Contrary to what some corners of the internet like to share, that Google, Bing and all the other search engines are trying to steal you away, they really have no interest in keeping you on their search pages long term. They want you searching for answers and clicking on your chosen result, not hanging out on a blank page with a search box in it. But what does that do for a local business, maybe a little mom and pop store that only has one or two employees? Regardless of your size, you can still leverage the search engines to help grow your business, and believe it or not on the internet everyone has a shot at being number one.
One of the big changes in the last couple of months has been the drive towards semantic natural searching by the search engines. It is an approach and change designed to make searching a simpler affair for the user, the goal for example being “what is the best restaurant 6 blocks from here”. Smart phones and tablets are very good at what they do and with how convenient they are to carry and use this sort of search isn’t that far off in the future. You can already use a search like “best restaurant in winnipeg” and get a fairly decent set of results based on both consumer and editorialized reviews. So what can you do as a mom and pop to take advatage?
For starters if you have a website with a brick and mortar location then you should have your Google+ local listing filled out and attributed to you. Formerly known as Google Places, the local listings are the results you see that show up on the map with the lettered marker points directing you exactly where to go. It allows Google to verify your listing and location with you and tells the search engine that you’re a real business with doors and walls and everything! It’s a very simple step to take which only helps your visibility and actually leads into the next point – customer reviews.
Having an A+ rating is great where the local better business bureau is concerned, but even better for yourself is when you can encourage your customers to post a review to your local listings. Whether it’s Yelp, Urban Spoon, or even on your Google+ local profile it serves two fold for your business needs. First it lets visitors who find your site have a little bit of insight into how you conduct your business and how you might treat your customers. Even the negative reviews can be extremely helpful in this case, provided of course you can properly remedy the situation. And secondly it is like adding a notch on your belt for the search engines, just another way you’ve proven to them that you have an active visitor/customer base.
A final, and one of the more obvious steps that you’d be surprised to learn gets missed is to ensure you have your physical address on both your website, and your local profile. It’s a surprisingly often missed step where site owners are concerned which is sometimes lost with the addition of a contact form added to a website. It is assumed that a site visitor will automatically use a form or page to get a message or question into a site owner, but what if they would rather walk in your door and talk to a person? Or call and talk to someone to have their questions answered? You need to make sure your location and contact information is included in your website, your local profile listings and in doing so you’re likely to see increased foot traffic, as well as web traffic. The easier you are to find, the more likely you are to make a sale.
How much branding is too much?
Every time we meet with a client whether they are new or old, we always discuss their keyword targets and their online branding as it exists. The error that seems to consistently crop up is when you try and be to precise with your targets. Branding is a great marketing tool and to be easily and quickly recognizable is great, but there is such a thing as going too far. I’m going to use a tire shop as an example of how branding, while great, can quickly go bad as well.
As the shop owner of ABC Tires you need customers to keep your doors open and you need to market yourself to get those customers. You could go with print, radio, television or online, but you need to pick one. Having the specialty line 123-Z, is a great way to help pull in organic traffic online, as you can build pages and content and optimize them so that they can climb the results pages until you’re at the top. When you start to see that increased attention from a brand, and you push all of your focus into it is where you’ll actually find your shop starting to flounder in it’s use. At the core you are not a 123-Z sales outlet, you’re a tire shop and that is the marketing and branding image that needs to be stressed, not a single inventory item.
We have had clients see growth and traction on a specific set of keywords, and have tried to push hard into marketing onto those specific terms. Having a target to aim for is great for our use, because it allows us to tailor your online marketing campaign for your goals. But it can quickly get out of hand if all of the content and design starts to reflect only a single term. Diversity in your keyterms and in your marketing is vastly important, as you can actually lose traffic and conversions by being to exacting. You can’t see the forest through the trees if you focus only on your branded terms because they get the most conversions. While you want to be the first site that shows up for your company’s names in Google SERPs, you also want to be present for other search queries. Don’t be afraid to diversify your keyword strategy – you might find that with a few tweaks to your keyword strategy that a whole new world of customers lies just beyond the search engines, looking for you and what you have to offer.
