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Building a marketing plan on a shoestring (1/2)

The web offers a wealth of tools that can help you market your business on a shoestring. In this post and the next one, I’ll take a look at ten ways the internet can help promote your business. Spend 10% of your marketing time on each one and you can build your business on a budget. Here goes … (more…)

How and why to differentiate your business

You may have heard of “features and benefits” when talking about marketing your business. Here´s a quick guide to what they are and how they help your business. (more…)

How to choose the right keywords for SEO

A guide to choosing the right search terms for your business

First things first. What are keywords? They are the words or phrases that someone looking for a business or service like yours will type into a search engine to find you. And if those words and phrases don’t feature in the content, their website won’t come up when someone types them into a search engine.

As a general rule, your keyword list shouldn’t be very long. (If you’ve got 150 words or phrases in your list, you’re either running a multinational business with hundreds of products or you’ve got too many words on the list). Around 10 to 12 words or phrases is plenty for the average site.

So how do you choose them?


Part one: brainstorming and choosing

Brainstorm all the words that come to mind when thinking of your business. Don’t worry at this stage how many you’ve got. Now look at each of them in turn and ask “if I was looking for a business like mine, would I type this into Google?”. There are three possible answers:

  • yes
  • no
  • only if I combine it with one (or more) other words or phrases in the list.

Remove all the “nos” from the list and combine all the “only ifs”.


Part two: checking and exploring

The next step is to check your list.

Enter them into Google (or your search engine of choice) and see what comes up. If your competitors or websites similar to yours are coming up, you’ve probably got the right keywords. If they aren’t, you can remove them from the list.

Ask your customers what they would type into a search engine if they wanted to find a business like yours. If they match yours, that’s great. If they don’t, add them to the list.

Use Google’s keyword research tool. This will provide you with suggestions you may not have thought of. It will also give you an idea of how competitive your chosen keywords are so you can assess your chances of appearing high up in the rankings. And this is extremely important.


Part three: assessing the competition

The last and perhaps most important step in this process is to assess your chances of appearing high up in the results when people search for them.

Let’s take an example. If you sell cars, you might think your top keyword is “cars” and that you need to be on the first page of results when people search on “cars”. But realistically

  • you won’t be
  • you don’t want to be (honestly!).

You won’t be because you’ll be competing with every single website in the world that’s about cars. The chance of being in the first one hundred pages, let alone the first page or the number one spot are remote, to say the least. Optimise your site on the word “cars”, you’ll never be found by your potential customers. The result? A website that isn’t doing its job.

But why don’t you want to be? Because anyone searching for the word “cars” is unlikely to be looking for you. They’ll be looking for photographs, to find out how they work, to find out how many there are, etc etc. The one thing they aren’t doing is looking for you. So if you did manage to get onto the first page, you’d get lots of visitors, certainly. But how many would turn into customers?

Optimise your site on the type of car you sell (luxury cars, vintage cars, red cars) and where you are (Herefordshire, Norfolk ) instead and you’ll only be competing against other people who sell the type of cars you do where you do. So your chances of being at the top of the rankings are better. What’s more, if people type “vintage cars for sale Herefordshire” into a search engine, they’re definitely looking for you. The result? A website that’s doing its job.

Think of it like this. If you work in a shop, you don’t need every person in town visiting your shop, you just need every person who is looking to buy what you sell. Get your keywords right and you’ll attract those people.

Top tips on web copywriting

Writing for websites is different to writing for paper-based  media, so if you’re new to it all, these pointers might help.

The first thing to remember is: reading on screen is hard!

It’s a lot harder than reading on the page. Think about the  way you surf the web – you probably skim-read, trying to get to the information you need as quickly as you can – it’s because it’s so much harder to read on screen that you’re doing that.

Remember that your readers are just the same as you. So it’s  important to do what you can to help them find the information they want – and make it appealing and easy for them to carry on exploring.

Keep things simple

There are some things you can do from a technical  perspective to make your web copy easy to read:

  • keep sentences short
  • keep paragraphs short
  • use bulleted lists where you can
  • use informative headings to break up the copy  and allow people to jump to the information they want
  • better still, if a page is going on too long,  break the information up into separate pages so people aren’t intimidated by loads of scrolling text.

(Try this: go to the BBC News website. Pick a story and read  it through. Notice how easy to read and understand it is. Now print it out and  read it again. Suddenly, the sentences seem short – almost too short. That’s  the difference between reading on-screen and on the page.)

Write for your audience

Keep the reader in mind while you’re writing. Ask yourself  “what do readers want/need to know?” not “what do we want to tell them?” and remember that while you’re writing.

Try to write as if you’re talking to one person not making a  presentation to hundreds – this will help to keep you focussed on giving  readers what they need – and keep your style friendly and personal.


Keeping people engaged with your website is one thing. Getting them there in the first place is quite another. That’s where keywords come in, read our post on how to choose the right keywords for if you need help on this.

Why bother to understand our customers?

Every one of your customers has individual characteristics  that make them who they are. But those customers will often share certain  characteristics. Understanding what those common characteristics are will make your marketing more effective. And whether you’re marketing on a shoestring or not, that can only be a good thing.

How can understanding your customer make your marketing more effective?

Because you can:

  • show that you understand their challenges and –  more importantly – how you can help them to meet them
  • know they need what you’re offering – focusing your  marketing on the prospects you know will be interested means a better  conversion rate than if you focus on prospects that might be interested
  • choose the medium that suits them best – if you’re  marketing to travelling sales people, local radio might be a good option; if  you’re dealing with marketing professional, email might be a better bet.

In short, you’re making your customers more likely to buy from you.

So how do you understand who your customers are?

You draw up customer profiles for five of your best  customers. Think about:

Who they are

  • Name
    • Industry
    • Role
    • Age
    • Gender
    • Interests
    • Education
  • What is important to them
    • What are their needs?
    • What keeps them awake?
    • What stops their company growing?
    • What wastes their time?

So for one of our customers you might end up with:

Sally runs her own  accounting practice which has grown quickly over the 2 last years. She is in  her early 30s has a young family and is a West Brom supporter. She has little  time to promote the company and is concerned the website looks outdated but is  worried she wouldn´t find time for any clients she did win.

From this we can understand that Sally is a busy person with  drive and ambition. Marketing to customers like her will need to reflect that  drive but also get straight to the point. Because she´s got so little time we  need to demonstrate that as professionals she can trust us to get on with the  job while she gets on with hers. We also need to remind her that an out-of-date  website reflects badly on a business she´s worked hard to build up so investing  now would protect her business – and even offer the capacity to take it to the  next level.

10 tips for email marketing

1. Know your audience/reader Create an email they will want to open and act on.

2. Interesting or challenging subject line A clear and honest subject line that tells the reader exactly what your email contains.

3. Personalise Often personalised content can increase open rates rather than a one size fits all approach.

4. Interesting and useful content Give the benefits to the reader, make it worth their time reading your email.

5. Ask for action Don´t leave them hanging ask the reader to take the next step, read more, or sign up.

6. Provide a quick and easy way to unsubscribe It shows you respect their data and it´s a legal requirement.

7. Recognisable From address If you can use a named email rather than a generic one this can increase open rates.

8. Run campaigns in plain text and HTML Many email programs only use plain text for their email preview. Effective use can improve open rates.

9. Be consistent Choose a frequency of sending that works for you and your readers, then stick to it to build familiarity.

10. Run experiments Don´t be afraid to test out different subject lines or content to find out what works best.

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