Great Trends in Internet Marketing

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I have to say, I am really happy with the way Google is guiding the whole internet search functionality. In their last couple of major updates, Google is focusing on offering truly useful content to real people who are seeking purposeful information on their chosen topics. As I have mentioned before, it used to be that you could just throw up junk that was rich with keywords, buy or swap a whole lot of links to your pages and you would rise to the top of the results offered by any of the major search engines. Google has taken the lead in developing ways of offering the content people want, not dishing up a bunch of advertisements with no real value.

Analysts in this industry now agree that to keep on top of these recent changes, a website has to have content that is real and valuable. It should be recognized by the community as having value and there should be plenty of interaction between the community and the content/writers.

How to Do it

What points would make your content satisfy these requirements?

  • Depending on your industry, your content may need to be deeply and accurately researched.

  • It should be timely. By which I mean, there should be fresh content added to your site on a regular basis and when it can deal with the issues of the day, this is even better.

  • It helps a lot if your content is supported with social media postings. So your content should be posted to places like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Foursquare and YouTube.

  • The more commenting, the better, so you’d better seek to make this content intriguing, captivating, compelling, even controversial. Innovate, discover and communicate what you learn.

  • If readers re-post your content, this is a good sign. So offer helpful information your readers would want to give others. Intelligent advice, viewpoints they might find useful, how-to tips that would come in handy. This applies to written content but also think of videos! Lots of videos out there offering how-to advice.

  • Subscribers to your content also help, so you should have ways your readers can sign up for emails, notifications from your blogs, etc.

Good News and Bad News

Does that sound complicated? Like a lot of work? I guess you could say that’s the bad news.

The good news: If you don’t have the time, or have someone on staff who knows what to do, then you can outsource all this work to a company like ours, or someone else that you work with already. This is our specialty though, and is something we work on every day of the week.

Keeping your online presence fresh should be part of the marketing plan for any business that wants to expand – even one that wants to hold onto its present customer base. More than 60% of the buying public is looking online for reviews, product specifications, locations, how-to instructions, etc., and you need to be there.

If you’re not sure how much return on your investment you can achieve by improving the way your website interacts with the online world, you should call me for an analysis. I can look at your site and give you some ideas, as well as case studies from other clients to show what can be done. There’s no reason you should expect an investment without a return.

Keeping your site fresh, interesting and popular should be as important as keeping a restaurant premises clean and the food delicious, or providing properly done home improvement work. It’s now an essential element – and cost – of doing business.

Carlos Bernot

The Simplicity of Good Web Design

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Web design is a constantly evolving subject which means that websites need to be constantly evolving along with new design principles. These new principles may include new technical capabilities that have been developed or they may just be new styles of designing websites that people quickly become accustomed to. Either way, if you don’t take advantage of new technology or new styles, your website is going to start looking stale and old-fashioned.

Naturally, the fundamental rules for creating good, effective websites may stay in effect for a long time. But the way they are applied may change year by year. When you have your website created, don’t then ignore it and assume it will continue to compete with your competitors’ sites. In addition to adding valuable content to your site on a weekly basis, instruct the company that maintains it to inspect it for timeliness.

Here are some specific suggestions. You can use these when you visit your website to evaluate its effectiveness in comparison to others.

1. Visit the websites of your primary competitors. Pretend you are a customer. See if you are led into a desire for the product/service being sold. Then visit your own. Does your website do at least as good a job of creating desire for the product/service?
2. Look at how bright and attractive your competitors’ sites look. Do the illustrations look contemporary? Are the photos obviously from some online photo store or do they look exclusive to that website? Then look at your own.
3. Check navigational elements on your site. Are the buttons on your website easy to find? Clearly marked? Do they seem to be where they should be – in other words, as soon as you (pretending to be a potential customer of your products) start feeling like your website is selling something you might be interested in, is there a button that enables you to ask for more product information or contact a salesperson?
4. Step back a little and look at the colors and the lettering. Do they give the right impression that matches the kind of product/service you offer? A lawyer’s office should obviously have a more dignified, understated website than one selling children’s clothes.

Another Test to Make of Your Website

One of the primary actions a website should accomplish is to keep a person interested while the product/service information is relayed. There should be no clutter that gets in the way. No confusing navigation that causes a person to get frustrated and leave. If you really want to test your existing website, try this little exercise.

Find a friend who is not also a customer. Sit down with him (or her) and open up your webpage. Ask him to pretend he is in the market for your product and have him navigate through your website, finding out about your product and even approaching the ordering process, if your product can be ordered online. Or alternately, asking for product information if that can be done. NOTE WHERE HE HANGS UP IN THIS PROCESS. Actually write any of these points down. Where does he get confused or frustrated? You’ll need to go over this list with your web maintenance company.

If your website does not pass all these tests that either you or a friend put your site through, it is probably time for an update. Even when the update is done, your review should be an annual event.

