Master search engine marketing to get in front of your best prospects
By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.
Here are 10 different steps that companies can take this year to add more customers. Not surprisingly, many of these improvements involve search engine marketing, because 73 percent of consumers regularly use search engines to find businesses in their local area, according to a recent survey by WebVisible and Nielsen/NetRatings.
1. Set Long-Range Goals. Rebrand Accordingly, If Needed. Many companies are in transition of some kind, and they need to have a clear vision of how they will serve their market a few years from now. Develop a three-year plan or a five-year plan for the company that includes new customers, new revenues and a plan for getting from here to there. If the plan calls for diversifying the business, determine what skills you need to add and figure out how you might do that. If the company’s identity seems outdated or too strongly tied to one product or service, consider tweaking the name, tagline and imagery to be more inclusive. Think like a prospective customer, and imagine what would be most appealing to them. Plan on keeping the name mostly intact if it carries a good reputation; just adjust it to be more suggestive of your shifting mission.
2. Expand Your Web Presence. Improving your web presence optimization (WPO) is essential when your business plans calls for customer acquisition. Your web presence is essentially your visibility on the Internet, which is the new “Main Street” for all businesses, including local ones. When a customer in your area goes looking for products or services like yours using Google or another search engine, they should find your company everywhere they turn online. You maximize your visibility by listing your name, location and everything you do in all the most popular online directories and social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Google Plus, Yahoo Local, Merchant Circle, Yelp and more. You’ll create more points where people can discover you and, more importantly, boost the search performance of the company website so it is more likely to appear on the first page in a relevant search. If you’re not already a member of Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau, sign up now, because those memberships reflect well on you. Angie’s List can also drive new business your way.
3. Optimize Your Website for Search. You hear about search engine optimization (SEO) a lot, because it is vitally important for attracting new business. SEO is how your website communicates to Google and other search engines about what you do and where you do it. Your website must send clear signals about the company, and it must abide by the search engine’s rules. If the SEO is done right, you stand an excellent chance of landing near the top of the search results when a user is looking for a company like yours. Be aware that Google tweaks its search algorithms often to improve search results and thwart site operators trying to cheat the system. The result is that companies now need to monitor website performance closely and make frequent updates to avoid slipping downward in the results. If you search for the products and services you sell in your area and don’t find your own site near the top of the results, act decisively, because that means that no one can find you on the Internet and your recruitment efforts are compromised. Get your website “on the lift” and inspect the SEO. Some expert maintenance can work out the kinks and get you back in the game.
4. Meet New Customers Halfway. Try your hand at “inbound marketing,” which is the practice of using informative content like a trail of breadcrumbs to lead Internet searchers to your door. For example, post a highly useful article that draws on your expertise and then optimize it for search. When an Internet user goes online seeking information, your article might appear in their search results, and they might be impressed with what you know and how you share your knowledge. By posting informative articles pertaining to your different products and services, you create more relevant links for the search engines and create more opportunities to make great first impressions. Pack the article with keywords, so that the search engines connect the article to many search terms and serve it up frequently. With just a few articles, you can attract lots of traffic and make great first impressions by “introducing” your company as an expert provider that believes in informing the public. It’s an easy way to get found, build affinity and get prospects leaning your way as they go searching for a service provider.
5. Make It Easy to Say ‘Yes.’ Once you’re good at attracting prospects to your website, you’ll want to be especially good at converting them to customers. Put yourself in a prospect’s shoes and think about how you can inspire them to choose you on the spot. First, load your website with positive information about your company, such as customer testimonials; positive ratings from Yelp, Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau; information about any honors you have received; information about your community involvement; photos of staff. This helps them like you and makes them want to connect with you. Second, eliminate any negatives, such as an ugly home page, typos, bad photos, dated typography, etc. Third, create an easy-to-use inquiry page that enables customers to request more information in just a few seconds without providing too much information. And if you extend special offers to new customers, put your best offer on the table on your inquiry page for extra motivation.
6. Advertise Creatively. When you take advantage of all that Google AdWords has to offer, you can gain tremendous visibility online. Start with traditional AdWords advertising, which can place your ad on a user’s screen adjacent to the organic search results whenever they use run a search using one of your chosen search terms. Simply develop comprehensive lists of search terms that a user might use when searching for products and services like yours. (Lists tend to get extremely long when you are thorough, but that’s no problem for AdWords.) Prepare a campaign for each of your major products and services and write short text ads that will appear onscreen. Google only charges you when someone clicks on one of your ads. To turbo-charge your online advertising, add remarketing to the mix. With remarketing, Google can recognize users who have visited your site and serve a display ad for your company again and again as they surf the Internet.
7. Be Aggressive With Special Offers and Coupons. If you are launching a new service or trying to ramp up equipment sales, get creative with special offers. Think like a customer and devise tempting offers designed to make them pull the trigger. If the special offer is for a large purchase, offer financing and let me customers know exactly what their monthly cost will be. You can leverage Google Analytics to test the effectiveness of different online coupons and see which one generates the most inquiries and sales. In addition to posting the offers online, you can distribute coupons by mail, e-mail and in your newsletters. When you post or distribute an offer, accompany it with a brief, authoritative write-up of the benefits so the customer sees the solution, the price and the justification at once. Make it very easy to respond to any offer through your website.
8. Launch a Mobile Website. Smartphones are quickly replacing laptops and desktop computers as the platform of choice for searching the Internet. To put your best foot forward with prospects who prefer their smartphones, launch an alternative, mobile version of your website. Rather than reinvent the wheel, you simply build a slimmed down version of your regular site that uses a similar arrangement and much of the same copy. When a smartphone user finds your site, they’ll navigate with ease and recognize your commitment to advanced technology and customer service. It’s a great way to differentiate yourself from the competition and gain an advantage with an affluent and growing market sector. You’ll also please those customers who want to log in to their accounts with their smartphones.
9. Be Convenient. Phone calls are old school. Give your customers as much latitude as you can to communicate with you online and do business through your website. Today’s consumers are spoiled by large e-commerce retailers who have trained them to do business online and access their accounts at any time of day or night. To the extent you can offer the same, you position yourself as a modern company and convenient partner. You can automate much of what your customers want to do these days: online account access, online customer rewards program, scheduling of appointments, bill payment, choice of paper or electronic billing, and more. When you build these functions into your website and promote them prominently, you stand out as a convenient service provider, which counts for a lot these days.
10. Make Progress. With all the changes occurring in how you communicate with prospects and customers, it is easy to fall behind the times – and the competition. To stay on or near the cutting edge, companies should commit to some degree of modernization every year. Take stock of where you stand and where your greatest weaknesses are, and find ways to improve. Every time you make a meaningful improvement, you gain on the competition and become more attractive to prospects – and, of course, to your customers. Do what you can in 2013 and develop a clear idea of how you’ll follow up in 2014.
Richard Rutigliano is President of PriMedia, Inc., a full-service Advertising/Integrated Marketing Communications/New Media firm with offices in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.