Category Archives: Business Intelligence

Online Marketing and Economic Downturn Discussions are Hot Again

By | Business Intelligence, Email Marketing, Natural Search Engine Optimization, Pay Per Click Marketing, Search Engine Marketing, Strategic Planning | 5 Comments

We talked about it back in July (with a bit more of a green tint), but the discussion of how beneficial all forms of online marketing can be in an economic downturn has definitely raised its head again. Rand at SEOMoz.org touches on search engine optimization in a downturn in his post today and the latest issue of Search Marketing Standard has an article by Laura Callow asking, Is Search Marketing Recession-Proof?

Rand’s article raises some valid points about the SEO industry. Now that other forms of advertising and sales channels have slipped up a bit due to their high costs or lower ROI, online marketing – including SEO, is taking more of the marketing budget pie in a lot of corporate environments. Internal marketing departments and external marketing agencies are having to prove their worth more, now that budgets are getting stretched and squeezed to their fullest. If a channel isn’t accountable for spending vs. sales then the likelihood that it will survive this downturn is unlikely.

Also, SEO is coming out of the shadows. As myths get debunked and education is expanded to business owners and marketers, true SEO is gaining ground as a viable marketing initiative. Of course there are still gamers, hacks and snake oil salesmen out there and until our industry grows up a lot more and sets some standards the fight will rage on between white hat and black hat SEO.

On the other side of the fence Ms. Callow discusses the benefits of search marketing or PPC advertising. Which is one arena where we have seen tremendous growth in the last several months. Of course a majority of this growth can be attributed to the holiday season, as we handle pay per click advertising for several online retailers. However it is not just retailers looking to leverage this channel over traditional advertising – many of our b2b customers have been asking about it as well. I believe Ms. Callow nails the reasoning for this perfectly in her article.

Often marketers are attracted to PPC advertising due to its inherent benefits such as advanced targeting, accountability and cost effectiveness. With PPC advertising you can start or stop ads at any time, run them only when you know people will be looking for your product or service, target by geographic region (down to the city level) and attract customers using their nomenclature at the exact instance of their interest and query. With advanced web analytics you can track click to conversion metrics to further account for each dollar spent vs. each dollar generated.

There is also a “safe” factor to PPC advertising. Marketers know that they can invest a minimal amount upfront and give it a test run. If they feel it is not working for them they can stop all ads and outgoing costs instantly or they can retool ads and spend more time doing keyword research to find better converting terms. Right now these are especially attractive features.

Don’t Stop at SEO and PPC Advertising

The only thing both of these articles are missing is any mention of other online marketing initiatives, like permission based email marketing. Email marketing is still a tremendous way to market on a very cost effective platform. It literally costs pennies, and in most cases fractions of pennies, to leverage an internal customer or lead list that may be gathering dust and turn it into a powerful customer relationship management channel and sales tool.

So if you are not already involved in online marketing, you better get your move on! You are already losing ground, market share and revenue to your competitors if you are not actively working the online channel. In all market conditions it is a powerful marketing tool, but especially during an economic downturn.

Top 5 On-Page Lessons From Google’s SEO Starter Guide

By | Business Intelligence, Natural Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, seo | One Comment

Google, amid much fanfare and crazed celebration, recently introduced a starter guide on search engine optimization (SEO) to the webmaster community.  The PDF document is aimed at users less familiar with standard SEO techniques and those that “wish to improve their sites’ interaction with both users and search engines.”

Titles

Hello my name is Fred and there’s nothing unique about me.  Would you be interested in hiring me?  Seems like the job interview from hell.  The funny thing is many websites have this same mentality in regards to title tags.  Titles are the first glimpse of a page users have with your site.  When a user bookmarks a page, the title is what is saved in the bookmarks folder.  Could you be missing conversions simply because your titles are not unique with your site’s main keywords?

Google recommends using accurate, unique and brief titles for each and every page on your site.  This is simple SEO at its finest, but quite often gets overlooked or forgotten about.  The title is valuable real estate for your site and as such should be effectively communicating the topic of the page.   All search engine queries that have keywords in your title will be bolded, instantly encouraging eyes of searchers towards your listing.

Descriptions

The meta description tag gives search engines a glimpse or summary of what the page is about.  Google recommends accurate and unique phrases that inform and interest users.  In essence, your site’s description is a brief piece of marketing copy that can make or break someone clicking on to your site.  There are many worst practice scenarios that seem to come up over and over again and should be avoided:

  • duplicate descriptions across a website
  • copying the title tag into the description tag
  • stuffing the description tag with a list of keywords
  • using a description that is not compelling marketing copy and lacks uniqueness

URL Structure

Hello, my name is Fredrif-06390p=12.  What’s your name?

