Insulating Ourselves From Google's Whims

Sep 26th
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Ranking well for our chosen keywords involves putting in a lot of effort up front, with no guarantee of ranking, or reward.

Even if we do attain rankings, and even if do get rewarded, there is no guarantee this situation will last. And this state of flux, for many seos, is only likely to get worse as Google advises that updates will be “jarring and julting for a while

Even more reason to make every visitor count.

If we can extract higher value from each visitor, by converting them from visitor to customers, and from short term customers to long term customers, then our businesses are less vulnerable to Google’s whims. We don’t need to be as focused on acquiring new visitors.

There is great value to be had in optimizing the entire marketing chain.

Hunting For Customers Vs Keeping Customers

It comes down to cost.

According to a Harvard Study a few years back, it can cost five times as much to acquire a new customer as it does to keeping a current customer happy. Of course, your mileage may vary, as whether it really costs five times as much, or three, or seven really depends what your cost structure.

However, this concept is an important one for search marketers, as it’s reasonable to assume that the cost of acquiring customers, via keyword targeting, is rising as Google makes the marketing process of keyword targeting more expensive than it has been in the past. This trend is set to continue.

If the cost of customer acquisition is rising, it can make sense to look at optimizing the offer, the conversion rates and optimizing the value of existing customers.

Underlying Fundamentals

If you have something a lot of people desperately need, and there isn’t much competition, it typically doesn’t cost much to land those customers. They come to you. If you have something genuinely scarce, or even artificially scarce, people will line up.

The problem is that most businesses don’t enjoy such demand. They must compete with other businesses offering similar products and services. So, if there is a scarcity issue, it’s a scarcity of customers, not service and product providers.

However, by focusing on a specific niche, businesses can eliminate a lot of competition, and thereby reduce the marketing cost. For example, a furniture manufacturer could conceivably make furniture for a wide variety of customers, from commercial offices, to industry, to the home.

But if they narrowed their focus to, say, private jet fit-outs, they eliminate a lot of their competition. They’d also have to determine if that niche is lucrative, of course, but as you can see, it’s a way of eliminating a lot of competition simply by adding focus and specialization.

By specializing, they are more likely to enjoy higher quality leads - i.e. leads that may result in a sale - than if they targeted broadly, as it is difficult to be all things to all people The cost of marketing to a broad target market can be higher, as can the level of competition in the search results pages, and the quality of leads can be lower.

Conversion Optimization

Once we’re focused on our niche, and we’ve got targeted visitors coming in, how can we ensure fewer visitors are wasted?

Those who do a lot of PPC will be familiar with conversion optimization, and we’ll dive deep into this fascinating area over the coming weeks, but it’s a good concept for those new to SEO, and internet marketing in general, to keep at front of mind.

You’ve gone to a lot of trouble to get people to your site, so make sure they don’t click back once they arrive!

Here’s a great case study by a company called Conversion Rate Experts. It outlines how to structure pages to improve conversion rates. Whilst the findings are the result of testing and adaptation, and are specific to each business, there are a few few key lessons here:

Length of the page. In this case, a long page improved conversion rates by 30%. Of course, it’s not a numbers game, more the fact that the longer page allowed more time to address objections and answer visitor questions.

As Conversion Rate Experts point out:

The media would have us believe that people no longer have any capacity to concentrate. In reality, you cannot have a page that’s too long—only one that’s too boring. In the case of Crazy Egg’s home page, visitors wanted their many questions answered and that’s what we delivered. (If you’d like more people to scroll down your long pages, see the guide we wrote on the topic.)”

It’s best to experiment, to see what works best in your own situation, but, generally speaking, it pays to offer the visitor as much timely information as possible, as opposed to short copy if there is a analytical, need-oriented motivation. Short copy can work better if the customer is impulsive.

As we see in the Crazy Egg case study, by anticipating and addressing specific objections, and moving the customer closer to the point of sale, the webpage is doing the job of the salesperson. This is an area where SEO and PPC, linked with conversion rate optimization, can add a ton of value.

The second interesting point was they optimized the long-term value of the customer to the company by making a time-sensitive offer.

The one-time offer test illustrates another important principle of conversion optimization: Don’t let the fear of a short-term loss stand in the way of a long-term gain

The offer they made turned a short-term customer into a long-term customer. If we have a lot of long term customers on our books, it can take some of the pressure off the need to constantly acquire new customers.

Optimize Everything

We engage in SEO because there are many similar sites.

The benefit of SEO is we can occupy premium real estate. If we appear high on the search result pages, we are more likely than our competitors to command the customers attention. But we stand to gain a lot more stability if we are not wholly reliant on occupying the top spots, and therefore less vulnerable to Google’s whims.

3 Reasons Google Won’t Offer Car Insurance Comparisons in the US Anytime Soon

Sep 20th

The following is a guest column written by Rory Joyce from CoverHound.

Last week Google Advisor made its long-awaited debut in the car insurance vertical -- in the UK. Given Google’s 2011 acquisition of BeatThatQuote.com, a UK comparison site, for 37.7 million pounds ($61.5 million US), it comes as little surprise that the company chose to enter the UK ahead of other markets. While some might suspect Google’s foray into the UK market is merely a trial balloon, and that an entrance into the US market is inevitable, I certainly wouldn’t hold my breath.

Here are three reasons Google will not be offering an insurance comparison product anytime soon in the US market:

1) High Opportunity Cost

Finance and insurance is the number one revenue - generating advertising vertical for Google, totaling $4 billion in 2011. While some of that $4 billion is made up of products like health insurance, life insurance and credit cards, the largest segment within the vertical is undoubtedly car insurance. The top 3 advertisers in the vertical as a whole are US carriers -- State Farm, Progressive and Geico -- spending a combined sum of $110 million in 2011.

The keyword landscape for the car insurance vertical is relatively dense. A vast majority of searches occur across 10-20 generic terms (ie - “car insurance,” “auto insurance,” “cheap auto insurance,” “auto insurance quotes,” etc). This is an important point because it helps explain the relatively high market CPC of car insurance keywords versus other verticals. All of the major advertisers are in the auction for a large majority of searches, resulting in higher prices. The top spot for head term searches can reach CPCs well over $40. The overall average revenue/click for Google is probably somewhere around $30. Having run run similar experiments with carrier click listing ads using SEM traffic, I can confidently assume that the click velocity (clicks per clicker) is around 1.5. So the average revenue per searcher who clicks is probably somewhere around $45 for Google.

Now, let’s speculate on Google’s potential revenues from advertisers in a comparison environment. Carriers’ marketing allowable is approximately $250 per new policy. When structuring pay-for-performance pricing deep in the funnel (or on a sold-policy basis), carriers are unlikely to stray from those fundamentals. In a fluid marketplace higher in the funnel (i.e.  Adwords PPC), they very often are managing to a marginal cost per policy that far exceeds even $500 (see $40 CPCs). While it may seem like irrational behavior, there are two reasons they are able to get away with this:

a) They are managing to an overall average cost per policy, meaning all direct response marketing channels benefit from “free,” or unattributable sales. With mega-brands like Geico, this can be a huge factor.

b) There are pressures to meet sales goals at all costs. Google presents the highest intent of any marketing channel available to insurance marketers. If marketers need to move the needle in a hurry, this is where they spend.

