Episode 42: Why digital marketing makes small biz better


All Xero Gravity episodes

Hosted by Elizabeth Ü

Many small businesses believe digital marketing is for big companies with big bucks. Truth is, marketing and digital — inseparable.

On Xero Gravity #42, Michael Mothner, founder and CEO of Wpromote, joins Elizabeth for an enlightening conversation about how digital marketing leads to fruitful, long-term customers relationships.

He’ll bust myths and provide solutions that won’t burn a hole in your marketing budget. And answer questions including “We created a website, what now?” and “I get business from world of mouth, why do I need digital too?”

You’ll also hear how vital a correct Google Maps listing, analytics and clear calls to action are, plus two more questions: “What happened with all of the visitors I got to
my site, who didn’t buy? How can I change that?”

Plus, of course, Michael’s mantra, hyped by Ad Age: Making Mondays Suck Less.

Small Business Resources:

Episode transcript

Host:     Elizabeth Ü [EÜ]
Guest: Michael Mothner [MM]


EÜ: Hi everyone. I'm Elizabeth Ü and this is Xero Gravity.


Guest soundbite

“If you want to grow as a small business, if you want to acquire new customers, clients, patients, and you want to provide great service to them, and have long term fruitful relationships with them — then digital marketing should be part of your life.“


EÜ: Meet Michael Mothner.

Michael is the founder and CEO of Wpromote, an online marketing company that runs SEO and social media campaigns for small businesses and large companies, worldwide.

He's a regular speaker at top industry events, a member of Google's elite client forum, and a columnist at Inc Magazine. Michael is joining us today to educate us about why digital marketing is a pool party, rather than swimmers sticking in their lanes. In other words, don't waste your money hiring several different vendors to handle your digital marketing channels. He'll tell you why. Michael's biggest frustration is how many businesses say, "I don't need digital marketing, I'm a word of mouth business.”

But it turns out this belief could not be farther from the truth and Michael explains perfectly, how digital marketing actually increases word-of-mouth referrals.

My favorite story Michael shares is that it's not as valuable as you might expect, to figure out why people stayed on your site.


Guest soundbite
“I'm far more interested in what the other 95 percent did and why. Why they left? What they didn't see. What they expected that they didn't get. Did the page load too slow? “


EÜ: We have all of that and more, coming up on Xero Gravity, right after this.


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EÜ: Michael Mothner, thanks for joining us on Xero Gravity.

MM: It is a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

EÜ: So we already know a little bit about your professional background. Can you tell us a bit more about what you're doing when you're not being the CEO of Wpromote?

MM: [Laughing] Well, it's a pretty full-time job. But when I'm not doing that I love to travel. I'm a foodie of foodies. So, you know, I base that around all my, when I'm forced to go to cities I don't want to go to for work, I try to unearth the weird, triple D, hidden gem, hole-in-the- wall place. So love food, and love all things water — yeah. [Laughing] And I have three dogs at home, so they keep me pretty busy as well.

Oh, and a wife. [laughing]

EÜ: [Laughing] No, don't forget her. [laughing]

I've heard that you follow the philosophy of making Mondays suck less. So tell us more about what that means.

MM: Yeah. So it's kind of funny, you know, Wpromote is really the only job I've ever had. So by extension I've really never had a job. So way back in the beginning it was sort of, like, well, hey, if I'm going to come do this every day I don't want it to suck. I don't want my Mondays to be the worst moment of the week because I have the whole week ahead of me of work. And so I want to work with people that I really like and I want to do work that I find interesting. And that's kind of how it started.

And I think then over the last year I kind of quoted that, that Mondays, making Mondays suck less, was something that was sort of near and dear to my heart. It got printed, I think, in Ad Age, and then we kind of picked it up as our marketing mantra. And now we actually kind of use it internally and externally. And it kind of embodies our belief that, you know what, if we love what we do and we do a great job it's going to bleed over. Our clients are going to see the fruits of it. Their Mondays aren't going to suck and it's kind of this virtuous cycle. So, yeah, Mondays not sucking is definitely a mantra in life.

