joost de valk

To get ready for Small Business Saturday, we interviewed business owners and experts to get insight into how they approach online market, what advantages there are to being “small,” and what they predict for 2017. Joost de Valk is the founder and CEO of Yoast, and an innovator and renown speaker on the topics of SEO, WordPress optimization, and blogging, as well as search, viral, and social media marketing. He took a few minutes to answer our questions to help small businesses effectively market themselves this holiday season, starting with Small Business Saturday.

Q. What are some of the benefits of being “small” that a business owner can leverage to beat out the “big” guys?

A. By far the most important benefit is agility. It’s very easy to make a small company change direction. In larger companies, that becomes much, much harder. Because of that it’s also much easier to adapt to new circumstances in your market.

Q. Is there a common place where you see many small business owners go wrong when they start to market online?

A. Yes, most of them go in without a plan. You should start with a few simple questions:

– What am I selling?

– Where can I best reach people who want to buy what I’m selling?

– What words should I use to describe what I’m selling so they understand?

The latter one means use your customer’s language, not your own. Or better yet, make that your own. If your product is a new class of product and nobody knows it exists yet, search marketing won’t help you: nobody will be searching for it. If you’re doing something that people know about in a new way, search marketing is awesome for you, as they’ll already know what to search for and you can target those keywords. You can do that with either paid ads or with an organic search (SEO) campaign.

I’d suggest small business owners start with SEO, as it’s way more sustainable. AdWords can become pretty expensive pretty quick, and if you’re hooked on the traffic it sends you, a small price increase could make your life very hard.

Q. We all know those emails or websites that “look” like spam, but what are some strategies you’ve see business owners do to demonstrate their credibility?

A. It all depends on what you’re selling, of course. But for small, single person businesses, it might make sense to put your resume on your website and show people what you’ve done. Get LinkedIn recommendations from people you work with, and them ask them for permission to show those on your site, along with a link back to their site. Simple things like that will help a lot.

Q. With so many places for business owners to turn for online advice, how do you recommend they cut through the noise in order to make an impact?

A. The most important thing is to read a bit, then choose a few people you believe in and follow their advice. If it works, keep doing it, if it doesn’t, change. Don’t try and learn a second trade, by reading everything, as that makes no businesses sense. And of course, everyone should just start with reading the content on yoast.com. 🙂

Q. When working with new business owners, what are some tools or steps you use to come up with a digital strategy unique to their business?

A. Start with “what’s your mission?” What are you doing in this world? Why would anyone buy from you? If you can’t define those things, take the time to make sure you can. Oh, and just being cheaper than X is not a viable business strategy 9 times out of 10, as someone can always undercut you.

People want an authentic story that both reflects well on the business and on them for doing business with that business.

Q. Can people expect to get results from purely organic campaigns these days or is it pretty much required that they have an ad budget for a campaign?

A. Most businesses we work with don’t advertise at all. I don’t think it’s required, especially if you’re playing the long game. If you have short-term needs, be willing to spend money.

Q. What tool/strategy do you think will make the biggest impact in 2017?

A. The strategy that results in having a mission worth standing for, that helps you talk about your business and makes people like you.

Q. Who are some of the influencers who have made a large impact on how you think about online marketing?

A.  The most important book I’ve read on marketing or on the internet is still the Cluetrain Manifesto.

If you want more information on how your business can prepare for Small Business Saturday, visit our guide.