Regardless of how Google actually structures the pricing, the conversion point will be much more efficient for the consumer since they will be armed with rates and thus there will be less conversion velocity for Google. The net-net here is a much more efficient marketplace, and one where Google can expect average revenue to be about $250 per sold policy.

How does this match up against the $45 unit revenue they would significantly cannibalize? The most optimized and competitive carriers can convert as high as 10% of clicks into sales. Since Google would be presenting multiple policies we can expect that in a fully optimized state, they may see 50% higher conversion and thus 15% of clicks into sales. Here is a summary of the math:

With the Advisor product, in an optimized state, Google will make about $37.50 ($250 x .15) per clicker. Each cannibalized lead will thus cost Google $7.50 of unit revenue ($45 - $37.50). Given the dearth of compelling comparison options in insurance (that can afford AdWords), consumers would definitely be intrigued and so one can assume the penetration/cannibalization would be significant.

Of course there are other impacts to consider: How would this affect competition and average revenue for non-cannibalized clicks? Will responders to Advisor be incremental and therefore have zero opportunity cost?

2) Advisor Has Poor Traction in Other Verticals

Over the past couple of years, Google has rolled out its Advisor product in several verticals including: personal banking, mortgage, and flight search.

We know that at least mortgage didn’t work out very well. Rolled out in early 2011, it was not even a year before Google apparently shut the service down in January of 2012.

I personally don’t have a good grasp on the Mortgage vertical so I had a chat with a high-ranking executive at a leading mortgage site, an active AdWords advertiser. In talking to him it became clear that there were actually quite a bit of similarities between mortgage and insurance as it relates to Google including:

  1. Both industries are highly regulated in the US, at the state level.
  2. Both verticals are competitive and lucrative. CPCs in mortgage can exceed $40.
  3. Like insurance, Google tested Advisor in the UK market first.

Hoping he could serve as my crystal ball for insurance, I asked, “So why did Advisor for Mortgage fail?” His response was, “The chief issue was that the opportunity cost was unsustainably high. Google needed to be as or more efficient than direct marketers who had been doing this for years. They underestimated this learning curve and ultimately couldn’t sustain the lost revenue as a result of click cannibalization.”

Google better be sure it has a good understanding of the US insurance market before entering, or else history will repeat itself, which brings me to my next point...

3) They Don’t Yet Have Expertise

Let’s quickly review some key differences between the UK and US insurance markets:

  1. Approximately 80% of car insurance is purchased through comparison sites in the UK vs under 5% in the US.
  2. There is one very business-friendly pricing regulatory body in the UK versus state-level, sometimes aggressive, regulation in the US.
  3. The UK is an efficient market for consumers, the US is not. This means margins are tighter for UK advertisers, as evidenced by the fact that CPCs in the UK are about a third of what they are in the US.

As you can see, these markets are completely different animals. Despite the seemingly low barriers for entry in the UK, Google still felt compelled to acquire BeatThatQuote to better understand the market. Yet, it still took them a year and a half post acquisition before they launched Advisor.

I spoke with an executive at a top-tier UK insurance comparison site earlier this week about Google’s entry. He mentioned that Google wanted to acquire a UK entity primarily for its general knowledge of the market, technology, and infrastructure (API integrations). He said, “Given [Google’s] objectives, it didn’t make sense for them to acquire a top tier site (ie - gocompare, comparethemarket, moneysupermarket, confused) so they acquired BeatThatQuote, which was unknown to most consumers but had the infrastructure in place for Google to test the market effectively.”

It’s very unlikely BeatThatQuote will be of much use for the US market. Google will need to build its product from the ground up. Beyond accruing the knowledge of a very complex, and nuanced market, they will need to acquire or build out the infrastructure. In the US there are no public rate APIs for insurance carriers; very few insurance comparison sites actually publish instant, accurate, real-time rates. Google will need to understand and navigate its way to the rates (though it’s not impossible). It will take some time to get carriers comfortable and then of course build out the technology. Insurance carriers, like most financial service companies, can be painfully slow.

Conclusion

I do believe Google will do something with insurance at some point in the US. Of the various challenges the company currently faces, I believe the high opportunity cost is the toughest to overcome. However, the market will shift. As true insurance comparison options continue to mature, consumers will be searching exclusively for comparison sites (see travel), and carriers will no longer be able to effectively compete at the scale they are now -- driving down the market for CPCs and thus lowering the opportunity cost.

This opportunity cost is much lower however for other search engines where average car insurance CPC’s are lower. If I am Microsoft or Yahoo, I am seriously considering using my valuable real estate to promote something worthwhile in insurance. There is currently a big void for consumers as it relates to shopping for insurance. A rival search engine can instantly differentiate themselves from Google overnight in one of the biggest verticals. This may be one of their best opportunities to regain some market share.

Nailing Down Opportunities

Sep 20th
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A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty

If you’re one of the many webmasters feeling hammered by Penguin and Panda, you’d be forgiven for thinking the best opportunities in search are long gone. Perhaps it’s all gotten just a bit too complicated.

In reality, internet marketing is still just a toddler taking baby steps. Opportunity abounds. It’s a case of looking for it, finding it and capitalizing on it.

So how?

In this post. we’ll look at the nature of opportunities, and how to spot them.

People Always Have Problems

If you look at these stories, you’ll notice a common thread.

Honest Tea solved a problem. People wanted bottled organic tea. VMail solved a problem. Small businesses needed a cheap VoIP solution. Ben and Jerry solved a problem. There was no ice cream shop in their town.

Opportunity is the chance to solve a problem. To fill a need. If no one is solving that problem, and that problem is a difficult one the customer, and the customer is desperate to solve it, then the stronger the marketing opportunity will be.

Are there any fewer needs than there were last year? Than before the financial crash? There are just as many needs, as there are just as many people, and as life grows ever more complex, their needs become greater. Their needs may change. They might want fewer luxury products and better deals on everyday products. Next year, it might be the other way around.

Where There Are Problems, There Are Marketing Opportunities

We find marketing opportunities - good ones - when there is a high probability we’ll satisfy a market need, and do so profitably.

  • Is it about finding a keyword with high search volumes?
  • Is it about doing what the the successful people are doing?
  • Is it about doing what everyone else is doing, but just being better at SEO than they are?

Possibly, but this type of thinking is more to do with tactics than opportunity. A marketing opportunity is better evaluated for a higher level. Take the 5,000 ft view.

Ask:

  • Can I supply something in short supply?
  • Can I improve on an existing product or service in way that is considerably superior?
  • Can I supply a genuinely new product of service?

