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16

May 2011

The small business value of SEO

Posted in Business tactics | 0 Comments

Every so often, it becomes clear that small businesses are taking increasing steps to widen their knowledge of search engine optimisation. The SEO discipline is, when put to good use, a veritable goldmine of consumer attention, increased website traffic, and a boost in the industry’s awareness of your business.

BusinessWeek‘s Karen E. Klein states that SEO is especially important for “small businesses with limited brand recognition.” Promoting the brand should be any small business’s number one goal – without brand awareness, there is no foundation upon which to build a successful company. Encouraging not only awareness, but loyalty can ensure that your business meets its long-term goals in addition to boosting sales of its current product and service range.

Unfortunately, as Klein states, the SEO tutorial network is rife with “bad information.” There are countless so-called “SEO experts” who are nothing more than self-proclaimed industry figureheads whose Twitter follower numbers are unfortunately often only an indication of a large void in which to cast their ideas. SEO agencies, however, are a far more reliable source of guidance and assistance, and will allow you to take advantage of the countless benefits of good SEO whilst negating the risks of bad advice.

SEO is, by and large, a method of turning a search-engine’s algorithms to your advantage. If you find that you rarely appear in the first page or two of results for keywords that describe your what your business offers to the letter, than perhaps an enquiry to an agency may be a wise choice.

Klein recommends SEOMoz and other sites containing beginner’s guides, but it is imperative that you consider the sources of such information. Like the wave of traditional marketing “experts” before them, many SEO magicians can offer little more than parlour tricks, preferring to rely on vague allusions to “community branding” and “generating a positive consumer experience,” minus the useful examples required to put these positive-sounding first steps into practice.

As with any new discipline within marketing, however, SEO has often been branded hogwash by those who prefer a more traditional approach, but it is easy to highlight the ignorance of such remarks. Figures from Search Engine Land indicate that as many as eighty-eight billion searches per month were made via Google alone in 2010. Statistics like this are hard to ignore – with the potential to reach as little as 0.1% of these individuals, the traffic drawn to your site would be enough to fund every single aspect of your business model, provided you are capable of generating revenue through advertising.

If your intention is to school yourself in SEO, and there are sound resources that make this possible, consider that it is not a monetary investment, but one of time and effort outside the day-to-day running of your business. Consider if you can justify this against the cost of hiring an SEO agency – after all, if you are capable of spending ten hours a week working on your SEO skills, it is equally justifiable that those hours could have funded a day-long SEO briefing at any number of competent agency offices. The financial benefit of the latter, you will find, more than pays for the cost of a DIY approach.

Soon, the digital age will reach its pinnacle and traditional businesses will have to re-shape their approach to marketing their brand. But until then, those small businesses who choose to take swift advantage of the benefits of search-engine optimisation will find themselves rewarded, and ahead of the game when their competitors finally join the online sphere.

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4

Feb 2011

SEO with humour – the Oatmeal.

Posted in Online PR, SEO, Viral Marketing, Web Design and Usability | 1 Comment »

Out in the wild digital wilderness that is the internet, there reside a wide variety of websites. Some are funny, some are serious, some appropriate, some not so, and of course, only a select few are huge. For a few it’s a phase – fad sites that will fade in time. But for most, they are content to suck in millions of hits per month, and of course they’re never going to die down due to the colossal communities that have built up behind them.

Here’s a video of Matthew Inman, owner and sole staff member at The Oatmeal (and also the sole creator of Mingle.com, one of the biggest dating websites in the USA), a site devoted to hilarious infographics about a variety of frustrations he comes across in life and thinks others may identify with, making a presentation to a conference about how to gain five million unique visitors a month. Enjoy it – it’s informative and if anything, hysterically funny.

Now, after you’ve recovered, think about what he said. You may need to watch the video again, his infographics are so funny it’s difficult to focus on what he’s saying, most of the time. But his point is a valid one – if you’re not writing, drawing, talking or even singing about a subject your audience can identify with, whether they’re laughing, crying or nodding seriously – then you’re going to fail at generating the ideal amount of traffic.

What Matthew does is simple. He finds an idea (the ever-updating iPhone model problem, for example), makes a short comic-infographic about it, then posts it up. Of course, his take on the subject is unique and his drawings are instantly recognisable, so they tend to go viral – but with an important difference. Because his work is unique in style and look, it’s still attributed to his site even if the source is a viral recommendation to you, by a friend. The Oatmeal still gets mentioned, and even better, people type in “the oatmeal”, find him on Google, and search a considerable portion of his site.

Bounce rates, in theory, should be lower when you’re hunting for a site you want to learn more about. Sure, you’re always going to land on the homepage, and while that makes no difference to you, the HLD (homepage linking domains) of that site will skyrocket if you decide it’s worth the link from your own domain to theirs. However, the disadvantage to this predictably lies in the fact that the owner/webmaster won’t know where people are talking about it, short of an ultra-delayed notification as Google Alerts slowly catches up.

I’ve got a fair few ideas for viral comedy sites like these and the absolutely mind-blowingly huge ICanHaz network. Looking at how well he’s done, it just might be worth giving it a shot – I’m sure anyone would be happy with a 5m-hits-a-month level of ad revenue, right? Enjoy the weekend!

