If you have a local storefront with nearby foot traffic, whether you're a retailer or restaurant or a service provider, there's a nifty technology you can use to entice some extra visitors. It's called a beacon.
I thought it was important to write about this because there are services that will charge you a monthly fee for something that could cost you around $20 one time. Now you might still want to spend a little extra each month for tracking, but you don't need to pay the "arm and leg" that some of these companies will try charging you.
Also, a quick heads up: there is a simple way to use a beacon (and that's what a lot of companies will charge you for) and a far more complex way to use them, which we won't go into here. (This can involve in-store positioning, active push notifications and more; this is usually for corporate scale retailing.)
Let's get started.
What is a Beacon?
A beacon is just a small device that sends out a Bluetooth signal. Smartphones within range of that signal may pick up a simple message from that beacon -- in the example we're discussing, they would pick up a URL (the address to a web page) and would display the title to that page as well.
There are USB beacons that are powered when plugged into a USB port; and there are those powered by batteries like the one pictured here. Battery life will depend on settings (frequency and power of the signal you're sending out), but should last from several months up to a year or two.
You can get them inexpensively on Amazon here.
How Can You Use a Beacon?
Imagine setting up a web page that's hidden from your main website navigation -- its only purpose is to promote a special offer or reason for people who are just outside your business to stop in.
So you might make the meta title of the page say something like:
"Buy One Get One Slice of Pizza Right Now! Stop In."
A meta title is simply a title you give a page in your website builder (not necessarily the title you might show on the actual web page). If you build your own site, you probably know what this is; if someone builds it for you, they will know. Your meta title limit is around 55 characters including spaces.
If someone clicks on that message, then Bam! ... they're taken to that web page on your site and you can give them all the details, including a great looking photo of someone biting into a slice of pizza.
Remember, they're only getting this message if they're within a store or two of your store, so it's not hard for them to stop in.
How Many People Will Get the Message?
Remember I mentioned those services that will charge you a lot to set this up? Well here's the thing they might not tell you about the type of beacon marketing we're discussing: while it is easy to set up, it is a passive message and not all phones will even pick up the message.
A push notification is an active message -- it alerts someone that it's waiting for them. But with a beacon URL message, you will get a little icon at the top of your phone screen; when you swipe down on an Android device, you can see the message and choose to click on it.
A phone also needs to have bluetooth turned on, and from my experience it doesn't work with iPhones.
So how many people walk by your store every day? 100? Around 80 of them are probably running Android. People check their phones a lot, but they'd have to check it when near your store, notice the icon, and then swipe down to see the message. Then they have to click to visit your web page. And then they have to decide to visit your store.
Will that be a small number of people? Maybe one person a day? Is that still worth it if the beacon just costs you around $20 and setup is simple and the battery will probably last you a year?
Of course if you're in a busy downtown area, things get a lot more interesting, even if a relatively small percentage of people respond to your message. It could still be a lot of visits for a small, one-time purchase!
Warning: You MUST Have a Secure Website
Before you jump into this, please note that a beacon will ONLY send someone to a secure website. This means that someone must be able to access your site using https: rather than http: -- if in doubt, just go to your website with https: at the beginning and make sure it shows up. Or ask your web master.
More and more website builders are providing a FREE option for https: websites, so look into this. Google and others are pushing for all sites to be secure in order to protect visitors, so it's a good idea to take this step anyway, and might give you a slight edge when it comes to search engine rankings (when someone searches for anything related to your website). At least for a while. When everyone's using https:, no one will have a search engine advantage from doing so.
You'll Probably Need a URL Shortener
Beacons are limited in how much data they send, and this literally means that a URL (the website address you're sending out) must be very short. Even if you think your URL is short, it may not be short enough and you may need to use a URL shortener. Don't worry, these can be free.
Goo.gl (yes, run by Google) and Bit.ly are perhaps the most well known. Both are free, though bit.ly offers a premium option. Although you don't need to set up an account to shorter a link, I recommend setting one up so you can get at least some insights into how many times the link is clicked. This will give you a small idea of the value of this simple marketing technique.
However, if you have a lot of nearby foot traffic, it could make sense to take your tracking to the next level, and for that I recommend Click Magick. For just $17/month (or less on an annual plan), this robust platform gives you way more features than I should mention here, but here are a couple that might be most important to this kind of marketing:
Basically, if you have a lot of local foot traffic and know the importance of smart marketing, I encourage you to at least take a look at Click Magick and scroll down the page to read its feature. You'll pretty quickly get a sense of how you can use it and see if it's right for you.
How Do You Set Up a Beacon?
So now the rubber meets the road: getting a beacon actually set up for your business. It's not hard.
1) Click this Amazon link to get an inexpensive beacon.
2) While waiting for that to arrive, set up a landing page that you want to send people to. Make sure the page is secure or the beacon won't work.
3) Set up an account with a URL shortener as explained above. If you're using Click Magick, check out its features and set it up as you like so you're ready with your short URL for the beacon.
4) The beacon should arrive with instructions on how to add a URL. If you order the one I've linked to:
Phones may pick up the signal quickly or there may be a delay. You're looking for a symbol at the top of your phone. When you see a symbol you're not familiar with, that's probably. Swipe down and see if you can find your URL. Test it by clicking and make sure it takes you to the correct page.
Test from different locations around your store and see how far your signal is reaching.
And finally, if you ever want to turn off the beacon, a single squeeze should give you a single red flash. (Just remember to turn it on each day, or leave it on at all times.) Any time you need to configure it again, make sure it's on and squeeze for 5 seconds. But if you changed the PIN, make sure you've written it down or you won't be able to change the settings!
I hope this helps you to understand the wonderful world of beacons and beacon marketing.