Ottawa is an incredible place to do business. While the city’s economy is centred on tech and the federal government, all kinds of industries thrive in our nation’s capital. From the incredible restaurants that source their ingredients from Ottawa’s rural communities to its many boutique stores and farmers’ markets, Ottawa’s fast-growing economy makes for a great place to do business.
There are so many vibrant communities in and around Ottawa, from the always trendy ByWard Market to the almost rustic, village-like feel of Manotick. Then there’s nearby Gatineau – the number of commuters from that city who make their way to Ottawa every day is almost uncountable.
Ottawa is our nation’s capital, and it’s one of the most bilingual cities in the country, with over 37% of Ottawans speaking both English and French. Its citizens are among the most educated in Canada, given its stellar universities and political importance. It’s one of Canada’s most culturally important cities, one of its wealthiest, and among its most ethnically diverse.
You have a business in Ottawa. You probably know much, if not, all of this. So why am I reminding you of it?
I want you to remember that Ottawa is unique; your online marketing strategy should be too. You need to tailor your tactics to the place you do business.
This guide will give you all the tools you need to tailor your online marketing to Ottawa. Though I doubt anyone is confused about what that means exactly, we’re talking about Ottawa, Ontario, Canada – not any other cities named Ottawa. One of the key lessons of online marketing: always keep things as clear as possible.
We’re going to give you 50 tips on how to improve your online marketing. Many of these tips can be used to improve your online marketing in general, so they’re helpful for businesses located in Ottawa who might get a lot of their business from out of town, as well. There is, however, a great deal of advice tailored specifically to Ottawa, from examples of what hashtags you might use to thoughts on how Ottawa’s largely bilingual population might shape your marketing.
Before we get into the tips themselves, it’s important that you understand what search engine optimization (SEO) is. The simplest way of explaining it is that it helps customers find you on Google and other search engines.
Basically, you find out what keywords and phrases people who want products or services similar to yours are using. Then, you optimize your website so that you end up on the first page of Google, so people will find and click on your site. More clicks = more potential sales.
The SEO lingo for a particular spot on a search engine results page (SERP) is called a “rank”. The first spot on the first page is the first rank (and that’s where we get our name).
1.Keyword Research. The first thing you’re going to want to do is figure out which relevant keywords your potential clients are searching for, and when they’re searching for them. Let’s say you’re a restaurant in Ottawa. Going for the keyword “restaurant” is not a good idea – there’s too much competition. Instead, you might opt for a longer key phrase like “ByWard Market Restaurant” or “Sugar shack Ottawa”. Consider Ottawa’s demographics, and aim for keywords in both English and French. Need help? Check out these keyword research tools.
2. Use descriptive URLs. In our restaurant example, instead of ourrestaurant.com/location, consider ourrestaurant.com/bywardmarket. This can help you rank well for the term ByWard Market Restaurant. This is especially useful if you have multiple locations.
3. Page Titles and Meta Descriptions. These give search engines an idea of what to display for your page title and the description found beneath the page title. You want your title and description to contain keywords that you want to rank for, but you don’t want to use too many keywords (that’s known as keyword stuffing). Page titles and descriptions are found in the <head> section of your HTML code – if you don’t know what that means and you’re designing on WordPress or another site, don’t worry. Get an SEO plugin like Yoast – it has a page title and meta description section you can fill in.
4. Set up your Google My Business (GMB)/Bing Places. Businesses throughout Ottawa are listed with Google and Bing. Many of these businesses, however, don’t have control over their own business profiles! You can set up your Google My Business and Bing Places at the links provided. Control over your business profile can help you rank in what’s known as a Local Pack. You’ve almost definitely seen these – they come up at the top of the SERP when you look for things like “Restaurant near me”, and they show a map, three relevant businesses, their contact information, images, and more. The fact that they’re at the top of the SERP makes them hugely relevant for SEO.
5. Make sure you have consistent NAP citations. NAP means name, address, and phone number. When this crucial information differs from website to website, search engines may penalize you – they don’t want their clients getting incorrect contact information. To learn about how to find incorrect NAP citations, how to create more NAP citations, and more, check out our free guide to NAP citations in Canada.
6. Gain authority with backlinks. Backlinks are just what they sound like – links back to your site. You want to find websites that are relevant to yours that do well on search engines. That might mean getting links to your website on popular Ottawa blogs, or on high-ranking websites in your industry. We’ll delve more into how to get people to link to your blog throughout these tips.
