The Art Of The Start - Stay On Message

So, you've decided on a new project. What next?

This post follows on from my posts Are You An Innovator, Immitator, or Idiot?, and Market Research Using Google Adwords. If you're starting out on a new project, have a read of those posts before we move on.


"He who fails to plan, plans to fail" - Proverb

"A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow" - Proverb

Contrary to what many business books will tell you, unless you're looking to raise capital, you don't need an extensive business plan before you start. However, having no plan at all is often a recipe for disaster. When writing your plan, aim for a concise, one page explanation that clearly states where you're going and how you'll get there.

When I write my plans, the plan also includes the message - more on the message soon - and then, at the very bottom of the page, I leave myself a reminder: "Change Everything!". I write "Change Everything" because I know my plan will change and adapt as I go along. The best business plans are fluid, because the tides of the market will forever change beneath you. Rigid planning can easily put you off-course when the winds inevitably change.

Developing The Message

The message is a simple outline of who you are and what you do. It is also referred to as the elevator pitch. It is used to communicate, quickly and concisely, what you're about, and to help you make a myriad of decisions on design, to SEO, to marketing.

It can be difficult to reduce your message to a clear simple paragraph, so here are a few tips on how to do it. One useful technique is to think of it in terms of questions and answers.

Ask, and answer, the following questions:

  • What value do you add for your customers?
  • What problem do I solve?
  • What outcome will resolves this problem?
  • What do I do differently from my competitors?
  • What adjectives and nouns best illustrate the above points?

Then blend the answers into a tight, focused two paragraph explanation of what you do and the benefit your product or service provides someone else.

For example:

"We are We provide online human resources programs for small companies that lack a dedicated human resources division . Our products and services help companies meet their human resources objectives at low cost, and the service is available to our customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week via our easy-to-use web site. Some of our clients have reduced staff-turnover by up to 50% after using our services".

Needs, work, but that's a start.

Next, test your message out on friends and colleagues. Are they crystal clear about what you do and benefits your provide? Your message flows through everything you do, from domain name selection, to site design, to marketing.

Domain Name

Domain names are easy to register. The hard part is finding the right name.

As I'm sure you're aware, the domain name market is fiercely competitive, so finding the ideal name can be difficult, not to mention expensive if you need to go to the resale market.

When selecting a name, which will likely also be the name of your product or service, consider the search value of names. Google places a lot of emphasis on keywords within the domain name, and the link text pointing to a site. This may change in the future, but it has held true for the past few years.

Try combining your main search keyword term bolted to another descriptive term. "SeoBook", "CarWarehouse, "RealEstateGold" etc. The plus side is that you'll get keywords in the links pointing to your site. Directories, link partners, and most forms of text advertising, tend to place your domain/company name in the link text by default. If your domain/company name doesn't include keyword, you may find it more difficult to get keyword terms in the links.

The downside of this approach is that the brand tends towards the generic, and can therefore be less memorable. Another approach is to ignore the search aspect, and make up a completely unique name. This is the traditional approach to branding. One advantage of such an approach is that you'll "own" any keyword searches for this term.

Web Design

Your web design needs to be consistent with your message.

While anyone can knock up a web design, I'd advise you not to take this approach unless you're an accomplished designer. Hire a professional instead. First impressions count, and when an exit is only a click away, you must make a good one, else all your other marketing efforts could be wasted.

I use the message as a key part of the the design brief. Web designers appreciate this detail, and will be able to design a look and feel that incorporates your message into the design. For example, if your brand is a luxury brand, then the website should look glossy in order to stay consistent with your message. The same glossy design will not work for a more accessible, utilitarian brand like, say, Google. The message would be mixed, which could lead to visitor confusion. The story you're telling wouldn't ring true.

Your message helps govern design questions.

I'll post more indepth about site construction and architecture, but for the meantime, keep it simple, functional, fast-loading, and ensure your design supports and reinforces your message. As I mentioned in my post on Brand Building Tips On A Budget, everything you do on your site must tell a consistent story. Everything you do is your brand - your message. Great design is of little use if the copy writing is sub-standard, and vice-versa. Get all those little, but important, details right. Broken links, 404s, slow load times, confusing navigation, unexpected surprises - they all part of your brand experience.

Promotion Ideas

As you're reading this site, you already know the value of internet marketing, specifically search marketing. So, I won't go over that aspect. I'm sure you've read the book ;)

But what other cheap promotional options are open to you?

Here are a few ideas that work well, and corresponding links telling you the hows and the whys:


The most important aspect of site marketing is to measure performance. You want to run with the winners and cut the losers.


Are you getting sales from the search terms you rank for? If not, why not? Is your message inconsistent with the search terms you are targeting? Refine your message, or target different keyword terms. This is why it is important to test drive your SEO keyword terms using Adwords before you engage in SEO. You can test to see if your keyword terms and your message sync-up to create the desired result.

You need good analytics to track the value of each channel you use. The important point is to be able to identify where the traffic is coming from and, most importantly, what this traffic does when it gets to your site. There is no point ranking for the high traffic terms if none of that traffic converts to desired action.

You've probably heard the term content is king?

It isn't.

Conversion is king.

Content might help you get a visitor to convert to desired action, or it might lead them astray. Once again, ask yourself if your content is on-message. Is your content consistent with your business goals? Is your content helping you achieve your business goals?

Published: September 26, 2008 by A Reader in marketing


September 26, 2008 - 4:18pm

It is often easy to loose focus through brainstorming sessions and you can tend to get ahead of yourself. Great article and you covered a number of topics. I think what is also really important here is creating the proper branding right from the beginning.
This article covers that pretty well.

Building a Brand

Thanks for another great article!

September 28, 2008 - 10:22pm

Are geographic targeted keywords a decent tool to improve conversions?

I have read a lot about geo targeted keywords, but the tools I see are pretty generic (24hr printer becomes 24hr printer Sacramento).

I have been thinking about shared location keywords, other geographic places in the same neighborhoood as a business, such as a convention center, mall, university, or museum.
Ero...24hr printing Bob Dole Convention Center, 24hr printing downtown Houston.

Traffic from these searchers would, in my mind, have a higher probability of converting, no?

September 28, 2008 - 10:47pm

The issue with getting really niche on the keywords, like "24hr printing Bob Dole Convention Center", is that most of them will not get any searches. Just as easily you could use the AdWords Geo-targeting strategy to pick up most of that traffic on much less effort.

This SearchEngineGuide article runs through a lot of the geo-targeting options

the other option is, as you stated, city (or zip) + keywords. you can make a list of keywords like that using this tool
(and others like it)

and/or this excel spreadsheet

September 29, 2008 - 2:25am

Aaron, thank you for the great tips.

If a store owner wants to capitalize on searches for geographic name places etc., they might get traffic from these searches (i.e. a restaurant a few blocks from a theater). One place to get these from is seogis but I would like to see if this works on the conversion end.

October 10, 2008 - 5:48pm

Right on.

Dig that phrase.

Hope it is original.

"Conversion is King" - Aaron Wall 2008 (Melt Down)

October 11, 2008 - 12:16am

Hi Stewart
That line came from Peter Da Vanzo, not me. But I agree with it. :)

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