For example, there is a market opportunity for search engine news. Is it a good opportunity for a new entrant? Probably not, as this market is saturated by established players. The audience already have their needs met.

However, there might be better opportunities for news on, say, 3d printers, or some other emerging technology where there is a need, but it isn’t well served. Of course, these opportunities can narrow over time as more and more people see the opportunity, and move into the space.

Perhaps the most lucrative opportunities score highly in each area. They are in short supply, they are relatively new, and you can improve on something people already do.

A good example would be the iPhone. When they came out, there was only one iPhone, they were new(ish) idea for the target market, and they integrated functions people already performed, but did so in a superior way. It’s little wonder Apple could charge such high margins on them, and it took competitors a long time to catch up. Anyone releasing a smartphone today would have to improve on those areas - price point is probably the obvious opportunity - in order to be able to compete.

How To Nail Down The Opportunities

There are various methods marketers do to test their conceptions. Let's look at three.

One method is the problem detection method. Try asking people if they have any problems with their existing service. For example, a prospective SEO customer might say “I’d like to spend more on SEO, but I don’t know if my spend will be worthwhile”. The opportunity is to figure out a way to show it will be worthwhile if the customer spends more, which might involve offering a money-back guarantee, or a pay on performance arrangement, or some other way to improve that problem the customer has with existing services.

Another way is the ideal method. Ask the customer what would be their ideal product or service. Often, customers will describe fanciful things, but listening to their whims can help you think of products and services you may not have thought of yourself, as it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking within the constraints of your industry. At one time, a customer may have wanted no time delay between ordered a meal and receiving the meal. This probably sounded like an impossible ideal to a restaurateur at the turn of the century, used to waiters and a kitchen staff, but an opportunity to Mr McDonald, who thought more in terms of an industrial process. And Ray Kroc scaled it from there.

Another method is the consumption chain method. You track the consumption of the product or service from start to finish, and see if there are any steps in the chain that can be improved upon. Questions to ask are how people become aware of the product or service, how do customers make their purchase decisions, if they need to consult someone else to make the purchase decision, how they get the product or service, where they store it, how often they use it, and so on. At each step in the chain, there is a chance to make a change, to optmize, and to make better.

We’ve only touched on the ideas on ways to seize opportunities. How have you discovered opportunities in the past? What is your process for spotting new opportunities? Please add them to the comments!

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Comparing Backlink Data Providers

Sep 12th

Since Ayima launched in 2007, we've been crawling the web and building our own independent backlink data. Starting off with just a few servers running in our Directory of Technology's bedroom cupboard, we now have over 130 high-spec servers hosted across 2 in-house server rooms and 1 datacenter, using a similar storage platform as Yahoo's former index.

Crawling the entire web still isn't easy (or cheap) though, which is why very few data providers exist even today. Each provider makes compromises (even Google does in some ways), in order to keep their data as accurate and useful as possible for their users. The compromises differ between providers though, some go for sheer index size whilst others aim for freshness and accuracy. Which is best for you?

This article explores the differences between SEOMoz's Mozscape, MajesticSEO's Fresh Index, Ahref's link data and our own humble index. This analysis has been attempted before at Stone Temple and SEOGadget, but our Tech Team has used Ayima's crawling technology to validate the data even further.

We need a website to analyze first of all, something that we can't accidentally "out". Search Engine Land is the first that came to mind, very unlikely to have many spam links or paid link activity.

So let's start off with the easy bit - who has the biggest result set for SEL?

The chart above shows MajesticSEO as the clear winner, followed by a very respectable result for Ahrefs. Does size matter though? Certainly not at this stage, as we only really care about links which actually exist. The SEOGadget post tried to clean the results using a basic desktop crawler, to see which results returned a "200" (OK) HTTP Status Code. Here's what we get back after checking for live linking pages:

Ouch! So MajesticSEO's "Fresh" index has the distinct smell of decay, whilst Mozscape and Ayima V2 show the freshest data (by percentage). Ahrefs has a sizeable decay like MajesticSEO, but still shows the most links overall in terms of live linking pages. Now the problem with stopping at this level, is that it's much more likely that a link disappears from a page, than the page itself disappearing. Think about short-term event sponsors, 404 pages that return a 200, blog posts falling off the homepage, spam comments being moderated etc. So our "Tenacious Tim" got his crawler out, to check which links actually exist on the live pages:

Less decay this time, but at least we're now dealing with accurate data. We can also see that Ayima V2 has a live link accuracy of 82.37%, Mozscape comes in at 79.61%, Ahrefs at 72.88% and MajesticSEO is just 53.73% accurate. From Ayima's post-crawl analysis, our techies concluded that MajesticSEO's crawler was counting URLs (references) and not actual HTML links in a page. So simply mentioning http://www.example.com/ somewhere on a web page, was counting as an actual link. Their results also included URL references in JavaScript files, which won't offer any SEO value. That doesn't mean that MajesticSEO is completely useless though, I'd personally use it more for "mention" detection outside of the social sphere. You can then find potential link targets who mention you somewhere, but do not properly link to your site.

Ahrefs wins the live links contest, finding 84,496 more live links than MajesticSEO and 513,733 more live links than SEOmoz's Mozscape! I still wouldn't use Ahrefs for comparing competitors or estimating the link authority needed to compete in a sector though. Not all links are created equal, with Ahrefs showing both the rank-improving links and the crappy spam. I would definitely use Ahrefs as my main data source for "Link Cleanup" tasks, giving me a good balance of accuracy and crawl depth. Mozscape and Ayima V2 filter out the bad pages and unnecessarily deep sites by design, in order to improve their data accuracy and showing the links that count. But when you need to know where the bad PageRank zero/null links are, Ahrefs wins the game.

So we've covered the best data for "mentions", the best data for "link cleanup", now how about the best for competitor comparison and market analysis? The chart below shows an even more granular filter, removing dead links, filtering by unique Class C IP blocks and removing anything below a PageRank 1. By using Google's PageRank data, we can filter the links from pages that hold no value or that have been penalized in the past. Whilst some link data providers do offer their own alternative to PageRank scores (most likely based on the original Google patent), these cannot tell whether Google has hit a site for selling links or for other naughty tactics.

Whilst Ahrefs and MajesticSEO hit the top spots, the amount of processing power needed to clean their data to the point of being useful, makes them untenable for most people. I would therefore personally only use Ayima V2 or Mozscape for comparing websites and analyzing market potential. Ayima V2 isn't available to the public quite yet, so let's give this win to Mozscape.

So in summary

  • Ahrefs - Use for link cleanup
  • MajesticSEO - Use for mentions monitoring
  • Mozscape - Use for accurate competitor/market analysis

Juicy Data Giveaway

One of the best parts of having your own index, is being able to create cool custom reports. For example, here's how the big SEO websites compare against each other:

"Index Rank" is a ranking based on who has the most value-passing Unique Class C IP links across our entire index. The league table is quite similar to HitWise's list of the top traffic websites, but we're looking at the top link authorities.