EÜ: I understand that you started your company, Wpromote, in your college dorm room. So take us back to that moment and tell us how it all started.

MM: [Laughing] That was a while ago. So, yeah, I was in college. I was building, this is, gosh, like, '99, 2000. I was building websites for, you know, local real estate agents and lawyers. This was back when it was your very first website. And so I would deliver, you know, these very basic websites and I would get asked, "What now? What do I do with it?" And now, of course, you know, in 2016, it's very obvious. You should market it and you should use it to acquire new customers and, you know, it can be this really rich thing. Back then it wasn't quite so obvious.

It was just this thing that you would do. So not having a good answer to what do I do next, led to the creation of Wpromote, which basically in its very first incarnation was submitting your website to search engines so that they knew that you existed. And that's kind of all it took way back in '99, 2000, 2001. So that was the very beginning, and it was the tagline back then, you know, helping businesses succeed online. So, you know, this was many many years before the things that we take for granted today: Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat and, you know, Google and sort of its global dominance. But really to a certain extent it, while the mediums have changed and the devices have changed, what we're doing now is we're helping companies small and large be more successful online, and helping them use digital as a medium to grow, and acquire customers, and be more successful.

EÜ: Was there a moment in time back in these college dorm room days when you knew or even shortly thereafter, you knew that you had to pursue the journey of Wpromote?

MM: Yeah, there was. There was sort of a ooking back. There was, I guess, a fork in the road that I didn't realize was a fork at the time. I actually thought that I had to go get a job, like a real job. So I went through corporate recruiting and I was going to become an investment banker. I was in a final round interview with Goldman Sachs in New York. This is, like, 2002, 2003.

And I had this little side hobby, which was Wpromote, and I'm in the final round interview, final hour of the, you know, the final day, and the guy across the table from me looks at my resume and says, "Well," pointing to Wpromote, which was just me at the time, "Well, if this is true, why would you want to work at Goldman Sachs?" And at the time I think I was just, my brain was so fried and I was pissed off and I'm, like, hey, I'm not bluffing. This guy can't call my bluff. And I had, I think, the single worst answer that you could ever have to that question, which is, "That's a good question."

EÜ: Oh, oh.

MM: And then we had quite, like, two and a half minutes — it felt like 30 minutes — but it was probably, like, one really awkward silence and grunting back and forth. And it just kind of ended. He's, like, "Okay, well, I guess, I guess that's it." And I'm, like, "I guess that's it." And he called me a car and I walked out, and that was kind of the, oh crap, like, you know, get the job and then don't take the job. Why go through all this and then walk out? But at that point it was sort of like, "Well, this job might always be here for me, but I think I'm going to give this Internet thing a shot." And that was the fork in the road moment way back in 2003.

EÜ: Wow. And we all know that owning your own business involves a lot of blood, sweat and tears. So now that you had given that a shot, what was one of the key challenges that you faced as a small business owner back in those early days? And how did you overcome it?

MM: You know, one of my challenges was I really didn't have any mentors. My parents were both teachers. My classmates all went down the traditional corporate working world path. So I was kind of a lone guy doing this. And so, you know, it was a lot of trial and error. It was a lot of going on intuition. And I'm a big believer: If you're not making a lot of mistakes, you're not trying enough things.

And the hope is that you get lots of little things wrong and those small course corrections allow you to make the larger strategic, potentially game changing or game ruining decisions correct. And I think I got 90 percent of things wrong. But the 10 percent that are correct are those really big important ones, then to me that's a pretty good average — if that makes sense.

So it was a lot of experimentation, and it's one of the reasons why I really enjoy mentoring or just helping or even being parts of these, podcasts. I think of the things that if I wish I had known way back in the day, or even two years ago; or five or seven or 10, what would have helped me get where I wanted to go faster? And the cool thing is that's kind of what we do for our clients. So it all kind of works out and we were kind of, to a certain extent, almost like our own case study in that regard. So it's a fun cycle.

