your brand, either.

    *Pro Tip! Convert your written work into video content as well to leverage the incredible power of video marketing!

    RELATED: Read more by Nachum Langsner

    Of course, there’s much more to creating content than what we’ve mentioned above (like SEO copywriting for example). But if you follow these basic steps, you’ll be in a much better position to deploy your SEO content strategy in an effective way.

    Partner With Experienced SEO Content Strategy Experts
    The good news is, you don’t have to develop and implement your strategy all by yourself.

    Many local businesses have partnered with an experienced digital marketing agency to form a sound SEO content strategy and generate high-performing content.

    In today’s highly competitive market, working with experts is the best way to capture more leads, convert more customers, and keep existing clients coming back.

    If you’d like to discuss how we can help you set up and implement an effective SEO content strategy, reach out to us today to start the conversation.

    Nachum Langsner is the Co-Founder & CMO of LocalBizGuru, a full-service digital marketing agency based in Cleveland, OH. He has over 10+ years of experience in the SEO industry and is a frequent presenter and instructor of digital marketing and SEO seminars for entrepreneurs and small business owners in the Greater Cleveland area for organizations such as COSE, Jumpstart, the Better Business Bureau, Score and the Ohio SBDC at CSU. 

     
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  • Next up: 8 Highly Effective SEO Trends for Your Small Business in 2021

    8 Highly Effective SEO Trends for Your Small Business in 2021

    From artificial intelligence to keyword phrases, here are eight search engine optimization trends worth watching in 2021.

     

    Attracting visitors to your site can be an uphill task without an effective site optimization strategy. Statistics show that Google has approximately 3.5 billion searches daily. Every website competes for the top position, but only the effectively optimized ones make it to the top search results. 

    For your site to generate the much-needed traffic, it needs to rank on the first page. That brings us to the importance of search engine optimization and current SEO trends. 

    SEO Trends in 2021 Worth Watching

    For your site to have top-ranking SEO performance, there are many metrics you must pay attention to. These include backlinks, traffic, social shares, and others. However, these SEO elements are constantly evolving, thanks to Google algorithms. What works today may not tomorrow.

    This guide offers insights into useful SEO trends in 2021 to help your site obtain a dominate presence online. 

    SEO Trend No. 1: Artificial Intelligence 

    Artificial intelligence is affecting many aspects of business and how people interact with content on online platforms. The reason behind the transformation AI provides is the personalization it delivers to users. Google is making use of AI to deliver the exact results searchers look for. The success of the tool is in its unique ability to learn. 

    Experts believe that by using AI, you can create more powerful content for your site. You also can augment your keyword research, optimize all digital platforms, and maximize link building.

    RELATED: 5 Reasons to Invest in SEO

    SEO Trend No. 2: Original High-Value Content

    Content plays a fundamental role in SEO and ranking, but quality is of utmost importance. Authentic content plays a more significant role than just branding. Producing content similar to what already exists on Google reduces your chances of ranking highly. 

    Ensure your content adds value in your own language and brand voice. Most importantly, it must adhere to Google’s EAT principle. This refers to Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness—factors that Google uses to determine the quality of content in a webpage. This can be accomplished by backing up your content with facts and statistics, linking to reputable and authoritative sites, and constantly updating your content with the most recent perspectives. 

    SEO Trend No. 3: Video Content

    If ‘Content is King’, video content is the crown. Currently, YouTube has over 1 billion users and counting. Cisco projects that video content is set to take over all other forms of content in traffic and consumption. 

    Optimization of your video content is crucial. The description should be more than just a collection of keywords. It needs to provide a clear overview of the channel. Get some inspiration from your chosen platform’s auto-complete feature. 

    SEO Trend No. 4: Featured Snippets

    Featured Snippets appear in a rectangular box at the top of the SERP. Snippets are useful for websites and help in ranking. Unfortunately, you can’t choose the content that appears in the snippet as it all depends on the Google Algorithm bots. 

    It’s not clear the exact approach one can use to get a webpage in the Featured Snippet, however, SEO experts suggest a few helpful strategies. First, answer a specific question in bullet form or well-structured content for better chances of success. Properly format your content using the proper header tags in a well-organized hierarchy. Summarize your article into bullet points at the beginning or end of your content following the header tag hierarchy we mentioned above. Then, make sure you mark up that content in Schema to improve your chances of getting your content to rank.