7. Start (and keep) blogging. It’s hard to overstate how much value blogs provide to an SEO strategy. They can be full of relevant keywords and related words and phrases, which lets search engines know the sites are relevant. They can keep readers on the site for a long time, which lets the engines know that the site is high-quality. They can be linked to by other websites, which builds authority. In Ottawa, it’s a good idea to blog in English and French to keep yourself relevant to searches in both languages.
8. Update your content. When your site remains inactive for prolonged periods of time, search engines might take it as a sign that your business is inactive – not a good thing! Optimally, you should be updating something (like your blog) every week – at the very least, strive to make monthly or seasonal changes. Try switching up your images for spring, summer, fall, and winter.
9. Be mobile-friendly. You might be astonished at how many searches take place on mobile devices – it’s over 40% in Canada, and if trends in the United States are any indication, that number is going to go up. You don’t want to lose out on almost half the market by not having a mobile-friendly site – use this mobile-friendly test by Google to make sure your site is up to par.
10. Keep things snappy. How quickly your website loads is incredibly relevant to how well it ranks on search engines. There are a number of reasons for this, from user experience to clients “bouncing” (a term for when they go on your site and leave very shortly after). You can test your site’s speed with Google’s PageSpeed Insights – they’ll also give you tips on how to improve your speed.
11. Optimize your images. You want to include images on almost every page. You also want to make sure you have alt-text and/or captions for your images. You need images that are properly named, properly sized, responsive, and more. Yoast has an excellent article offering a complete look at image SEO.
12. Use structured data. This point takes a bit of technical know-how (or an SEO plugin). Basically, you can use snippets of code to explain to search engines what categories your content falls into. For example, you can tell search engines that a blog post is a recipe, or that a review is a review. This makes it more likely you’ll be featured in rich results. You can test if your structured data is set up so you’ll get rich results on Google’s Rich Results Test.
13. Mind your site structure. When you have pages that are filled with dead links and bad redirects, it makes it difficult for users and search engines to navigate, and that can lead to some steep rank penalties. A page without any links to it is called an orphan page, and you want to avoid these for any page you want to be public-facing.
14. Build personas. You’ve probably heard of this technique before – basically, you’re trying to figure out who your primary audience is so you can cater content to them. In Ottawa, there are a lot of students and young, educated professionals, so you might focus your efforts there. Not sure where to start? This guide to buyer personas can help.
15. Focus on the headline. Headlines are incredibly relevant to SEO, and having a good headline (and page title) for your content can attract clicks. Make sure key words or phrases are contained within the headline or, at the very least, words that are semantically relevant. Only opt for a “cute” headline that isn’t optimized for keywords if you think it’s really good.
16. Always use images. Whether you’re making a blog post, a social media post, or a content page for your site, you should include optimized images. Visuals make a page more appealing (when it’s well laid out) and you can use them for a boost to your SEO.
17. Write like a human. Find topics that are relevant to the keywords you did research for, but make sure the topics are things that you’re passionate about. Be personal! Get excited! Vary the length of your sentences, use language that you love, and be real. Don’t just copy-paste other work and edit it – that’s lazy, sloppy, and easily detected by search engines, and can net you steep penalties.
18. Keep up with the times. As seasons change, local, national, and global circumstances change; as your industry changes, so too must your content. You can imagine how much COVID-19-related content came out in early 2020 – not addressing important issues can make you look out of touch. What’s more, you always want to be posting content relevant to what people are currently searching for. Optometrists should write articles about snow blindness in the winter. Dermatologists should write about sunscreen in the summer. You get the idea.
19. Look at what others are creating. Look up keywords and phrases that you want to rank for. What kinds of content are ranking well for those searches? Videos? Listicles? How-tos? Don’t copy the content, but consider copying the style of content, and putting your own, fresh twist on it.
20. Engage with your audience on multiple platforms. Most people are on Facebook, but not everyone is. Same goes for Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other number of social media platforms. When you expand which platforms you post on, you expand your reach – often at very little cost.
21. Use analytics. When you set up a business account on Facebook or Instagram, you can access Facebook Analytics and Instagram Insights. These tools give you a wealth of data you can use to plot the best times to post, what kinds of content are doing well, who is engaging with your posts, and how they’re engaging. There are analytical tools for other social media sites, too. Even excluding these, you can plot your own analytics using a spreadsheet. Collecting data is invaluable for online marketing.
