Monday, October 26, 2009

Why being ranked high in Google may hurt your business.

Recently, I was at a networking event, and I ran into several people who were discussing Internet marketing. Some of the people were quite proud about how well their Website was ranked in Google. In further discussion I quickly learned that this seemingly positive accomplishment was actually hurting them and they didn’t even realize it.

Being highly ranked in Google, should be something to boast. However, as the conversation went on they revealed the actual phrases for which they were highly ranked. On learning the phrases, I immediately knew that their accomplishments were not only worthless, they were hurting the company.

One person was a small business owner who was a typical DIY “do it yourself”. If they can “save money” and do it your self they would. Typically, these people place little value on professionals of any type. That is, until they get into trouble. They will never see the difference between the product shot they took and the professional photographer’s beautiful photography. They see no difference between the DIY legal documents for trademarks compared to the experienced trademark attorney. They will always feel that they are ahead of the game for anything they can do themselves and not pay someone else to do.

Here’s a tip for salespeople and service professionals, do not waste your time on the typical DIY. They will never pay you what you’re worth, nor will they appreciate what you do for them. To them, cheap is always better. Some of these people may be successful but they will not go beyond a certain point because they will not hire professionals for key areas. Until they see the value of professional work they will always be stuck at a given plateau.

This guy was no different. He was bragging about how his Website was ranked third in Google. He also bragged about how he did it himself with little effort. The phrase that it was ranked high in was his company name. To make it even more obvious to most marketers, his company name is his last name which is not a common name at all. It wasn’t the time, or the place, to inform this poor man in front of his colleagues, that his Website without much effort should be placed high for his company name. Or educate him on what search terms he should try to achieve high ranking. I suspect that my information on his site rankings would fall on deaf ears.

Next, he was proud of the fact that his site was ranked high for a few product names. But further discussion disclosed too that these names were irrelevant. They were not names people use to search for his product. They were more company specific names.

You might be thinking well at least this site is ranked high in something, so why would it hurt the company? It is hurting the company because this company owner will have a long learning curve on what is really important and why he should pay a professional to do his search engine optimization. This long learning curve is costing him money. What typical DIY people miss is the value of ROI, return on investment. They may understand that term on some level, but what they miss is that professionals, used in the right way, can catapult their company’s revenues and profits. For each dollar they spend with a professional they should see a minimum return of three dollars.

It might take months, even years, before he realizes that his company name and obscure in-house product names are not the search terms people use to find his products. Pride and ego may never allow this Website owner to hire truly professional marketers, but in time he may realize that he is not getting the results he needs. I have often seen people with this mindset then conclude that the Internet just doesn’t work for their industry or product.

The terms he should be ranked high on are the terms his customers use to find his products. He should not pay too much attention to the terms his company uses to describe the products. Industry terminology may be appropriate if you are trying to attract people who are inside your industry. You need to research the keywords and phrases your target audience is using. Plus, understand most people search for the problem they have rather than the solution. Understand your customers first and then develop, modify and optimize your Website accordingly.

Until you understand the terms your customers are using to find your products or service, I wouldn’t waste too much time trying to rank your site for terms you think are important. And if you run across someone who is the typical DIY marketer you can always try to inform them of best practices, but beware that they usually have to find out the hard way.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Increasing Website Conversion – The Missing Step

Time and time again I see business owners, product managers, marketing directors or namely anyone responsible to the profit and loss of their product, division or company miss the boat when it comes to Website conversion. They either don’t know, forget or don’t understand the value of testing.

When I mention the word “testing” to some people I see their eyes roll back, or I get a blank stare. Some have an idea what testing is, but don’t want to spend the money. Others have no idea what I’m referring to and don’t want to admit it.

Let’s start with what testing means. First, of all it doesn’t mean that all your links, forms and functionality work. That’s a programmer’s view point on testing. What I mean about testing is testing your message, text, graphic and layout. What’s the point? Well, it can mean a huge difference in increasing Website conversion. If you’re not sure about the value of Website conversion read how a 1% increase in Website conversion could mean a 160% increase in profits. Without testing you are most likely losing a boat load of money.

Just about everything should be tested, but when talking about Web conversion and testing you are usually dealing with page elements such as your headline, call to action, page layout, price the offer, etc. There are two types of testing we usually conduct and I recommend both. We utilize A/B split testing and multi-variate testing with live target audience tests and Website traffic tests.

A/B split testing means that you are testing two different page elements or pages. Site visitors or testers see either version A or version B. Multi-variate testing means that you are testing, as the name implies, multiple variations. This test could include the header, call to actions, graphics, offers, etc. and these are tested all at once.

One of the fastest ways to get some immediate feedback on your page elements is by conducting a live test with your target audience. The live target audience test consists of testing several members of your target audience one at a time. This can be done in-person or online. We use to use this method exclusively for usability (how easy is the site to use) but with each test we found valuable marketing/conversion information. Unless we test strictly for usability, we refer to this test as live test.

With online or in-person testing you first develop a set of questions. These questions include how the target audience perceives elements of the landing page. With tools like GoToMeeting and Camtasia you can test and record the subject’s moves and voice. Unless you have sophisticated tools, with this method you lack seeing the person’s body language including their facial expressions. However, even without this information online tests can yield valuable information.

The second type of testing is using a tool like Google Website Optimizer. Of course there are expensive programs out there that will yield more information, but don’t over this free tool. Let’s say you think your home page, landing page or shopping cart page is not performing as well as you like. Perhaps your designer wants to use graphic A and you think you should use graphic B. Instead of long discussion about which one to use you let the audience decide. So you run both on your site. One half of your audience will see version A and the other half will see version B. You count which one had the most conversion and that one wins.