Want to do something cool with the data? Here's an Excel spreadsheet with the Top 10,000 websites in our index, sorted by authority: Top 10,000 Authority Websites.


Rob Kerry is the co-founder of Ayima, a global SEO Consultancy started in 2007 by the former in-house team of an online gaming company. Ayima now employs over 100 people on 3 continents and Rob has recently founded the new Ayima Labs division as Director of R&D.

Change Your Offer Without Changing Your Product

Sep 11th
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Have you been selling a product or service for some time, but think you might need to do something new to keep up with the market? Offer something fresh?

One of the problems with making significant changes to your products or services is that it tends to carry a high level of risk. There is a risk you could alienate your existing prospects. There is always risk in starting over and trying something new and untested, as the untried and untested is more likely to fail.

But what if you could change your product or service without really changing it at all! Here are a few ideas on how to make changes, by changing the pitch, and without going to the effort, or taking the risk of making fundamental changes.

Positioning

One of the great things about direct marketing, of which search marketing is a part, is that we’re not likely to be starting with products and services that have had an awareness and associations built up over many years - like Coca-Cola, for example. We get to modify the position, if we so choose.

Position, in marketing, means perception. Perception in the minds of the prospective customer. We can appeal to perceptions, or shape our product to fit perceptions, depending on what our prospects want.

For example, we could take the same car and market it to two different groups using positioning. To one group, we emphasize safety features above all else. To another group, we emphasize performance. The product doesn’t change, but the positioning does, and thus appeals to different groups of buyers. In reality, a car manufacturer probably wouldn’t do this, at least not in the same market, as it could send confusing messages.

However, on the web, we can often chop and change products, and target different groups, and one doesn’t necessarily need to overlap another.

Vertical Positioning

A vertical is a group of similar businesses and customers that engage in trade based on specific and specialized need. They may be a subset of a larger market. For example, PPC is a vertical within internet marketing, itself a subset of general marketing.

In terms of positioning within vertical markets, imagine you’re a software developer in the search marketing space. If you were talking to a group of manufacturers, and want to talk about what you do in a way that is understandable to this audience, you might talk to them in broad terms about marketing.

If you were talking to a group of marketers you might talk more specifically about search marketing. If you were talking to a room full of search marketers, you might talk more specifically again about the PPC optimization software you’re working on. If you were talking to a room of PPC optimization software developers.....and so on.

They are all part of the same market - and they might all need what you have - but each audience exists in different verticals, and so you change the message to suit. Changing vertical positioning is when you target a different vertical within the same market. An example of this might be a landlord who rents out a house to a single tenant changes to renting it out students on a room by room basis with “shared facilities”. She’s still in the accommodation provision market, the product is the same, but it is pitched to a different niche.

Can you identify different verticals in your market to which you product or service might also appeal? Can you configure your product, without making fundamental changes, so that it appeals to the needs of a different niche within your market?

Positioning In Time

Positioning in time, sometimes described as horizontal positioning in direct marketing circles, refers to the point in time when a person buys something, and positioning the message to appeal to different buyers depending on where they are in the buy-cycle.

For example, if someone is genuinely new to your product, and doesn’t even know they want it, then you could pitch your advertising based on the benefits your product provides. If I wanted to sell, say, a revolutionary new power cell, I wouldn’t talk about specifications to someone unfamiliar with the product, I’d talk about the fact that it replaces the need to be on an electricity grid, so the buyer doesn’t need to pay line charges. I’d emphasize benefits.

If someone is already aware of these new power cells, and knows all the benefits, I would likely emphasize other aspects, such as features and price more than benefits, as the buyer should already understand them.

This type of positioning will be familiar to people who do a lot of PPC. The link text, message and landing page changes to accommodate buyers at different stages in the sales cycle. The product doesn’t change, but the message does.

Isolate

Another way to reposition a product or service is to use an isolation technique. Take a single aspect of the product and make it a major part of the offer. For example, TIME magazine sells subscriptions to a magazine, but their advertising often focuses on the “free” gifts that accompany a subscription. This technique is often used when the main product itself is well known to the audience, and there’s not much new that can be said about it.

Many software companies who formerly sold their software now give their software away as part of a freeware model, but sell software support and maintenance services around it. They isolate an aspect that was always there - service - but now emphasize it, and push the actual product into the background. This tends to happen when the product becomes commodity and there are few ways to differentiate it without making significant changes.

Combine

Think about bundling products or services together to appeal to a different vertical.

For example, there might be a small market for individual electronic components, but a large market for a “phone tapping device”. Something Woz and Steve Jobs built a company on.

Music distribution companies, like Spotify, take individual tunes, bundle them together as a huge library, and sell subscriptions to it, as opposed to selling on a song by song, basis, like iTunes do.

Individual garden plants and potting accessories might not be very interesting, but bundled together as a “kitchen greenhouse” they might appeal to an audience of foodies who don’t necessarily see themselves as gardeners.

Further Reading

Three Ways To Break Down A Market

Sep 11th
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Ford said “give the customer any color they want, so long as it is black”. This strategy worked for a while, because people just wanted a car. However, the market changed when GM decided they would offer a range of cars to suit different “purposes, purses and personalities”.

Between 1920 and 1923, Ford’s market share plummeted from 55 to 12 percent.

These days, auto manufacturers segment the market, rather than treat it as one homogeneous mass. There are cars for the rich, cars for the less well off, cars built for speed, and cars built for shopping.

Manufacturers do this because few manufacturers can cater to very large markets where the consumer has infinite choice. To be all things to all people is impossible, but to be the best for a smaller, well-defined group of people is a viable business strategy. It costs less to target, and therefore has less risk of failure. Search marketing is all about targeting, so let's take a look at various ways to think about targeting in terms of the underlying marketing theory which might give you a few ideas on how to refine and optimize your approach.

While there are many ways to break down a market, here are three main concepts.

Segments

Any market can be broken down into segments. A segment means “a group of people”. We can group people by various means, however the most common forms of segmentation include:

Benefit segmentation: a group of people who seek similar benefits. For example, people who want bright white teeth would seek a toothpaste that includes whitener. People who are more concerned with tooth decay may choose a toothpaste that promises healthy teeth.

Demographic Segmentation: a group of people who share a similar age, gender, income, occupation, education, religion, race and nationality. For example, retired people may be more interested in investment services than a student would, as retired people are more likely to have capital to invest.

Occasion Segmentation: a group of people who buy things at a particular time. Valentines Day is one of the most popular days for restaurant bookings. People may buy orange juice when they think about breakfast time, but not necessarily at dinner. The reverse is true for wine.

Usage Segmentation: a group of people who buy certain volumes, or at specific frequencies. For example, a group of people might dine out regularly, vs those who only do so occasionally. The message to each group would be different.