22. Consider crossposting. Crossposting is when you post on multiple social media platforms simultaneously. Tools like IFTTT can help you with this. You don’t always want to do this – your Facebook post about the trendiest bars near Parliament might not go over as well on LinkedIn. Crossposting is useful when there is a piece of content you think will do well across multiple social media platforms.
23. Caption your videos. How-to videos are exceedingly popular, and YouTube is one of the biggest social media platforms there is. When your videos are captioned, you’re boosting your content in two ways: First, the content is easier for people to interact with and digest. Second, the captions make it easier for search engines to understand your video’s content. In Ottawa, it’s a good idea to have both English and French subtitles for all of your videos.
24. Make infographics. Social media is all about shareability. Infographics are great for this – they convey a lot of useful information in an easily digestible, hyper-visual format. They’re also textual, so they’re easy to optimize for search engines.
25. Use social media buttons. You can do a lot of work to get new followers on your own pages (and we’ll give you some tips on how to do that), but it can be harder to get people to share content from your website. Social media buttons help with this – when you create shareable content on your blog, people will easily be able to share it on their preferred platforms.
26. Engage in social listening. Saying the Internet is vast might be the understatement of the century – but there’s an incredible ecosystem in which conversations about your industry and business might be happening. Social listening is the act of monitoring conversations about your business and industry as they happen across social media. Maybe someone from Edmonton came to Ottawa, loved your business, and told their friends about it. Social listening is how you find and capitalize on that good press – or find and do damage control for any bad press.
27. Run contests. To be successful on social media, you need to get new followers. That can be hard to do with nothing more than posts, even if you are creating engaging content. Contests can help a lot – just make it so the parameters include liking the post, following your business, and tagging a friend in a comment. That way, you’re attracting new people to the contest and incentivizing them to follow you. Your high-quality content will do the rest. Be creative with prizing, but make sure to tie it to what your business can do that no one else does.
28. Use hashtags. Hashtags are a bit like keywords, in that you want to find hashtags that are relevant to your business, but not so vague that you get lost in the noise. You might opt for a hashtag like #ottawa, but you may benefit by narrowing it down to something #vanier or #ottawarestaurants. You can use multiple hashtags on each post (somewhere around 10 is usually a good number, depending on your industry)
29. Engage with your fans. Did someone post a picture of themselves at your business and tag you in it? Add it to your Instagram story! Comment on the post! You might go even further and tag them back in a post, depending on what industry you’re in and whether or not your fans are looking for that kind of relationship (you can always DM them to ask). When you engage with your fans, they’re more likely to engage back, so it’s a win for both of you.
30. Collaborate with influencers. Influencers can seem a bit daunting to some businesses – Kylie Jenner is an influencer, but most organizations don’t have the means or needs to collaborate with someone who has an audience of her size. Most businesses in Ottawa should opt instead to approach micro-influencers with smaller, but dedicated, followings. The cost of collaborating with an influencer can vary quite a bit – some influencers are more than happy to accept free products or services in exchange for some time on their platform. No two influencers will accept the same payment or offer the same services, so do your research! See who follows them, ask them about their rates, and figure out how much their audience overlaps with your target demographics/personas.
31. Curate your content to the platform. Images and short videos tend to do very well on Instagram and Facebook, while links to blog posts do better on Facebook and LinkedIn (Facebook for more casual/B2C content, LinkedIn for business-oriented/B2B content). Know which platforms each of your customer personas is more likely to hang out on.
32. Get active on local social media pages. There are a number of Ottawa area buy/sell/trade groups and business promotion groups on Facebook. Other businesses you admire are probably active on Instagram. There are almost certainly subreddits dedicated to your industry. Take time to post in these places. You want to avoid too much blatant self-promotion – read every group’s rules before posting anything. Even if there are no rules against self-promotion, communities tend to appreciate posts by frequent contributors more, and if you’re mostly posting interesting and novel content, they won’t mind nearly as much if you promote your own business once in a while. Cross-promoting with other businesses is a great way to help increase the number of followers both businesses have.
Customer Management, Lead Generation, and Sales
33. Use chatbots. Your customers might find you online any time of day or night – there are no opening and closing hours for websites. These customers might have pressing questions they want answered right away. You can customize how these chatbots interact with your customers, doing anything from providing answers to frequently asked questions to leading your customers through the sales funnel. There are a vast number of different chatbots available; check out this list of 8 chatbots to get started.