Even though it may not seem like it on the surface, there are many different facets to internet marketing. Which target you aim for has a lot to do with the methods you employ to achieve your desired results. It could be branding a new image, a run to try and boost email/newsletter readership or it could just be the needed increase to sales to make for a better year end.
If you’re trying to create a new image for yourself as a business, you can try using Adwords as a branding tool until organic results can be achieved. Adwords can be a great tool to leverage as it allows your website instant visibility where as organic SEO can take time to come full circle. You can create a whole new presence for yourself online if you’re creative and persistent.
At the same time as trying to manage your brand online, you should bear in mind your call to action and what your message is online. Try to view your site as a new user from time to time, and try to determine what you are asking visitors to do as they arrive on your site. If you’re trying to create a following for your blog or perhaps signing up for your Twitter feed where you can interact directly. Trying to boost your sales? Are you listing specials or making sure to advertise your newest or best selling items.
Although the industry is still somewhat new in Winnipeg, internet marketing is an incredibly powerful tool you can leverage as a business owner. Leveraging all of the tools you have available to yourself as a business owner should be at the forefront of your mind everyday as you work to improve your online positioning.
Let us partake in a litmus test, if you don’t know what that is here’s a very basic definition for you : A test that uses a single indicator to prompt a decision. So here’s the question to answer: Do you have a website for your business? If the answer is yes then the answer to this next question is yes as well; you need to have a solid SEO plan in place.
It’s not voodoo or black magic, it’s not about putting videos up on Youtube and tweeting to your Facebook fans (that’s social marketing and it works as well) SEO is about making the search engines love your website. SEO is about telling the world that “Yes I am the authority on <your niche> in <your location>. I can take care of all of your needs.”
Now here comes the tricky part, there are some simple things you’re going to need to come to grips with when it comes to search engine optimization. The number one point you need to realize is: SEO costs money. Who’d have thought that having someone go through your website, clean up it’s code, properly build it’s navigation and make it faster online would cost money! It’s like putting a new engine in your car, if you’re incapable of putting the hours and skills into doing the work yourself, you’re better off paying the professionals. Even those very simpe steps I mentioned can help to increase traffic and visitors to your website. Another extremely important point, arguably the most important, SEO is not an instant quick fix to your search rankings. It takes time to re-tune your website, update the content and clean the code. After all of that the spiders need to come and crawl your site and decide if it’s better than the last one you had and how you would stack up against your peers now. You could be re-indexed in a day, you could be re-indexed in 2 weeks. You may be on page 6 when you started your campaign and after first pass you’re up to page 3, while not the page 1 where all of the action is you’ve literally improved 100% from where you previously were. The most common metric we tell our clients new and old is, you’ll begin to see significant long lasting results in a 6 month plus time frame.
Enough of those two big scary ideas (money and time), lets talk more about what’s going to happen to your website once you’re up in the rankings. Sitting on page 1 enjoying all of the new visitors you’re receiving, you need to begin to take a good hard look at your home page. Traffic is useless without a conversion of some sort. Sign up for my newsletter, subscribe to our coupon book, buy our product. You need a call to action on your website where visitors arrive. Because if people show up to the party and there’s no party, then the visit was wasted.
To recap: SEO will cost you money and it will take time. Once your campaign is in full swing, breakdown your website and determine your call to action on your landing page. Because without these 3 key understandings, it doesn’t matter if you’re number 1 on the SERPs, or number 1000.
There’s a million and one ways to make yourself found online, local, mobile, social, organic, ppc and within each of these there are countless other methods to work on. Let’s start with the assumption that you’ve followed all of the best practices when it comes to building your website.
You’ve used CSS and XML to create a uniform and attractive look. Used even simple things such as a doctype to tell your browser what it is that it’s reading. Creative, compelling content with a strong call to action which drives your visitors to buy your product, sign up for your news letter or forum and continue visiting your pages. Your images are tagged, your categories are tagged, you’ve worked hard at being the best in your niche market and are steadily enjoying the growing fruits of your labor. And then you learn, there is more which you can do to increase your traffic flow, visibility and as a result, improve your bottom line.
There’s always more which can be done in marketing yourself online, more steps which you can take to become more visible. That step you’ve taken to tag all of your images on your website properly? Congratulations, by taking a very simple step you’ve helped increase your visibility in the image searchs in both Bing and Google. With properly tagged and titled images, it helps your customers reach your site when you have clear pictures for your product to be seen.
