It is a difficult thing running an online business.
The number and variety of companies offering comparable products and services can make it difficult to stand out in a crowd. Your site has to look the part and match the expectations of your target audience.
Your offering has to be priced on a par with your competitors, or the premium justified by quality, environmental friendliness, scarcity, or some other characteristic that matters to your customer.
And then on top of all that, the customer has got to trust you enough to hand over their hard earned cash.
How is a blog going to help?
Within most B2B and B2C websites, there are only so many opportunities to talk about your organisation. You have the product/services pages, the FAQs, press releases and so on, but there comes a point where it looks like you are creating pages just for the sake of it
Blogs have become mainstream due to their personal feel, and writing without a corporate angle means that the content will not appear awkward or contrived.
Yes they require effort and time to maintain. Agreed – you have to think of interesting things to say. OK maybe your competitors don’t blog and they seem to do all right without it.
Here’s why we blog
- it adds extra unique pages to the website
- our blog posts allow us to explore topics at length that don’t necessarily “fit” within the core pages
- well written content attracts links to the site which improves rankings in search results
There are a number of choices out there when it comes to blogging, and your web developer may even have their own bespoke software.
We use WordPress for our blog – the software is free (a perfectly sound reason in itself), it can be configured to behave exactly as you want, and WordPress posts get picked up very very quickly by search engines.
Plan your first posts
List some topics that you are knowledgeable about and feel confident enough to write on. You may even find that some areas need a separate piece in their own right.
Don’t force a style
After you have written a couple of pieces, the articles develop a rhythm of their own. The content will influence the tone and certain topics will lend themselves to humour, sarcasm and so on.
Set a schedule you are comfortable with
You don’t need to publish a new post with clockwork like regularity, and inevitably there will be other things during the working week that require your attention. The more frequently you post the better of course, but keep an eye of the quality of the article. Ask yourself “Is this interesting / useful / important information that my customers should know?”
Have a point of view
You are not the only operator in your market, but your (well presented) opinion is valid. Stay on top of goings on within the industry and have an eye on events at the periphery. In doing so you’ll start to garner the trust and respect of your audience, and they will have confidence in what you say.
Your blog is not a direct sales tool
It is all to easy to list your latest product, special offer and so on in the blog. Don’t. Your blog is an indirect marketing channel and you are writing content that is supposed to get them interested in you, and your ideas. Keep it interesting, resist the urge to sell directly, and your audience will engage with you over time.
If you use the above ideas as a springboard you’ll have the beginnings of a great blog.
Now isn’t there something you want to say to your potential customers?
Search engine optimisation and digital marketing for small business isn’t easy. For big-brands people love linking to them without them having to ask, even without them deserving it in many cases.
Small business don’t have that luxury, that’s not to say that the smaller guys can’t compete, they just have to work harder and smarter to get their share of attention online.
Some of my favourite small business SEO tips are below, some are mine, others are from people who volunteered their own ideas on Twitter.
- Optimise for local search. Figure out who are the authoritative citations within your city – ie touchnottingham.com via @APSG
- Concentrate on local search and longer search terms as these give more of a chance with a smaller budget. Google Maps add is a must in your town! via @StuartFlatt
- Be active online. Forge relationships with blog owners, find journalists on Twitter. These contacts will be invaluable when it comes to getting coverage.
- Write content that’s relevant to your business and your customers & keep it up to date. via @picseli
- Get your analytics package in place as early as possible. The more data you have the more you’ll be able to analyse your marketing decisions.
- Utilise your current relationships – reciprocal linking is not perfect, but still has a good effect on local search (imo) via @CMaddison
- Brand yourself as an expert. Write informative articles about your industry. Post them on your site, ask to have your work published on others.
- Try to focus on conversions rather than rankings. Too many small business owners are obsessed with being first, rather than focusing on profits. via @CMaddison
- At the very least ensure your page titles are unique and relevant to the content on them.
- Don’t scrimp on your website, a less than satisfactory site may save cash in the short term, but it’ll cost you in conversions.
