Four fantastic ways to build Web cred on $100 a month

Word of mouth makes the best salesperson, according to all the sales manuals. Are you ready to take advantage of electronic word of mouth?

That’s what I believe social media has become, at least for smart businesses. True, most of the “blogosphere” and Twitter-verse may be electronic gossip, but some companies have made huge advances taking word of mouth to the Web.

My expert guide to social media for this column is Sean Percival. He has made a spectacular personal jump over the past 10 years thanks to social media, and he wants to help your company make a similar jump.

How big a jump?

A decade ago Percival was a janitor cleaning the offices at, and decided he wanted to work with people having fun on this new World Wide Web thingy rather than clean up after them.

Now he’s a social media expert, online commerce business person, Web developer, and author (his second book, MySpace Marketing, is coming out soon).

Percival loves helping small companies succeed, and he has a pretty simple plan: give away lots of information about your niche, build credibility, and experiment with Internet advertising with a budget of $100 per month.

“First of all, find out what people are talking about,” says Percival. “If you’re not into social media yet, search for terms about your business or expertise on search engines. Get on Twitter, join groups about your area, and answer questions.”

Many small business people still don’t believe in social media — the bloggers and Twitter users glued to their keyboards at the expense of a real life.

That unfortunate stereotype will hang around for a few more years, no doubt, but the difference is that Main Street now cares what bloggers and tweeters say.

At least they care when they search, since putting information out on various social media outlets makes that information pop up in Google searches, and Main Street cares a lot about searching now.

“Go to Google Blog Search and see what’s out there about your area of expertise,” says Percival. “If you see questions from people asking how to do something, and you know the answer, give it.” You can also check out Technorati, probably the biggest blog search site.

In a talk I give at conferences called “Resonate with your customers like Girl Scout Cookies” I advise companies to have a blog, but not to let the head of sales near it. Let the tech support manager write the blog, and fill it with tricks on how to help people use your products or services better. Talk about preventative maintenance, ways to extend the life of the products, and interesting ways other customers are using the products. When someone looking for your product searches Google or Yahoo, those blog posts will appear.

Here are some of Percival’s tips:

Can you get those posts to appear on the first page of Google search results?

1. Percival says, “Run away from any SEO (Search Engine Optimization) expert who guarantees he can get you on the first page.”

This advice applies to the more generic search terms, like “furniture” or “insurance.”

Niche search terms can get way up the ranks because of their limited traffic, not gaming Google.

SEO started as the system Google built for their AdWords, then consultants got involved. First they worked with the system, then they gamed the system, and now many are, according to Percival, snake oil salespeople who should be avoided.

2.”Take $100 a month from your advertising budget and play with AdWords,” says Percival. “I get better results with Yahoo, but Google is bigger. Just define your niche. If you make custom wicker furniture in Tennessee, you can’t afford to buy ‘furniture’ as an AdWord, but you can afford ‘custom wicker furniture’ or the like.”

Since furniture is hard to ship, how can you make this locally relevant? Percival agreed with me that the Web still doesn’t do a good job providing local results.

3. “Register your company with Google Maps. It’s a manual process that takes some time, but then you can put your business, profile information, and Web site link on Google Maps,” says Percival.

Carrying Percival’s example a bit further, I checked ‘cleaning wicker furniture’ on Google and Yahoo Answers. Google had 417 entries, while Yahoo Answers only had 15. But if your product cleans wicker furniture, answer those questions and put a link to your Web site. If that’s too blatant for you, buy advertising on the results page.

4. Create a lot of content for your blog and/or Web site, says Percival.If you don’t have a Google Alert that sends you an e-mail every time the phrase you specify shows up on the Web, try it. If you sell wicker furniture cleaner, you want to know about the blogs that talk about wicker furniture so you can answer their questions and become the expert in wicker furniture cleaning, or replacing wicker furniture that can’t be cleaned.

PR professionals now say a targeted blog with good readership will do more for their clients than general newspaper coverage. After all, how many people reading the paper any one day really care about cleaning their wicker furniture? And blog content stays on the Web forever, unlike yesterday’s newspaper stuffed into the recycling bin.

You can dive deep into Twitter and blogs and the hundreds of other social media outlets for general personal or company marketing awareness, or you can focus more tightly and provide help to the community in areas you have expertise.

Either way, the more content you have out there, the more people on Main Street will find your company when they search.

Wouldn’t you like your word of mouth sales to extend from friends and customers to all of Google?

Then start trying out Percival’s advice on social media.

Here are some tips on using blogs to improve customer service.

Find out how you use Twitter to win business.

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