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Yes, it’s that time of year; when marketing experts begin compiling their “best-of” lists for the events, tips, lessons, developments, and/or advice gathered from the past year. And for small businesses, the year brought some very big changes that have already affected the way in which companies must now position themselves in order to stay relevant, visible, and competitive. Although there were many new developments that could be mentioned in a year-end wrap up, here are five of the most critical marketing lessons from 2011:

1. Go mobile, or go away. That’s right, mobile is THE next big thing in marketing, and no matter how big or small your business is, you must pay attention to this new marketing frontier and get on board as soon as possible. As one expert put it, if you don’t have a mobile strategy for 2012, you don’t have a business strategy. Strong words, yes – but something to be considered.

2. Google+ IS Google. That’s a direct quote from the folks at Google, who have confirmed that with the launch of Google+ earlier this year, everything in Google is now tied together (Analytics, Gmail, YouTube, AdWords, Chrome, Android, Place Pages, etc.). So if you want to come up in Google’s search results, you’d better have a strategy that includes using Google’s business services effectively in your small business marketing.

3. Optimized landing pages matter. Landing pages are specific web pages created for users to “land” on after they click on an ad or a link, and are built to convert leads (e.g., make a sale, download something, join a mailing list, etc.). Landing pages are not the place for overloading visitors with details about your business or how great your products and services are. Instead, landing pages should have a single purpose – to get users to take the action you want them to take. An effective landing page strategy is one of the best ways to improve conversion rates and get better results from your marketing campaigns.

4. Google’s new “freshness” ranking signals are highly important, while inbound links are now less important. Simply put, if you don’t add fresh content to your website regularly, don’t expect to do well in Google’s search engine results. Google’s new freshness ranking signals focus on three key areas; 1) recent events and hot trending topics, 2) annual or recurring events, such as the Superbowl or Olympics, and 3) recent updates, meaning sites with “fresh” content will now be ranked higher than sites that have not been updated in a while.

5. Online and offline worlds are blending together.
With technologies like mobile devices, QR codes, and SMS messaging, your customers no longer need to be sitting in front of their computers to access information; they can be anywhere and still perform any number of tasks. For instance, users could snap a QR code for a coupon, redeem it instantly, and make a purchase – all from the same mobile device. This blending of our online and offline worlds gives users a seamless experience and makes it very easy and convenient to do business anytime, anywhere.

So while there were many new developments in 2011 that changed the marketing landscape for small businesses, the five listed above are among the most significant take-aways from the past 11 months. By learning these lessons, your business can be better prepared to stay relevant and not get left behind in today’s fast-paced, wired-up environment.

Lauren Hobson, President of Five Sparrows, LLC, has more than 16 years of experience in small business technology writing, marketing, and web site design and development. Five Sparrows provides professional website, marketing, and social networking services to small businesses and non-profits at affordable prices, giving clients access to customized services that meet both their needs and their budgets. More at

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