We’ve got a real treat for you today with our next SmallBizSat Q&A which is with Derek Halpern, an expert web marketer, founder of Social Triggers and included in “The Most Influential Small Business People on Twitter” list.

Derek offers some very straightforward advice on what he feels makes a credible website…. and what makes a website “lose credibility points.” He also gives his candid take on popular web tools like Foursquare and Groupon and what he feels is the “must-have” outreach tool: email marketing. Good stuff, right?  Read on…

Q. Do you feel supporting local businesses is important and why?

A. That’s a loaded question. I believe we should support businesses that keep their customers happy. The fact that they’re local should not come into play.

That said, I’ve found that I prefer shopping at local businesses because the people who run them are much more knowledgeable about their craft and trade.

For example, there’s a grocery store in Garden City, NY called Natural and I love shopping there. The owner is a chef, and he’s often roaming his aisles giving his customers tips on how to make great food. It’s tough to find that type of service at a huge supermarket chain.

On the other hand, Nordstrom, a non-local business, does the same thing. Just the other day, the guy I buy my clothing from—his name is Danny—gave me a phone call to let me know that new stuff came in. I told him I’d pop on over, and when I got there, he had all of it in the dressing room ready for me…in my size and everything. That’s great service, and he deserves support too.

Q. How can a local retailer or service business use the internet to drive customers through their doors?

A. The main way local retailers can benefit from the internet is through email marketing. They need to get all of their customers on an email list because that changes the way the local business dynamic works. Instead of sitting back, and waiting for your customers to come to you, you can email them and entice them to come to you. Email marketing essentially empowers people to control the foot-traffic in their own store.

Q. When looking at a website of a new business, how do you judge if the business is credible or not?

A. That all depends. If it’s a local business, a business that’s a brick-and-mortar store, I judge them on their web design. If they’re using a flash-based website, they lose credibility points. If their site looks like it’s from the mid 90s, they lose credibility. If, on the other hand, they have a nice website, with a simple design, I’ll give them a shot.

One note, nowadays, local businesses think nice websites are expensive. However, with tools like WordPress and premium themes like Thesis, you can create a professional looking site for less than a hundred bucks.

However, if they’re doing business online, that’s a whole other story. If they want me to part with my credit card information online, I’ll need to see things like a security certificate, symbols from companies like Authorize.net, and other pieces of social proof that will help me feel comfortable parting with my personal credit card information.

Q. If you were working with a local small business owner who’s in the retail space, like a clothing store, a coffee shop, or a restaurant, what online tools would you recommend they use to help market and promote their business?

A. I’d recommend they do these three things: First, they should get a website setup using WordPress and a premium theme like Thesis. Then, they should invest in a quality email marketing provider like AWeber. And finally, they need to create local events that can get people to come into their store. For example, if you’re a coffee shop, you can try to create local groups, like one for writers, one for readers, and etc. Just anything to get people hanging out with each other within the store. To promote these events, I’d partner with other local businesses that are using the same strategy. That way non-competing businesses can share customers if it makes sense.

Q. If you were working with a local small business owner who’s in the service industry, like a lawyer, realtor, or electrician, what online tool would you recommend they use to help market and promote their business?

A. When you’re working in a service-based industry, I’d focus solely on content marketing. I’d help people figure out the simple things. Like, if you’re a plumber, you can show people how to replace a pipe on their sink. Or you can show them how to fix their toilet with content. And then, when the time comes that people really need you, they’ll remember you, meaning you’ll get the big jobs, instead of the small rinky-dink jobs :-D.

Q. What do you see as the best use-case for running promotions through a social check-in tool like Foursquare? How about a deal site like Groupon?

A. I personally don’t like those tools. I’m sure they’re valuable, but when you use something like Groupon, you’re getting a bunch of people in your store who only want one thing…a discount. I personally don’t like to attract discount-seekers because in my experience they remain loyal to discounts not the local business.

Q. Is there a small business in your city that has done an interesting promotional campaign that’s noteworthy?

A. There’s a comic store named Grasshopper’s Comics in Long Island, NY. It’s run by two smart guys, Dan Sotelo and John Riley. And while they don’t focus much on the internet, they do have an email list. Each year, they run one promotion I love. They create a holiday party, and invite all of their customers to come into the store to celebrate the holiday season. They have food, giveaways, and often raise a bunch of money for a charity that helps sick children. They always pack their store to the brim with this promotion, and while it doesn’t necessarily lead to increased sales, I know it increases goodwill with their customer base—thus keeping customers loyal to the local business as opposed to shopping for similar products online at a reduced price.

Q. What’s your favorite social media tool that a small business should use to promote themselves?

A. As I had mentioned earlier, I believe all small businesses need an email list. The best tool for building an email list, and the best tool for the job is either AWeber or MailChimp.

Derek Halpern is the founder of Social Triggers, where he shows people how to build an email list and how to increase online sales. In addition to that, he manages all of the marketing for DIYthemes, the creator of the Thesis Theme for WordPress.

You can also check out our previous interviews from our Small Business Saturday series to find out some of their useful and valuable marketing tips!