Following last week’s article on SEO Soothsayers, Maree Harris of People Empowered kindly responded, saying she’d experienced similar frustrations with the world of SEO specialists.She also asked what I meant when I suggested “make sure there aren’t more cost effective ways of attracting traffic” prior to hiring an SEO specialist.
I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but the answer is really quite elementary.
The answer isn’t in the murky realms of the internet or SEO, but in a fundamental of marketing school.
The answer lies in plain old branding.
Quite simply, by promoting your brand as the product/service of choice, customers will come straight to you rather than search for a range of supplier candidates.
Here’s how it works.
When it comes to promoting your business, there are two main ways to promote it. By branding and by what is known as “directional” advertising.
According to Wikipedia, directional advertising is a measurable form of direct response advertising, whose primary role is to point a potential consumer toward the completion of the sales process or service selection.
In other words, it revolves around media that you turn to when you are ready to buy (or at least approaching it). In the past, this was Yellow Pages and local classifieds. These days it is pretty much dominated by search engines.
Directional advertising or promotion provides immense value when customers don’t really know who can supply them with the good or service they are seeking.
By using directional media, they can immediately find out more about the product and then find a supplier.
And Google has proven to be the master of providing supplier information, which is why the more prominent you are on that and other search engines, the more traffic your website will get.
Of course, directional media is less useful when the customer already knows of a good supplier.
If this is the case, they will simply contact the supplier directly or source them via the internet.
Which leads to the $64,000 question. How do they know about you?
By promoting your brand well and bringing it to the attention of your markets, your business will be actively sought out before alternative suppliers.
And if you can deliver as well as your branding suggests, the customer won’t even consider Google searching your line of business.
My own business provides the perfect case study for this scenario.
While we offer a great deal more than “web design”, basic search research using a keyword tool such as that provided by Google indicates that that is the term that most business operators use when searching for suppliers of web design and other web services.
However, the “web design” industry is saturated with all kinds of suppliers, from backyard operators to large corporations. And they all are competing for a slice of the search pie, be that “organic” or using paid search (Adwords).
What this means is that competing in the space is very expensive and/or time consuming as providers clamour to be on Page 1 of Google et al.
But search engine marketing is just one way of reaching the eyes and ears of your markets.
There are literally dozens of promotional avenues available to us – from radio to television, direct mail to email. And in my case these alternatives were likely to provide a better return on investment than search engine marketing.
In other words, if the prime “directional” medium (Google) was out of our reach, we could try a whole range of other promotional methods to reach our market in an effort to look for us rather than our competitors.
This is the stuff of good branding practice.
Now choosing the correct form of promotion is no place for the faint hearted. For many, television is without peer, but is also relatively expensive (particularly in cities). For others, it might be direct mail. Regular SmartCompany visitors would be familiar with the range of online tactics available to them. Usually it’s a combination of many that is trialled and errored over some time.
For us, our promotional budgets have not been huge, so we have used a combination of events, sponsorship, online and magazine advertising. Of course this very blog is another important part of the mix.
So by becoming part of the customer’s “evoked set” (suppliers that spring to mind), they will come looking specifically for you rather than just a supplier in your line of business.
It’s one reason why big brands like KFC have no need to spend on search marketing. Their brand is so dominant that the notion of searching for “fried chicken Cairns” seems ridiculous.
Of course, many SEO and other specialists won’t tell you this. In fact, as outlined here some months back, many don’t even consider search a “marketing tactic” at all, or if they do, think the four Ps are something you do after too many beers at the local bar.
On the other hand, many of the traditional branding experts are still coming to terms with the web and how it fits into the overall branding picture.
Therefore it’s important to find advice that is across all promotional media rather than just search or even online ones.
So if you, like me, have torn your hair out when being confronted with the time or financial cost of search marketing, don’t panic. Just quietly seek some independent advice and come up with an effective promotional strategy rather than one that depends purely on search engines and beat your competitors to the punch.
Craig Reardon is a leading eBusiness educator and founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which provide the gamut of ‘pre-built’ website solutions, technologies and services to SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. www.theeteam.com.au