Recently, Facebook achieved one of its most significant milestones since its launch in 2004 when the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the social network reached one billion users on September 14th.  For Facebook, attaining a user base that consists of 1/7 of the world’s entire population is a major accomplishment.  However, many of the small businesses which utilize Facebook as an online marketing and advertising outlet are still skeptical of the network’s ability to enhance their revenues despite having the most massive user base on the Web.

Small business owners are not the only ones concerned with Facebook’s performance as an ad revenue-driven organization.  The company’s stock value remains unimpressive and many investors are reluctant to add Facebook to their portfolios, regardless of the brand’s ever-increasing visibility.  While the announcement has undoubtedly granted the world’s largest social network substantial bragging rights, it has seemingly done little to really enhance the company or its profitability.

However, a more interesting statistic has also been revealed by Facebook as of late that may prove beneficial to their brand.  As of April 2012, the network’s monthly user growth had fallen to 1.74%, the lowest it has been since its 2004 debut.  Today, Facebook claims it has reached 2.04% monthly growth.  This marks the first increase the network has seen in over 13 months and could help to restore investor confidence in the brand going forward.

Although it is critical for Facebook to increase their viability to investors and improve their company’s waning stock values, it is just as important to build consumer confidence.  As a business driven almost entirely by advertising revenue, Facebook must take greater measures to attract advertisers, particularly small to mid-sized businesses which account for a large percentage of online advertising revenue.

Facebook’s audience is clearly larger than ever before and maintains the greatest potential as an advertising and marketing platform; but the company should begin to investigate other revenue streams in order to grow from a fiscal perspective.

E-Commerce is the most likely route and could put Facebook in direct competition with online retailer, Amazon.  The development of a “Facebook Store” could position the company as a formidable competitor and drive up share prices, while simultaneously making Facebook more attractive to advertisers.  Additions of features such as the “Promote” button and the soon-to-be-released “Want” button are definitely steps in the right direction, but a more comprehensive strategy may be necessary.

For now, Facebook’s popularity may be unparalleled, but its profitability is minimal at best.  Business owners have yet to see any discernable benefits from the network’s growth to upwards of 1 billion users and an investment in long-term revenue enhancement should be considered an essential component of Facebook’s business model.  If the network is able to successfully expand its offerings beyond its current capabilities, the future of Facebook will not only be secure, but beneficial to small business owners, as well.

There are more than 23 million small businesses in the United States, representing 54 percent of all U.S. revenue.  While the majority of these firms oftentimes have smaller marketing budgets versus larger firms, competing against the majors becomes an integral component to any small business marketing strategy and thus a major focus for sustainable growth.

Key statistics gathered from the Small Business Administration indicate that since 1990, as big business eliminated approximately 4 million jobs, small businesses actually added 8 million new jobs.  While small businesses are essential components to the overall economy, it is becoming more challenging to compete in a global climate dominated by higher leveraged organizations; until now.

Lesser expensive and highly efficient marketing tools have entered the marketplace and such tools including social media, mobile marketing, and even paid search components now find their way in to small business strategic planning sessions.  While these tools have proven to be extremely effective for the small business sector, there remains a significant percentage of small business owners who have been hesitant to accept the change.  Given the fact that the median age of the U.S. based small business owner is 49.25 years, this generation is historically hesitant to change their marketing methods and incorporate modern-era marketing including using smartphones versus television and billboard advertising.

There are presently 116 million U.S. smartphone users, a representation of 37 percent of the overall population, according to eMarketer.  While mobile marketing has become a larger piece of the pie, a recent study indicates that only 20 percent of local businesses said they are implementing mobile marketing.  Simply put, businesses that focus the majority of their operations within a defined geographic radius are missing out on potential consumers, while larger competing firms are scooping up the opportunity.  Take, for example, a local coffee shop losing business to Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts.

Leveraging social media is cost-effective and can dramatically increase the efficiency of a small business marketing strategy.  Consumers are on social media.  They are no longer tuned in to the TV and radio through the workday as much as they are checking in on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.  In fact, Facebook just crossed the 1 billion user mark and Twitter has an average of 6.9 million daily active users.  Creating brand awareness and enhancing visibility through the use of social media has become a major asset to small business.

With the increase in small business advertising through the use of social media, mobile, and paid search, these firms are able to effectively reach their customers directly, using less resources than big business.  Lesser advertising and marketing expenses can help a small business compete on price against the larger firms which can ultimately improve their bottom line and create sustained growth even in a recovering economy.

