Google’s Claire Hatton: Online marketing for small business
"I think it is even more critical now for local businesses to own their online space." So says Claire Hatton, Industry leader - Travel, Government, Local Business for Google Australia and NZ. She sees the rapid rise of mobile and local search as two trends that should motivate any business to develop a website or online marketing strategy sooner rather than later.
Hatton is extremely aware of the issues facing small business owners and the need for clear advice in online marketing. However, recent research shows that most small businesses have yet to launch a website, creating a genuine risk of losing sales to competitors. "We've just done some very interesting research that we commissioned with Research International. We found that, in Australia, 40% of small businesses don’t use the internet or email at all for their business. And a further 34% don’t have a standalone website. So that's 74% of small businesses without a website."
Hatton's father was a small business owner with little time for marketing and business strategy so she understands very well the time pressures and low resources most small business owners struggle with. "Focus on the basics first," she advises.
"The basics for me are about being found online. That might mean starting with a Google Places page so people can find you. Hopefully that will then lead people to realising they need a website."
Once you have a website, there are a few simple steps that can provide a lot of valuable help. "It's really about knowing your customers. If you have some kind of tracking on that website, such as Google Analytics, you know when you're hitting a certain goal. That goal could be whether people are signing up to an email or completing a transaction. Then you can make decisions on how you are going to communicate with your target customers. If I were them, I'd be looking at email marketing and search engine marketing. I think they are the most effective ways at reaching your customer base. Email marketing is absolutely fantastic at working with your existing customer base and search engine marketing is particularly good at acquiring new customers."
Hatton agrees that there is often "information overload" when it comes to online marketing advice. With so much advice on offer from so many sources, finding the right path can often be an intimidating and confusing prospect. "Marketing is just one small part of what small businesses do. So they need to be able to find credible sources that are really simple to understand. I think in many cases that even we (Google) haven't done the best job. But we're really, really focusing on it now to make sure that we are very simple in the way we talk.
Hatton sees keeping pace with the rate of change on the internet as a key challenge for small business. "The internet changes rapidly because users change rapidly. My practical advice would be would be to first find a good advisor and then use the resources that are available online – such as Webmaster Central - or even just keeping up to date with the Google blog, to know what's coming next."
So what is coming next? Hatton was in no doubt that two specific trends presented the best indicator for where the future is online - particularly when considered together. "There are more searches for hairdressers, cafes and things like that than there are for 'Julia Gillard' or 'Nicole Kidman'. We actually find that one in five search queries are local. That is, they have a local differentiator in the search query. And for mobile, that figure increases to one in three."
As only 26% of small businesses have a website, very few are being found by customers in these local searches. Yet the dramatic increase in mobile internet access has created new opportunities. "We really see mobile as the dawn of a new technology era. In Australia, we've seen searches on smart phones increase by 400% this year. And it's been predicted that internet access by mobile will exceed internet access by PC by 2013."
So if someone is searching for a local service on their mobile, they are more likely to be a potential customer actively looking to buy right there and then. Hatton agrees. "From a small business perspective, it means there's an even greater need to be online. If we get an explosion of mobile devices, there's even more opportunity for small businesses to interact with people, but also to lose those customers if their business is not there to be found."