Lifestyle segmentation: a group of people who may share the same hobbies, or live a certain way. For example, a group of people who collect art, or a group of people who are socialites.

The aim is to find a well-defined market opportunity that is still large enough to be financially viable. If one segment is not big enough, a business may combine segments - say, young people (demographic) who want whiter teeth (benefit). The marketing for this combined segment would be different - and significantly more focused - that the more general “those who want whiter teeth” (benefit) market segment, alone.

How does this apply to search and internet marketing in general?

It’s all about knowing your customer. “Knowing the customer” is an easy thing to say, and something of a cliche, but these marketing concepts can help provide us with a structured framework within which to test our assumptions.

Perhaps that landing page I’ve been working on isn’t really working out. Could it be because I haven’t segmented enough? Have I gone too broad in my appeal? Am I talking the language of benefits when I should really be focusing on usage factors? What happens if I combine “demographics” with “occassion”?

Niches

Niches are similar to segments, but even more tightly defined based on unique needs. For example, “search engine marketing education” is a niche that doesn’t really fit usefully within segments such as demographics, lifestyle or occasion.

The advantage of niche targeting is that you may have few competitors and you may be able to charge high margins, as there is a consumer need, but very few people offer what you do. The downside is that the niche could weaken, move, or disappear. To mitigate this risk, businesses will often target a number of niches - the equivalent of running multiple web sites - reasoning that if one niche moves or disappears, then the other niches will take up the slack.

Search marketing has opened up many niches that didn’t previously exist due to improved marketing efficiency. It doesn’t cost much to talk to people anywhere in the world. Previously, niches that required a global audience in order to be viable were prohibitive due to the cost of reaching people spread over such a wide geographic area.

To function well in a niche, smaller companies typically need to be highly customer focused and service oriented as small niche businesses typically can’t drive price down by ramping volume.

Cells

Cells are micro-opportunities. This type of marketing is often overlooked, but will become a lot more commonplace on the web due to the easy access to data.

For example, if you collect data about your customers buying habits, you might be able to identify patterns within that data that create further marketing opportunities.

If you discover that twenty people bought both an iPhone and a PC, then they may be in the market for software products that makes it easy for the two devices to talk to each other. Instead of targeting the broader iPhone purchaser market, you might tailor the message specifically for the iphone plus PC people, reasoning that they may be having trouble getting the two devices to perform certain functions, and would welcome a simple solution.

Further Reading:

Pitching Search Marketing In Traditional Marketing Terms

Sep 7th
posted in

For those selling search marketing to customers, especially those customers new to the concept of search marketing, it’s often useful to pitch search marketing services in terms the customer already understands.

A lot search marketing theory and practice is borrowed and adapted from direct marketing. Direct marketing concepts have been around since the 60s, and may be more readily understood by some customers than some of the arcane terminology sometimes associated with SEO/SEM.

Here are some ideas on how to link search marketing and direct marketing concepts.

1. Targeting & Segmentation

A central theme of direct marketing is targeting.

On broadcast television, advertisers show the one advertisement to many people, and hope it will be relevant to a small fraction of that audience. Most television advertising messages are wasted on people who aren't interested in those messages. It’s a scattergun, largely untargeted approach.

Search marketing, a form of direct marketing, is targeted. Search marketers target their audience based on the specific keywords the audience use.

Search marketing is concerned with the most likely prospects - a small fraction of the total audience. Further, if we analyse the visitor behavior of people using specific keyword terms post-click, we can find out who are the hottest prospects amongst that narrowly defined group.

The widely accepted 20-80 rule says that 20% of your customers create 80% of your business. An example might be "luxury vacations France", as opposed to "vacations France". If we have higher margins on luxury travel, then segmenting to focus on the frequent luxury travel buyer, as opposed to a less frequent economy buyer whom we still might sell to, but at lower margins, might be more in line with business objectives. Defining, and refining, keyword terms can help us segment the target market.

2. Focus

Once you get a search visitor to your site, what happens next?

They start reading. Such a specific audience requires focused, detailed information, and a *lot* of it, or they will click back.

It is a mistake to pitch to an "average" audience at this point i.e. to lose focus. If we’ve done our job correctly, and segmented our visitors using specific keyword terms, we already know they are interested in what we offer.

To use our travel example above, the visitor who typed in “luxury vacations in France” wants to hear all about luxury vacations in France. They are unlikely to want a pitch about how wonderful France, as a country, is, as the keyword term suggests they’ve already made their mind up about destination. Therefore, a simplistic, generalized message selling French tourism is less likely to work.

Genuine buyers - who will spend thousands on such vacations - will want a lot of detail about luxury travel in France, as this is unlikely to be a trivial purchase they make often. That generally means offering long, detailed articles, not short ones. It means many options, not few. It means focusing on luxury travel, and not general travel.

Simple, but many marketers get this wrong. They go for the click, but don’t focus enough on the level of detail required by hot prospects i.e. someone most likely to buy.

3. Engagement

One advantage of the web is that we can spend a lot of time getting a message across once a hot prospect has landed on a site. This is not the case on radio. Radio placements only have seconds to get the message across. Likewise, television slots are commonly measured in 15 and 30 second blocks.

On the web, we can engage a visitor for long periods of time. The message becomes as long as the customer is prepared to hear it.

4. Personalized

The keyword tells you a lot about visitor intent. “Luxury travel France” is a highly targeted term that suggests a lot about the visitor i.e. their level of spend and tastes. If we build keyword lists and themes associated with this term, we can personalize the sales message using various landing pages that talk specifically to the needs of the visitor. Examples might include “Five Star Hotels”, “Luxury Car Hire”, “Best Restaurants In Paris”, and so on. Each time they click a link, or reveal a bit more about themselves,we can start to personalize the message. Personalized marketing works well because the message is something the prospect is willing to hear. It’s specifically about them.

We can personalize the journey through the site, configuring customized pathways so we can market one-to-one. We see this at work on Amazon.com. Amazon notes your search and order history and prompts you with suggestions based on that history. One-to-many marketing approaches, as used in newspapers, on radio and on television typically aren’t focused and lack personalization. They may work well for products with broad appeal, but work less well for defined niches.

5. Active Response

We’re not just interested in views, impressions, or reach. We want the visitor to actively respond. We want them to take a desired, measurable action. This may involve filling out a form, using a coupon, giving us an email address, and/or making a purchase.

Active response helps make search marketing spends directly accountable and measurable.

6. Accountable

People either visit via a search term, or they don’t.

Whilst there can be some advantage in brand awareness i.e. a PPC ad that appears high on the page, but is only clicked a fraction of the time, the real value is in the click-thru. This is, of course, measurable, as the activity will show up in the site statistics, and can be traced back to the originating search engine.

Compare this with radio, television or print. It’s difficult to know where the customer came from, as their interaction may be difficult to link back to the advertising campaign.

Search marketing is also immediately measurable.