Who’s going to remember Fredrif-06390p=12 and what makes him unique?  No one.  In the same sense your  website’s URL structure plays an important role in best practices SEO.  Google recommends using a URL structure that uses keywords from that specific page.  In addition, from a usability standpoint, a nice looking URL structure will make it easier for others to remember pages from your site.  Google also recommends having one URL for one unique page.  Many sites have duplicate pages with different URLs causing a duplicate content issue.  Set up a 301 redirect to solve this problem and clear any duplicate content issues.

Navigation

Your site’s navigation should be both intuitive and user-friendly.  Visitors on your site should find it easy to navigate to the page they are looking for.  Google recommends:

  • text-based navigation
  • properly formatted site-maps
  • useful 404 pages

Content

The brunt of your site lies within its content.  It’s the reason that someone visits your site.  Google’s guide has quite a bit of good information on this subject.  Here are some of the key take-aways:

  • make effective use of heading tags
  • make text easy to read, staying organized on the topic
  • use relevant language with keywords that users are searching for
  • keep anchor text intuitive and relevant
  • name images in a more intuitive way

Fire Up Those Email Marketing Campaigns for the Holidays

By | Business Intelligence, Email Marketing | No Comments

With the holiday season fully upon us many businesses are seeking ways to stretch their marketing dollars to the absolute limit and maximize their return. While many choose to use direct mail campaigns, one of the most cost effective ways to promote your goods or services is through email marketing campaigns. Here are a few tips to help you get those email marketing campaigns fired up for the holiday season.

Pick an email vendor to send the campaigns.

One of the worst ways try to send mass emails is through your desktop email client. Many businesses simply copy and paste contacts from their address book into a BCC email and send it out. With this method you run the risk of many people marking the email as spam. This reflects badly on your domain with ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and they could blacklist your domain for these practices.

Use a reputable email vendor such as Campaign Monitor, Constant Contact or Newsberry to handle ISP relations and help ensure delivery. These companies also offer very good reporting after your campaign has been sent to let you know how many people opened your offer or clicked on a link inside the email – something you can not do with a BCC email.

Choose your content and subject line carefully.

Even if you use an email vendor your message could still be flagged as spam by the ISP or recipient, so you want to choose your content wisely and write a compelling subject line that will clear spam filters and get recipients to open your message. It is not a bad idea to work with a copywriter that has experience in this area. Be sure to avoid the top 100 words you shouldn’t use in email subject lines if you plan to do this yourself. Couple specials or promotions with messaging on your website or in your store. Get creative with your messaging and use this special time of the year to push more sales (people love sales!) for things like After Christmas Specials and New Year Blowouts.

Choose a compelling design.

While all of the email vendors listed above have pre-built templates you can use, they remain pretty generic. Just slapping your logo into one of them can reflect badly on your brand identity. If possible work with someone who has experience with email marketing design and building templates that will work in all email desktop clients.

Choose your delivery time and day.

Different industries have different best practices for delivery times and days of the week. Many retailers have their best success by delivering in the afternoon and some do very well with Friday or weekend email blasts. Corporations with a b2b focus usually fare better with a morning delivery Tuesday through Thursday.

Scrub, rinse and repeat.

After your email campaign goes out you can review the report you get from the email vendor to see your open rate, bounce rate, and click through rate. Remove the bounced email addresses from your list, review your content and subject line, make needed adjustments to the message and prepare a new campaign.

Send out email marketing campaigns on a schedule that makes sense for your business. If you are just sending an email newsletter, once a month is probably good. If your store offers weekly specials then send once a week. Any more than once a week you run a serious risk of turning customers off to your message and business. This also increases the risk that you will get marked as spam or have people unsubscribe from your offerings.

By following these few simple guidelines you can maximize your return on investment with cost effective email marketing campaigns and have a stellar holiday season!

Web Design Firm Offers Help to Small Companies

By | Business Intelligence, Client Successes, Portfolio, Web Design, Westward Strategy, What Are People Saying | One Comment

By Marian Bond • business@rgj.com
RGJ Business Section: July 22, 2008

After being a Web design developer for a local company, Kristy Crabtree decided to open her own company. Westward Strategy & Design Group was established to offer professional services to the small companies that might not want to invest large sums of money to get onto the Internet to promote their services or products.

“I had worked my way up in 13 years with my employer, from an apprentice to director of professional services, and I was managing 12 to 15 technical and creative designers,” Crabtree said. “I wanted my company to be more of a boutique agency. More intimate with the customers. Because I have low overhead, I have more time to spend with my clients. I wanted to target a different audience.”

