Okay, so you’ve got yourself a website. Trouble is, no one seems to be visiting it. Or if they are, they’re not sticking around. You’re getting no feedback, but worse still, there’s no indication that it’s generating any business for you. Where did you go wrong?
"Nine times out of 10 we’ve found that if your site is not performing well, people just don’t know who you are, because there are millions and millions of websites on the internet,” says marketing strategist Marc Krisjanous, Director of CampaignHub (www.campaignhub.co.nz).
Right, so you need to do something about getting noticed. But first, you need to sort out what’s actually on your site. The message from everyone we spoke to for this article was the same: content is king.
"You need to produce good-quality, well-meaning, knowledgeable, educational, informative, useful content,” says Manas Kumar, CEO of Genesis Interactive (www.genesiswebhq.com), developer of marketing solutions for SMEs.
Whether you’re selling shoes, styling hair or designing interiors, you can learn a lot about what you should be delivering online by checking out your competitors’ sites. Start by going to Google and just typing in whatever your business does. The search results (and more particularly, the order in which they appear) will tell you who’s succeeding in your marketplace.
Maybe your content needs to be freshened up, and made more noticeable by search engines. Some new features could attract more viewers and potential customers. How about some video? YouTube has made this very simple: shoot some footage, add a commentary, upload it to YouTube, then embed that video in your site. Of course, the results you’ll get from having a professional company shoot it for you are going to look much better. You can get a short video shot these days for as little as $700, or maybe turn your still photos into a video montage (see www.websitetelly.com). For more about customer-focused web content, see page 46. If you’ve yet to get online, or feel the need for a makeover, you’ll find advice about building a website in the Magazine Content section at www.start-up.co.nz. Help Forum (page 36) has links to pages that will help you create great web content. Once you’ve got the basics sorted, then you need to consider how to get listed in search results.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a science, and the experts earn a good living helping businesses to get traffic to their websites. Search engines look at the number of backlinks (incoming links to a website or web page) as indication of popularity. They also look for whatever keywords people type in, and the results they deliver are ranked according to how strongly the search engine thinks a site’s content relates to the searcher’s query.
However, a major search engine like Google earns money by prioritising search results. This is done through AdWords (adwords.google.com), a service which allows website owners to get their site ranked prominently in search results that include their keywords. Google charges them each time someone clicks on their site. However, the more competition there is around particular keywords, the more costly it is to get them linked to your site. That’s why you need to learn about your competitors: how many of them there are, what they’re offering and how they’re marketing it, so you can get those search results channelled towards you. Google has plenty of search statistics available; just type in your product or service, then look at the left-hand column of the search results. This gives you a range of search figures, broken down into types of sites and timelines. Check out the most popular sites, to get some ideas about why more people are visiting them. You should also register with Google Analytics (tinyurl.com/yev3ylk) to get regular reports on your site’s traffic; where visitors go and how long they stay there. This enables you to sort out the likeliest customers, whom you can then target with special offers. If you’re selling a range of products or services, you can identify which customers are going where, and give them more specific material. And be sure you’re listed on Google Places and Google Maps, so you’re easier to find.
Using the right keywords in your site’s content is a great way to get better search results without spending a lot of money. To learn what results the keywords relevant to your business are returning, use Google’s Keyword Tool (tinyurl.com/2fu9n5o). It searches by words and phrases, and returns both global and local monthly search figures. It also displays other sites with similar keywords to yours, and tells you how much you’ll pay to get a high search listing. Using this information, you can add more descriptive keywords to your site’s pages, to narrow the search results in your direction. For example, if you’re a shop in "Wellington” selling "custom-fitted athletic shoes”, you have a variety of keywords available. Obviously, optimising your site will be easier if you’re only selling to people in your region. Your site will probably have a .co.nz domain, so it will rank higher in Google New Zealand searches. If you’re selling internationally, a .com, .net or .org address may be better, and you’ll need to choose your keywords more carefully with more competition. It’s sometimes better to go for keywords that return smaller search results, because customers are then more likely to hit on your site. SEO experts call this a ‘long tail keyword strategy’.
Another way to seed your website’s content with words that will attract search engines is to use Direct Response language. Tim Webb launched Perfect Response Marketing (www.marketingnz.org) to inform local website owners about DR, which he feels is under-used in this country. His website demonstrates the sort of language that is designed to provoke a reaction from the reader, and hopefully trigger better search results. Some would call it hyperbole; it’s full of emotive phrases and flamboyant adjectives, urging the reader to keep reading if they don’t want to miss out on a great deal. "It’s creating an emotional response within the reader or the buyer that gets them to take a certain action,” Webb explains.