7. Testable

Some keyword terms work, some do not. Some keyword terms only work when combined with landing page X, but not landing page Y. By “work” we tend to mean “achieves a measurable business outcome”.

Different combinations can be tried and compared against one another. Keywords can be tested using PPC. Once we’ve determined what the most effective keywords are in terms of achieving measurable business outcomes, we can flow these through to our SEO campaign. We can do the reverse, too. Use terms that work in our SEO campaigns to underpin our PPC campaigns.

This process is measureable, repeatable and ongoing. Language has near infinite variety. There are many different ways to describe things, and the landing pages can be configured and written in near infinite ways, too. We track using software tools to help determine patterns of behaviour, so we can keep feeding this back into our strategy in order to refine and optimize. We broaden keyword research in order to capture the significant percentage of search phrases that are unique.

Further Reading:

Laying the Groundwork for a Local SEO Campaign

Sep 6th
posted in

Local SEO has the undeserved reputation of being "easy" and "not a lot of work". The competitiveness of keywords might be less competitive than broader keywords but there still is a fair amount of work that goes into getting the campaign off and running properly.

On the whole, keywords targeted in local SEO campaigns are less competitive than their broader counterparts but there are also mitigating factors to consider when determining the overall difficulty of the campaign.

Consideration also needs to be given to how the following factors will effect the overall difficulty of producing a successful campaign:

  • relationship between keyword volume, difficulty, and conversion ROI for the client on both Google and Bing
  • prevalence of Google/Bing local inserts (need to factor in the wonkiness of these ranking algorithms as well)
  • appropriateness and value of setting up and running social media profiles for the client
  • link difficulty (depending on the client's niche)
  • availability of other online traffic generation options (buying exposure on other sites where the target market is)
  • the client's desire to engage in pre-campaign PPC to more accurately determine search volume for a more accurate setting of expectations
  • client's budget
  • your margins

Some of what I mentioned above doesn't really fall into the "difficulty" of ranking for keywords, but ranking is only a piece of the overall puzzle. You should have an idea of how difficult the entire process will be, because it's more than just rankings at this stage (and has been for awhile).

Building the Campaign Framework

There are a number of pre-campaign, post-campaign, during-campaign tools you can use for these kinds of campaigns but you don't have to go nuts. Local search stats can be small enough to make extrapolation without PPC or historical analytics data fruitless with respect to actionable date

When you begin to layout your campaign process you could follow a broader roadmap and adjust as necessary. For example, your specifics might change if you are working with an existing site rather than a new one (no historical data, no initial on-site reviews to do, etc).

While links are still and will continue to be uber-important for the foreseeable future, it is wise to consider the rise of site engagement, social signals, and online PR. This is why when we talk about "local SEO" we talk about things like strategic ad buys, social media plays, and PPC for research purposes.

Local SEO can be a lead-in to an entire marketing campaign as we discussed here, so we'll leave ongoing PPC, email marketing, offline ad integration, etc for those kinds of discussions but just know that once you get your foot in the door the door can open pretty wide. The more you can do and the better you do it the better your retention rate will be.

Keyword Research

The biggest thing to do is set expectations. If you come running in with unqualified keyword volume reports you are really starting from a level of distrust, even if the client doesn't know it yet. If the client isn't interested in some initial PPC then it's in your best interest to clue them in on the potential inaccuracy of various keyword tools.

For an existing site you can pull keyword search data from whatever analytics package the client has as well as from both sets of webmaster tools (Bing and Google). You can cross reference that with current rankings to see where you might be able to score some quick wins.

For a new site, set up accounts on Google's Webmaster Tools as well as Bing's. These will come in handy down the road for more keyword data, link data, and site health reviews.

We've talked about local SEO keyword research via PPC before and on top of that, or in lieu of that if the client isn't interested, you can get some local and a bunch of broader keywords from tools like:

In addition to keyword research tools, you can you a couple of free tools to help generate and populate local keywords:

The second tool combines search terms with local modifiers in a given radius of the area you select.

If you find local volume lacking I suggest the following steps:

  • Start with the targeted town's (or towns) name and/or zip code(s) as modifiers
  • Move up to a bigger nearby town or county if needed
  • If volume is still sparse, move up to state level keyword modifiers
  • Couple those bits of research with what the non-locally modified results show to see if you can find overlapping relationships between core keywords (medical insurance versus health insurance, or car insurance versus auto insurance, etc)
  • Move into Google Trends and Insights to further qualify the broader keywords by region and state
  • If no clear winner emerges, err on the side of where the broader volume is

Site Architecture and Content

Quite a few local sites are going to be your brochure-style sites. Site structure can vary quite a bit depending on the size and scope of the site. Since most local sites focus on a particular product or service (rather than being Amazon.Com) it is wise to keep the following in mind:

  • stay far, far away from duplicate and NEAR duplicate content (if the client is an insurance agent don't have similar pages like acmeinsurance.com/car-insurance, /auto-insurance, /vehicle insurance)
  • also, avoid using the town/city names as the only modifiers where no difference exists between services or products (acmeinsurance.com/town1-auto-insurance, /town2-autoinsurance, /town3 autoinsurance)
  • get the client involved in the content writing, they generally have lots of marketing or product material that you can pull from and give to a writer for topical ideas and industry jargon
  • consider hiring on a well-respected job board like problogger.net for specific content needs (finance, home/garden, food, etc)
  • don't overdo internal linking with keyword rich anchors, especially on navigation (try to keep it broad from a keyword standpoint...Car Insurance vs Providence Car Insurance as an example)
  • use tools like screaming frog and xenu to assess overall on-page health, structural integrity, and internal linking stats
  • microsoft also has an on-page assessment tool available on windows
  • write your page titles and meta descriptions with click-thru's in mind while mixing in broad and local keyword variations to help describe the site rather than simply to keyword stuff

Tools like Google's Page Speed and Yslow can provide you with detailed analysis on potential site loading issues prior to launch. I have found that printing these out before/after is a good way to show the client, who typically is a novice, some of the stuff that is going on behind the scense. Clients like before and afters (when the after is more favorable than the before of course).

Tracking

Tracking is key, naturally, so you'll need to pick an analytics package. There are some decent Google Analytics alternatives, if you aren't interested in dealing with the borg. That said, you can choose from some fairly full-featured packages

For ease of use and feature sets I tend to either go with Clicky, Mint or Google Analytics. I haven't spent much time with Woopra and I find Piwik to not be as intiuitive or as user friendly as the other 3 I mentioned (which is even more important when the client wants/needs access.)

Speaking of tracking, you should consider getting familiar with a cheap virtual phone number vendor (I would recommend phone.com) as well as Google's URL builder for tracking potential adverts and media buys down the road (as well as offline adverts if you end up servicing that aspect of the client's marketing campaign). If you use Google Analytics, another cool tool to use is Raven's Google Analytics configuration tool

I generally recommend staying away from tracking numbers because it can screw up your Google Places rankings and trust but when I use them I typically just make them images on whatever page they are being listed on and I never use them for IYP citations (listings on sites like Yelp, Yellowpages, Merchant Circle, etc).

