4 web marketing secrets to turbo charge your brand

Growing Business uncovers the world of online marketing


You may have a beautiful website, but if it’s not getting a lot of traffic, it might as well be on a shelf gathering dust. The most likely cause is you’re not doing enough online marketing.

Online marketing, and particularly that done through search engines, can turn no visitors a day into tens of thousands. If done correctly, it will bring more prospects to your site, build your brand and turbo charge your business. But just what does it involve?

Just because you create a website it doesn’t mean you will get millions of users. While your email may attract spam just by being there, don’t think the same will be true of your website. You will have to work hard for every visitor. The best analogy we’ve come across is that building a website is the same as printing a novel and then storing it in your shed. Unless people know it’s there, and what it contains, you’ll never get anyone to go to it.

Getting traffic to your site

If you look at the traffic going to any successful website you’ll find search engines account for nearly 75% of visits. So your first priority should be to get your site in front of the search engine users. To see how well your site is working go to a search engine and type in your company’s name, or the product/service your business is best known for, and see how far down the list you appear. If you’re lower than the first page you’ve failed. However, don’t panic. According to website marketing company WSPS (www.wsps.co.uk), an average of 32% of the official sites for FTSE-100 companies cannot be found across the major UK search engines. On top of that, the official corporate web sites of these companies do not appear in the top 30 results, which is where most users attempt to find them.

However, it’s not quite as simple as firing off an email to the search engine and asking them to register your website. The first thing you should do is make sure your site is search engine friendly, and unfortunately they all have quite different criteria. However, there a few things they all subscribe to. Content, is the first thing they all look for. If you have good content, that people will find useful, they will gladly send you as many visitors as you want. Secondly they look for a site that’s easy-to-use and is simple to navigate. And lastly they look for something that changes, which could be a forum, for example. The more your site changes the more they will look at it.

Essentially, when you ask a search engine to look at your site it’s not generally a person that will look at the site, it’s a piece of software knows as a spider. These are stupid, they don’t know a great looking website from an ugly looking one, because they don’t have eyes and don’t understand English. Essentially, all they see is text and links, and discard anything else. So the key phrase is “keep it simple”. Spiders are also very wary beasts, they don’t like pages that look like previous pages or ones that contain lots of non-legitimate words (ie calling a page 120304rtzstat.html would be better as RTZ_stats_for_12_march_2004.html).

They particularly don’t like pages that have huge chunks of repeated text, as they’re wary of getting caught in loops, that pass them from one page to another and back to the first page again. Lastly, they do have some “human” prejudices built-in. Google hates pop-ups, and you’re liable to get thrown to the bottom of the pile if you don’t provide an entry page that’s pop-up free. It also dislikes opening animated pages that requires them to wait or to press “click to skip”.

If you don’t have content there are ways around this, you can either bid for keywords on the search engine. This is effectively advertising on the search engines, and your advert will be posted in specific places around the search engine page, hopefully catching the searchers eye.

Google is the leading search engine, accounting for more than 60% of all searches on the internet. As such, it should be the crux of any company’s search engine strategy, believes Warren Cowan, MD of search engine specialist Greenlight. “It’s where it makes sense to invest the most effort, because it can yield the biggest return. If you’re not well-positioned on Google, then you’re not well-positioned at all,” he says. This is because Google’s listings are used by other major search engines, such as AOL. After Google you should look at second-tier search engines. Lastly, you should look at Dmoz, Inktomi, Fast, and Teoma. If these are unfamiliar names to you it’s because they’re the backroom boys. These are search engines that also sit behind the household name search engines and portals such as Freeserve, MSN, Altavista and Lycos. A good regularly-updated map of the interrelations between search engines appears on the WSPS site at www.wsps.co.uk/WSPSsechart240204.pdf.