The other way to approach this is to establish a schedule with your web maintenance company. Tell them you want to review your site with a designer once a year to ensure it is keeping up with changing standards. This practice will help you maintain a clean look and optimum functionality.

Morgan Fagerman

How Can Inviting Your Customers to Participate Improve Your Profitability?

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Traditional businesses may have a hard time figuring out how to use social media to their advantage. After all, their history is what is called “brick and mortar.” In other words, there is a real store or office to walk into. Business is done face to face with customers, workers, parts, services delivered on the spot and so on.

Social media is fine for a person running for political office or someone who takes orders via a website but not for me,” might say an auto repair shop, print shop, hairstylist, small beach hotel owner, camera shop or other brick and mortar businessperson. Not so fast! It might be just what you need.

How would it work? Think about what expertise you offer. Your customers benefit from it every time they come in to your shop. A car repair shop owner knows what causes that funny klunk from the rear end and a hairstylist knows how to get hair to unfrizz in humid weather. If you can get your customers to participate in a blog or online forum, you can engage them in online conversations and share your expertise with them. The more people you can get engaged, the more people hear how expert you are in your specialty.

A Blog for your Business

It will probably take a little thought for you to realize how many different things you could be writing about. (Then again, if you’re the kind of person who hates to write, then you might do best hiring someone else to write your blog for you.) Let’s just take a casual look at an auto shop owner’s blog. Most people know very little about the correct way to maintain both the mechanical side and the appearance of their vehicles. You know hundreds of things they don’t know. If you can separate out these concepts and write one blog per concept, you are set for years. For example:

How often should you check coolant? What do you refill it with when low?

Is there any way to tell if a battery needs replacing before it fails?

Can you keep your vehicle’s finish shiny for twenty years? How?

Tire health – how to judge it.

Why cracked windshields need replacing NOW!

The best conditioner for leather seats.

What to do if your sunroof leaks.

The challenge is to get your customers interested. Ask for their email addresses with every transaction and send them an invitation. Put a notice up in your friends’ businesses inviting their customers to an informative automotive site. When people start learning things they value from you, some of them will naturally want to bring their vehicles to you for service.

Blog are very easy to set up via online services like www.blogger.com or www.wordpress.com. They are free unless you want to buy a special theme (appearance) for your blog.

How Online Forums Differ from Blogs

Online forums are considerably more sophisticated than blogs. You will need special software and you will need to buy hosting service for your forum. That would be similar to paying to have someone host your website.

A forum is more of a community activity. Anyone can start a conversation or ask a question. Anyone else who is part of that community can answer or reply.

Here is a forum from Digital Photography Review. http://www.dpreview.com/forums

You can see that there are more than THREE MILLION conversations (referred to as threads) on this forum. People discuss all the different brands of digital cameras, photography tips and techniques, the challenges of getting a good print, equipment bags – just about everything. If you are heavily invested in your industry, this might be the right way to go. Just expect to have more to learn and more cost involved.

A better way to go for most businesspeople is to get involved in forums that relate to their chief activities, whether income-producing or not. A dog breeder would be smart to follow every relevant show dog forum he/she can find. Like this one: http://www.showdog.com/forum/.

Here again there are MILLIONS of conversations and replies.

A quick search on Google shows dozens, maybe hundreds of forums in any specialty you can think of! Take your expertise to the best of these forums, the ones that relate the most closely to your strengths. Just show good judgment when you start conversations or respond to people’s questions. Don’t just show off or promote whatever it is you sell. Just be intelligent and offer relevant, helpful information. If someone wants business information from you, take it off the forum and help them privately. That way, no one will bust you for doing business on the forum.

Outreach in any form is almost always good for business and these social media give you a way to reach out digitally. It’s a little more indirect than handing someone a brochure but, on the other hand, you can reach thousands or tens of thousands of people you might never otherwise reach.

Grant Boshoff

Do You Have a Long Tail?

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No, that doesn’t mean you’re a mouse. Long Tail is a term that relates to the way people search on the internet and the content you should have on your website to attract those searches.

Let’s look the meaning of Long Tail in the context of one particular business. We’ll pick a tutoring business as an example. Further, let’s pick a tutoring business that specializes in helping young children catch up grade levels. Their prime targets are children aged 6-14 who are not keeping up with other kids. Let’s call it Star Tutoring.

Star Tutoring has a niche market. A niche market means that a business focuses its efforts on a very specific and well-defined customer. (According to Merriam-Webster, a niche is “a place, employment, status or activity for which a person is best fitted.” As in “she finally found her niche as a pastry chef.”)

The whole business of tutoring is very broad. The business of tutoring would include in-home tutors, tutoring for adults, summertime tutoring and tutoring for at-risk teens. There’s specialty tutoring for math or science. And there are companies that specialize in preparations for major tests like SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) and LSAT (Law School Admission Test). Whew!

You can see that each one of these different types of tutoring each has its own niche market. Now the job becomes matching web content to that niche market so one’s website attracts the right kind of customer.

