Google Loves Blogs

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Fortunately or unfortunately, those of us doing internet marketing have learned that pleasing the Google search machine is the way to win at this game. Each time Google updates their methods of operation, a ripple rolls through this industry. Sometimes that ripple is as big as a tsunami and sometimes it’s just a quiver. Smart folks either study up on what they just changed (if they make any announcement) or decipher the changes by looking at how the search results changed (when they don’t make an announcement).

Several years ago, Google decided that blogs contain valuable content. So they began including blogs when they scanned the internet to add pages to their massive indexes. Not only did they begin including blogs, they also showed that they preferred blogs over much of the other information out there by tending to place blog results high in the search results.

When a blog is popular, Google likes it even more. Google looks for signs of popularity via social media, comments and links to your blog. If you publish a link to your blog post to Facebook and a lot of people like that Facebook post, this works in your favor. If a lot of people comment on your blog, that means that you either are an authority for your commenters or there is an active community related to your blog. Either way, Google respects that and pushes your blog higher in search results.

If you have gained renown in your area of expertise (and blogging) and many other commentary websites or other blogs talk about your content and link to it, then Google takes this as another sign of your authenticity and authority. Again, your blog post is pushed higher in search results.

So What Can We Surmise from This?

Well, the first is that you should have a blog for your business. And it should be maintained in a lively, fresh state. In other words, there should be fresh content added on a regular basis, at least once a week. More is OK, too.

Second, you should send your customers there. If you send out emails to your customers, include links to your blog. Refer to your blog in your emails. Mention it on your Facebook page and publish your blog posts there, too, always with a link back to the blog post. If you utilize Twitter, mention new blog posts. Connect blog posts to your LinkedIn profile. Heck, call your family and ask them to read it!

Third, to make your blog interesting, you need to write content that relates to what people might want to know about your area of business. Or hire someone to do it for you, because not everyone is natively a good writer. Of course, Visual Edge Design provides this service for our clients. Not every business owner has the time or the skill to write a blog post every week.

Your blog content should help people, not just help them to buy your products or services, but simply help them. Whatever you are expert in, help them with your expertise and experience. If you have enough experience to run a business, you have valuable experience and knowledge to share. When you help them, they will comment, like your blog posts and tell other people that they should tune in. This is the path to popularity and that is the path to better placement in Google search results.

A Brave, New, Interconnected World

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According to Google, the world’s most popular search engine, 97% of Americans who use the Internet at all are using it to search for local goods and services. But more than half of America’s small businesses don’t have websites.

The other (almost) half of small businesses in this country DO have websites, but few of these websites are really being utilized to their full potential. That’s because the online world has been changing so rapidly over the last few years. This rate of change will only continue or accelerate.

A dozen years ago, all you really had to do was get a nice-looking website designed and add some content relevant to your business or activity. That was enough to make your site serve its purpose. It’s just not enough any more.

It’s not so much that there is now more competition for that little bit of virtual real estate, although that is true. It’s that both the functionality of the internet and the thinking processes of users have changed. People need and want different benefits from the information on the internet. Those changes have guided the front edge of development of the internet (and vice versa), the way searches work and the interconnected nature of many of the resources out there.

Social Media Enters Right About Here

People are sharing information at a truly mad rate these days. People are posting their activities to Facebook, tweeting updates on Twitter, splashing their photos across Instagram or Flickr, perhaps blogging about their experiences and writing reviews, reviews, reviews. Consumers are checking for ratings on the products they want to buy, looking at reviews from other customers and browsing the Better Business Bureau and Angie’s List before they commit to a home or auto repair.

Amazingly enough, Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines manage to keep all this information straight. So if a person in Cincinnati, Ohio wants to check out Lou’s Auto Repair, located around the corner, that person can quickly have a long list of reviews, Facebook comments, photos and other information about that business in a matter of seconds.

