09Feb/09

Marketing Mondays – Search Engine Door Slowly Closing on Small Business

This week’s Marketing Monday comes from the OPEN Forum‘s Scott Campbell.  

It’s difficult not to be bombarded these days with the glowing internet trends and statistics…the bottom line is that people (read: potential customers) have and continue to flock to the internet in droves in search of products, services and information.  A recent study estimates that 72% of all buying decisions now involve the internet at some point during the buying cycle (researching, considering options, buying, confirming buying decision, or post-sale information gathering).  Business pundits routinely shout the critical importance of this medium and the need for an informative/visible web presence through books, magazines, media appearances, conferences, etc.

And yet, the majority of small businesses continue to avoid, seemingly waiting for something to happen that will help them better understand and harness this technology.  And that’s a problem for a couple reasons. First, the internet is a wonderful place to exhibit products and services and do business. It’s a virtual storefront open 24/7 and can show products/services when the owner/management is working on other things…a dynamic that has been very profitable for some companies.  And second, without sounding too ominous, the door on visibility through search engines is slowly closing.

As a quick primer, the “Big 4″ of search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask) display the websites that are most commonly associated with related keywords.  They use a ranking system so that those websites that are most appropriate for a keyword are ranked and listed at or near the top, whereas those that aren’t commonly associated with a keyword are ranked much lower or not at all.  What some business owners don’t realize is that most of the ranking is based upon techniques utilized within the website to rank higher. That is, ranking higher is largely within management’s control.

An important part of these search engine ranking systems (also called “algorithms”) that determine website positions is the element of age and history.  That is, within their formulas are important criteria involving how long a website has been around.  (Sorry, they don’t consider how long you’ve been in business or how old you are…wouldn’t that be nice?)  Some of these criteria specifically include how long you’ve owned your domain (www.sample.com) and the age of the links pointing to your site.  These algorithms can further identify and reward companies that have been doing the right optimization activities over time…rather than all at once.  The bottom line is that the search engines try to limit the visibility of domains that are new and are using the latest “quick-hit” linking techniques and reward those sites that are established, informative and have been doing the right things all along.

But further, irrespective of the age and history elements, I find most companies are just not doing the basic things necessary to position themselves highly.  As a search engine optimization professional, my estimation is that in any given industry, a handful of companies in a local area actively jockey for the top positions (and lead streams), some make modest improvement attempts and most ignore the opportunity altogether.  While true that the search engines of tomorrow (5 years hence) will probably look and act differently than they do today, I can’t help but think that no matter how they evolve, there’s only enough room at/near the top for a limited number, and that there’s no way of getting around this “haves vs have nots” dynamic. 

If you find yourself in any group not active jockeying for the top position, then my advice to you is to

start learning and applying those things necessary to develop an informative and visible web presence now, because that’s the direction the world is going in.

The internet is, frankly, ripe with information on improving your web presence.  A recent study by Microsoft showed that most small business owners avoid positioning their sites higher and tools such as pay-per-click because they don’t know much about it and consider it too complex and/or too time consuming.  My response is that this may be the most important area of your business today and for some time.  If you don’t have time to look into improving your presence, then hire someone to do it.  Better yet, because things continue to evolve, find someone who will not only do it for you but can clearly educate you and keep you abreast of developments.

If the prospect of attracting more and better qualified leads to your business isn’t motivating enough, then consider the downside of your competitors leapfrogging over you and gaining such an insurmountable search engine lead that you could be treading water in this area for years.  I encourage those companies that are waiting for something to come along to welcome and engage in making their website visible now…before we get too far down the road.

The door may be closing, but it has not closed yet.  Even if you only sell in-store, a strong internet presence is no longer a convenience; it is a necessity.  There are several Chamber member businesses who specialize in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and can create an appealing website that ranks well when people look for your products in Lakeland.  You can go to our Preferred Business Directory and type “web” into the category field for a listing of member businesses that can help.  

Let them know the Chamber blog sent you.

06Feb/09

Second LEADS Group Starts February 17

Several weeks ago, we announced the formation of a second Chamber LEADS group.  It is my pleasure to announce that the first meeting of that group will take place at the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce on February 17.  If you were not able to join the Wednesday LEADS group because a competing business was already attending or due to a conflict of schedule (or even if Tuesdays just work better for you), the Tuesday LEADS group might be for you!

Tuesday Chamber LEADS Group

Every Tuesday at noon (starting February 17)

at the 

Lakeland Chamber Briefing Room (downstairs on the right-hand side)

35 Lake Morton Dr.

Brown-bag Lunch

$50/year

If you are interested in joining this LEADS group, please comment below or email Matthew Wengerd.  Membership is limited to one representative company per industry and is on a first-come, first-served basis.

05Feb/09

Orlando sushi restaurant now accepting orders via Twitter

Twitter is a growing phenomenon online. The Chamber has been using it to announce its blog posts and member followers, and Membership Exec, Matthew Wengerd (@matthew_wengerd) has been encouraging member business to sign up and has helped them do it. I think it is an incredible tool for small business to engage current and potential clients, which is why I am re posting this article from the Orlando Sentinel writer  Etan Horowitz:

Use of the micro-blogging service Twitter is growing very quickly and lots of local businesses are getting in on the action.

(For some basic tips on Twitter, check out this Q and A from today’s paper).

One of the local businesses with a presence on Twitter is Orlando Ichiban, a sushi house on South Orange Avenue downtown.