The web has brought major changes to marketing. Just pushing out advertisements to the marketplace (known as the ‘outbound’ approach) doesn’t work anymore; digital marketing now aims to attract customers by entertaining and informing them: getting them to a website because they want to go there. This is called ‘inbound marketing’.
Getting an audience, and thereby a customer base, in this fashion takes time and patience. What’s more, there’s no magic formula for every business; you have to tailor your marketing strategy to suit your product or service, and the customers you’re seeking. The starting point, however, is to make your website interesting. Search engines love content that is knowledgeable and useful, that offers tips and advice, and helps other people understand about the subject.
So you need to develop your website’s content in a way that shows you know your stuff. Instead of just Home/About Us/Products/Contact pages, have some ‘How Tos’, some ‘Why Bothers’, some ‘What Ifs’. Put something of yourself into the content; readers love a bit of humour, even a bit of eccentricity – look at what it did for The Mad Butcher, even before web marketing came along.
A great way to establish a human side to your business is to write a blog. You can do this within your site, or you can set one up within another network that is read regularly by many people. A weekly blog, containing interesting information or case studies about your business and your clients, will start to get noticed in searches.
CampaignHub provides a free blogging service at Business Blogs (businessblogs.co.nz), where businesses can post their blogs and have them re-broadcast, along with their contact details, on a range of social networks. If you want to set up a standalone blog, maybe to reach overseas markets, you can find all the tools you need – for free – at WordPress (wordpress.org).
Another effective way to attract readers to your website or blog is to send out a regular email newsletter. Since everyone who visits your website probably has an email address, you have a huge potential customer database available right there. However, the law requires that people give you their email address voluntarily – otherwise you’ll be ‘named and shamed’ as a spammer. Set up a form or a link inviting site visitors to register for email updates. If you add special offers, such as discounts or even free stuff, so much the better. And be sure your emails comply with the anti-spam law by having an ‘unsubscribe’ link in them.
Your email newsletter should be sent out at regular intervals. How regularly you do this is up to you – some retailers send out several each week – but each email must be unique, contain content that is interesting, and be able to be read quickly. Keep the content brief and well spaced, and include click-through links to your website wherever possible. The whole point of email marketing is to keep your business in your customers’ minds.
You’re bound to have heard many stories about social media, and that may be where you need to go once your website content is sorted out. Again, the nature of your business and your customers will dictate what works for you. Using social media is all about building relationships, then capitalising on those relationships to turn them into customers.
Mention social media to just about anyone, and the first name that usually pops up is Facebook (www.facebook.com). Compare it to a shopping mall: there are millions of people browsing it, and your task is to get them through your door, which is your Facebook page. But once you’ve got them there, remember that you need to keep the posts brief, and be sure each one links to your website. Don’t think you have to post every day, or that more posts means more viewers. Make every post count, and make your postings entertaining and informative. Have a look at the page of Giapo, an Auckland-based Italian ice cream parlour (www.facebook.com/#!/giapogelato) as an example. Your page must reflect the image you wish to convey to customers. LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) is more of a business-to-business network – best for businesses that sell to other businesses, or to keep contacts up to date.
Twitter (twitter.com) should be approached with care. This social network/microblog where posts are limited to 140 characters has gained a lot of publicity, but many businesses have spent time and resources going there for little or no return. If your customer base is young, mobile and free-spending, then Twitter may suit you, especially since it works on phones. If you’re running retail stores and offering special deals frequently, Twitter can be used to lure in those shoppers who buy spontaneously. Again, the secret is to post something interesting, include a link, and give readers a reason to go there. Another network that can work in this context is Foursquare (foursquare.com). All of this raises the question of whether your site should be optimised for mobile devices – many sites are just too difficult to read on a small screen. Professional web developers will make your site mobile-friendly if you want it that way, or you may prefer to set up a .mobi version of your site. Be sure enough of your customers will want to use it first. If you think you should be on the mobile web, here are some simple strategies: tinyurl.com/cna5ze
THE WAY AHEAD
No one knows your business like you, but be prepared to take some expert advice when it comes to marketing. Your mailouts may be handled better by an email service provider (ERP). A professional strategist or a mentoring service like Ochre Business (see page 14) may have some ideas on how best to reach your target audience. Local business networks like and B4coffee (See page 29) let you read the views of others, and share your own. Type "online marketing forum” into Google and start reading the results. Above all, stay focused, work on your content and strategies, and be prepared to take some risks.