Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Leading Entrepreneurial Success Today”
Entrepreneurs and owners of businesses of any size know that driving more traffic, sales, and leads is of the utmost importance. But many continue to struggle with the best ways to do that, and to identify the ever-changing best practices to build a recognizable brand, maximize exposure, and gain recognition for the products and services they offer.
To learn more about the latest trends in digital marketing, I recently caught up with digital marketing executive Neil Patel. Patel is the CMO of NP Digital, a marketing agency serving start-ups, small businesses and publicly traded companies to help them drive more traffic, sales and leads. A New York Times bestselling author, Patel was named a top influencer on the web by The Wall Street Journal. Entrepreneur Magazine has shared that has created one of the 100 most brilliant companies.
Patel was also recognized as a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 30 by President Obama and a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 35 by the United Nations.
Here’s what Patel shares:
Kathy Caprino: Neil, what is the state of digital marketing today versus, say, five years ago? What do small businesses need to understand about these changes and how they impact their success?
Neil Patel: The big difference is that five years ago, you could grow a business through one channel. Whether it was SEO or paid advertising, or even email marketing—one channel could make a difference. These days companies are raising millions, if not billions of dollars. And the majority of their money goes towards marketing and sales, which leads all good marketing channels to eventually get saturated. So if you want to do well today in digital marketing you have to take an omni-channel approach and leverage all of them.
Caprino: How have some of your clients succeeded in reaching new customers in new, impactful ways?
Patel: The way most of our clients reach people is through the basic digital marketing channels such as SEO, paid ads, social media, or even content marketing. Marketing isn’t complicated. It’s more so about being willing and able to put in the grunt work.
For example, with SEO you have to fix your on page code so Google can crawl it. With social media, you have to continually create content that people want to share and like. With paid ads you have to continually test the messaging and images. With content marketing, you need to create content that people want to read and share.
Caprino: In creating content, what have you found makes great content that is better and different from inferior content?
Patel: Google is one of the most popular sites in the world and their algorithms tend to favor content-rich sites over non-content rich sites. So, if you want some of that traffic you have to write content that is outstanding. Just think of it this way: Do a search on Google for any topic you want your site to rank for. Whatever pages you see at the top, ideally your content needs to be better than theirs. Great content has a few key ingredients:
- It’s easy to understand. When people read it, they not only understand what they read, but they are able to take action on the information.
- It’s short and to the point. People don’t want to read fluff.
- It’s new and unique. No one wants to read regurgitated content.
- Contains visual elements. A picture says a thousand words. Use images, video or audio to explain your overall messaging.
Caprino: Why has it also become seemingly much more challenging to stand out from the competition than in the past?
Patel: It’s harder to create a “moat” these days. Whatever you are doing that is unique, eventually someone will be able to copy. And with solutions like Amazon Web Services (AWS), the timeframe in which someone copies you these days is even shorter. The best way to stand out is to build a brand. Nike makes shoes that are similar to Adidas or Reebok, but many people prefer Nike because of their brand. You have to build a brand.
Caprino: OK, but what do businesses need to do specifically to “build a brand” that attracts and engages loyal customers. In other words, where can entrepreneurs and businesses start to make the marketing/branding changes they need to?
Neil Patel: Brand building all starts with providing a good product or service. It doesn’t matter what you do with your marketing, if you can’t provide a good product or service, you won’t build a good brand. Solicit feedback from your customers and as you receive it, you will have to continually adapt your product or service so you can improve it, which will help with brand building.
In addition to that you’ll have to continually market. Brand building really kicks in when people see or interact with your brand 7 times. To achieve this, you will have to use multiple marketing channels, such as email marketing, social media marketing, SEO, ads, content marketing and even channels like text messaging and push notifications.
Caprino: What do small and larger businesses need to do differently in terms of marketing to make an impact and reach an expanding community of customers and clients who are hungry for their services and products
Patel: The strategies you deploy for small business and large ones are very similar. The bigger differences we see are that large businesses spend more because they are trying to go after a bigger market. In addition to that, large businesses usually take their marketing global as they touch many more regions. No matter what size business you are, you have to keep trying new approaches to reach people. There is no one solution that fits any business. Testing and experimentation is the best way to figure out what works for your business.
Caprino: Can you share the three most important things we need to understand about SEO today that most of us don’t?
Patel: I’d share these:
Search engines prefer to rank brands – Brands have trust, people like clicking on them and they are less likely to produce fake news.
User experience will win – If you want to rank at the top you have to figure out how to give users what they want as quickly as possible.
You need to be consistent – With SEO, you can’t just do a bit and expect to do well in the long run. You have to do it for a long time and leverage all of the main factors for both on and off page SEO.
Caprino: Businesses are being told that achieving “domain authority” is important. Please tell us about domain authority—how do small businesses get it, and why is it important? And what should businesses do when they’re getting pitched continually by folks who want to place links or articles on their sites?
Patel: First off, ignore all the people pitching you asking if they can post a guest submission or paid article on your site. You don’t want to break Google’s guidelines which makes it clear that you should not buy links or sell them.
Secondly, you build a high domain authority by having an amazing site—from great content and great products and services. The better your site and offerings, the more people that will link to it and the higher your domain authority will get over time.
From using images, to being more detailed, to providing step-by-step instructions—think of what you need to show to provide a better experience.
Caprino: What about ad campaigns for our businesses? What makes the most successful ad campaigns? And if we don’t want to run ads but we want a powerful funnel for new clients, what’s the best approach?
Patel: The best campaigns tend to be unique campaigns that resonate with your ideal customer. Something out of the box that makes them want to pay attention. Remember most people ignore ads, so you have to stand out. You would have to write tons of amazing content if you don’t want to run ads, so without content it will be hard to get organic social traffic or SEO traffic. That organic traffic will help you generate more visitors and eventually leads in your funnel.
Caprino: In my own small business, I’ve worked with numbers of marketing agencies over the years who claim they’ll create great success through ads, and they show credibility info that they’re good at it, but their campaigns have failed (often miserably). How can small business owners vet and select strong ad agencies or contractors that they use, to make sure they really know what they’re doing.
Patel: The best way to vet agencies is by looking at their past case studies. Have they worked with a competitor? Have they worked with anyone else in your field or a similar one?
If they have done well for others, there is a good chance they can do well for you too. You also want customer phone references as well. Case studies aren’t enough.
Lastly, whether you hire an agency or not, what most people don’t realize is your ads are only half the battle. For them to work well, your website needs to be optimized for conversions. Just look at your competitors’ sites—what copy are they using, how are they optimizing their site for leads or sales. This will all give you great ideas on what you need to do.
Caprino: Any last words for businesses hoping to make a bigger and to use using marketing as a tool?
Patel: Be patient. Don’t expect amazing results overnight.