EÜ: Well, it sounds like you would be a great mentor for many people listening today too. So let's dig a little deeper into this episode's theme, which is, of course, why digital marketing makes small business better. So first off, how would you define digital marketing?

MM: So I think that digital marketing — that's a good question.

EÜ: Ah, you said it. [laughing] Just kidding. Do you really want this job?

MM: [Laughing] So first of all, I think that one of the things that is important to the understanding of, kind of that answer and really the context of our conversation, is that there used to be this idea of there was online and there was not online; and digital and not digital, and pre-digital. To me, these devices that are in our pockets and all around us — it's always on. So it's less this idea that it's a separate way of thinking, "Oh, well, there's marketing and there's digital marketing."

This is the way we are interacting. It's the way we're communicating. And so as a business, a small business or a large, you just need to be part of that conversation, right? You want to be where people are searching for answers to their questions. You want to be in the conversation when they are, you know, researching companies they want to do business with, or relationships they want to enter, or, you know, you want to be there, wherever the there is.

And so to a certain extent it’s like the blood that connects everything. It’s everywhere you want to communicate with those who you want to work with — with your clients, with your employees, with your families, like, it's all there. And so we want to kind of become masters of that.

EÜ: And education about digital marketing is so important, and I'm hoping that you can explain why all small businesses should invest in digital marketing.

MM: When we work with a lot of small businesses — and I think that there's a lot — it's easy to get intimidated by digital marketing, right? You see these big brands, they're spending all this money, and it kind of feels like — it's overwhelming. I think overwhelming is very common and I definitely sympathize with that. The good news is, when you really break it down into sort of bite-sized pieces — and I think you want to have accurate information — you want to have a website that portrays you well.

You want to have, you know, your phone number correct in Google Maps. When you really break it down into these bite-sized things it is digestible, it is accessible. If you do it well it doesn't take a ton of budget necessarily. It doesn't necessarily mean you have to learn an entirely new set of skills, right? It's generally pretty bite sized and I just think that it can seem overwhelming when you enter it for the first time.

So if you want to grow as a small business, if you want to acquire new customers, clients, patients, and you want to provide great service to them, and have long term fruitful relationships with them— then digital marketing should be part of your life.

EÜ: So how do email marketing, SEO and social media all work together under this bigger digital marketing umbrella?

MM: So, you know, it's kind of interesting. The metaphor that I'll use is lanes in a swimming pool, right? And I think when we think about marketing we like to compartmentalize and say, "Okay. I got to do email. Okay. I'm going to have me an email, and I send emails to that list. And then I have SEO, and I need to make sure I'm found in Google. And I have my, you know, page search and I have social.” And we like to compartmentalize and, you know,to think about that as swimmers sticking in their lanes.Well the fact is, it's not swimmers sticking in their lanes. It's a pool party, right? They're jumping all over the place. And as a user I'm not a paid search user. I'm not an organic SEO user. I'm not a social user. I'm everywhere, right?

I'm jumping. I'm searching where I'm searching. And so those things to a certain extent, you need to have, you need to be everywhere, right? You need to make sure you have your bases covered because some people are going to look first for product services and answers on social media. Some people are going to look first on Google. Some people are going to look first on Amazon, or whatever they're looking for.

And so making sure that those bases are covered is definitely super important. Then the nice thing here is that the effort you put in each of those practices and each of those activities that you should be doing, they really do translate well from one to another. So as a small business owner, if you're creating emails that you're sending to your email list, you can generally repurpose those to become Facebook posts, for example.

And if you are doing paid advertising in Google, you can repurpose the banner ads if you're doing retargeting or remarketing to bring people back to your site. You can use those for these other mediums. So they really can talk.

EÜ: So for businesses that rely on word-of-mouth referrals only, how can digital marketing work for them?