Old style websites that simply offer the same information, day after day, will not be able to compete with sites that link in to all these rich resources. To keep up, a company now has to keep their online presence alive, fresh, connected and fully functional. Some of the actions a company would need to take to keep their online presence in tip-top condition:

1. Have a Facebook page that is well liked (which means hundreds or thousands of

likes, depending on the potential audience for that company)

2. Post articles to their Facebook page that all link back to their business website

3. Monitor and respond to reviews, both positive and negative

4. Add fresh and very relevant content to their business site regularly

5. Keep all links and pages fully functional

6. Utilize any other social media that would be relevant, such as Pinterest, Flickr or

Instagram for photos

7. Enlist the help of an up-to-date web development company (such as Visual Edge

Design, of course) to keep the out-of-sight details used by search engines fully up to current standards.

A little more on this last point since it is significant. Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines look in certain places for information on what your site is about and other facts, such as location and what products or services are offered. This fairly technical content is never seen by a visitor to your website, but is critically important to your ranking in search results. No matter who built your website, it needs to be updated on a regular basis just to keep up with the changes in technology. It needs to be reviewed on a regular basis to make sure all the pages connect properly.

If you have a website, you now need to be thinking with maintenance of this basic type and other types that we will cover in future articles. This is just scratching the surface of optimizing your website for search engines. Stay tuned to learn more.

How to Create a Website That Sells

The first thing to know when creating a website that is supposed to sell a product or several products, is that first and foremost, the website is supposed to SELL a product or several products. In other words, a person should be able to come to the website, find what they are looking for, and buy it. That is the simplicity of it, and that is what we always do here at Visual Edge Design, Inc. (www.visualedgedesign.com) when building sales sites for our clients. Sounds pretty straightforward, but you may be surprised to know that websites are created every day that do just the opposite. The fact is that omitting certain things on a SALES WEBSITE can kill the sale in an instant.

To create an effective SALES GENERATING web site, there are specific points that MUST be included in the web site that will:

  1. Make it easy for a visitor to see what is for sale.
  2. Instill confidence that they are in a REAL store that is legitimate.
  3. Give them a compelling reason to buy the product(s) at that store.
  4. Make it easy for them to actually BUY the product(s) from that store.

If any of the 4 points above are omitted, it is VERY likely that the visitor will leave the web site without buying anything.

Let’s take a real life retail store-front for example:
Say you wanted to buy a new pair of shoes today. You would either go to a shoe store you already know of and trust or you would look online for a store near you, or simply open the yellow pages to find the nearest shoe store.

In any case, you would find a shoe store nearby. Now, if that shoe store was hard to get to, you might try another store somewhere else. However, if you arrived at the store, but there appeared to be very few shoes, no cash register, no signs indicating that they take any credit cards, and no one to help you, you might turn around and walk out. What if the shoe racks were disorderly, and shoes were NOT sorted by size or style? What if there was a “store clerk” that had NO register, was dressed slovenly and then asked for your credit card, which he took in back and then came back after a while with a “thank you” note, but no receipt? What if there was NO sign indicating that anything in the store was guaranteed? What if they had a NO RETURN policy? What if the store had hand-written signs with marker on cardboard throughout? What if they made you give them your credit card and purchase the item BEFORE they told you how much you were spending? Would you feel comfortable shopping at such a store? I know I wouldn’t.

Believe it or not, there are many on-line stores that are the equivalent of such a store. In other words, you get to the website and it is difficult to find what you are looking for, there are no indications of how to pay, no guarantees, no phone numbers to get live help, no contact information on the website, no privacy statement or ordering information, and in some cases the store is set up so that you “add the item” to the cart, then checkout and give all your contact and credit card information BEFORE you can see how much you are spending. All of these points create an unfriendly shopping environment and REDUCE the confidence in the person who is trying to buy something. These seemingly simple points when overlooked can cost a website 75% OR MORE of their sales. I’m not going to go into great detail on perfect design, professional sites, etc. as these are a given.

7 Elements That Add Up to a Website That Sells!

You want to sell stuff from your website. So what are the key elements that add up to a website THAT sells?

Here are 7 elements that are a MUST for a web site that sells:

1. Make it Really Obvious What is Being Sold

It should be obvious for any visitor to see exactly what is for sale. If there are a number of products, then the site should be laid out so that one can easily see all of the products at a glance. In a larger e-commerce site, then these can be broken down into categories with sub-products in each category so that the visitor can “drill down” to the single product they are looking for.