Planning Out Link Building

For local sites, you'll want to attack link building on two fronts: 1. External links 2. Citations.

Before you get into any of the link planning, you should get the client set up in KnowEm. KnowEm will help get the client on all the relevant social networks and goes a long way in establishing the base for the client to control it's branded searches and branded SERPs.

You can choose from a variety of packages from basic registration to complete profile set up (bio's, pictures, descriptions, etc). Once these profiles are built, you can begin building links to them (and link to them from the client's site) to further the client's domination of their own branded SERPs.

For citations, I would recommend using Whitespark (we reviewed it here). Whitespark really is an essential tool in building citations, tracking citations, and doing competitive citation research. Speaking of citations, each year David Mihm releases the Local Search Ranking Factors and I would highly recommend saving each year's version and refer back to it when designing your citation building plan(s).

As for traditional link building, it's fairly similar to non-local link building with respect to the broader overview of link outreach but can be niched down to focus on locality for both link equity and qualified traffic.

Some of the things you can do at the beginning of the link planning process would be:

  • make a list of the vendors you use, find out if they have a site and would be willing to link to you
  • local papers tend to have really favorable online advertising rates, exposure runs a close second to links and part of how I like to approach the link building process is to be everywhere (online) locally; play hardball for a bit on the rates and you'll be surprised about the relatively cheap, local exposure you can buy
  • set up google alerts for your client's brand and for local topics relevant to their product/service
  • talk to other local businesses about co-promotions on both your site, their site, and your social networks (if available)
  • if you offer coupons and discounts to certain groups or demographics, get those posted on local sites as well; many local sites do not have sophisticated ad serving technology so you often get a nice, relevant, clean link back to your client's site
  • in addition to competitive link research you can pull the backlinks of local chambers of commerce and local travel/tourist sites to find potential link opportunities
  • run a broken link checker on local resource sites, specifically ones that deal with local events, news, tourism and see if there are link opportunities for your client

Infographic ideas for local clients, depending on the niche, can be found fairly easily and can bring in lots and lots of local links and exposure. Every state and many towns/cities have Wikipedia pages which link out to demographic statistics. There is a trove of data available and if you can be creative with the data + your client's niche there are lots of opportunities for you.

For instance, in Rhode Island insurance rates are typically higher than neighboring states (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, etc). The reasons generally are things like exposure to coastal regions, proximity of towns to city center, accident history, etc. You could easily make a decent infographic about this. Local news and resource sites would probably be willing to gobble it up. If you were able to interview insurance company spokespeople you could find yourself with some pretty good exposure and some pretty solid links.

Expectations and Budget

The reality is that if you do not properly set expectations (maybe think about showing the client how the sausage is made pre-campaign) and you take whatever budget comes your way you will not be able to provide quality service for very long, the campaign will not succeed, and you may do irreparable harm to your brand in your local market.

If you have other results and testimonials to fall back on, as well as a solid plan mapped out (that can be explained to the client), then you've held up your end of the bargain with respect to providing a fair proposal for your time and effort. Sometimes the initial planning is the most time-intensive part of a local campaign.

Plan it out correctly from the beginning and you should be able to produce the results required to keep the client and build up your brand in your local market.

The Search Power Of Brand

Sep 3rd
posted in

In that past, we’ve talked a lot about Google’s brand bias, but no matter how a brand is defined in technical terms, the reality is that Google cannot leave popular brand sites out of the search results.

If a person searches for, say, AVIS, and doesn’t see AVIS in the top spot, then as far as the searcher is concerned, Google is broken. If a person searches for various car rental terms and does not see AVIS somewhere, then it's also likely they'll expect Google is broken.

Google isn’t perceived as broken, however, if car-rental-cars-online.com is nowhere to be seen. Some might argue Google is doing the searcher a favour by ignoring such a site.

Crowded Planet

There was a time on the web when relevant information was harder to come by. Not so now. Now, we have too much information. We don’t even know how big the internet is. They're guessing two trillion pages. And counting.

So, the real competition is clutter.

The real opportunity is to find clear space amongst the throng.

One way to do that is by developing a clear brand identity.

What Is A Brand

A logo? A set of graphics? A catchy name?

Not really.

Plenty of companies have logos, graphics and a catchy name but they do not have strong brand identities. A brand is largely about how other people define you. They define you based on the experience they have when engaging with you.

For example, take Apple. How would you define their brand? The logo? The shops? The fonts they use in their advertising?

These aspects are not Apple’s brand. Apple’s brand is in the way Apple’s customers feel about Apple. It’s a feeling tied up with concepts such fashion, design, innovation and quality - and unique to Apple.

This feeling creates a clear identity in the mind of the customer.

Having a clear identity makes you memorable. People will remember your site name. People will search for your site name. And when enough people do that, then there is little chance Google can ever drop you below number #1 for brand searches. If you get it right, Google will even rank you against relevant related keywords you aren't targeting.

Because Google would look broken if it didn't feature you.

Tooting our own horn here, but if you typed “seo book” into Google, and didn’t see this site, you’d think Google was broken. There are plenty of books on SEO, but only one “seo book” that owns a clear brand identity in this space. And SEO Book gets plenty of traffic from other search search related terms that it does not target, because Google associates the site so strongly with the "SEO education" niche. The people who search on SEO queries click on this site, and once they arrive, they don’t click back too often.

Own Your Space

Any company, no matter how small, can develop unique brands and build their own brand related search stream, and associated searches, over time.

If you run a small company, do you occupy clear space? By clear space, think focused, unique selling proposition. What is the thing you offer that others do not? If other people offer what you do, then what is the thing you do better? How do people describe you? Can they reduce it to an elevator pitch? Is what you offer focused, or confused?

It’s about more than providing something a bit unique. In a cluttered environment, like the web, it's about creating something genuinely different. Probably radically different, given the high level of noise in the search results.

Once you have your differentiation down you can then advertise it, which creates further brand awareness: "High dwell campaigns are three times more efficient at stimulating branded search."

This makes for a more defensible search marketing strategy, because it's difficult for generic competition to emulate you once you've carved out a clear identity. It’s not about offering more features. Or a lower price. Those things are details. It’s about crafting a unique identity that others will know you by. Focus on the parts of your business that really make the money, and considering orienting your entire identity around that one aspect.

The problem with not having a clear identity and point of difference, when it comes to SEO, is that it is a constant battle to maintain position. Google can easily flush all the me-too sites that chase generic keywords and Google’s users aren’t going to complain. The sites with unique identities don’t have to spend near as much time, energy and money maintaining rank.

But hang on, doesn’t this go against everything SEO is about?

There’s nothing wrong with chasing generic terms. It’s a completely valid strategy. However, if we’re in it for the long haul, we should also make an effort to develop a clear, differentiated brand. It means we can own our space in the search results, no matter how Google changes in future.

