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Blog & News

Social Media, Snow, & SEO: The Recipe for Small Business Holiday Marketing

By Katie Gilbaugh | Content Coordinator

Visions of shopping and holiday deals are dancing into the heads of consumers everywhere as they brave the cold to flood into malls and shops in search of those perfect holiday gifts. Despite the frigid temperatures, this time of year can turn the heat up on small business owners as they compete with national retailers for the attention of holiday gift buyers. To uncover what goes into promoting shopping small during this time of year, I chatted with Ellen Martinson, owner of Leona Ruby, a jewelry shop located in Des Moines’s East Village neighborhood, to discuss her strategy for attracting customers in this season of snow, cold, and active consumerism.

More Customers, More Marketing

Martinson told us that Leona Ruby tends to see more customers around the holiday season, and the store kicks up its marketing game as well, both on and offline.

“We increase our social media promotions during the holidays, and we also run some announcements on Iowa Public Radio,” said Martinson.

My digital marketing heart swelled when Martinson told me that they are additionally using paid search for keywords and topics surrounding gift ideas and jewelry in the Des Moines area. Even for a small business, this is a great tool for connecting with both local and visiting customers.

Every year at the start of the holiday season, the East Village hosts their annual Holiday Promenade. This event encourages shoppers to explore the local businesses while enjoying free snacks in each store, horse-drawn carriage rides, and festive holiday lights. This year’s Promenade is taking place on November 17th.

“Promenade is a great kickoff to the holiday season for the East Village,” said Martinson, “It’s like a big open house and we are always seeing new customers.”

For East Village small business owners, this event is a great way to get the word out on your brand. But in order to maximize customer awareness this holiday season, we recommend taking a hint from Leona Ruby and trying out these tips:

Implement Quality SEO into your Website

SEO is a long-term strategy, sure, but it’s never too late to get started on optimizing for local search queries. Think about your target audience—what are they searching for on Google or other search engines to find your business, products, or services? If you are a local book store that isn’t coming up in search results for local queries such as “Des Moines bookstores” or even related queries such as “book stores near me,” you may be losing out on handfuls of potential customers.

Put yourself in the snow boots of your average holiday consumer and brainstorm a list of keywords they might search. After that, implement them into the back end of your website. Then watch your reindeer foot traffic lead to both your online platforms and your physical shop location.

Is your keyword brainstorm being hindered by a frozen brain-blizzard? Utilize online tools such as Google Search Console, or any host of other tools, to start your keyword research for SEO. Even just asking your customers how they would search for you can help give you some clarity on where to start. Ready to get serious but not sure where to start? Technical SEO audits are a great way to go.

Optimize Your Google My Business Listing

When it comes to finding local businesses, if your customers can’t find you when they’re out and about how are they supposed to come visit?

Leona Ruby has a well optimized Google My Business listing, with a specific description, hours, phone number, and store photos.

Full disclosure, working with Google My Business can be tricky, but once you get your listing claimed, set up, and optimized, it will pay off big time. Wondering how to get started? Here are five quick tips.

Claim your listing. You can do this by searching for your business on Google. If you have a listing created, great! You’ll know if it’s claimed or not if there’s a link that says “Own this business?” on your listing.

When you see an “Own this business?” link on your listing, you know there’s an opportunity to get it claimed, verified, and gain ownership.

Get verified. Once you get the page claimed and have access you can officially verify your location either with a phone call or a postcard.

Update your information. Make sure you have the correct category for your business, your hours are up to date, and that your phone number and address are showing up on Google so people can use your listing to easily call you or get directions.

Add photos or even a 360 degree tour. Draw people in if they’ve never visited you; show off your space! Some of these can be uploaded by users, but as a business owner you should add some high quality photos as well.

Encourage reviews, not just on Google. As you can see from the examples, Google is smart enough to tie these listings to other review websites like Facebook, Foursquare, or Yelp to give customers a look at what people are saying about your business online.

Social Media Promotions

Your social media presence is essential to maintain if you want your business to see success. There are so many ways to boost your brand on Facebook, Instagram, and beyond! Here are a few ideas that have worked for some of our digital marketing clients in the past:

Catch Customers’ Interest

Not the same as catching snowflakes on your tongue, but almost as fun for your consumers! Interest catching is just as it sounds—catching the interest of your social media audience by posting engaging and interesting content. If you’re a greeting card shop, post the covers of some of your wittiest products and encourage user interaction by posing a question for your followers to answer in the comments. Do you sell beauty and skincare products? Consider posting articles on the latest products and ingredients used in natural lotions and soaps. If you have followers, it’s probably because they wanted to do just that. So post content that is in line with your brand! Your audience will follow along, expanding the horizons of your company’s influence with every comment, like, and share.

Conduct Contests or Giveaways

If you need to increase your follower base, setting up an online giveaway is a sure way to collect more clicks and, hopefully, collect more sales! It’s hard to resist a chance for free stuff. Create a post on Instagram asking users to like and tag a friend in the comments to be entered to win a freebie of some sort. As your followers draw their friends to glance at your post, many of those friends could see your product for the first time and quickly become customers. This is an easy and relatively quick way to gain more followers, and the idea is that you can make up for the cost of giving something away with the influx of new customers you will receive.


Try Paid or Sponsored Posts

Have you tried giving things away, but your follower base is still too small to gain any new attention? You might consider taking out a paid or sponsored post. Just like everything these days, organic reach is dismally low. If you’re not in front of your customers, whether that’s on the streets or online, they won’t see you. Sometimes that means paying a little extra. These posts are just like anything else you might post, but you pay to increase the reach of who sees your content and for how long.

Reputation Management

A bad reputation is a slippery sidewalk to losing business. If your revenue and customer base is down, it may be due to having poor online reviews. Nothing sells quite like word-of-mouth suggestions from other consumers. If a potential customer is choosing between you and a better rated store, you’re catching a case of the cold shoulder.

Keep an eye on what people are saying about you on Yelp, Google My Business, and other review sites. Hopefully you only get good reviews, but if not, respond professionally to poor reviews, so other customers can see that you make an effort to repair bad impressions, and be sure to thank those who have left positive comments about their experience with you! Doing this type of reputation management builds stronger customer loyalty ties between you and your audience.


Whatever the status of your sales during this crazy time of year, we hope that employing some or all of these strategies have you seeing customers trudge through your door, covered in snow or not. Whether you’re a small business owner or a shopper, get out and shop the East Village Holiday Promenade on Friday November 17 and Small Business Saturday on November 25th.

Thank you to Ellen Martinson of Des Moines’s Leona Ruby for sharing some of your tips; share your favorite small business marketing ideas in the comments below!

Katie Gilbaugh

Coming from The University of Iowa, Katie joined the Webspec Digital Marketing team in 2017. Along with her mad skills in content strategy, she has a knack for playing on words and getting to know clients well enough to create engaging and truly unique content. Katie became the “Pam” of the office when she referred her “Jim” (Sam Gilbaugh) to work with us in Business Development. Outside of Webspec Katie operates her own business as a Birth Doula, snuggles as much as possible with her one-year-old daughter, drinks excessive amounts of coffee, and enjoys time outdoors with Sam.