Crabtree started her company from a home office two years ago. She now shares a 2,200-square-foot building in Sparks with ACS Business Insurance Services. Crabtree runs her office with one full-time employee, three technical contractors and herself.

“The technical people do the heavy program duties, set up shopping carts. Things like that,” Crabtree said.

Her customers range from sole proprietors to companies with 15 to 20 employees. “I don’t go after the larger clients. There is a place for them. I did not believe anybody was facilitating the niche market I want,” she said.

Crabtree says that a new customer coming to her needs to understand who his or her audience is. Clients also need to have goals and objectives they want to sell or the service or product they are offering. She stressed that so much is happening on the Web these days that anyone in business needs to have a presence or they will miss out on clients.

Another plus to having a Web site, according to Crabtree, is that analytical reports can be produced to show activity on the site. This type of tracking helps with marketing goals. Her company will produce monthly or quarterly reports as required.

“The typical site will have a home page that tells about the company or information about the team that works with the product or services,” Crabtree said. She also likes to set up a news page that tells more about the company. The Web site will be set up to provide fresh information.

She also advises each company to have its own domain name and to maintain ownership.

Clients interested in art or photography can get stock photos on Web sites. “They are very reasonable in price. If you search long enough online, as we do, you know which photos have not been used,”

She said that her assistant, Chris Gandolfo, a professional photographer, will also do photos.

In planning for a Web site, the company has to decide if it wants to reach a local area or a global audience.

Crabtree said she often has companies with existing sites come for a redesign.

“We first ask if they have any analytical tools to get information as to how a Web site is performing. We find out if anybody has been going to the site. We like to sit back for about a month so we can get information. We will create basically how I would plan to help fix (the site). We don’t want their money to go down the drain. We’re a small business, too. We understand money is important to everybody.”

Crabtree said she is always eager to accommodate the customer’s needs. Her company can set up a Web site in just a short time, but generally takes about two months to finish a detailed product.

The cost of a Web site with Westward Strategy & Design Goup runs as low as $500, but depending upon the content and intricacy can also run $10,000 or more.

Doug Kurkul, CEO of the Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce, said that last January he entrusted Crabtree’s company to redesign the chamber web site www.renosparkschamber.org and he said he was quite satisfied with the results.

“I’ve dealt with Web designers for 13 years now,” Kurkul said. “I believe that Westward Strategy & Design is one of the best I’ve ever dealt with. They are easy to work with and they have outstanding skills on both technical and on artistic aspects of web design.”

SEO Myth: Having a Blog Means Top Rankings

By | Business Intelligence, Natural Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, seo, Strategic Planning, Tips and Tricks | 18 Comments

Webmasters and site owners everywhere are looking for the holy grail of search engine optimization. They’re looking for that one thing they can do to get top rankings in the search engines. They want SEO to be easy. They don’t want to invest in time-consuming link building, article marketing, social media marketing, or website usability improvements. Worst of all they are still under the assumption that one thing will get them to the top of the search engines – blogging.

Enough websites, business periodicals, and newspapers have written about the benefits of business blogging that business owners and marketing managers with little to no experience with internet marketing have latched onto it as the holy grail of search engine optimization. Those in the business of web development and SEO have not helped matters at all. They continue to push the easy sale of business blogging on every client that walks through their door even though some businesses just have no reason to blog. Other businesses simply have no time to blog. Believe me blogging is time consuming as is often the first thing in our office to get neglected when we get outrageously busy. If you don’t have the time to manage your regular website do you think you will have time to blog as well?

Beyond the question of whether or not your business should have a blog lies the fact that blogging is not the holy grail of search engine optimization. There is no holy grail of SEO. There is no one thing you can invest minimal time in to achieve top rankings. It takes a considerable investment of time, either your own or that of an internet marketing consultant, in all of the items mentioned at the beginning of this article – link building, article marketing, social media marketing, website usability improvements, on-page content optimization and more in order to get top rankings for your chosen keywords.

Many web designers tout blogs as automagically having search engine optimized structure and code. This is a flat out fallacy. On-page optimization is dependent upon the SEO knowledge of the developer and/or designer. I have seen plenty of blogs with horrible on-page optimization. Even prepackaged free templates can suffer from under-optimized structure and leaving the blog engine’s default settings in place is virtually always an SEO killjoy. (Even our blog is not as optimized as it could be. Feel free to comment on it.)

