by Roger Yu | shared from USA Today
Mobile search and shopping options have advanced to where customers can be located and served ads based by zip code, address and even the road they currently are driving on.
With steady rain muddying New Orleans right before the city’s famous Jazz & Heritage Festival in April, Evie Poitevent tweeted about the rain boots at her shoe store, Feet First.
Featured with photos and hashtags the first batch sold out in two hours. “I knew there would be a feeding frenzy for rain boots,” Poitevent says. “We had a stampede of women coming in.”
Like many natives of New Orleans, Poitevent chose to move back from New York after Hurricane Katrina ravaged her hometown. In rebuilding Feet First, founded by her parents, she turned to the usual, and requisite, e-commerce tricks a website, online shopping cart and Facebook page that have helped the business rebound.
But in recent months, her marketing attention increasingly has turned to mobile to engage social media-savvy customers who are ready to spread the word. Her Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and Snapette (a local fashion shopping app) accounts are updated frequently with new products and promotions.
Next on her to-do list is developing a website optimized for phones, though she’s also wondering whether it might be worth getting someone to build an expensive app for the store. “We need to start looking more closely at what devices people are coming from,” she says.
Poitevent’s quest reflects the curiosity and changing priorities of many small-business owners as mobile marketing tools broaden their potential message channels to reach nearby customers — and open their shops to the scrutiny of nitpicking critics.
Mobile search capabilities and shopping options quickly have advanced to the point at which customers can be located — and served targeted ads — not only based on their demographic data but by their ZIP codes, street addresses, even the roads they’re currently driving on.
From large corporations to local entrepreneurs such as Poitevent, money is pouring in. U.S. mobile spending - including ads on phones - rose 69% in 2012 to $6.7 billion, according to the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), and this year will be $10.46 billion.
Mobile marketing can be particularly effective for small businesses, says Greg Stuart, CEO of the MMA. “Local merchants have a better opportunity on mobile, in part because they can craft it to fit their business. Most consumers only go about half a mile for dry cleaners.”
OLD RULES STILL APPLY
For those relying on potential customers searching via Google (or Bing or Yahoo), the fundamentals of mobile marketing remain largely unchanged.
“There’s no magic formula,” says Jeff Licciardi, vice president of local at Performics, a search engine marketing agency. “Everything you do on your desktop for search engine optimization, it’s going to help you for mobile.”
The universe of websites that contain local shopping information is vast, with about 300 to 400 sources, he says. Find the most important sites for local business listings in the area, and make sure your business is listed and the information is up to date. Do the same with industry-specific listing sites.
Google Places and Yelp listings and reviews are the most important sources, Licciardi says. Yelp, eager to let users know it has a variety of businesses, says only 20% of its listings are restaurants.
Photos, menus, accurate hours of operation and deals help drive traffic. Consumers linger 2.5 times longer on Yelp sites that have photos, vs. those that are bare, says Vince Sollitto, spokesman for Yelp.
SMALL BUSINESS TECH TALK: What’s new on Facebook for entrepreneurs
PHOTOS: Tips for small business success
In a sign that mobile users of Yelp are more engaged, 45% of all Yelp searches come from its app, even though the app traffic is only about one-tenth of the overall website traffic, Sollitto says.
If your business information is inaccurate or inconsistent on some listing sites, there are professional services — such as Yext, Localeze or Universal Business Listing (UBL) — that can help update the information across multiple sites, says Dipanshu Sharma, CEO of XAd, a digital marketing agency that helps clients place ads on mobile devices.
Experts also recommend a simple mobile website that’s designed for use by the human thumb.
Avoid using too much text or Flash graphics that are difficult to read and take too long to load, says Itai Sadan, CEO of DudaMobile, which hosts mobile websites for small businesses. “No pinching and zooming,” he says. “You can’t overemphasize how simple you have to make it.”