For example, let’s take a website that sells books, DVDs and CDs. It might have a navigation structure that looks like this:

Books > DVDs > CDs

and after one clicks on CDs:

DVDs > Action > Children’s > Comedy > Drama > Family >

You get the idea. It’s EASY to see what’s for sale and it’s EASY to find what you’re looking for. And of course, there should be a product search box that is EASY to locate and use.

If the website sells a single product, it should be obvious from the home page and it should be easy to order. If a button says “Tee Shirts” then the link should go to a page about Tee Shirts, NOT “Women’s Apparel” or some other stupid phrase OTHER than what it said the first time. There are even huge company websites that are notoriously difficult to navigate because when you click on a category or section, it does not take you where you think you are going. This creates frustration and sends the visitors running to the competition.

2. How to Order

It should be easy and obvious for a visitor to order something from a website. An ORDER NOW button should be right beside the product being offered and should go straight to that product in a shopping cart. The shopping cart should have easily identifiable buttons like “Add to Cart”.

The point is that it should be obvious and easy to order. There should be as little additional pages or steps between locating the product and purchasing it as possible. Ideally, they should be able to see what they are buying, and how much it costs, add the item to their cart, view the subtotal and then checkout – meaning fill out their credit card and billing information.

A customer should NEVER have to fill in their credit card and billing information before they have their totals as you could lose them at that point.

It is also essential at “checkout” to get the necessary data from the customer to complete the sale only. This would be their Name, Billing Address, Phone, Email, and Shipping Address (if different from their billing address), their Credit Card number, expiration date and the little code that verifies that they have the credit card on hand. This is NOT the time to try and get every last detail about their demographics, survey questions, etc. Just collect the key information to get the sale DONE. Once the transaction is completed, you can ask them to do a short survey or whatever on the transaction receipt page.

3. How Much Each Product Costs

There should be a price next to every product so that one can tell EXACTLY what they are spending on that item. If they are buying multiple items, they should be able to “View Cart” and see their sub-total at a glance so that they can add more items or remove something if they are over-budget.

4. Methods of Payment

Obviously if it is an on-line store, it is highly advisable to take major credit cards and the site should clearly display which major credit cards are accepted. If the site is designed to take PayPal, then that should be included as well. This is easily done by including the credit card icons that are accepted at the top and bottom of each page.

5. Secure Shopping Reassurance

It may seem like a small thing, but adding a line of text that says: Secure On-Line Shopping or Secure Shopping or Secure On-Line Transactions can make the difference between making a sale or losing a sale. This line of text can be accented with an icon of a padlock or a check mark, but the bottom line is that shoppers want and need reassurance. It goes without saying that you would have an SSL Certificate (secure socket layer) so that any transactions are secure. Many SSL Certificates have a “site badge” or icon that you can put on your website to show off to the world that your site is secure. This is an image that looks fancy or simple and says “secure” or “Verified secure” or something like that. It reminds the shopper visually that their purchase is safe and secure. Which makes them much more willing to buy from you.

6. An Incentive to Buy

There are dozens of ways to give incentives to buy, but one should take some time and care in creating these so that the website reinforces the notion that a visitor should buy something NOW. Below are some more common examples:

  • Buy 1 – Get a 2nd for HALF PRICE
  • FREE SHIPPING on Orders Over $75
  • FREE GIFT with EVERY PURCHASE of $50 or More!
  • LIMITED TIME ONLY – 10% OFF EVERY ORDER!
  • BUY ONE – GET ONE FREE
  • OFFER VALID ONLY WHILE SUPPLIES LAST
  • FLAT RATE SHIPPING JUST $5.95 PER ORDER
  • 24 HOUR TURNAROUND – FAST SHIPPING
  • LOWEST PRICE GUARANTEED
  • JANUARY SPECIAL (or FEBRUARY or WHATEVER)

All of the above examples have been proven to work. The point to understand is that in the vast sea of Internet stores, it is important that a website has some incentive to BUY from them and not the competition.

A Word of Caution:

Take care in creating an incentive though, that it is a REAL incentive that can be offered and delivered on. You would not want to put “LOWEST PRICE GUARANTEE” on a website that obviously does not have good prices. Likewise, it would not be prudent to have a BUY ONE – GET ONE FREE offer on a low profit margin item that results in no profit with every sale.