- Build your list – capture customer data, segment it, test it and contact them regularly (not too regularly) with useful information, articles, links and offers.
- Consider using Adwords for initial data collection / keyword selection – find your best converting/most profitable keywords for under £100 via @CMaddison
- Build trust – make sure you’re easily contactable, make sure your site has a prominent address and telephone number on each page, explain why your buying process is secure.
- Find out who your competition is, then find out who links to them using Open Site Explorer – get those sites to link to you.
- Setup Google alerts for your business name. Make sure you monitor these, it’s a great opportunity to ask for links when people forget, or to network with people who are already talking about you.
December 22nd, 2009.
One of the first tasks we perform when working with a new client on search promotion is a health check of the website. The idea is to make sure that the way the site is built does not hamper its performance in search engines.
Business owners and managers don’t have time to learn technical jargon, so if their web developer puts keywords in the URL then the “search engine friendly website” box is ticked. There’s a bit more to it of course, and here are some pointers…….
First things first – hosting
Is your website a .com address? Which company is hosting the site, and where are their servers located?
.com / .net / .org and similar domains are glamorous for businesses as they don’t “belong” to a country like a .co.uk web address does. When confronted with a .com (and other non-country specific domains) search engines look at where the server is geographically located to determine which country the website is intended for. If your website is aimed at a British audience, has a .com address and is hosted on a server in Germany, then your website will tend to perform better in natural search results done by people on German soil. You need to host your website with a company that has servers in the same place as the majority of your customers.
Put your web address in http://whois.domaintools.com to find out more.
If you’ve got a .co.uk or a country specific domain, then you don’t need to take any action.
How much Flash on my site?
Sites built completely in flash don’t always do well in search engines, and tend to be used as a marketing tool or a campaign site. http://www.speakvisual.com is a good example of a brand using flash as a showcase site.
If you go to Google and search for something competitive that people want to buy e.g. consumer goods, clothing, specialist equipment etc, the sites that feature at the top of the natural listings make limited use of flash and concentrate on providing text that search engine spiders can crawl.
Want to see your site like a search engine does? Go to http://www.seo-browser.com and enter your URL.
If you see some text and blue underlined hyperlinks, then what you see is what a search engine knows about your site. If you can click your way through to all your pages then a search engine can do the same. Try getting to Colin Smiths’ page on Speak Visual using SEO-Browser…..
There are a number of different definitions of this word. Google them at your leisure. For this tutorial its the process of choosing between http://www.example.com and http://example.com versions of pages.
Try this simple test go to your website and type in one of your deeper pages without the “www” part e.g. http://example.com/page
- if the website automatically adds the “www” to the URL and you see the page you expect then you’ve got nothing to worry about
- if the website shows both http://example.com/page and http://www.example.com/page then you’ve got duplicate content that needs to be fixed
“If I’ve got more than one version of the same page on my site then its all good! It means there’s a greater chance of search engines finding it right?”
Search engines take the view that information on a website should not be repeated, and generally adds one version of a page to their records, and ignores other versions.
http://www.webconfs.com/similar-page-checker.php have a good tool for checking duplicate content.
Canonicalization is one instance where duplicate content may happen. For ecommerce sites a particular problem is where a product may “live” permanently in the brands category, and the lifestyle section, and therefore will have two (or more) web addresses for the same item.
The content management system can be configured to create only one version of a page, and its worth talking to your team about their proposed way of addressing this.
Page titles, meta descriptions, keywords, and headings
Search engines scan the HTML code on websites for clues as to what the site is about. Its easy to get carried away here so in order to keep it simple….
page title <TITLE>
Each page on your website should have a unique title with the most important word starting on the left….
description <meta name=”Description” content=”…..>
The information that appears here is not visible to customers looking at your pages, however search engines sometimes use this text as a summary of the page when it lists natural search results. This should include calls to action to encourage people to click on your entry rather than others listed on the page…..
headings <h1> – <h6>
<h1> is the most important heading <h2> less so, and so on. So keywords important to your business (and appropriate to the content on the page) should be organised accordingly…..