Recently, the restaurant announced that it is now accepting orders via Twitter. To place them an order, here is what you have to do:

  • Start following @orlandoichiban on Twitter and wait for them to start following you back.
  • Send a “direct message” to orlandoichiban on Twitter with your order
  • Make sure you get a confirmation tweet back before picking up your order

It’s good to see a local restaurant embracing this new tool and hopefully others will follow suit.

 

This whole thing seems to have been started by Ted Murphy, the CEO of the Orlando Internet company Izea. Murphy has more than 5,000 followers on Twitter, and last week, he issued a challenge to local restaurants:

Picture-10

Today, Murphy was able to successfully secure the sushi he ordered via Twitter and he will be going there at least once a week.

Murphy wasn’t satisfied with only being able to order via a private message on Twitter and he wrote on his blog why Orlando Ichiban should accept public orders. He ordered via a public reply (@orlandoichiban), but he had to place it 24 hours in advance.

Also today, local twitterer ELROSS succesfully odered from Orlando Ichiban on Twitter using a private message.

It would be great to see businesses here in Lakeland start to capitalize on this amazing technology, so that was we can truly capitalize on the strength of our own community. This is an amazing way for your small business to differentiate yourself and truly build relationships online that result in traffic in your door.

04Feb/09

Sailing Above Rough Seas – Lakeland Chamber Annual Meeting

Last night was the jewel in the Chamber’s crown of events, the Annual Meeting takes months of preparation and it was executed without a hitch. Last nights keynote speaker was Andy Andrews, a New York Times best selling author. He drove home the point that we all must keep our perspective in light of the media blasting us economic averages that make the current economic condition sound bleaker by the minute. Andy mentioned a conversation that he had with our President, Kathleen Munson, before the event started. He asked her ‘How is Lakeland doing(economically speaking)?’ and she responded that we weren’t doing horrible, we were feeling a little hit, but nothing like what you see in the media. Andrews then whispered to the audience ‘That’s what I hear everywhere I go’ and proceeded with ‘In Dallas, Seattle, and Augusta, Georgia. Seriously!’

It was a great reminder about how we all need to keep a great perspective on the truths that we deal with everyday. He had everyone laughing, and I believe  was one of the best speakers the Chamber has had at the Annual Meeting. Thanks Andy! As his time ran out he asked us to stay engaged with him, because he wants to know how we are doing, by following his blog.

After Andrews spoke, time came for the annual awards announcement. Martha Linder was on hand to announce the winner of the P. Scott LInder Small Business of the Year Award: Folsom Construction. Congratulations Folsom.

Folsom Construction - Scott Linder Small Business of the Year

To announce the George Jenkins award winner, his daughter Carol Barnett was thrilled to announce, that John Fitzwater was this years recipient.

John Fitzwater - George Jenkins Award Winner

Pictured in both is our illustrious past Chairman Tim Campbell.

 

Congratulations to Folsom construction, and John Fitswater for receiving this years wards.

02Feb/09

Marketing Mondays – Getting to Know You

Seth Godin is a bit of an expert when it comes to communicating.  In our first Marketing Mondays post, he taught us how to add friction back in to emails.  This is a good thing; it reminds us not to take advantage of the fact that we have easy, immediate access to a broad base of potential customers.  Anatomy of a Campaign is a reminder that we need to earn the attention of those with whom we wish to speak.  

The box just said “Scharffen Berger” on the return label.

I opened it up and there was a simple hand-written note. It said, “Seth, have you ever tasted a chocolate bar like this before? Regards, Raymond Major.” His business card was stapled to the note. His title? Senior Staff Scientist.

Attached: exactly one three-ounce chocolate bar, in grey cardboard. The bar itself was wrapped in a waxed-paper like substance, hand folded with a label.

And the chocolate (Tome-Acu 68%) was mind-blowingly good.

Handmade, anticipated and wonderful. From a division of Hershey!

So, what exactly happened here?

  1. They know me. I met John, the founder, years and years ago, and he gave me a plant tour and the story of his product blew me away.
  2. I read John’s book. He was true and authentic and inspiring.
  3. I wrote something negative about an engagement with their customer service folks on my blog and they reached out and we had a great conversation on the phone.
  4. The note they sent was hand written.
  5. It was from not just a scientist, but from the senior scientist.
  6. The chocolate was clearly a limited, special item.
  7. And, yes, the chocolate was terrific. Better than terrific.

So, you ask, what if I (the marketer) don’t know the blogger or the reporter? What if I don’t have permission? What if they don’t care about me? What if my product is mediocre?

Alas, the answer isn’t good. The answer is: tough. Is this an unreasonable expectation? Lengths too great to have to go to? Well, it’s cheaper than buying an ad on the Super Bowl or even buying shelf space at the Safeway.

The way to win is to make things that tiny (or large!) groups want to talk about, or care about, or engage in. That’s the story that spreads.

PS as I finished writing this, I got a letter in the mail at home from the local Mexican restaurant. They probably purchased the address of every single person in town from a mailing list broker. It’s cheap. Add a stamp and a return address that’s interesting (why are they writing to me) and I’ll open it.

It was a letter apologizing to the town for how lousy the restaurant had been since it opened three months ago and how hard they were working to fix it and how much they appreciated everyone’s feedback. It had a real name at the bottom, a phone number and a $10 gift certificate attached. Wow.

I’ve recently been spending time with members, helping them get set up with social media and expressing what I see as the key point in this post: transparency.  In order to get people to open up to you (open up their time, their attention, their wallets), you need to invest yourself in them.  When you offer advice without the expectation of a sale (maybe your competitor is truly the best fit for their unique situation) or blog about your company, you invite them to get to know you and increase the chance that they will listen when you really want them to.