Getting in to the top 20

But how do you get into the first 20 listings? What will improve your position is to have a popular website with quality content that’s well optimised, with lots of links to other sites. It also helps to have paid-for advertising with your most important search engines. Exchanging links with relevant companies and organisations is free and will improve your search engine ranking. However, you should be wary about who you link to and how you are linked to. The best link is a full one within some relevant text, from a site higher up the search engine listings to you. A full link would be one like this “the best growing business site on the web” where the phrase is the link, rather than “the best growing business site on the web click here” where only ‘click here’ is linked. Getting linked from too many non-relevant sites and listed on links pages, achieves little, and could harm your site.

Fast track listings

Registering with a search engine can be very time consuming and you are at the mercy of the search engine to where you are placed. However if you’re prepared to pay you can get on the search engine almost immediately. Using such facilities as Overture’s ‘Pay Per Click’ and Google’s AdWords, you can specify the types of searches where you want your ad to appear. Whether you’re top or bottom of these ads depends on how much you’re willing to pay, and is determined by open bid. Companies in highly competitive industries, such as financial services, can expect to have to pay more – say £10 per click – than those in small niche markets, who might only have to pay 13p per click. Used correctly paid for ads can be extremely effective. But you need to be on the case all the time, their effectiveness is determined by the search terms you use and how grabbing and direct your advert is.

Affiliate marketing, working in partnership with other companies who provide you with website space for your ads, including banner advertising, can also work well, especially when combined with offline marketing promotions.

And don’t forget to track where your traffic is coming from. Find out which search engines, key words and links are working the best, and then refine those search terms which reinforce your search engine position. Companies like Hitwise (www.hitwise.co.uk) can help you do your tracking, what’s more they can also provide information about how your website traffic compares to your competitors. The sort of information you get from Hitwise could almost be considered industrial espionage elsewhere.

Getting help

For many companies, online marketing is a specialist area, which they prefer to give to an external agency, if you want to do it in-house then you’ll need to be very confident of the technology and the marketing. Whatever you decide, work out what your website should and could do for you, and how much of your marketing and IT budget it deserves.

CASE STUDY 1

Making search engines work

Company name: Anything Left- Handed

Website: www.anythinglefthanded. co.uk

What they do: Mail order service selling left-handed products

Established: 1968

Based: Surrey

Turnover: ?420,000

When Keith Milsom took over the family shop and mail order business, selling left-handed scissors and other gadgets for lefties, he predicted the web would be a great opportunity. He was right.

Since launching Anything Left- Handed?s first website in 1999, the company?s online sales have grown to 60% of the total business.

Milsom attributes much of the company?s e-commerce success to its effective use of search engines ? traffic to its site trebled last year. But finding a web designer who knows how to utilise them can be difficult. ?A lot of designers know the generalities, but if you start talking about key words or getting your web pages optimised, their eyes glaze over,? he says.

The company has developed its site in-house to be as search enginefriendly as possible and easy to index.

?We prioritised our key words, having first found out from the search engines which words are used the most, such as ?left-handed? and ?leftie?. Then we made sure the highest volume search terms appeared on all our main pages,? Milsom explains. It now has 37,000 members.

Search engines have also been important for online advertising and Milsom uses both Overture Pay Per Click and Google AdWords.

Case study 2

Importance of partnerships

Company name: 5pm

Website: www.5pm.co.uk

What they do: Restaurant booking website

Established: 2000

Based: Glasgow

Turnover: Undisclosed

When MD Charles Shaw launched restaurant booking website 5pm, offering discounts to customers if they ate during quiet times, it was little more than an electronic brochure. But once users were able to book online, the number of bookings increased 100-fold.

Shaw attributes his company?s growth to successful affiliate marketing, and outsourcing design and hosting. Using his partners? websites, and other digital media, 5pm is able to extend its booking service, giving them an opportunity for co-branding at the same time. For example, 5pm provides the restaurant booking service for the London Tourist Board website, several online newspapers, BT?s tourist information kiosks, and Orange WAP phones.

Other partners pay 5pm to implement joint promotions. One involves a free glass of Glenlivet whiskey with every online booking.

To be successful at affiliate marketing, you have to be proactive and willing to help get things up and running. For example, its free ?booking buttons? on partners? sites link customers directly into 5pm?s database of available restaurants.

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