    RELATED: 12 Ways to Improve Your Online Presence

    SEO Trend No. 5: Image Optimization

    Images influence people’s purchasing decisions. Google insists on the importance of optimizing images and it’s important to make this part of your long-term strategy. 

    Incorporate high-quality, relevant images in your content marketing strategy. Ensure you customize the file name by labeling the photo file. This makes it relevant to the corresponding page’s content and helps it rank. Using alt tags will also be helpful since crawlers use them to classify images. Make sure to minimize the pixel density without compromising image quality for quicker load times. Lastly, incorporate images in your site map for easier crawling. 

    SEO Trend No. 6: Structured Data

    The use of structured data helps search engines to better understand your content. Google provides a tool for Structured Data testing to help you familiarize yourself with the idea. Using structured data for your landing pages and website will significantly help your site rank highly. 

    SEO Trend No. 7: User Intent Keyword Phrases 

    Primary keywords, secondary keywords, and long-tail keywords should all characterize your content creation strategy. Long-tail keywords (keywords or key phrases that are more specific – and usually longer – than more commonly used keywords) account for approximately 70% of all online searches. They can significantly help you outrank the competition as they have a 36% conversion rate. The more relevant and suitable your keywords are to your audience, the better placed you are to rank highly—so make sure to create content specifically tailored to your audience needs.

    RELATED: Read more by Nachum Langsner

    SEO Trend No. 8: Core Web Vitals & Good User Experience

    Core web vitals are three measures Google has chosen to reflect real-world page experience metrics. Google sees loading speed, interactivity, and visual stability as important to a good user experience and have been incorporated in their algorithm as a ranking factor. It is imperative to reduce the coding bloat and structure your website elements in a way that improves user experience.

    SEO trends in 2021 – Final Thoughts

    Search engine optimization is a complex but crucial component for businesses looking to compete online. The above SEO trends in 2021 only make this clear, and you have to think about them critically. If you want to beat the competition, ensure you implement these strategies effectively.

    An expert in SEO and Digital Marketing can help you get tangible results with your SEO strategy. Contact us today.

    Nachum Langsner is the Co-Founder & CMO of LocalBizGuru, a full-service digital marketing agency based in Cleveland, OH. He has over 10+ years of experience in the SEO industry and is a frequent presenter and instructor of digital marketing and SEO seminars for entrepreneurs and small business owners in the Greater Cleveland area for organizations such as COSE, Jumpstart, the Better Business Bureau, Score and the Ohio SBDC at CSU. 

     
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  • Next up: 3 Things to Know: One Year Into COVID-19

    3 Things to Know: One Year Into COVID-19

    It's been quite a year! Here are three things we think you should know now that we are one year into COVID and remote working.

     

    It’s been a full year since phrases like social distancing, “you’re on mute” and zoom happy hours became regulars in our daily language. Whether your team is back in the office or you’re still working virtually, here are three things we think you should know about COVID and the workplace one year later.

    First thing to know: It can still be stressful even one year in.

    The stress at the onset of the pandemic was one like no other. But even after a year of COVID-19 and its impact on the economy—and probably your small business—you may still be reeling from everything you’ve experienced this year. Take care of yourself and your business with these six tips to dealing with COVID stress.

    Second thing to know: You can do it all from the comfort of your home.

    One thing we found out pretty quickly as a workforce is that we can be just as productive in our sweatpants at our kitchen table as we are in the office. If your team is still virtual, we’ve featured several articles on the blog this past year to help you accomplish everything you need to without leaving your living room. From Networking in the Age of COVID-19 to Virtual Recruitment Best Practices, don’t miss a beat when it comes to operating through the pandemic.

    Third thing to know: Preparation is key next time disaster strikes.

    Nobody could have predicted a global pandemic, but it probably won’t be the last time your business faces distress and uncertainty. Being better prepared starts with ensuring your team is properly trained to handle disaster, as well as reviewing this small business security checklist.

    Check out other articles in our 3 Things to Know series.