The United States Supreme Court largely upheld the Affordable Care Act in a 5 to 4 decision.  The bill marks a major victory for the Obama administration and will have a major impact on small business owners that own and operate U.S. based companies.

There are two main ways that the bill will leave its mark.  First, small business owners that currently offer health-care to their workers can reduce their costs by an estimated 5 to 10 percent on average.  There are even tax incentives for companies that offer health-care coverage to their workers.  On the other hand, however, some small business owners that employ closer to 100 workers may choose to not offer coverage to their personnel as the taxes they will pay in penalties are actually cheaper than offering benefits.  The worker then needs to find coverage on their own as stipulated by the individual mandate.

This is an ongoing debate that has governing officials and small business owners weighing their options.

It is hard for companies to balance costs with taking care of their employees.  Statistics gathered from healthreform.gov, a federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, indicates 33% of the 13 million uninsured Americans work for firms with less than 100 personnel.  With the dramatic rise in healthcare costs, it has become challenging for Entrepreneurs and small business owners to offer these benefits to their workers.

As the Obama Administration has marked this a pivotal win in an election year, entrepreneurs and small business owners alike will have to make equally tough decisions as members of the Supreme Court made during yesterday’s ruling.  Small business owners must decide whether to offer health-care coverage or pay the taxes which may be less expensive.

Up to this point, there has not been enough done to support small business initiatives with taking care of workers.  For example, the health-care law did not require small business owners of a certain size to offer coverage.  Republicans are calling for an appeal to the law, including Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who stated if elected President, his first day in office he will appeal the law.

From 2000 to 2007, the percentage of small businesses offering health-care coverage and related benefits fell from 68% to 59% as indicated by healthreform.gov.  During the same time period, health-care costs rose dramatically.  In fact, most small business owners state the reason they choose not to offer health-care to their workers is due to the rising cost in premiums.

It seems clear that until the rising costs are addressed, the problem cannot be solved; then enters the debate of “doing the right thing”.  That is, offering your employees coverage and thus increasing your costs, or savings and continuing to reinvest in the company.

Ask any small business owner what their greatest challenge is online and the answer will almost always be: Visibility.  Small companies often face this issue, as they do not have the well-established branding of large corporations nor do they possess national or global visibility offline.

Today, social media has become one of the most useful tools for small businesses.  Not only is it now possible to increase online visibility by utilizing popular brands such as Facebook and Twitter, but it can also help to increase sales and revenue, as well.

Building a Social Identity
The world’s largest social networks may have had humble beginnings, but they have grown into some of the most significant brands on the Web.  In fact, many smaller companies have actually used the popularity of those networks to expand into new markets and capitalize on E-Commerce.  In the first quarter of 2012, comScore reports that E-Commerce spending totaled upwards of $44 million.  This figure represents one of the highest single fiscal quarter online sales in history.  In fact, economists estimate that 2012 will be the most profitable year ever in terms of online sales revenue.

Using Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and other networks to promote brands, products and services has been a crucial component of that online sales growth.  Many Internet marketing companies offer social media optimization and marketing services, but as social media becomes a more competitive market, it has also become more difficult for brands to get noticed.

The real key to building a strong social identity is quality.  To increase views, likes, shares and even sales, brands must offer users unique and relevant content.  Additionally, companies should deliver rich content whenever possible to help maintain user engagement.  Videos and images are more likely to be shared throughout social media than text and can be effective marketing tools.

From Social Media to Sales
Businesses with an E-Commerce platform should heavily promote it within the social space.  By directing users from network profiles to product pages, those pages gain more authority and the probability of sales increases.

Social media is undoubtedly one of the most valuable assets to small businesses.  Combined with E-Commerce, it can maximize the potential of virtually any company with an online presence.

While small business owners often focus much of their attention on staying active in social media, they tend to end up ignoring a valuable asset: their website. As many web designers will tell their clients, a company’s website should always include search engine-friendly content as well as useful information that is readily accessible. More often than not, getting one’s online properties to the top of the Google and Bing SERPs is one of the most important goals in any SEO campaign.