Most content management administration systems give you the ability to manually edit page titles, and meta descriptions.
Hopefully this article has explained what some of the jargon in SEO-world means, and you now know what impact it can have on your business. Have the conversation with your people, and if any of the above need attention, ask them to fix it.
January 12th, 2009.
We have already seen in my previous blog that online sales are very robust even in the teeth of a recession.Â Companies have used a myriad of marketing techniques to entice users to buy usually with excessive discounts.Â It’s now the task of keeping those customers and encouraging repeat buys.
It’s well known that discounting does not engender loyalty necessarily and so retailers need to find other ways to add value.
First lets see what customers actually want:
A recent study by EMEA concluded that the two biggest factors, likely to influence consumer spending during a credit crunch, are competitive prices (79%) and a combination of good prices AND good customer service (72%).
Retailers relying on brand pedigree, product uniqueness or reputation to see them through the downturn in spending may come unstuck as these were listed as the three least influential factors.
In a recent New Media Age survey consumers said:
89% believe internet has better prices
68% said online was cheaper (taking into account ancillary costs of “outside” shopping
81% said Internet offered wider range
89% cited ease of finding items
95% cited ease of comparing prices
Where the Internet could improve
74% said lack of waiting made high street attractive [Personnally I've never understood why retailers cant offer next day delivery if items are ordered before a certain time]
70% said customer service was better on the high street [there's so much to say about this that I will write a separate blog post about this]
So customer service (combined with customer service) and lack of waiting are key elements that customers want.Â Lets see what other retailers are doing to respond to this.Â I am assuming that if you run and e-commerce site that you have already covered the basics: free delivery, free returns, properly organised website with your telephone number and security in place etc..
We have scoured the Internet to see whatÂ successful retailers have come up with in terms of building customer loyalty and service over and beyond the usual discounting:
Customer service – Delivery
It’s always baffled me that retailers still think it’s ok to take 5 days to arrange delivery.Â Next day delivery should be standard for most products. ASOS have made a start on this at least by offering Saturday deliveries at no extra cost as well as offering a next day service.Â With 74% retailers citing this as making the high street more attractive I would have thought this should be the most pressing thing for most retailers.Â Use a branded delivery service that can represent your brand.
Customer service availability
Zappos, an Online retailer that specializes in selling apparel and shoes has been able to grow from $1.6 million in 2000 to $597 million in revenue last year alone. Some of Zapposâ€™ highlight features include their excellent customer service and a free overnight shipping on all orders. Over the past 8 years.Â “We`re continuing our focus on service, which includes 24/7 customer service, free overnight shipping and free return shipping with a 365-day return policy.”
Customer service – communication
Letting customers know its coming – If you’re sending something bulk then why not call ahead to let the customers know.Â www.naturalcurtaincompany.com do this and it’s very effective as people will tell other people about the great service.
Customer service – Know what your service is.Â 99% right is not enough
Make sure your Website is 100% accurate. Zappos ran into trouble when it used to have the manufacturers drop-ship orders, because their inventory was often off and created backorders and unhappy customers. Even 99% is not good enough.
Amazon – Amazon PrimeÂ – Amazon Prime is an exclusive membership program that gives you and your family the benefits of unlimited One-Day shipping on eligible Amazon.co.uk purchases for an annual membership fee of Â£47.97. During your one month trial, you will enjoy all the benefits of being an Amazon Prime member.
Understand FREEMIUM – the concept of making money out of giving things away for FREE.Â This is not for eveyone but you need to understand the power of it. What ever you are selling think of what can be given away for free which will add value to your proposition. Give your service away for free, acquire a lot of customers very efficiently through word of mouth, referral networks, organic search marketing, etc., then offer premium priced value added services or an enhanced version of your service to your customer base.” viz google, facebook – read more http://inside.123-reg.co.uk/archives/chris-anderson-free-long-tail
Communication – The ability to communicate with your customer base is now as important as ever. The ability to get your message to your clients quickly and efficiently can translate into large profits. Blogging, mailing lists and participation in social networks can and do make a difference. Again using the example of Zappos over 400 members of staff use the microblogging service Twitter. This gives the company the ability to contact thousands of people in an instant about offers or new products. The CEO of Zappos alone has 35,000 people watching his updates.