The above are simply some examples of real incentives that have worked for others. Regardless of what is done, the bottom line is that there must be an incentive to BUY. Once it is worked out, it should be repeated on every page that has anything to do with BUYING. This can be included in the overall design, as an icon on the top or sides, next to ORDER NOW buttons, etc.

7. Website Traffic Stat Tracking

Every sales site should have stat tracking to see where visitors are coming from, which pages they go to, where sales are lost and which pages or links lead to the most sales. This is KEY to knowing how effective a website ACTUALLY is. You can not assume that just because the sales are slim, that the website is not working without looking at stat tracking. What if the site gets 25 visitors a month and 10 of those buy??? If you didn’t know it had 25 visitors and you just assumed that the site wasn’t working “because only 10 people bought something last month…” You would be making a deadly assumption. In that scenario, the solution is to get TONS more visitors to the site, but you would not have known that WITHOUT stat tracking.

So use the 7 Points above to create a website that sells and then pour the coals on marketing the site. If the website has a product that is desirable by the public and is reasonably priced, then the website should make money if the 7 points above are followed.

How to Market Your Website

Realize that your website is a marketing tool for your products and/or services.  You are investing advertising dollars in the maintenance of your site and should do whatever possible to get the most out of it.  Having a website is of course less expensive than traditional marketing, but it can be as effective as traditional marketing if you use it wisely.

The first thing to do with your new site is to promote it broadly.  You don’t have to change your traditional marketing tactics necessarily, but you can use your new site as a “booster” to increase your exposure.

So the next question is: “How?”

Once you have a web address that is easy to relay to others, the rest is simple.  You should make a habit of adding your website address to every piece of promotional material that goes out.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Standard items: Any and all media ads: Promotional items:
Business Cards
Letterhead
Envelopes
Signs
Banners
Letters
Answering Machine Message
Voice Mail Message
Billboards
Radio Ads
TV Ads
Newspaper Ads
Fliers
Post Cards
Coupons
Brochures
Magazine Ads
Tee-Shirts
Pens
Calendars
Refrigerator Magnets
Stickers
Bumper Stickers
Balloons
Mugs/Cups
Company Note Pads

Above are the essentials to get started with, but with the Internet – there are even more places to go to market your site!

Part 2 – Using The Net to Increase Advertising

I’m going to break these up into categories so they will be easy to follow, as always you can call us at   Visual Edge Design if you need to clarify something or have questions.

Where can I link my website to gain new business? This is a good question, and there are a number of great answers.  If you have a business that relies mainly on local business, then here are some suggestions:

1. Chamber of Commerce website.  When most people are relocating to a new area, they gather as much information as possible about the area.  One of the best resources for them, can be the local Chamber of
Commerce.  You may have to be a member to link your site to theirs or there may just be a fee, but what better way to gain immediate exposure and possibly clientele.

2. On-Line Newspapers.  Most cities and towns have local newspapers that are available on-line.  These are an excellent resource for you, especially if you already advertise in their hard copy paper.  Ask if they offer on-line ads, and if it can link to your website.

3. Local Links Pages.  Most cities and towns have local links pages that feature all the businesses in the area, etc..  The way to find them is to go to a major search engine (Lycos, Yahoo, Excite, SavvySearch, etc) and do a search for your city & state (i.e.: Durango, Colorado) and see what comes up.  When you find 2 or 3 good links pages, you can send them an e-mail or call them and ask what is needed to have your site linked.  There may be a small fee, or it may even be free.  But you never know ’till you ask!

4. Banner Exchanges.  A banner exchange is where you have a small “banner” that gives some basic information about your services, like an ad.  It can be linked to your website, or it can just be a stand alone ad.  This can be a great resource for you at no charge to you.  It works like this: first, you find a business that has a similar clientele to yours.  For instance, if you are a bodywrap shop, you may want to hook up with a local gym, salon, spa or other health related business.  Do not contact someone that would be considered a competitor though.  You would find out if they have a website.  If they do, offer to put a banner for their services on the bottom of your home page, and in exchange they would do the same for you.  This way, you are both increasing your exposure locally and to a correctly targeted audience.   This is done on the Internet all the time and is one of the main lines of advertising across the Internet.