Are we completely against business blogging? Of course not!! If we were, would we have a blog? We know that blogging can be a very powerful tool in any business’s online marketing arsenal. It is a great way to communicate directly and openly with your customers and potential customers. Blogs can give clarity as to what you or your product does and they can help greatly with online reputation management and customer service. They can even help garner good rankings for long tail terms and phrases related to your main keyword list, but it is not the only thing you, as a site owner, should be doing to create a powerful online identity. Most importantly, business blogging is not the holy grail of search engine optimization.

Green Marketing in an Economic Downturn

By | Business Intelligence, Email Marketing, Natural Search Engine Optimization, Pay Per Click Marketing, Search Engine Marketing, seo, Strategic Planning | One Comment

Altered BambiEveryone wants to go green. It’s become hip to be environmentally conscience. At the same time we’ve hit very uncertain economic times. Every day we read headlines on record setting gas prices and more housing foreclosures. With things looking so uncertain many businesses are searching for ways to utilize their greenbacks more effectively, but also want to jump on the carbon-free, tree-hugging enviro-bus. So if this describes you, what can you do to accomplish both?

You can shift your marketing dollars away from traditional print and direct marketing to internet marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), and PPC advertising. As we say on our solutions page, your website is the core to all your marketing initiatives. It is the only marketing tool that gives you direct, almost real-time, feedback of marketing campaigns. No more guesstimates as to how that direct mail campaign went or how many people even saw your ad in the yellow pages, let alone called you because of it.

With the tracking and analytics capabilities of the internet you know almost instantaneously how well your marketing collateral, ad buys, or email campaign was received. You get real numbers allowing you to understand where you should invest more or curtail other initiatives. If you are not receiving statistical data from your web development company, internet marketing firm, or email marketing agency you should probably seek additional vendor help in those areas.

Now more than ever it is critical to be strategic with your marketing dollars. It’s time you know exactly where your marketing dollars are going and exactly what you are getting for them. Return on your investment (ROI) can be determined almost immediately and there is no guessing. Can you say the same about your last print ad campaign?

Not only can you be more strategic with internet marketing, but you can also claim you’re going green! By not running print ads your business is not using the paper to print the direct mail pieces or using the toxic and environmentally unfriendly inks used in printing those items like postcard mailers or newspaper ads. Some people in the print industry or more traditional graphic design agencies may want to argue the validity of that statement, but stop and think about every aspect of creating and delivering a single direct mail piece. If you compare the total process from creating the ink, making the paper, printing the item and then delivering the item,with the alternative of using electrical energy to keep the ad servers up and running you can see the environmental impact for online marketing is dramatically lower than many other advertising options.

With online marketing, not only can you feel warm and fuzzy inside about doing your part to save the planet, but your wallet will also feel good. Because online marketing does not use those physical, natural resources it does not carry the same high cost as print advertising. When you hire an internet marketing firm you are paying for their time, energy, and effort to create your digital ad. You do not have to pay for the ink company to create the ink or the paper company to create the paper or the printer to print the creative piece – all those items that get built into the cost of doing direct mail. Instead your budget can be put towards what is most important – creating powerful ads that drive real customers to your door! Isn’t that the point of marketing in the first place?!?

When things look to be getting tougher many businesses immediately start to slash and burn their marketing budgets – one of the worst things to do in these times. You don’t want to bury your head in the sand and wait out the storm while your competitors expand their branding and advertising online. Instead you should contact an internet marketing consultant to help you put your marketing dollars to better use.

Westward Strategy: E-marketing Enhances the Bottom Line

By | Business Intelligence, Client Successes, Email Marketing, Portfolio, Strategic Planning, Web Design, Westward Strategy, What Are People Saying | 2 Comments

Sparks Tribune – BUSINESS
Jun 12, 2008
by Jessica Garcia

It’s the axiom of the Internet versus standard paper mailing: Technology has become the predominant source of information. Can two forms of advertising and marketing co-exist?

Kristy Crabtree Westward StrategyThey can – and they should, local businesswoman Kristy Crabtree said.

But making the transition to e-marketing might just give a business the edge it needs to attract new customers as well as retain current ones, she emphasized.

Crabtree’s company, Westward Strategy and Design Group, has been busy the past few months. With the launching of six Web sites for Reno and Sparks businesses, Crabtree spends her time consulting with businesses and showing them how a Web site can enhance their services.

“We try to be a full-service for online (needs),â€Â? said Crabtree, who opened Westward, her first business, two years ago.

Crabtree, along with marketing and design specialist Chris Gandolfo, consult with their clients to understand their advertising objectives and design Web sites to target their desired demographics, increase traffic hits and optimize Internet searches so their companies are found more easily.