Discount vouchers being sent with each delivery. Whilst constant discounting is not the direction to go in, it’s good for encouraging viral sales.
Membership -Sexypantiesandnaughtyknickers.com – get 15% off for life once you reach a minimum spending limit (bronze) then 25% silver etc.
more to follow…as we find them
December 10th, 2008.
After reading some interesting posts over at Holistic Search and Brand Republic, one of the largest florist chains worldwide is suing Marks & Spencers and Flowers Direct for using the Interflora brand name to trigger AdWords ads for their competitors.
Google updated their policy on brand name keywords and trademark terms that trigger competitorâ€™s adverts to display back in May. Previously, competitors could not bid on other brand names to display their ads, but since Google updated their policies on brand name keywords and trademarks, competitors in various industries have been using competition brand names to trigger their adverts.
It has been reported keywords include â€œInterfloraâ€, â€œIntafloraâ€ and â€œInter-floraâ€ which have been used to trigger the display of competitors adverts.
Interfloraâ€™s argument is that the actions of Marks & Spencers and Flowers Direct are a breach of trademark law, as marketing director Michael Barringer stated:
â€œThe Interflora brand is extremely valuable and we will not tolerate competitors taking advantage of it and infringing our right.â€
However, both M&S and Flowers Direct are abiding by the Google Terms of Service- no mention of the band is made within the advert itself and is now somewhat of a common practice across industries, as a spokeswoman for Marks & Spencers was quoted saying they are â€œextremely surprised by Interfloraâ€™s course of actionâ€ adding it was industry-wide practice and not unlawful.
Interestingly, there has been no mention of Interflora or any other company suing Google over the use of trademark terms in AdWords for allowing this to happen.
This is not the first report of companies suing over the use of their trademark terms on Google AdWords either, as Dominic Farnsworth (a partner at Lewis Silkin) commented:
“There are a lot of legal letters flying around in the background at the moment and many disputes are being resolved without the need for legal proceedingsâ€.
This poses an interesting situation for advertisers and search agencies- how long is it before competitors terms cause a lawsuit against your company or client, or how many more examples are needed before Google considers refining their policies? As Google have recently allowed the advertising of gambling and alcohol related sites, it appears they are expanding their policies to get even more from their advertising revenueâ€”could this be Googleâ€™s solution to the current economic downturn? Let us know your comments.
September 17th, 2008.
The recent news of the fall of Lehman Brothers Bank has caused a knock on effect for large and small businesses around the world. More and more companies are assessing their expenditure, including online marketing budgets.
However, the latest report from Netimperative shows that online advertising is proving to be the choice advertising stream for small and large businesses, having a dramatically increased prediction for advertising spend over the next couple of years.
According to the report:
â€œ81% of advertisers claim that their allocated online ad spend has grown in 2008 and predict that it will continue to do so over the next couple of yearsâ€
With a predicted increase of 16% in 2009 and 17% for 2010.
Furthermore, â€œthree quarters (73%) state that they are increasing their use of online as an advertising medium whilst 31% of advertisers claim their use of TV is decreasing and 40% cite a decrease in the use of newspapers.â€
So What Does This Mean For Your Business?
In this economic climate companies are rightly evaluating where and why they are spending money. However, businesses looking to cut back on their advertising spends should be aware of this report when deciding which advertising streams to cut back on.
The predicted growth of online advertising according to this report is set to be potentially the best, with TV and newspaper advertising decreasing. With the support of these latest statistics, it would be a wise move to increase your online marketing budget, as the growth of your online audience delivers cost effective results.
The timing for increasing your online advertising return on your business is now. With the growth prediction for online advertising for the next two years, increasing your online advertising budget now will help increase brand perception and brand awareness for your business, whilst bringing greater return on your online advertising spend.