Look at Trip Advisor. Google may be gunning for the travel space with their own content acquisitions, but they’re going to look deficient if they don’t display TripAdvisor. They are going to look deficient if they don't show Trip Advisor when people are looking for just about any travel review queries, whether Trip Advisor is targeting them or not, because Trip Advisor are synonymous with travel reviews. By not featuring Trip Advisor, Google would merely encourage more people to by-pass Google and search Trip Advisor directly.

That's a powerful place to be.

Not everyone can dominate the travel space like Trip Advisor, of course. But it is worth noting that Trip Advisor started small & the principle is the same, no matter what the niche. It’s about becoming the most memorable site in your niche. No matter if it’s poggo sticks for one legged dogs, then be the go-to site for poggo sticks for one legged dogs. Eventually, word gets around, and such a site become synonymous with poggo sticks for one legged dogs, and associated terms, whether they optimize for related terms, or not.

Google will associate keywords with this site in order to deliver a relevant result, and if this site owns the “poggo sticks for one legged dogs” niche, then their SEO workload is greatly reduced.

Are They Talking About You?

Your brand should be something people will talk about. Where are all the links coming from these days? Social networks. Google pays attention to social signals - tweets, Facebook, Google+ and other social links - because that is the way many links occur. They are markers of attention, and Google will always look for markers of attention.

And as their audiences click through to you, Google gets valuable signals about your relevance to entire groups of people. You can be sure Google is grouping these people by interest - creating demographic profiles - and if your site interests a certain group, then this will flow through into searches made by these groups. Google can also tie many of these users back to their identities by using persistent cookies & Google+.

That's the way it's going. SEO, and wider marketing and brand strategy, will all meld together.

Do You Trust Me?

Aug 30th
posted in

Well, you might - if you knew what a trustworthy guy I am :)

But I know that’s nowhere good enough. I know I would need to earn it.

"Do I trust you?" is a question your web visitors are probably asking themselves right now.

Do they trust your title tag description and snippet enough to click the link? If they click the link, and land on your site, do the trust you enough to stay? Do they trust you enough to click deeper into your site? Do they trust you enough to hand over their e-mail address, or their credit card details?

If your site ranks well, but visitors don't trust it, is your search marketing campaign broken? Blowing an opportunity to form a trust relationship, which can be broken in less than a few seconds online, earns nothing but a click-back.

Webmasters need to establish trust quickly in order to get people to take the next step.

I'm Trustworthy!

All webmasters look to establish trust. We intuitively know that in order to convince someone else of something, they first need to trust us. No webmaster would want to project an air of untrustworthiness, although some mistakenly do, by overlooking a few simple steps.

If you have an existing site, or you are planning a new one, consider undertaking an audit of trust factors.

Your visitors will want to know....

1. Who Am I Dealing With?

This is especially important online, because there is little context to our interaction.

If we walk into a doctors office, we may see medical equipment, and nurses, and qualifications on the wall. It provides us with sufficient context to establish a level of trust that this person is likely a qualified doctor who knows what she is doing. The environment gives us a pretty good idea of who we are dealing with.

Not so online.

A web site, especially a website that is previously unknown to us, provides little in the way of context. Anonymity can lend an air of the mysterious, but it doesn't do much to help establish trust.

Let visitors know who they are dealing with. This doesn’t necessarily involve telling them your life story, or showing them a photo of you and the kids, although that can work well for personalized forms of marketing.

If you don’t already have them, consider adding staff photos and position details, detailed company description and history, and ensure address and contact details are prominently displayed. If you have a physical location, show it. Provide a map. The tech-savvy will likely want to see you on social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, too.

This point is obvious, I know. Most webmasters do it. Audit your site to see if you provides visitors a clear idea of who they are dealing with.

2. Overcome Fear

There is fear in new engagements.

Not spine tingling fear. Just a low level fear of the new. Your visitors may fear your site is wasting their time. They may fear they might be ripped off. They may fear you won't deliver on the promise made explicit in your title tag and heading.

Look at ways to counter fear of the new.

The familiar carries less fear than the unfamiliar. Obviously, if you've already established a reputation, then you will already be familiar to your visitors, and therefore likely appear more trustworthy that someone a visitor doesn't know.

But search marketing is often focused on attracting the new visitor, so an established reputation may not be something we can rely on. This is why it can be good idea to leverage reputation from elsewhere.

For example, a commonly used tactic is the “As Seen In...” references used by sites such as ForSaleByOwner.com. Whilst also providing credibility by association, it is also a means of leveraging the trust in those brands with which the visitor is already familiar.

3. Will This Work For Me?

There’s more to relevance than matching a keyword. How will your solution work for your visitor? How do you know what is really relevant to them when all you have for a clue is a keyword phrase?

This is easier said than done. You need to get inside their head. You need to know their questions and objections and be able to answer them. If people feel you care about solving their problems, they are more likely to trust you.

But how?

Listening. Being clear about what problem you’re going to solve. Is it a real problem, or an imagined one? Look for opportunities to have your visitor define their problem in their own terms, using surveys, visitor tracking, market research (i.e. the language they use in forums, on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, et al)

The best sites seem to know exactly what you are thinking. They reflect you, back at you.

This can be underlined with your copy. Use “you” as opposed to “I”. Look how many times “you” has been used in this copy. This is a very effective selling technique, because your visitors really don’t care about you, they care about them.

4. Deliver

We've dealt with superficial areas, most of which can just as easily be abused by the manipulative and deceitful as used properly by the honest and trustworthy.

Trust also a process. People will judge you by your actions.

  • Tell them what you'll do.
  • Do it.
  • Tell them you've done it.

Does your website demonstrate this? One good way to show process is by using a case study. You outline the problem. Show how you planned to solve it. Then you show that you solved it. For extra points, show how happy people were with the outcome.

Offer free trials, where possible. Offer free downloads. Look for tangible ways to prove you do what you say you do.

Once a visitor has engaged your services, ensure your process is transparent, communicated and you do what you said you’d do.

5. What Will Everyone Else Think?

This is related to fear.

Will I be ridiculed for choosing your service? Made to feel stupid? There was a saying in the IT industry that “no one got fired for buying IBM”. It wasn’t that IBM was necessarily a better provider, it was that many people used them, so there was perceived strength in numbers of the tried and true.
People tend to go where other people are. Can you provide similar social validation?

Customer references are a great way to provide social validation. If the customers are from companies with which your visitor is already familiar, all the better. Faces. Lot’s of happy faces provide social validation.

Also include the number of people who use, or have used, your service.

In summary:

  • Have you let people know who they are dealing with?
  • Have you made reference to the familiar?
  • Have you addressed their needs in their own terms?
  • Have you included references and case studies?
  • Have you done what you’d said you’d do?

PS: Thanks to Seth Godin for the inspiration, off whos' post I’m riffing :)

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