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  • Next up: Branding on a Budget

    Branding on a Budget

    When it comes to branding you may not be able to out-spend your competition, but you can always out-think them. Consider these four ways to brand your small business even with a small budget.

    Are you trying to promote your brand on a tight budget these days? Well then, it’s time to start out-thinking your competitors since you probably can’t out-spend them. 

    Many COSE members have found simple yet creative ways to get lots of positive exposure—for free. They harness the concept of "target marketing” by precisely defining and describing their ideal customers with specific demographic details—those who really need their products or services, value their approach and style, will always pay full price and will easily evolve into raving fans. 

    Here are four avenues to explore when it comes to branding your business on a tight budget.

    1. Written Publications. If you know what trade publications, eLetters or blogs your target market reads regularly, try to publish content in them that promotes the value of the concepts behind your products or services. But, don’t try to sell. For example, write about the importance of data security for small businesses, not the specific data security service your company provides. Allow the exposure to ‘brand you’ as an expert. And pitching content to COSE’s Mind Your Business is a great place to start*. Hey… works for me!

    2. Professional Groups. If you know what professional or business group events your target market used to attend before Covid, offer to speak at them after restrictions are lifted. Same caveat—speak about the value of the concept, not your specific product. Allow that exposure to also brand you as a dynamic and engaging expert. And don’t overlook those groups who pivoted to on-line workshops with speakers.

    3. Pro Bono Work. Volunteer your time and talents to some of those groups. Showcase your expertise. The classic example is the website designer who freshens up the organization’s site pro bono, in exchange for a mention on their home page. Allow the contribution of time and talent to help brand you as a professional who gives expertise willingly to support worthy organizations.

    RELATED: Check out more articles on working pro bono.

    4. Referrals. Always ask for referrals from happy customers. Let them become an extension of your sales team—or your entire sales team. Testimonials on your website can help, but not as much as a happy customer calling a colleague on your behalf. And the larger the customer’s organization, the greater the chance for internal referrals to other divisions and departments.

    RELATED: Read more by Phil Stella.

    One final tip: Whenever you network at small business-oriented events, ask people you meet how they brand their businesses on a budget. You will be amazed at what you can learn.

    So, "No-Budget Branding” is a simple and clever suite of strategies but they’re not easy. They require time and effort, especially if you don’t want to invest the money to have a branding pro do it for you. 

    Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com, 440 449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, communication styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.

    *If you are a COSE member and would like to contribute to Mind Your Business, please email Marie Zickefoose.

     
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  • Next up: Broadband Bill GCP Supported Crosses Finish Line

    Broadband Bill GCP Supported Crosses Finish Line

     

    Reliable, affordable access to broadband internet is more important than ever and it is an issue the GCP Board of Directors and our members have elevated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis further exposed the digital divide throughout Ohio. Cleveland is no exception. 

    GCP has consistently called for investments in infrastructure that will support digital inclusion and technology-based economic development statewide, including broadband. HB 2 – which allows broadband providers to apply for state grants for service provided to unserved and distressed areas – is a part of our important work. The legislation was signed by Governor Mike DeWine on May 17, is effective immediately, and GCP applauded the initiative. 

    “The Greater Cleveland Partnership greatly appreciates Ohio’s collective efforts to expand high-speed internet to underserved and unserved areas across Ohio,” said Baiju Shah, President & CEO, Greater Cleveland Partnership.  “Concurrent and related efforts within BroadbandOhio, JobsOhio, and the Ohio General Assembly highlight how seriously state leaders are approaching this critical issue.  We have consistently supported the passage of HB 2 and welcome its approval.  In the state budget, and as outlined in the Executive Budget proposal, it is also imperative we address internet affordability in urban settings across the state – particularly in Cleveland and surrounding communities.” 

    The law provides $20 million this fiscal year for broadband grants. The Governor’s budget proposal called for $250 million for broadband expansion, an initiative GCP strongly supports.
      
    Beyond GCP's support for HB 2 GCP leaders understand more must be done in the effort to advance digital inclusion and we will continue to urge for a targeted approach in Cleveland. We stand ready to work with countless partners in our region and across the state to help solve our state’s digital challenges and prepare Ohioans for the future of work.

     
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