Achieving that goal can be quite difficult depending on how popular a company’s relevant keywords are. Although the path to page ranking success can be a long one with plenty of ups and downs, implementing the right qualities and designs into an official company site can bolster any efforts spent towards improving domain authority. The following are just a handful of excellent SEO behaviors that should be found on any website that is looking for better SERP performance.

Make your Company Easy to Contact
As ridiculous as it may sound, few websites actually list much of their contact information out in the open. According to a report from Search Engine Watch, nearly 60% of small business websites surveyed lack a phone number with which interested site visitors can contact them. The same study also claims that less than 20% of websites display links to their Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn profiles. Simply put, there is never a reason not to have this information readily available to visitor. If anything, link clicks to other company properties only serve to strengthen those pages.

Create a Great Landing Page that is Both Concise and Informative
Over the years, I’ve lost track of the number of websites I’ve seen that show flashy banners and excessive Flash scripting when I’ve gone to them. While there is something to be said for visual panache, ultimately heavy page elements only serve to slow down the speed at which a page loads. Although major businesses often introduce their homepage with JavaScript, SMBs should always be striving to reduce page load times to as little as possible. A site’s bounce rate, or the percentage of times in which a user leaves a page without visiting any on-page links, is greatly affected by the speed at which a page loads. Webmasters should do what they can to reduce page elements down to the essentials.

Keep your Website’s Traffic Flowing through Smart Link Distribution
When businesses try to get their pages higher up in the SERPs, they often do so by focusing on page rankings and domain authority. These statistics are always improved through consistent traffic and link hits. In order to get one’s website to climb the search engine ranks, a web designer should always place links to other sections of the site. Of course, these links need to be smartly designed – one should never haphazardly stuff links all over a page. Always set links to other pieces of content which are relevant to the current page or body of text.

With these SEO-focused behaviors in place, a website has a much better chance of seeing improved SERP placement in far less time. For further tips on SEO-friendly website design, I highly recommend that readers contact me directly. I can be reached at jwersits@webimax.com.

I found myself traveling this week.  Wanting to maintain appearances for my dear mother, I strolled into a local, haircut chain establishment.  Coincidentally, my “stylist” was the owner, a man who bought into the franchise.  As one must divulge personal matters to hair stylists, I mentioned my interest in all things online marketing and inquired about his stores’ efforts.  By the end of the ordeal, I was looking fresh and ready for a “Yelping in my Beemer” video as well as filled with a few thoughts regarding online marketing and tailored, consulting services.  As many marketers but few clients understand, online, one size does not fit all.

I Want That! Wait. Do I Want That?

The evolution of the Web has granted us with a multitude of ways to market online: search engine optimization, social media optimization, reputation management, public relations, and then some.  What stops or starts a small business owner from desiring a championed service?  An experienced consultant helps.  The business owner confessed being in a state of confusion, expressing the difficulty of understanding options at hand and making distinctions between them to make the best choices for his business.

I empathize with online marketing novices; information can seem conflicting.  Let’s use social media participation as an example.  A short while ago, marketing information regarding where consumers get local business information, was released to the public, reflecting poor social media leverage.  I blogged about it, urging small businesses not get discouraged by the numbers.  This week, other data was released regarding how consumers interact with brands on social sites.  This set of data would certainly inspire my interest in social media as a small business owner.  If you’re an owner, how do you interpret the somewhat conflicting sentiments of data to make decisions for your brand?  An experienced consultant helps.

How Does it Fit?

Online marketing practitioners make suggestions and implementations for clients, yet the latter group is crucial in tailoring a campaign’s success.  While practitioners place focus on understanding the Web, marketing world, and associated tools and trends, clients are most insightful regarding idiosyncrasies aligned to respective industries; consultants can offer advice and suggestions, but clients can help matters by offering their own insight.

For instance, I suggested the hair chain owner use Twitter to spread exposure.  Since he was part of a chain, a brand-named account was out of the question, yet he mentioned his revenue’s high dependency on repeat customers.  Immediately, I asked if his individual stylists had social accounts.  He had no idea.  I suggested his stylists all get accounts and start engaging new and repeat customers on Twitter; since repeat business is so crucial, ensuring customers are viewed as individuals and receive customized treatment is essential.  He liked the idea and said he would make motions to put that into effect next week.  If he didn’t give me that crucial element of information about the importance of repeat customers, my ability to help him would have been limited.  Don’t forget to let your vendor know how your campaign fits and don’t be hesitant to make your own suggestions regarding a custom-fitted campaign.