The Magnificent 7 – Seven best ways to promote yourself for FREE.

Looking for endless free promotion of your small business? These 7 steps may take a few hours, but what’s it worth in terms of reach and free promotion? Invaluable. The only cost is your time. The Return On Investment is up to you. Engage with customers online where they spend the most time, and win big! Simple. These are my top picks which I believe should be your first priority each day to get the most traction to rise to the top in your local arena.

1) Google Places Page

Claim, verify, complete and get customer reviews. I just talked to a cupcake shop owner who owns several businesses and a bakery. He was having a bit of trouble on Yelp, because he was getting so many awesome reviews so fast, they weren’t getting counted. So he put a Google Places red balloon pin sticker in his window and told me and my fiance,”Please give us a review on Google.” He sold us cupcakes, and talked about it with us right there in the store. This is powerful local marketing and very smart business for LOCAL in 2012.

2) Yelp

Why is Yelp number 2? Because of Siri. Because it owns the “local reviews” space in the mind of your customers already. What was happening when Yelp was heating up San Francisco in 2007 is now happening in every small town in America. Really? Yes, just ask your customers. Let customers know you’re excited to be on Yelp every day, in every channel, every email and interaction. Get reviews. Plaster that you’re on yelp in online and offline collateral. Encourage online reviews and ask every customer, “Do you ever use Yelp?” Be unabashed in your acceptance of any kind of review. Trust me, you need the mentions to improve your rankings. Provide excellent service and address issues immediately. You would in the real world anyway. Businesses that are generating many reviews dominate on page one for Local. It’s not gaming the system — It’s just how it works! It’s the biggest advantage and very simple. A couple reviews this month won’t do it. Get every customer you talk to invested in this process. The guidelines for Yelp won’t let you incentivize but that doesn’t mean you can’t raise awareness about it, so start the conversation with your client base today.

3) Facebook Fan Page

The F in Facebook should stand for “free” marketing you can’t afford to miss out on. Go to facebook.com/business and then facebook.com/username once you have 25 fans to claim your vanity URL. Invite all your friends in. Is Facebook a Local Search Portal? You bet. So much is written daily about viral marketing, guerrilla marketing, and generating thousands of Likes on Facebook to rain down revenue. It’s a fun way for marketers to get hits to their sites, true, but as a local business the main issue I see is a lack of engagement with the community they already have, the community that does want to support them. A thriving business, grabs 90 fans and then that’s it. What next? Think of your interactions with customers offline and translate that to online. Share content every day. Post your blogs or curate other blogs to the page. Daily fresh content that’s exciting to you and your customers on any topic is fine. You can push offers every other status update and that’s just noise, just imagine running a register like that? Be yourself and be interesting.

4) Twitter

Create an account and customize the background. (There are a bunch of free Twitter customization sites or your web designer can help you standardize a branded theme across your online presence. That’s a great idea too. Maintain your branding even in social media). Make sure your content is keyword friendly on Twitter and Link your Twitter in the description back to your home site, LinkedIn or Facebook Page. For these last two, take the time to follow the followers of key influencers to build your following. A great tip is: Link as many social profiles together as you can and get as many links back to your home site as you can. All of this is very good from a Local SEO perspective.

5) Blog

Choose a WordPress or Blogger template and get writing. 2 paragraphs a day. Link these back to your Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc. Great content daily is the key. Grab a keyword friendly URL. Vegancupcakessb.com is a great niche domain that can point to Santa Barbara Cupcake Factory. Create a blog tab from your home site and start posting. You probably have a team member who loves to write or socialize with customers and is already very active on social media. Wouldn’t they be a great choice to blog about cupcakes everyday? This was the exact advice I gave to the cupcake shop business owner. Once Google, Yahoo and Bing index all that fresh content, their business is going to get flooded with hits.

6) Pinterest

The best source of referrals out there, get active here and collage around your interests and marketing sector. The social graph is the success story of the social web. What’s happening in 2012 is very Pinteresting! We are getting fired up about our shared interests even with strangers. Foodies love it as do fashionistas! Create pinboards that excite you by searching for keywords in the upper left search box on Pinterest and “Liking” and “Repinning” exciting pins to your wall. You can generate a strong flow of referral traffic to your website this way. In fact, the site just launched and it’s already in the top 10 of referral traffic on the entire internet. It’s the fastest growing social network in history. I would argue, it’s an interest network. It’s huge for local because your customers are on it right now as you’re reading this.  Let’s get them interested in YOU.

7) FourSquare

Super popular, I know people that only go places based on FourSquare check-in objectives. They know if they check in 5 times, they can get a free coffee. They actually meet other people in the store that are FourSquare power users. FourSquare has upped the ante by dubbing itself a “local search engine” and it’s true. The apps on mobile are fantastic. You can see ratings, check-ins and review data. You can find things in proximity of where you’re standing if you are traveling. I love the functionality of FourSquare when I’m traveling in LA and looking for a great Jewish Deli.

You’ll get the best results and most free promotion for your small business by establishing a presence on all the above 7 and then getting active on them EVERY day. But what if you don’t have time for this? You really don’t have time not to do this. Assign someone you trust internal to your business to engage with prospects and customers daily in these content gardens, and stimulate a two way conversation. The key is daily engagement.

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