MM: Yeah, this is such a good question. So it's so interesting. My best man at my wedding — a guy that I've known for 28 years; he's a dentist — the vast majority of his business is word of mouth. And so obviously since he's best friends with me and I run an online marketing company, I forced him to be a, you know, we helped improve his website and make sure that he had this ability in Google. And all the basic sort of nuts and bolts and things that we're talking about.

And he went into a really, and we hear this a lot, "Hey, my business is word of mouth. It's not people randomly searching on Google." What we found was — and this is a really important takeaway, and it applies — we found it to be applicable universally. When he had a web presence that reflected his business well, when he was able to be found when people searched for him on Google, and all these sort of basic building blocks of digital marketing, his word of mouth referrals went up. If we break down what that means, it's super important.

For example, moving to a new city, the first day they look at the person at the desk next to them and they say, "Hey, who's your dentist?" They get the recommendation and then something broke down. They searched on Google. They didn't find it. They thought the office didn't look good on the website.

Something broke down, and that person didn't become a patient, right? So just by improving the overall visibility and digital reflection of yourself in this example of the dentist, his word-of-mouth referrals increased. And so to me that's a really important one that even in these heavy word-of-mouth businesses, that digital marketing, if anything, is more important, right? Because you've worked so hard to get these referrals and then you don't know that you're not actually getting them, right? And so that's really painful to digest as a small business owner. That is in a really word of mouth heavy environment.

EÜ: Well, I wonder how many times people say that just because they don't want to spend money on digital marketing. And obviously some businesses have deeper pockets than others. But what sort of cost is involved for small businesses looking to integrate digital marketing in the way that you're describing?

MM: If somebody says, "I have no money to spend. I have a little bit of time and no money." Go to Google and search for your business, right? And see what comes up.

And go down the Google search page and you're going to find, you know, Yelp, and you're going to find Google Maps, and you're going to find your own website, and you're going to find TripAdvisor. You're going to find several dozen depending on your industry, several dozen possible results. And put yourselves in a customer's shoes and think about the best possible experience and articulation of your business, that each of those listings or websites have, right?

So you go to Yelp and you're like, "Oh, I'm on Yelp. I don't have a lot of reviews." Okay, let's create, let's systematize and create a strategy around getting more reviews from our happy customers. "Oh, look!" I go to, you know, Google Maps and there's no picture of the outside of my business. I can claim my listing and I can upload pictures and it's free.

And so, again, it's step one, what do other people see when they've tried to find you? My guess is if you haven't done this you have a couple of big a-ha moments, and you can generally solve those a-has with not a lot of money and not a lot of time. You have to put yourself in the user's shoes — and here's the crazy thing — 95 percent of small businesses really haven't done that, and it's not that hard to do.

EÜ: What do you think are some of the common misperceptions that people have about digital marketing, that you would love to debunk?

MM: I think a huge misconception is that it's super expensive. And yes, there are competitive industries, you know if you're a DUI lawyer in a big city, I mean, these are very competitive cue words. So yes. But for the vast majority, you can do a lot with a little if you know where to focus your energy. So I'd say that's a major misconception.

I think the second misconception is that there's been a shift away from people searching on Google and other search engines for answers to their problems or products or services, and moved to social media: Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, whatever. What we're seeing is that there’s been a shift on devices for people — fewer searches on desktop and greater searches on mobile, which makes intuitive sense to the way that we all use our devices more.

But the actual number of people that are searching for answers has not dropped. So again this idea that there's been a shift across devices — fundamentally people are still searching for answers to their questions. Google's in no way the new kid on the block. It's something that really should not be ignored from a small business perspective. So those are two of the misconceptions I hear the most frequently that I'd love to debunk on a broad scale.

EÜ: Well we know that Amazon is increasingly becoming a popular search engine, particularly for people who are trying to buy things. And I also wonder, when it comes to folks that are selling things on Etsy or these other online marketplaces, is there anything that people can do to have their products or their stores come up higher in search results for those platforms?