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17

May 2010

Our Great, Traffic-Surging Nation

Posted in Business tactics, Content creation, Social Media | 2 Comments »

This week I thought I’d take the discussion in a direction inspired from one of last week’s comments. They implied that, in the world of SEO coverage, there’s not a lot of musing about SEO and social networking topics that take place in a UK-specific environment. I couldn’t agree more; we’ve heard the American success stories, we’re aware of the SEO consultant giants across the pond, but what can SEO do for companies in the UK, and what benefits does focusing on your home soil yield for you as a company?

This one’s for queen Liz

I’m going to start with an example you’ll find fairly obvious. Google are a site that love their geographically-focused top-level domains. If you’re in Russia, it’s .ru. If you’re in China, unfortunately, it’s probably a rather unstable .cn, but there in its heavily-censored form regardless. It would seem so obvious to stick with .co.uk if you’re a company or person based within the United Kingdom, but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t do it. I’m a victim of my own criticism – my blog is a .com URL, and I did this for traffic reasons, in my days as a domain and SEO neophyte, when traffic stats and Google Analytics were simply complex terms and strategies that were too far out of my online comfort zone.

Looking back, it would’ve been better to go .co.uk. When someone visits your site – Amazon, for example – the first thing they’re going to notice is the fact that you’re on a UK domain. By this point you’ve already established two important aspects of your website to the consumer, in mere moments. One, there’s no risk of you running a pricing system in USD, as you’re quite obviously based in the UK. Two, you’re also quite happy to appeal specifically to a native market. With UK shoppers increasingly shifting to online shopping, it’s becoming an invaluable time for UK-based companies to look at building their online presence and targeting it towards the home market.

This doesn’t mean you have to ignore your linkbuilding and advertising efforts on overseas websites – by all means, keep this up, and if you’re based multiple countries, consider using IP-based top-level domain redirects – everyone who visits has their country represented. This may involve a few small content changes, however. If you’re writing content aimed at a UK market, you need to consider what language they’ll be expecting to read from you as a fellow user of the Queen’s English. Make sure you’re using the correct grammatical forms, as a UK customer seeing the word “color” repeatedly is rapidly going to see you as an American entity – not what you’re aiming for as a UK company.

Take this blog as an example. It’s a blog about SEO, and it’s specific to the UK. Oddly, it’s on a .com top-level domain, which instantly calls into question how focused on the UK market it really is. The posts have petered out almost a year ago, but only one post on that front-page is focused on a UK SEO market.  The UK SEO market is not as big as people seem to think it is, and this is a problem. We’re the English-speaking part of Europe, and we should be dominating searches on topics that relate to things that come from within our humble borders, our green fields and our smartphones whilst we sit on red buses looking out at Big Ben. Awash with stereotypes, I’ll admit, but still true.

Patriotism and the dot-com mindset

A recent study by NMA indicated that a lot of UK-based online marketing companies are making less and less money, per annum, from specialising in UK projects. This just confirms the obvious – the UK is never going to have as big an online presence as the omnipotent .com of America, and we’re not doing it any favours by putting less money into geographic specialisation. But it doesn’t mean we can’t cater to our domestic customers. For those of you running companies that have no franchises, no offices and no market presence outside the United Kingdom, but own a .com address – what are you aiming to achieve? Good linkbuilding, text adverts and keyword use is going to have the same positive effect on a .co.uk as a .com – the only difference being you’re also going to retain customers who see you as a supplier of products and services specific to their nationality. I’m happier shopping on a UK site than one that’s ambiguous due to a .com, and it takes a long time to get past the fact that someone’s definitely based within our borders when they’re Americanising their URL.

We’re rapidly emerging into an age where people are trending UK-specific topics like #welovetheNHS, and our national treasures are  pulling in bigger follower-numbers than some of the biggest US celebrities. People across the country are delving into Facebook, and we’ve also got the BBC iPlayer. We’re proud, and online. But we need to take bigger advantage of our unique position in Europe. Let me hit you with a few sound words of advice:

  • Consider switching to a UK top-level domain. The benefits of representing your company’s “home base” are present without the fear of losing traffic numbers.
  • Start thinking about your content and your social media presence – is your company Twitter-rep using hashtags to get involved with UK discussions? Obviously, don’t follow Habitat’s example, but consider this nonetheless. And if you’re a big company and haven’t got a Twitter-rep, then now’s a wise time to get one.
  • Are you aiming towards your UK customers? Link-building is a wise idea on global sites, but never forget that your domestic presence needs to be a key focus when thinking about keywords and site structure.

If you’re still thinking about this, then try googling “UK”. First page? BBC.co.uk, Amazon.co.uk, and atuk.co.uk. Three companies, at least two of whom are quintessentially part of the UK’s online mindset. The BBC is one of the most well known broadcasting corporations across Europe, if not the globe, and its focus on UK events is a given – it is the British Broadcasting Corporation, after all. But Amazon? An American site that was smart enough to start building separate sites for separate geographical demographics. It’s paid off in the long-run, and although most online shoppers are aware of Amazon’s presence in the UK, I’d wager not all of them know it’s an American company. Why? Correct spelling, UK marketing, and a top-level domain that doesn’t shut out anyone that isn’t part of Obama’s fifty states.

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