A phone number prominently displayed — with a “call-now” button — can nudge customers to action. Roughly 20% of visitors to the sites hosted by DudaMobile use the click-to-call feature, Sadan says.
Consider assigning a unique phone number for any special mobile campaign, so you know where the leads are coming from and can conduct lead analysis, says Bill Dinan, president of phone call analysis firm Telmetrics.
Those who find building a mobile site daunting can turn to vendors, such as DudaMobile, that can covert your browser site to a mobile version or provide a template. Some developers, including Duda, host mobile sites for free but charge a few dollars a month for a premium version.
Buying online display ads or search ads can be expensive for many small-business owners. In dealing with limited budgets, business owners are urged to conduct careful research on the effective keywords used to look up the products and services in their industry.
While this seems obvious, small-business owners often fail to consider the brevity of mobile online searches. Because phone keyboards are difficult to type, consumers use only about 15 characters to three words, often filled with spelling mistakes, XAd’s Sharma says.
Narrowing the parameters of where and how your ad displays can save money, he says. A dentist in a neighborhood might not want to aim for advertising for the whole city. “You can say, ‘Just give me a neighborhood,’ ” Sharma says. “That’s how granular local advertising has become. We don’t want to do impressions that are wasteful.”
Of course, the 800-pound gorilla in online ads is Google. The search engine giant has also recently changed its main ad selling platform — Google AdWords — to accommodate mobile ad campaigns.
In its “Enhanced Campaigns,” advertisers can bid for their search words based on the words plus the searcher’s device, location and time of day. Customers “bid” for search words in Google, such as an auction.
For example, a local flower vendor who wants to change her message for a Mother’s Day special can bid 10% higher for her Google keywords for customers who are within a mile, 20% higher for those searching on weekends or 30% higher for searches from smartphones. Says Jason Spero, Google’s head of global mobile sales and strategy. “You have to be there when consumers are looking for you. Engaging consumers on the go is critical for (small business owners).”
Previously, vendors had to create a separate ad campaign for mobile and desktop searches. If they wanted to bid for multiple times or various location-based searches, they had to create several different campaigns. “Now, you only do it once. It’s about minimizing the work,” Spero says.
Todd Messineo, co-owner of Budget Golf, a golf equipment shop in Joliet, Ill., used the new features in Google to drive sales from customers in California this spring. With warm weather late to arrive this spring in his area, Messineo increased the bidding for his Google keywords for mobile searches on warm days in certain parts of California. “We wanted to be in places where customers were shopping,” he says.
Opening an account on free social-media sites is a good start, but follow-up actions are needed to spur interactions for mobile users who are checking their favorite pages multiple times a day.
“Social mentions, likes and retweets, can reach a vast audience, while mobile advertising will simply send a customer to a website,” says Ed Jay, senior vice president of the American Express U.S. Small Merchants Group.
Beyond updating the accounts of large social-media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, Feet First’s Poitevent also recently began experimenting with Snapette, a website and app for fashionistas looking for trends in shoes and clothes. Snapette users can search for items based on keywords and location, and vote for their favorites. The items with the highest votes float to the top of the page.
While Poitevent only has 250 followers on Snapette, they are “very involved,” she says. “They become brand ambassadors for you.”
Some entrepreneurs, including Ashley White, have begun selling directly on social media. Based in Lubbock, Texas, her online store for women’s clothing — The Polkadot Alley — started conducting transactions and accepting payments on her Facebook page, using a software application from start-up Soldsie.
White posts selected items, and the 62,000 fans on her Facebook page can write a simple message with their intent to buy and their preferred size. “Sold, size medium,” for example.
Soldsie handles invoicing and payments, and takes a small cut of the transaction.
About 90% of Polkadot’s orders come from mobile phones. Speedier and more professional-appearing transactions have helped her business grow, White says. “If I were manually invoicing, people had to e-mail. Now, the pages look more professional. People can track through the Soldsie tab. It makes it so much more efficient.”