MM: Yeah, for sure. So it's interesting. And, yeah, I mean, when I think about by usage, if I'm looking for something where it's a commodity, there's a certain category. Something breaks, I need a fix to it, I'm bypassing Google a lot of times and opening up the Amazon app, and I'm searching. And the interesting thing is Amazon has become this fabulous platform to sell. And most of the stuff that you're buying on Amazon is not actually coming from Amazon. It's actually coming from smaller sellers.

So if you have any commerce store; if you have a product, a brand; if you're an Etsy seller, these are amazing platforms to help reach a wider audience can actually transact. The challenging thing can be that, in a perfect world, you have a relationship with the customer. And if you sell your product on Amazon, Amazon is really the one that has the relationship with the customer. And so we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how you navigate both of those things for our small to mid-sized e-commerce clients or small brands that are looking to do that.

You want to leverage the power of the platform without giving everything away. And that's a challenging balance. But in terms of a way to reach a captive audience that is ready to transact, as a comfort level with buying, they are really fabulous. I think that a lot of people don't realize you can sign up and you can become somebody that sells your product, service, brand, etcetera, on the likes of Amazon, and access this huge captive audience.

EÜ: And how do you reach that audience? I mean, there's so many people on that platform; how do you stand out?

MM: Well, the keys are the way that you label the title and tags and descriptions of your products within, let's just use the example, the Amazon platform. Reviews are massive. We could have a whole podcast on how to — I won't say manipulate — optimize the fact that you really cultivate great reviews. You have superb customer service. They weigh very heavily towards reviews.

EÜ: Data is such a huge part of digital marketing. I'm wondering if you have any suggestions for which things business owners should be looking out for, when learning more about their customer's behavior.

MM: So we are huge fans when it comes to data of Google Analytics. If you don't have it on your site there's virtually no reason that you shouldn't. It's free. It's super powerful. It's super insightful. I mean, I'm kind of a data nerd so I love it. But you can really — in terms of trying to figure out — you can find a lot more about your customers and what they actually like, and want to read, and content and products and so forth, than you probably think you know about them. And so Google Analytics is fantastic.

There's also tools like CrazyEgg and others, that allow you to — and user testing in a lot of them — to actually see the way that individual users click on your site and scroll around and move. To me that’s a gold mine of data to help figure out where you should be spending time. What types of content you should create, what types of products you should work on, what types of user experiences. It's a low-hanging fruit that everyone should be doing, whether you're a tiny business with, you know, 100 visitors a month, on up.

I think that analytics is a very good place to extract. I mean, even things as granular as which devices are they on? Are they on android versus iPhone? There's lots of insightful things about that you can kind of glean about demographics, and location, and where people are, and how long they're there, and what website they come from, and what websites they go to afterwards. The challenge can actually be that there's so much data, you have to know what to ask the data. It's definitely a treasure trove for a lot of small businesses.

EÜ: So when you're mining that treasure trove, what's the weirdest customer insight that you've come across?

MM: Weirdest customer insight. So you know what I find is fascinating: when we look at the actual behavior of people clicking on things on your site, is a lot of people click on a lot of things that don't click, if that makes sense. So they're not buttons and they don't do anything. So one of the interesting insights is that they are expecting or hoping something to happen that's not happening. And so to a certain extent it's, like, "Okay, let's make something happen."

When I say make something happen, it just might mean go to that page. But, for example, people click on images, static images that are just supporting images on the site far more than you'd think. And so when somebody clicks on an image, there's some expectation on their side that something's going to happen. And when nothing happens, to me, that's a lost opportunity. For example, if you're a dentist, just to use an example with the images, I don't even know what should happen when you click on an image.

But if there's an office, there's the user that clicks on the image; most likely that image is not a link. Nothing would happen. Let's take them to the set an appointment page, you know, let's give them another piece of information. And what we've found is people just love to click. So it’s, like, hey, they're taking an action, let's respond to that. Let's give them something they want.