34. Use “Contact Us” forms. This should be found on your location/contact page. You want to limit the number of fields in the form as much as possible – keep it to name, email, and a section for the customers comments/concerns. Limiting the number of fields in any given form is a good idea throughout your whole website. Filling forms on mobile is a real pain (touchscreens are the dominant input method), so the less fields you have, the more likely your clients will be to use your forms.
35. Make your contact info easy to find. Your contact information should be on the footer of every page, so no matter how your clients find you, they’ll know how to contact you if they scroll to the bottom. Name, address, phone number and email are all important to include. You should also include all of that info on the location and/or contact us pages of your website.
36. Acquire and integrate a customer relationship management (CRM) program. CRMs help you track how customers interact with your business, and provide you with insights about how you can improve communication and increase sales. You can integrate your CRM with your site to track how customers interact with contact forms, chatbots, product pages, and more. This will take quite a bit of research, and full integration may take a bit of elbow grease. The data you get is priceless, though. Integration with carts, for example, can give you insight as to what neighbourhoods in Ottawa your clients are coming from, the types of items people from each area put into their carts, and their overall cart size/value. In other words, you can improve customer relationships and find ways to improve your marketing and sales.
37. Use AB/Multivariate testing. This can take a bit of effort, and we’ll talk more about it in the section about online advertising. The idea is fairly simple – switch up the layout of particular web pages and see how that affects your sales. This can be particularly useful if your site is fully bilingual – you’ll be able to create two different layouts, one for each language. From there, you can easily swap the layouts. Check out this article on multivariate testing to get a better idea how to do it, and how it will help you.
38. Make buying simple. You want your customers to be able to access your products and services with ease; a banner consistent across all pages with a “Products” tab is a great idea. You should opt to take as many different payment methods as possible – the three major credit cards, as well as PayPal. Offer delivery within Ottawa and the surrounding area if you can – extending your delivery to Gatineau can help you expand your customer base.
39. Get a professional to take photos. This isn’t image SEO, but it’s good practice. When you have beautiful products, paying a little extra to display those products is a very good idea. When shopping online, images are the only things your customers have to go by other than product descriptions. Those visuals can go a long way. Clients can pick which colours they prefer, they get a better notion of the size and shape of the product, and they may be less likely to return the product. After all, seeing is believing, and images let the customer know exactly what they’re going to get. Those of you who don’t want to invest in a professional photographer might benefit from following this guide to product photography by Shopify (we’d be remiss if we didn’t shout out one of Ottawa’s biggest e-commerce companies).
40. Pay close attention to your “About Us” page. I know that whenever I find a new website, this is the first place I go. I want to know about the company’s philosophy, I want to see the people who are working there, and I want to know if I can connect with them in some way. So many people shop almost exclusively online – the “About Us” page might be the only impression they get of you. Make it a good one. Single out what makes your company unique. Keep things relatively brief – think of the About Us page as a place for your best copy. Once again, Shopify comes through with a great article on how to write a compelling About Us page.
41. Encourage your customers to leave reviews. There are a lot of reasons why this is important: First, customers who had a great experience aren’t likely to leave reviews unless you prompt them. Customers who have had bad experiences, on the other hand, will leave reviews whether you want them to or not. Reviews also influence your SEO – search engines might look at how frequently you get reviews and the total number of reviews. Customers, on the other hand, will look at how well reviewed you are, so prompting clients to give positive reviews is a great way of driving traffic to your site. You can ask customers to leave reviews through texts, pop-up windows once a purchase is made, or with follow-up emails. You might even incorporate all three together.
42. Respond to reviews – whether they are positive or negative. When you see a great review, thank the person who took the time to write it. This serves two purposes: First, it reinforces the positive experience that the reviewer had. Second, it shows would-be customers and reviewers that you’re responsive, and that they can expect a good word from you should they post a positive review. Negative reviews should be addressed, too. Negative experiences should be viewed as opportunities – by providing an excellent response, you can change a 1-star review into a 5-star review. Keep in mind that if your site is bilingual, your reviews will probably be in both English and French, so having bilingual staff to answer reviews is important.
43. Check reviews on multiple platforms. You might have excellent reviews on Google, but subpar reviews on Yelp or Facebook. Use the social listening we described earlier to monitor how you’re being reviewed and where. You need to be diligent about this because the longer a bad review goes unnoticed, the more harm it does.
