Being seen online: Chamber continues to offer classes that help businesses grow

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Brian Stoll

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

On Tuesday, Oct. 30, the McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce will partner with Brian Stoll, of Illuminate Digital LLC, to offer the latest in a series of classes to help local businesses grow by maximizing their online presence.

The class, which will focus on search engine optimization, will be held in the Sevens Room at Casino Queen Marquette from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thanks to funds raised from last fall’s Tailgate Fundraiser, put on by the Prairie du Chien Chamber of Commerce to aid the McGregor-Marquette Chamber in the wake of the July 19, 2017 tornado, the class is free to all chamber members. There will be a small fee for those who are not members.

Stoll, who started Illuminate Digital while earning a marketing degree from Kirkwood Community College, with a specialty in social media and digital marketing, began offering classes with the chamber a year ago after speaking with By the Spoonful owner Katie Ruff. As the chamber’s current president, Ruff expressed a desire to help businesses in the community grow by utilizing social media for marketing and advertising.

Ruff introduced Stoll to the chamber’s executive director, Kristie Austin, and the two worked together to develop a plan.

“We discussed ideas for seminars and I formed a lesson plan,” Stoll said. “We wanted to build it according to what the area businesses need, what they’re asking for.”

Austin said she jumped at the idea to offer classes, as a way to add value to businesses’ chamber membership.

“The chamber is more than an event planner. It’s about how we can help businesses be most successful all year long,” she explained. “The big key is that digital and online presence.”

The chamber’s membership includes a broad range of ages and technological skill levels. People have embraced digital and online marketing at varying degrees, Austin noted.

“We need to help everyone up their game,” she said, adding that it’s not just about attracting millennials, but also people 40 and older who increasingly look online for information.

The first seminar focused on social media marketing, helping attendees determine which social media platforms work best for their business. People also learned more about posting content and sharing photos and videos.

The second seminar focused solely on Facebook marketing, detailing the tools and analytics of Facebook, running contests and ad campaigns and creating videos, gifs and text content to best capture followers.

The last class was a digital marketing workshop where attendees actively created posts, learned about Facebook live and Facebook ads, set up Google My Business and formed search engine marketing campaigns on Google.

Stoll said highlighting search engine optimization (SEO) was the next logical step.

“In a broad sense, SEO means optimizing your business or organization to be found on the search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing,” Stoll shared. “It includes over 200 indicators that [search engines] use to determine where your listings, website and social media sites show up on their search pages.”

According to Stoll, SEO is one of the best ways for businesses to be found by potential customers, yet it’s also one of the most confusing and misunderstood parts of the internet. And people rarely put money toward it.

“We want to give businesses the tools to improve their SEO or inspect what website providers have done for them. You can see if the information showed up in places,” he said. “You can have a pretty website, but if it’s not optimized—it’s not seen—that doesn’t matter.”

SEO can help a variety of businesses—from retailers and restaurants to people who offer services like auto repair or plumbing—become more visible online, thus attracting more customers.

“People do their homework online first,” Stoll said. “Between 86 to 96 percent of all buying and hiring decisions are dependent on what leads customers find online.”

Stoll said half of all search clicks happen in the first three positions on the page, and 90 percent of people never make it to the second page. So businesses that don’t sit in those top positions on the first page are missing out.

SEO might be even more important for service businesses like lawn care professionals or electricians, who don’t often have highly visible physical locations.

“Sometimes the only way people may find a business is by what they see online, and if said business is not seen, they won’t get the call,” he said. 

Austin agreed, mentioning that an optimized online presence also helps tourists find places to eat, shop and stay.

“Whoever pops up first, they’re going to go there first,” she said.

Many chamber members have reported having a good year, which Austin said could be partially attributable to the classes.

“Many factors go into it,” she admitted, “but they’re using the tools they have gained, and they say people have found them quicker. The classes are effective because you can go home with stuff you can use right away.”

Austin said learning these skills can make businesses more viable throughout the year, not just the busier tourist season.

“This can help businesses for the long term,” Stoll added. “You’ll get more customers more often, and they’ll spend more money.”

Austin said classes are geared toward what business owners want. People can contact her if they have topic suggestions or would like to meet at different times of the day.

Find more information about the upcoming SEO seminar and future classes on the “McGregor-Marquette, Iowa” Facebook page.

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