EÜ: I love that tone of curiosity. It sounds like if you're really interested, there's all kinds of things you can find out.

MM: Oh totally. I'm more intrigued by the five percent conversion rate of people that buy a product or fill out a form or whatever the action is. I'm far more interested in what the other 95 percent did and why. Why they left. What they didn't see. What they expected that they didn't get. Did the page load too slow? Were they unimpressed with the content?

I'd love to dive into their heads far more than I'd love to ask the five percent of people that did what I wanted, why they did. I'd already worked for that. I want to find out the other 95, which is where I failed. And so that's where I, you know, ideally where I want to spend my time. Most people do the opposite, right? Most people say, "Oh, well, I'll ask my customers why they love me."

EÜ: They already love you. [laughing]

MM: They already love you — right. So, yeah, you don't want to make them unlove you. Your business is going to grow, and yes, you want to keep them happy and not change what worked. But those other 95, they had enough interest to find you in the first place, and you spent a lot of time, money, effort, content, page search, whatever, to get them there, and they left, right? Why? Why did they leave? What did they want that you failed to give them? And you can't save them all. But your entire business can double by getting five percent more to convert. And you didn't have to drag one more person to your website, and your entire business doubled.

EÜ: So based on everything that you've learned so far, what are the top three things for small owners to keep in mind when it comes to digital marketing?

MM: Top three things. The first, which we haven't hit at all, but I think it's super important, is to make sure of your brand voice. That doesn't mean you have to be a clothing brand. Your brand can be the dentist, you can be the lawyer. The key is that you have a brand voice, right? That you're website or your Facebook page or whatever it is; it speaks in a way that is your tone. It speaks to your unique voice. I think that's super important. If it feels generic, we’ve got really good BS detectors, right?

The second things is probably putting on that user hat and going and doing a search, and seeing where you come up, and really making sure that you're aware. You don't have tunnel vision of the way that people are going to find you, and the information that’s conveyed about you.

And the third thing that I would say is probably that you give people a clear call to action. If you've made your way to my site or to my Facebook page or to my Twitter page, whatever that interaction is, that I'm also very clear with you what the outcomes should be. I want you to purchase this product. I want you to become a patient of mine in my office.

So, yeah, I think that the Wpromote blog is a great jumping off point. We try to post a lot of both our own content and point to a lot of great resources for small businesses, around social and search and websites and all sorts of stuff. So you can find us at Wpromote.com/blog. Or you can just Google Wpromote blog and it comes right up.

EÜ: So we're going to finish up with our quick five questions for which we need five quick answers. Are you ready?

MM: I am ready.

EÜ: Excellent. What business book or idea made the biggest impact on your life?

MM: I think the idea that failing is really, really key to succeeding.

EÜ: What's the one thing you can't live without?

MM: Oh gosh, you know, this is so bad. But I couldn't imagine getting by without my email. [laughing] I'm super addicted to it.

EÜ: What's the most useful app on your phone right now?

MM: Right now the most useful app is the new Inbox by Gmail app.

EÜ: So in one sentence what's the greatest lesson you've learnt through your small business journey?

MM: I think there's a lot of people that get stuck in the spreadsheets and the analysis and the forecasting. At the end of the day I think if you don't just get out there and grind and get it done, and knock on doors and kind of just go for it, then you know, you're sort of, you're not being an entrepreneur.

EÜ: And finally, what skill do you want to enhance in 2016?

MM: So I've been working on my punctuality. I haven't gotten that one quite down yet.

EÜ: Well, that was such a great conversation, Michael. Thanks so much for joining us on the show.

MM: I appreciate it. It’s been a pleasure as your guest.


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EÜ: That was Michael Mothner, founder and CEO of Wpromote. Thank you for listening to Xero Gravity. Make sure you join us next Wednesday because we'll be talking to Anthony Bucci, co-founder and CEO of RevZilla. Anthony will be sharing his stories and insights about hiring his very first employee. So don't miss that one and we'll catch you then.


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