Another strong step is issuing news about your company consistently. Whether you’ve closed that massive new merger which will allow you to double production or support, or even if all you’ve done is decided to hold a spring cleaning sale. It’s important to remain active in the eyes of your customer. This is where a blog is an amazing tool for your business, both small and large. It’s an ideal space for all of the aforementioned releases, as well as a location for your clients and customers to reply to your posts and even suggest improvements if some are needed in their eyes.
If you’ve cornered your niche market, and created your very own brand image offline, it’s extremely important to continue that leverage online. As an example, it wouldn’t do Pepsi or Coca-Cola any good to have direct queries for their brand name, direct users to competitors websites. It’s lost revenue and a lost avenue for income.
And if you provide a product or a service which has many steps or intricacies, it only helps your case to develop your very own how to pages on your website. If you provide a specific style of door knocker as an example, providing clear and concise directions on your website on how to install and care for your product can help instantly transform a curious searcher, into a new customer.
If business owners want to gain a competitive edge online in 2009, a comprehensive strategy is the way to go.
Businesses of any size will succeed with online marketing – and blow past the competition – by focusing on multiple fronts at one time to deliver the most favorable ROI.
The Internet offers a dizzyingly array of services, everything from search engine optimization and link building to paid search, banner advertising and video marketing. Each has merit and can improve profits.
How could it make any sense to let them operate as silos?
We tie these and other services together in what we call the Battle Plan. To get the best results, you need to hit your target market with everything you have available.
Regardless of what you call it, a Battle Plan approach requires a good deal of coordination that can become a way of life with practice.
Here are 8 tips to help you get started:
1. Cultivate Teams.
A plan on paper won’t work in reality if the people involved can’t cooperate. Long before our Battle Plan took shape, we made sure to involve the entire staff in team building exercises, contests and social outings. We also have regular staff meetings and hold internal mini workshops so each service line can let everyone else get a sense of what they do.
2. Nail Down Processes.
Yes, it can be tedious, but only good things can happen when everyone follows the same system.
3. Achieve Excellence.
It’s not always easy to define quality, but you need to continually provide exceptional service in each area. Our Battle Plan would suffer enormously if one service dropped the ball. In the military, for example, ground troops would fail more often without air support.
4. Think ROI.
At the end of the day, it’s about leads and sales. Time and time again, we’ve managed through SEO to achieve high rankings and traffic. Unfortunately, the website we inherit sometimes lacks clear Calls to Action. Adding a well placed, unique phone number or a special offer can work wonders.
5. Track and Adapt Conversion Opportunities.
Calls to Action can appear just about anywhere. With the basic website design, you may have any number of response forms or buy/call signals. Similar or different ones may be developed for paid search or video marketing campaigns. In our case, we learn from what each area is doing and adapt or repeat their Calls to Action. In other words, lead forms that work for video may perform as well or better in paid search.
6. A Central Project Manager Is Essential.
Obviously, plenty of work must happen behind the scenes. Yet, it’s also critical to have a project manager in place for each program to keep the lines of communication open. The project manager is in a good position to make sure everyone – from internal staff to clients – is on the same page and up to speed.
7. Share Data.
I’ve hinted at it already, but shared information is paramount to a comprehensive approach that crosses multiple disciplines. For example, when a SEO specialist gets a top ranking on Google, that information must get in the hands of a paid search expert who can help decide if an ad should be paused or continued depending on whether branding or conversion objectives are being met. You can exchange data from many areas – paid search ads, landing pages, banner ads, meta descriptions, inbound link anchor text, video marketing campaigns and much more.
8. Reinforce Efforts.
You have to find ways to stay in touch with prospects. For us, one of the easiest is an opt-in e-mail marketing system. I’m dumbfounded by the number of companies that I hear about that don’t consistently use structured emails to follow up with different types of leads. Sometimes businesses do send emails, but it’s not always well planned. Why not craft automated messages for designated dates, such as 7 days, 30 days and 60 days out from the first point of contact?
In today’s economy, at the moment in time someone is searching for what you offer, how fiercely are you competing to be found?