Traffic, number of clicks, and search rankings are not enough anymore. Jason West’s company Websalad specialises in two hot areas in online marketing – conversion and reputation management. He tells AMANDA GOME his secrets.
By Amanda Gome
Traffic, number of clicks, and search rankings are not enough anymore. Jason West’s company Websalad specialises in two hot areas in online marketing – conversion and reputation management.
As online marketing becomes more complicated, small companies are starting up to specialise in a few key disciplines. Two hot new areas in online marketing? Conversion, and online reputation management. Start-up Websalad specialises in both.
Founder Jason West, 40, tells Amanda Gome what’s new and how he is adjusting to life as an entrepreneur. Jason is willing to answer your questions. Simply email [email protected] before the end of business Friday 9 May.
Amanda Gome: Why did you start your own business?
Jason West: I was working at Qantas as a pilot and was looking for a new challenge. I had been a captain for six years and achieved everything I wanted. So I took a year off without leave to trial the business, and it worked. So I went in and told them I’m not coming back. I started from home and then moved into a shared office. We now have 10 staff.
It was a big leap from being a pilot to running a web business.
The internet and SEO was always something I was interested in. I started a website in French tourism with a travel company and once it was built they turned around and said so how do we get people to the site? We didn’t have money for traditional advertising, and I had read about Google and search.
Your biggest challenge?
Be able to do what we are paid to do while getting new sales. Also finding employees. The demand is there – people are screaming for people to do online marketing. I have to take people on and train them.
I am sourcing people from different areas, people with an IT background; but it is more of a marketing field. It is actually marketing on an IT platform. And it takes six months before they are trained up. Next year we are looking to formalise the training in internships to enable the company to grow faster.
What’s changed in the last year?
Two years ago people thought a web presence was enough. But now they have realised that people are not going to the Yellow Pages; they are going straight to Google, and this gives them a big opportunity to get found. So rather than paying a bomb for a new website, they now know they can get a return.
The US is ahead of Australia. In Australia the focus is still on traffic and rankings and throwing money at Google AdWords. But in the US it is all about conversion. How do you get people to do what you want them to do when they come to your site? While that’s been ignored in Australia, it is a trend that will develop once local search really takes off.
So how will that change things?
Small business will look locally. At the moment small businesses that rely on traditional marketing think they don’t need to do SEO – why chase someone in Perth when you just want to sell to local businesses? But small businesses will by next year use the web to find other local businesses. And that will happen when telephone mobile search takes off.
So when the business gets found…
They need to convert it into a sale or a lead or whatever it is they want. One of the ways to do that is to test. People fall in love with their websites and are hesitant to start testing headings or an image… But the web is not like printing a brochure. Building it is just step one. Then you need to work out what works. You can use Google analytics, but we use some more sophisticated tools and have found we can get up to a 69% lift in conversion.
Are there simple things you can do to get a better conversion?
Sure. I still see a lot of websites that don’t put a phone number on every page.
People have to realise that people are on their site with their finger on the mouse. There is a split second before they return to Google if they don’t find what they are looking for.
I think it is quicker than print. People scan websites. They don’t read in detail, and there is very little loyalty. Don’t find what you want? Go to number two on Google.
That’s why Flash and sites that looked like brochures didn’t work. People just want to know – will it answer my question?
Biggest trend on the web?
It would have to be Google opening up all their service space to companies. If you come up with an idea for software, they will let you host it on their server. That’s great for companies setting up a website.
One fast growing part of your business is online reputation management. What is it?
More and more people are involved in social networking, which is fast, interactive and opinion driven. They are sharing their views, opinions and experiences with the public and engage in a dialogue about anything and everything.
It is very important to listen to what’s being said online, especially if it is negative. It could be an ex-employee or a competitor writing on a site that is then indexed by search engines and will appear in search results. So it is not just monitoring but also taking responsive action where necessary.
Reputation management is more than just monitoring what is being said. It also involves responsive action which needs to be taken. This is where SEO comes in. Knowing how search engines work is imperative when protecting your reputation online.
So what is the aim of online reputation management?
Your website should appear at the top of a search, with negative results not even visible on the first page.
Why is reputation management so important?
Many larger companies have still not come to terms with the influence of online.
They think if it’s not in the Herald it doesn’t really matter. But some individual bloggists have communities of tens of thousands a day, and things online can be more authoritative than offline. These negative comments can appear on Yahoo or Google. We had a client who had a few negative things that kept popping up on Yahoo on the top page four to five years after they were written.
So how do you influence the search giants?
On Google about eight out of 10 people go to the home page, so that’s the page we want to influence. And we do it through social media strategies.
We can’t eliminate it but we attempt to put more positive information ahead of it and knock it off that front page. Most people don’t go to the second page.
How do you do that?
We look at a company’s indirect assets, such as what associations they are in and how can we get their voice represented through indirect assets, and then we look at unrelated assets such as social media. We look for different sites that can rank highly in Google and look at the page strength and how authoritative they are.
On Google there is a huge voting system where links are currency. So we look for sites that are authoritative and have that currency. If we link to them, that’s where the vote goes. You can then over a few weeks get negative comments off the front page.
So do you go to sites and add comments that are positive to your clients?
Well it is more about creating profiles on social media sites like Flicka and Facebook because they have such a high ranking in Google.
It can’t be too commercial, because if people on those sites sniff commercial they run a mile.
So you are not looking for a direct benefit but how it’s going to affect the search engines.
It doesn’t have to be a profile, it could be a blog.
But you do have to be careful with social media. You’ve got to be on a site where the love and passion are.
So if you were a bank and had a problem, you wouldn’t hop on and do a profile on, say, a site that’s anti-banks. No. That’s setting yourself up for trouble.
Can you get something removed altogether?
That’s very difficult to do. They will look at specific cases; we just had one for Yahoo.
Are you mainly dealing direct with clients or do you work through PR agencies?
We mainly have small and medium sized clients with some large enterprises. But we are starting to deal with PR companies and we are developing a tool that companies can license and then monitor things themselves.
Some companies can get things out of perspective and think it’s a big deal when it isn’t.
Yes, and we’ll say to them the chances of anyone reading that blog are remote. Forget it.