You may have heard that the days of Search Engine Optimisation are numbered. All those beautiful, customer-laden search engine rankings you were about to climb from some carefully repeated keyword placing. What is true is that search engines are getting more discerning. SEO isn't dead. It just became part of a bigger pie. The trick is knowing how to charm the search engines because keyword stuffing has gone the way of the dinosaur. Google is getting a lot smarter at identifying what your site offers and how it relates to what people are searching for. So here are 7 tips to help you improve the content of your site and move your business up the search rankings quickly.
1. THE IMPORTANCE OF SEO AND SEM
What is SEO? How does it apply to your business? Search Engine Optimisation is where guys like me use writing tools to improve your website, boosting its position in the search engine rankings. We know the right keywords for your business to refine your site so that when people type into their Google search engine the words 'emergency plumber in London', your name is at the right end of the search engine rankings.
The appliance of science
It's never an exact science, of course, as the search engines are constantly shifting goalposts in terms of ranking criteria but, with a bit of work, you can move quickly up the search engine rankings and, in turn, increase your market share. So that's SEO. Search engines are moving away from keywords to more of a concentration on overall website content and customer relationship building which, ultimately, helps with your link building (another important aspect of your site gaining in popularity).
Search Engine Marketing
Search Engine Marketing is the new buzz phrase. Engaging customers on a personal level - blogs, vlogs, social media, it was all there before, but now people are beginning to understand the merits of using networking sites like Twitter (which we'll look at a little later) to promote your business to the world.
Survival of the smartest
Who are the companies surviving this recession? It's the brand names who have built up a loyal fan base, who are talked about with fondness on the web, the brands who ask their customers what they need during tough times and then deliver it. Driving through a recession is not about price cutting (although this is important in terms of cash flow), it's about identifying what customers really want and giving it to them. The companies that are surviving are adapting...and fast. Most weren't, sadly, prepared for how severe the recession would be and many paid the price (Viyella, Woolworths, etc). Business survival is about listening. Then delivering to the right place at the right time.
Giving your customers the right slice of the pie
So what is Search Engine Marketing and how does it differ from SEO? Well, think of SEO as a slice of your favourite pie. It's delicious, right? You can't wait for another piece. Suppose there are six of you and each one loves pie but one loves custard on his, another is vegetarian, another likes cherries on top, etc. SEM gives you all a piece of pie and it's exactly as you like it. Ah, organic, natural online growth, don't you just love it? SEM is the pie, being baked again and again to adjust to the particular preferences of Mr Cherry On Top and Miss Custard. SEM focuses on on-site and off-site adjustments in order to maximise rankings in SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages). SEM uses all types of strategies (SEO, Pay Per Click, web visibility strategies, etc) to market your products online via search engines like Google and MSN.
2. HOW TO BUILD CONTENT
Ah, that eternal question. How to build content or, to be more exact, how to build the right content. Clearly if you're selling shoes made in China, an article about the quality of Italian shoemaking is going to be counter productive. So what should you be doing to make your site more accessible, tailored and popular? How do you start to get noticed with the web full of people trying to do exactly the same thing?
Think about your marketing advantage
The first thing you have to think about is your marketing advantage. What is it that makes your product or service special? It may sound simple, but you would be surprised by the number of clients I deal with who can't answer this basic question. Who am I? Sure, they can tell you right down to the nth component what they sell but they're not looking at the bigger picture. Why do I sell this and what makes it different from all the others. So, first and foremost, thing about what makes you unique and, believe me, even if you don't think you are, there is always something unique about your product. You just have to look for it. By now, hopefully you will have done a little research on the web. You'll know that it's good to have a HOME PAGE, an ABOUT US page, a PRODUCTS AND SERVICES page, a CLIENTS page, a PORTFOLIO page where people can see your work, the all-important CONTACT US page, etc. But what now? Again, it's back to the quality of your content.
3. NEWSLETTERS - A GREAT CUSTOMER FACING TOOL
Back in the good old days when Gordon Brown was just a twinkle in the eye of...well, let's not go there ...long ago, before the internet was even born, people used to let their customers and potential customers know about their business by means of newsletters. If they were lucky, they might even have sold some ads in there too on support services. Nowadays, newsletters are everywhere on the web. The trouble with the web is that once a whole lot of articles get put out there written by successful copywriters telling people how great newsletters are as a tool, guess what happens. Suddenly everybody and his wife has a newsletter. So how do you separate yourself from everybody and his wife.
