Internet Marketing for SMEs: Step 1 – Forget about the Internet!

I recently sat in on a 30 minute seminar targeted at an audience of SMEs entitled “On-line Marketing”. Although I have to acknowledge that that is a tough brief, delivering such a broad subject in just  half an hour, the presentation was somewhat underwhelming! The presenter ticked the usual boxes:

  1. Engage your audience
  2. Get found on Google (aka SEO)
  3. Email
  4. etc. etc.

Undoubtedly all good stuff, but the one thing that I wrote in my notes in the whole seminar was:

Internet Marketing for SMEs: Step 1 – Forget about the Internet!

beforeBefore I hear shouts of “Luddite!” drowned out only by the deafening sound of clicking as people look for something else to read, please bear with me…

The issue I have is that although the internet offers a whole range of channels for communicating your marketing message and engaging with your market, they are just that, channels.

They give you the How but not the What, Who, Why , Where or When.

You can only use these channels effectively once you have answered a few fundamental marketing questions:

  1. What are my business/marketing objectives
  2. Who is my target market
  3. Why would they buy from me
  4. Where can I find them
  5. When should I communicate them

By leaping straight for the web browser before answering these questions, there is a real danger that you will just chase after the NBIT (Next Big Internet Thing) or be sold the next “magic wand”, which are unlikely to deliver any sustained marketing benefits. Let’s illustrate the point by looking at 2 NBITs:  Search Engine Optimisation and Facebook marketing….

Search Engine Optimisation

Don’t get me wrong, I believe Google (as the big-boy of SEO) is a key to effective web presence, and making sure that your site ranks well on search engines is important. Not least that if someone types your company name into Google, they can find you! However, although a high ranking for a relevant key phrase may make you feel good, a page 1 listing well for some apparently relevant phrase is no guarantee of effective marketing communication – check out this post on an SEO experiment we conducted recently, and whatever anyone tells you about organic/natural search ranking they are not free. Whether you are spending your time doing your own SEO or your money with one of the many SEO companies, search engine marketing costs, and needs to deliver tangible business marketing results. Furthermore, if you have answers to the 5 questions posed above, you may well find that there are other, more appropriate channels through which you can engage with key segments of your target market in a controllable and cost-effective way. Search Engine Optimisation should not be ignored but rather considered amongst a ‘toolbox’ of communication options and (where appropriate) used as one element of a structured marketing communications plan. Despite what some agencies may tell you, SEO is not a marketing magic wand, nor your path to the pot of gold at the end of the marketing rainbow!

Facebook Marketing

Facebook is a great marketing tool and there is no arguing that when used appropriately (check this post – Is Facebook right for your business?) it is a very powerful communications medium. My gripe is with the idea that a facebook page is regularly touted as a ‘must-have‘ element of any online marketing plan. Experience tells me that Facebook is primarily used by individuals in a social context. If you communicate with your target market in this context then Facebook is definitely worth looking at. If, however, your target market is B2B and you are communicating with people with their professional/work hat on, then I would argue that Facebook is at best irrelevant, and at worst is a distraction that draws resources away from other more fruitful marketing activities. BSA Marketing primarily works in SME business to business markets, and because of this, there is no doubt that my view is biased. We did have a Facebook presence for a short while but it didn’t take us long to make the decision to pull it – read more here A recent experience demonstrates my point perfectly. While reviewing a number of North West companies in B2B markets, I started looking at links to the companies’ Twitter and Facebook pages. Looking at these pages, some numbers tell a story:

Company 1 Manufacturing
Company 2 Manufacturing
Company 3 B2B Marketing
Twitter Followers
860
671
130
Facebook ‘Likes’
21
8
2

These are 3 examples that illustrate a common position. I am sure that if any of these companies had spent time asking the question “who is my target market, and where can I interact with them?”, they would quickly have established that Facebook was not an appropriate channel; The very reason why BSA Marketing does not have a Facebook page.

In Conclusion

The internet has had a  huge impact on SME marketing. It offers affordable, sustainable marketing communication opportunities to SME businesses in ways that were previously only accessible to big companies with big budgets. Nevertheless, the marketing fundamentals haven’t changed. Addressing some core marketing questions before starting to click will really pay dividends.