Web marketing, Crabtree said, offers businesses som things that traditional methods of advertising doesn’t: the ability to evaluate results and effectiveness.

Westward can report to their clients how effective their sites are through analytics, which is the tracking of information about a Web site’s user: their location, how long they spend on the site and even what they’re interested in by the pages they visit.

Such background information helps Westward and other e-marketing companies determine whether the Web site’s information is effectively helping the company achieve its goals.

“With analytics, you can see an impact has been made to the bottom line,â€Â? Gandolfo said.

E-marketing has potential for businesses of any size. Westward is now focusing on rural clients, such as businesses in Winnemucca, for whom they are now building a site similar to www.monster.com for rural employers and job seekers.

Crabtree said having a site geared specifically on the local level allows these businesses to have more control over what they’re posting.

Westward’s clientele is a variety of businesses in different industries, all with different needs. One of the six companies that recently had their Web sites launched by Westward, ACS Business Insurance Services, Inc., had its former site redone to become more user-friendly, said ACS President Andy Perwein.

“We created more of a user-friendly site that would involve interaction from a quoting perspective,â€Â? Perwein said. “Prospective clients can go in and obtain quotes for themselves and family members on medical and life insurance.â€Â?

It creates easier access for the potential client, who can then call the company to talk to an agent further about their options. Hiring Westward Strategy was a good move for ACS, he said.

“I’ve known Kristy a long time and the e-marketing side of the equation was important to be able to get more traffic driven to our site,â€Â? Perwein said.

Still, ACS will continue using its traditional mailings and print advertising to promote its services, begging the question: Will e-marketing replace traditional means of advertising?

Carol Wenzel of Nevada Presort and Mail Marketing, said she doesn’t think so.

The Sparks-based business that sorts and meters individual and mass mailings hasn’t seen a significant decrease in services due to e-marketing because some people prefer the old-fashioned method of receiving materials in their mailbox, Wenzel said.

“I think people still prefer … to look at a pretty picture of something they might need instead of getting it in their e-mail,â€Â? she said. “I personally delete it (from my e-mail) because I don’t know I need it.â€Â?

Wenzel said if there has been a decrease in advertising mailers, it’s because of the slumping economy, not necessarily because businesses are taking their marketing online.

“You never know from day to day,â€Â? she said. “It goes back and forth.â€Â?

Crabtree said e-marketing is often cheaper than mailing out postcards and purchasing advertisements in local newspapers. She said designing a site, in general, often ranges from $500 to $25,000, depending on how sophisticated and complex the clients’ needs are.

“If it’s a site for an entrepreneur or sole proprietor, it’s cheap for them,â€Â? Crabtree said. “The rest are just bells and whistles.â€Â?

Regardless of price, Crabtree said if companies want greater success at bringing in customers, e-marketing is becoming the way to go. They might do well on traditional means of advertising, but without an online presence, “you’re missing out,â€Â? she said.

More information about Reno Web Design and Marketing
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Photo by: Tribune/Debra Reid – Kristy Crabtree of Westward Strategy and Design Group poses with her photo of balloons at the Sparks Marina during Star Spangled Sparks.

Reviewing SEO & Web Related Topics from the Past

By | Business Intelligence, Email Marketing, Natural Search Engine Optimization, Strategic Planning, Tips and Tricks | No Comments

Every now and again a day comes along where posts pop up all over the web on topics we’ve covered here on this blog before. Today is one of those days. Below are the new articles and our previous take on the topic. Enjoy!

Reviewing SEO&Web Related Topics from the Past

By | Business Intelligence, Email Marketing, Natural Search Engine Optimization, Strategic Planning, Tips and Tricks | No Comments

Every now and again a day comes along where posts pop up all over the web on topics we’ve covered here on this blog before. Today is one of those days. Below are the new articles and our previous take on the topic. Enjoy!

Get Your Oil Changed at Your Dentist and Your SEM from Sam’s Club

By | Business Intelligence, Search Engine Marketing, Westward Strategy, What Are People Saying | One Comment

I brought up the fact that Sam’s Club is offering SEM services in my last RFP (Random Friday Post) of 2007. At the time I didn’t break down exactly why nothing says craptastic like buying your SEM from a big box store, but today Ian has posted an excellent starting point for the conversation. It is definitely worth the read! I’m sure the conversation will explode in a million other blog posts before I even have a chance to do an in depth review of Sam’s Club services. So go, read and explore and when it comes time to hire a local, Reno SEO company don’t forget about us!

And, yes I stole my post title from Tracy Beach’s comment on the original post. 🙂