Building a Website that Matches Your Strengths

The wrong way for Star Tutoring’s web content to read would be like this:

Star Tutoring staff care about your success. Every time you visit Star Tutoring, you will feel more like you can succeed. We have so many tutors that it is easy for you to schedule tutoring with us.” No appeal to the specific niche they are trying to reach.

Star Tutoring should match the language on their website very specifically to the needs of their desired customers. Like this:

When parents are concerned that their children are falling behind in school, they can be confident that failing students can become students that excel. Your child can catch up grade levels and improve his grades at Star Tutoring.”

Now that you understand this, we’ll look at how a niche market relates to the Long Tail.

How the Long Tail Works

The Long Tail of web searches refers to a visual representation of internet searches. Despite what you may think, the majority of searches are specific, not broad. If you create a graph of all the words used in searches, with the most commonly used words bunching up on the left and the very specific, descriptive phrases trailing away to the right, the graph shows a big bulge (called a “Fat Head”) on the left and a LONG, SKINNY TAIL formation to the right.

The Fat Head of tutoring searches would include:

Tutoring

Tutors

Tutoring Classes

Tutoring Lessons

The Long Tail of tutoring searches would mean that people were searching by terms like this:

Tutoring for Failing Students

Catch Up Tutoring

Tutoring to Improve Grades

Every search phrase above includes the word “tutor” so of course the graph shows a high level of searches that include the word “tutor” (the Fat Head of search terms). The number of people looking for “Catch Up Tutoring” is much smaller but they are your prime public.

A parent who finds Star Tutoring with the second set of search terms is not looking for advanced science, SAT or adult tutoring. She is looking for exactly what Star Tutoring offers!

You can use the Long Tail to your advantage by making sure the language on your website matches your strengths, the products you offer that are the most profitable and your niche market. This focus on your ideal buyers makes the most of your investment in your website and any online advertising you might do.

Carlos Bernot

In Praise of Testing

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If you’re still wincing over the thought of high school or college testing, you can relax. I’m not talking about that type of testing. I’m talking about testing that means that you can maximize your return on investment from marketing efforts. The kind of testing that puts money in your pocket, not the kind of testing that keeps you up at night, worried about the grade you’re going to get.

Testing is a time-honored method of making sure your direct mail investment will pay off. Classic direct mail testing involves getting a mailing list of a prospective public (like pediatricians, hairdressers, chemists, auto mechanics or any other group with similar characteristics) and sending mail only to a small segment of the list. This test segment would be split into parts. Each part would get its own test mailer. The mailers would be alike except for one major feature. It could be the headline. It could be the color. It could be the product photo or the model holding the product.

Since direct mail involves some sort of response (phone call for more information, send in a coupon, call to order), the responses from each section of the list could be compared. And the winning mailer would then be sent out to the entire list. Maybe the entire list is 300,000 names. A test mailer might go to 20,000. So the winning piece goes to the remaining 280,000.

Testing Updated

That’s the history. But now, so much marketing communication is zinging through cyberspace. Testing takes on a whole new look.

Google Analytics and similar services provide you with much faster feedback on changes in your marketing message than you were ever able to get from direct mail. Google Analytics is defined like this: “Google Analytics is a free service offered by Google that generates detailed statistics about the visitors to a website.” You can learn more about Google Analytics here: http://www.google.com/analytics/learn/index.html.

You can actually see and compare the statistics for each feature on your website when you learn how to use these tools. They are fairly simple but there is a learning curve.

How it Could Work for You

Suppose you design your home page to add navigation buttons to features you think your customers want. Let’s say you have a restaurant. You add these buttons:

Our Menu

Our Hours

Our Awards

Our Staff

Our Location

You can monitor which of these buttons get the most clicks through Google Analytics.

So after a week, you look at your statistics and you see that 30% of your visitors click on Our Location and the other 70% click on Our Menu. Well, you can safely lose the awards and staff buttons and maybe just tuck the hours information into the menu pages.

So the second week, you try out:

Breakfast Menu

Lunch Menu

Dinner Menu

Our Location

At the end of the week, you see that 10% click on Breakfast Menu, 40% click on Lunch Menu, 20% click on Dinner Menu and that same 30% click on Our Location!

You’re now meeting people’s needs better!

The next week, you get a wild idea and you add a fifth button. Now it’s:

ORDER ONLINE

Breakfast Menu

Lunch Menu

Dinner Menu

Our Location

When you get a flurry of clicks on ORDER ONLINE, you now realize that this is the service people really want! They look forward to being able to place an order online and not be rushed when they eat-in and don’t have to wait for a to-go order. 

This is the Twenty-First Century version of direct mail testing! Faster, cheaper, deeper. If you rely on your website (and there’s not many companies that don’t) then these tools can help you develop a site that parallels your visitors’ needs faster, meaning they find what they need and can make a purchase from you that much faster.

Stefan Schaefer