2013 Email Marketing Benchmark Report

One of the most common questions we get asked by clients is “how do our email campaign stats stack up against other people’s campaigns?” In fact it is very difficult question to answer because as always, the answer is “It depends”. However one of the key “It depends” factors is industry, and so we are always happy to see good benchmarking reports landing on our desk, especially when the stats are broken down by industry. One such report is the Sign-up to UK email marketing benchmark report. With a wide range of stats including breakdowns by industry, it is always in “interesting” read. You can download the latest (2013) report here

6 tips for a joined-up web presence

Joined-up WebI’ve been doing a fair bit of networking recently meeting many interesting people. Now, I’m of the view that networking is about building contacts and relationships rather than direct selling but, with the BSA focus on joined-up marketing it would be wrong of me to network in isolation – networking is just a tool in the marketing mix and after all, we are in business so I want to know whether there might be opportunities for me to discuss relevant BSA Marketing services in the future. With this in mind, as well as logging details of people I have spoken with on our database, I normally take a look their website to find out a bit more about them and also to see how  the company’s marketing is reflected on the internet. The more I did this, the more I started to realise there were some key features that help a website to deliver a joined-up marketing message. While most websites I was looking at ticked some of the boxes, I haven’t seen a single one that ticked them all. I feel a Marketing Matters article coming on….

6 tips for a consistent, joined-up web presence

1. Have a single, core point of presence on the internet

With the growth of social media networks and other online tools, there are many places on the internet where you can promote your business but if each is treated independently, there is a danger that your marketing message can get inconsistent and confusing. For most businesses, your own website should be at the heart of your online marketing. Social media, directories, email marketing etc. are all opportunities to engage with your contacts but all should be working to drive visitors to your core content which is on your website.

2. Show visitors a benefit quickly and clearly

There are many studies saying how long people will view a website for the first time but the answer is always the same: Not Very Long! You have only a few seconds to communicate a message that will encourage the visitor to stick around. Get a key benefit clearly on your home page. Try to avoid generic ‘me too’ statements. Go for something you deliver that helps you stand out from the crowd.

3. Don’t feel you must have all the latest website functionality

Every month sees the announcement of new web tools. Websites are getting more complicated and managing an ever increasing range of functionality can become overwhelming. Having the latest bells and whistles on your site may sound good but is it really going to deliver any benefit to you and your site visitors? A simple site with strong, well considered and up to date content gives a much better impression than a site that is so complex it never actually gets finished and is left with unexplained gaps in the content.

4. Let your contacts have their say

It is one thing for you to say how good you are but much better to get someone else to say it for you! Case studies and testimonials make for powerful website content. If a customer thanks you, don’t just feel pleased, ask them if you can quote them – and tell others. Don’t be afraid to ask for testimonials. People rarely refuse these requests. If they are busy, offer to draft some words for their approval (and make sure you get it!) Think about video testimonials – you really can do them using your SmartPhone! Writing case studies can be more time consuming but give an opportunity to highlight specific benefits of your business. I find a simple template based around 3 sections works well:

      1. What was your customer’s problem
      2. How did you solve it for them
      3. How have they benefited since

You can build on this as much as you like including photos, graphics and videos.

5. Monitor your progress

You need to know how much impact your carefully crafted content is having. The best website in the world is nothing if people don’t visit. There are many web stats and analytics tools available. Most simply they show you how many people visit your site on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. You can set visitor number benchmarks and then compare these with traffic levels after you have done some work on your site to check if you are making progress. The stats tool that everyone knows is Google Analytics. It is free to install and use and delivers a LOT of info. It can be a bit daunting if you start digging around but there is lots of  help available online and from specialist companies.

6. Keep your site up to date

Keeping your site up to date in NOT about regular redesigns. It IS about ensuring that the content on your site reflects your business and your USPS (Unique Selling Points) as they are now, not as they were when your site was launched. It may well be that the core content of your site doesn’t need updating that often but that’s not to say your site won’t benefit from regular new content. Having at least a section of your site when you can add new content yourself will pay dividends. You can add news, announcements, case studies, testimonials, hints and tips, technical advice etc. all sorts of content that crops up on an ongoing basis and  demonstrates your capabilities and build confidence in the reader. You can also use this same content to feed your Social Media feeds – 2 for the price of 1!

In Summary….

If you are already using all of the above, congratulations, you are clearly committed to joined-up web marketing If there are 1 or 2 you are not engaged with then maybe a little more focus can deliver real benefits to your business. If you feel there is work you can do on all (or most) of the above then does your web presence reflect the business you want people to see? Maybe your website is doing more harm than good? Important: None of the above ideas need you to start again with a new website. Marketing is a process, not an event.  Where appropriate, BSA Marketing has helped clients add all of the above to their existing sites. If you would like to discuss the opportunities for you, give me a call

Email Newsletters – The Movie

Case studies are always interesting, but in the case of the  “Seventh” email newsletter from export consultant Exportaid, we have taken a slightly different approach. We put Exportaid MD, John Reed in front of a camera, and asked him to tell us the reasons behind the newsletter and the marketing benefits it has delivered for his company. This video is the result.