How to write a great newsletter
The key to the newsletter lies in its quality and identifying your customers. You may want to make use of a CRM tool to help you do this. I don't know about you, but I receive a LOT of newsletters everyday, most of which are quickly sent to the junk folder but the ones that grab my attention are those which appeal to my senses. So, the trick of newsletters is to identify your customers and engage their thoughts and deliver the services they really want (sometimes they don't even know they want it till you tell them). People don't need to know what your cleaner does on their day off. They want to know who you are, what you can do for them and how much it's going to cost. They want to know what new products you have on the market. They want to know how you feel about the world. They want to know your core values and whether they are aligned with theirs. This is about brand culture.
Why iPod became number one
Why did iPod end up leading the market? Style, design, lifestyle. People bought into the Apple culture. Apple understood and marketed the Osmosis Effect. People like to be associated with success and what's perceived as cool. It's human nature. If you can provide a service or product which can improve the quality of a life in your customer's eyes, you can place that order for the Ferrari now (actually, given the current climate, make that two). The secret here is to get involved with your customers. Ask them what they want and then give it to them. In an uncertain world, people like to know about the people they do business with. So tell them but when you do, keep it brief, entertaining and informative.
4. USE NETWORKING SITES LIKE TWITTER TO YOUR BUSINESS ADVANTAGE
Twitter is a great way to get news out there. To be honest, when this site hit the press, I wasn't sure what to make of it. But, having used it, I can see it's a great tool for getting little nuggets of news out there. Basically it's a networking tool. You can update your 'followers' on any news you have and what you're doing in 140 characters or less. What a great instant bulletin. That then goes to all the people in your groups instantly. Content is king! Make it short, snappy, funny even. But get it out there. Got a new product? Tell them about it and where to find out more. Twitter is a great example of how the evolution of the web into a sophisticated marketing tool is allowing even mum and dad businesses to spread their messages quickly and globally.
5. PRESS RELEASES
Sites like Twitter are a great example of a micro release and a good illustration that if you want to raise your brand awareness, you need to be proactive. The secret to a good press release lies in the words of F Scott Fitzgerald who once said, "Don't write because you want to say something, write because you have something to say." Don't write to fill blank space, write because you have something important to say about your company and the products and services it offers.
6. THE ART OF CONVERSATION
There's a fine art to conversation. Kind of like that saying about 'any fool can start a relationship but it takes great skill to end one'. It's now generally accepted that conversational copywriting (if you prefer, conversational branding) is the way to promote successfully to customers. Look at brands that do it well - Virgin, Innocent, Apple - all well liked brands. In the old days, when Gordon Brown was just a twinkle in the eye of...ahem...way back when, people used to use regional-accented call-centre operators to appeal to customers with their gritty, down-to-earth reassuring voices. The two are interlinked. It's about trust. Conversational branding is just that - trust. Trust in the person selling you, trust in the product, trust in the company. Company culture meets prospective buyer. Your customer tells you they are interested. Where does that interest come from? It's back to identifying with you as a brand. Your brand is where your customer wants to live. So conversation, the right conversational style, is critical to the success of communicating your sales message effectively. That's where guys like me come in!
7. TOO MANY COOKS SPOIL THE BROTH - KNOW YOUR MARKET AND DON'T CHASE A HORSE THAT'S ALREADY BOLTED
One of the major mistakes businesses make is to try to enter popular markets. Or, to give them their more accurate title, over-populated markets. Chasing markets already dominated by players is a sure route to failure. It's the High School Musical / X Factor effect. How many companies change their brands and, subsequently, brand appeal not by modernising and pushing their own boundaries slowly and subtly but by completely changing focus and perspective to chase a horse that had already bolted. Yes, I know I said you have to adapt or die but the way you do it is also important. Identify who you are as a brand and then stick to it. Evolve your business. The best leaders in the world are the ones who speak their mind, regardless of the consequences. These are pioneers who don't care about what people think, they care about what they have to say and then they say it. It's the same in business. Stick to your guns. Adjust the sights, by all means, but be true to yourself and always remember what makes your business special. Keep telling people about it.
A FINAL WORD...
Your website is a statement of intent. It's a reflection of your business so make sure every word and image reflects the unique culture of your company. Find your voice. Start thinking of your company in terms of branding. Take a look around the web to see what your direct competitors are doing right (and wrong). The evolution of your website is a journey.
You will make mistakes along the way but the secret is to keep building your content, keep moving forward, cultivate links, and get help with the words when you feel you need it. Let your website be a voyage of incredible discovery for your customers - I really do mean that. Be the best at what you do. Bring your customers with you into the world of what you know is special about your product. The best of luck.