With Google Website Optimizer you can also test the headline, call to action, text, layout, price and other page elements. This test will help you put together a super page which can have tremendous effects upon your Website conversion.

Before you spend another dime on advertising you should have your marketing team test. Pay-per-click is getting more and more expensive and search engine optimization takes long and can be costly too. First test your page elements and then turn on the advertising. Test again and advertise more. With the increased conversion rate you’ll be making more money which you can invest in more traffic.

In testing there is one rule to follow: test everything and always be testing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Target Audiences Change

Before we undertake any project we first conduct research and analysis. Skipping this step means that you are basing your project on instinct rather than facts. One of the elements in this step is examining the target audience. Analyzing the target audience and clearly understanding who they are and why they buy is critical in the success of your marketing strategy.

In most cases we ask our client to describe their target audience. What separates us from most companies is that we don’t assume anything. Lately we found that several companies were going after the wrong target audience. Their sales where sluggish at best and the company’s marketing efforts had poor returns.

My previous post on the presentation by Aimee Davis of Solutia, is an excellent example of going after the wrong target audience. The post talked about branding but what made a huge difference in Aimee’s strategy is that they focused on a different target audience. Prior to Ms. Davis’ work at Solutia the target audience was the final consumer of the end product rather than the direct buyer of the material who then produces the final product. Changing the focus to the direct buyer plus changes in the brand strategy resulted in the best quarter ever at Solutia.

Recently, one of our clients hired us to completely re-vamp their entire marketing strategy. This company wanted to reach the top marketing person at large (45 plus million in sales) corporations. However, upon examining the situation including the product, the offer, and the buying cycle, we found that that while they may want to attract large corporations it was not their target. The target audience - on average- no longer had a need for their product. Our client has a great product and there clearly is a need for the product, but the need is within mid-size and smaller companies.

Over ten years ago the target audience to the larger firms worked. However, this audience’s needs were being met with new technology and new players. These changes did not register with the client and sales were slipping. They thought they were keeping up with the times because they added new selling techniques, a new Website and utilized new technology but they never re-examined the need of their target audience. They were getting a few sales and continually thought they didn’t have good sales people and/or their marketing “creative” wasn’t good enough.

Changing the focus from who they wanted the client to be to the target audience that really had a need for their product made all the difference. With a change in the target audience and tweaking the message and offer made a huge difference in the success of their marketing.

Target audiences change and keeping an eye on these changes can make a significant impact on your marketing dollar return on investment.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Branding from the Experts!

Last week I attended a wonderful presentation at the Business Marketing Association. The presenter was Aimee Davis, Global Marketing Communications Manager at Solutia. The topic was on branding and how in 2006, Solutia’s performance products division was suffering from brand confusion. Undeterred by these challenges, our speaker, Ms. Davis, helped bring these product brands under the branded house of Saflex, increasing brand recognition worldwide.

Aimee talked about how, with research, they discovered the problems associated to their brand which included: there was a lack of consistency and focus in market-facing activities, spreading their message across multiple brands with unclear relationships and promoting products and not a clearly defined “company” brand.

She then reminded us what a brand means and outline that a brand is:

• It’s what we stand for; it’s a promise!
• Must be aligned with business strategy.
• Helps position offerings in the minds of the market, customers and employees.
• It’s a company asset containing long-term equity.

And she outlined the benefits of a strong brand:
• Brand loyalty drives repeat business
• Creates preference > “premium pricing”
• Instant creditability with new product introductions
• Customers will be more loyal to you in a time of crisis
• People want to work for / work with brand leaders

To many professional marketers this outline is straight from brand strategy 101. However, what many marketers do is forget about the fundamentals and glance over the obvious. Going back to the fundamentals is essential in marketing. The first activity Solutia took was research. This is the least appreciated, often over looked activity in marketing. However, research is the lynch-pin to a successful marketing strategy. Without research a marketer is basing their activity on assumptions and guesses rather than facts.

Then Aimee outlined the common misconceptions about branding. Among the list is what I feel are the two most common misconceptions:

• Branding is simply a name and logo
• Brands take care of themselves.

I constantly see companies hire design firms to do their branding. And design firms boost of branding when all they really do is design a nice logo and letterhead. An “identity package” from a design firm is not branding. They never mention research or brand strategy they just keep posting logos and call it "branding". These companies are missing the boat. Now it is perfectly acceptable for a company to hire a design firm to design a logo and indentity materials after the research and brand strategy have been developed. But "indentity materials" without a true brand strategy is just a pretty design.

To many professional marketers this outline is straight from brand strategy 101. However, what many marketers do is forget about the fundamentals and glance over the obvious. Going back to the fundamentals is essential in marketing. Ms. Davis’ presentation confirmed that the fundamental brand strategy process is crucial in developing a strong brand.

Brand strategy is not just for large companies that can afford extensive research and brand strategy specialist. There are excellent professional marketers who not only have the education but have the experience who can help mid-size to small business owners develop, implement and maintain a highly valuable and profitable brand.

Ms. Davis’ presentation was outstanding. She walked us through the logic and strategy of developing a strong brand, implementing an internal and external strategy and concluded with the outcome. As a result of her work, Ms. Davis and the Solutia team have experience in 2Q09 the best quarter in the history of the company. Now that's a brand stratgy with straightforward results!