The benefits of email, but don’t take our word for it!

[youtube]QFPNLq3qRKA[/youtube]    

SEO as an effective marketing strategy? – An experiment

SEO as an effective marketing strategy - An experimentA few months ago, I decided to do an SEO experiment. I wanted to see what I could achieve and (perhaps more significant) to see if, in reality, any SEO ‘success’ is an effective marketing strategy, delivering real marketing benefits. Earlier in the year, whilst reviewing the stats on bsamarketing.com I noticed that our Sustainable Marketing page was listed on Google page 10 (position 106) for the term ‘Effective Marketing’. Checking the phrase on the Google Keyword tool revealed that it was being used in over 40,000 searches globally, and 4,500 searches locally each month, so I decided it would be worth trying to improve our rankings and to see what effect this would have on our site traffic. As we discussed in this post, we use the YOAST SEO Plugin on our site so I decided to strictly follow the advice given by the plugin in optimising the page, and to focus on on-page optimisation (I did stray slightly from this in the latter stages, but more of that below!) Initially my efforts centered around the main body text of the page, along with the key meta tags (Title & Description).  I tweaked these to ensure:

  1. My target keyphrase was appropriately represented in the body text
  2. The page URL includes the keyphrase
  3. At least one heading tag H2 tag included the phrase

All of these changes were suggested by the YOAST Plugin. I then sat back and waited for Google to pick up the changes….

2 weeks later……

Move on a couple of weeks and Google had picked up the changes. Our ranking was now page 3 (position 35) – a definite improvement from page 10 (position 106) but what about the all-important page traffic? – Nothing! I reckoned that as people rarely search down beyond the first page or 2 I shouldn’t be too surprised by this. To have some real impact, I needed to reach page 1! Shouldn’t be too difficult – I had just leapt over 70 places in the rankings, so how hard could it be to get up a further 25 to make it onto the front page? My next focus was on links, the page currently had no links in it, internal or external, and YOAST was telling me that this was not good and I should include some. I added 3 internal links plus an external link to www.druckerinstitute.com from Marketing Guru, Peter Drucker’s name. Again I sat back and waited.

Another 2 weeks……

Over the next couple of weeks the page continued to go up in the rankings, reaching the top half of page 2 (position 13); all before my link changes had kicked in. Although there was still no discernible increase in traffic to my page, I wasn’t worried as I knew I needed to be on the first page for that. Now I could see page 1 shining on the horizon, I put the champagne on ice, and got the holiday brochures ready. I would soon be on page 1 and all my marketing issues would be solved!

And 2 more days…..

2 days later I saw that Google had picked up the magic links, but … what is this? I was still stuck at position 13. The page had been there for a good couple of weeks, and seemed not to want to enter the limelight that was Page 1. I needed to change tack, and this is where I decided to temper my “On-Page only” philosophy, and move to some off the page optimisation. I had been reading about how Google was increasingly using social factors (especially Google+) in its rankings, so decided to put an update on Google+ pointing people at my target page, and asking them to ‘+1’ it if they liked the page. Over the next couple of weeks, I managed to get a few ‘+1s’ on the page; then one morning I did my usual check of Page 2 – We weren’t there! With not a little trepidation I clicked to the bottom of page 1 and there was my page, not at position 10 but immediately at 9! I had made it onto the fabled Google page 1. Now 40,000 people a month were going to see my page and come flooding to our site. My only dilemma now was whether to pop the champagne or call the travel agent to book my world cruise on the back of all the business that was coming our way now I was on Google Page 1.

Don’t count your chickens…

I decided to be cautious and wait a few days to make sure:

  1. The listing stayed on page 1 of Google
  2. The leads came flooding

And I am glad I did! Yes, the listing has stayed on page 1 for the term ‘effective marketing’, but in terms of increased traffic, it has delivered pretty much zilch!

So to my conclusions:

  • Maybe SEO isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be?
  • Maybe there is no marketing magic wand?
  • If your search term is not too competitive, a bit of careful on page optimisation can improvement your Google ranking
  • Google+ activity does seem to have an impact on page rankings

A footnote:

In parallel with my experiment, BSA has been expanding our target market base through networking & research. This broader reach has allowed us to expand the circulation of our bi-weekly e-newsletter Marketing Matters.  We are also developing our presence on relevant social media (mainly Twitter & LinkedIn). These activities have lead to a real and measurable increase in visits to bsamarketing.com. This activity is sustainable and not going to be undone by a changes in Google Algorithm.

And the moral of the story….

SEO might look good on paper, but for most SMEs a joined-up marketing contact approach showing you can deliver real benefit to a well targeted and relevant market might just be the way forward.