44. Use review management software. Review management takes a lot of effort – you have to find ways of encouraging your customers to leave reviews, constantly monitor platforms for good and bad reviews, and respond to reviews as quickly as possible. Review management software can take a lot of that work off your plate. Our review management software automatically asks your customers to leave a review. Good reviews are posted publicly, while bad reviews are handled internally. This increases your number of good reviews, reduces the chances bad reviews will be seen, and alerts you of all reviews so you can take action immediately.
45. Get testimonials. You might think of a testimonial as a “super review” – a long-form, positive, opinion piece by a customer about how your products or services have helped them. You could display these proudly on your home page, or create an “Ottawa Testimonials” page – whatever works best for your industry and site. Consider asking your clients to do video testimonials – this works especially well in B2B, where companies will look to other businesses they know and respect for referrals and guidance.
46. Use surveys to learn how your customers are feeling. The best way to handle a bad review is to avoid getting it in the first place. When you ask your customers to complete surveys, you can catch problems with your processes and correct them before they lead to customer complaints. There are a lot of ways of incentivizing customers to take a survey, from entering them into contests to simply encouraging them through texts or emails. Surveys are relatively easy to get up and running; you might even use a freemium program like SurveyMonkey to get started.
47. Run pay-per-click (PPC) ads and use analytics. Big advertisers like Google and Facebook generally use a PPC model – in other words, you only have to pay them money when somebody actually clicks on your ad. This is a great way of budgeting for advertising, because you pay for what you get. That doesn’t necessarily mean all of those clicks will convert to sales, but there are techniques we can use to reduce the number of bounces and increase customer engagement with your site. One way we can go about this is by using the analytic tools advertisers will provide you with. You can find out who is clicking on your ads (in terms of demographics), how they’re interacting with your site (how long they’re staying on there, whether or not they’re filling out forms, etc.) and other information. One key thing to track in Ottawa is the language of the ad being clicked on, so you can test various landing pages (more on that next) in English and French.
48. Optimize your landing page. The landing page is the page that your customer ends up on after clicking one of your ads (be they PPC or not). Landing pages should do one thing: convert curiosity into a lead (or better yet, a sale). This means your landing page should contain very few elements. You’ll want an image, a quick blurb of your best copy, and perhaps a short video. Then, you’ll want some kind of call-to-action (CTA). Often, this will take the place of a form. Make these forms as short as possible – limit them to one or two fields, and certainly no more than three. One of these fields should be the client’s email address, so you can add them to eblasts. The other fields might be things like their name or phone number. Remember, first impressions matter a lot, so spend a lot of time on your landing page and do multivariate testing.
49. Keep your advertising, landing pages, and website consistent. You can imagine the dissonance from clicking on an advertisement done in grayscale only to wind up on a landing page featuring pastel pinks. Unless this kind of bait-and-switch is an intentional part of your marketing strategy, consistency is key. That’s why it’s so important to have your brand fully fleshed out before you start engaging in online marketing. You can, of course, vary your advertising and landing pages depending on what personas you’re targeting, but keep them consistent with your brand and image.
As you can see, there’s a lot of time and energy that goes into running a successful online marketing campaign. These are just 50 tips to get the wheels turning. Each of these 50 tips is deep enough to warrant its own article. What kinds of posts tend to do well on buy/sell groups? How do you create customer surveys that give you accurate, actionable data? How do response rates affect the chances that a customer will change a 1-star review? What are the best ways of getting other websites to backlink to yours?
I would love to be able to answer all of these questions and more in this post, succinctly, with a focus towards implementing these tactics in Ottawa. In an ideal world, I’d be able to transmit these concepts directly into your mind, and you’d be able to implement them effectively without cutting into your own productivity.
Realistically, though, this kind of knowledge only comes with years of research, trial and error, and expertise. I encourage you to read as many articles on online marketing as you can, generate your own data, come up with hypotheses, and test them rigorously. You may, however, find that you don’t have the time to do all of those things as well as you’d like to. You have a business to run, after all.
One final tip I’ll be so bold as to offer is to get in touch with us. Read the content on our website. Talk to our experts. We can implement all of the tips we’ve discussed above and more. We can elaborate on the advantages of each, the best ways to go about implementing them, and how we can tailor them to your industry or niche. We’ll talk about Ottawa’s demographics, how to target individual neighbourhoods, how to expand your market share, and much more.