Developing a Web-based Strategy for Success

freedigitalphotos_strategySmiling Albino, a travel company specializing in Southeast Asian adventure trips, serves upscale couples and families in the United States, Canada and the UK. The company enjoyed a steady stream of Web inquiries, but in 2009 noticed a dip in its overall website visits. Upon investigation, it was determined that the Internet had shifted dramatically since Smiling Albino created its first website in 2000, and the company needed to update its overall Internet marketing strategy.

“We needed to pay more attention to keywords and getting industry websites to link to us,” says Daniel Fraser, who founded the Calgary, Alberta–based company with Scott Coates. “We saw that we had to not only talk about our travel services, but to position Smiling Albino as a trusted adviser in our market niche, providing our expertise across several online channels and targeting people who were planning vacations to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.”

The company started blogging, developing informational posts and created a YouTube channel and podcast series about Southeast Asian travel. Fraser and Coates also wrote several educational articles, such as “3 Days in Cambodia,” publishing them on article directories and travel websites that reached their target market while boosting their search engine visibility.

“We learned that we had to create an online presence with useful content,” says Coates, who also recruited past clients to help spread the word. “Overall, our Web-presence strategy aims to not only influence search engines, but create brand credibility with online prospects that moves them to click back to our website and begin a conversation with our company.”

Smiling Albino offers a textbook example of how to grow a successful business in the modern age of Web-based marketing. Here are other tips that could do the same for your company.

Step 1: Offer info to consumers

Your virtual (online) presence now means the difference between attracting and converting customers or losing market share to Web-savvy competitors.

Consumers are clearly taking control with search engines, independent websites, blogs, mailing lists and online communities. According to the 2010 Search Engine Results Page Insights Study, more than three-quarters of respondents search online to learn more about a product or service after seeing an ad elsewhere, 79 per cent of respondents favour natural (versus paid) search results and 76 per cent gather information through online searches before purchasing from a store or catalogue.

Moreover, consumers expect company websites to focus on helping visitors make informed buying decisions. A recent Focus Research/IDC study shows that consumers now expect vendor help via relevant online content at each stage of the buying cycle and view sales professionals as “adding less and less value to the decision making process.”

The message from all of this? Position your business as an educator, helping prospects solve problems with educational content. This approach positions your business as a trusted adviser in the buyer decision-making process.

Step 2: Focus on findability

Understanding search engines is a necessity. “With each passing year, business location is spelled G-O-O-G-L-E on the Internet,” says Bruce Clay, author of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One for Dummies.

It starts with using keywords to place high in search results, says Clay. First, research keywords and search phrases that relate to your products, services or areas of expertise. Ask people within your target market to suggest words they’d use when searching for businesses like yours, study competitors’ websites and use a keyword research tool.

Next, include relevant keywords in your website’s home page, title tag and page content. Local or regional businesses should use keywords within their geographic zone. For example, if you’re an attorney specializing in bankruptcy cases in Calgary, your list of keywords might be “Bankruptcy,” “Calgary,” “Attorney,” “Bankruptcy attorney” and “Consumer bankruptcy.”

Step 3: Content is king

What you put on your website is essential for several reasons, including getting other sites to link to yours. “Good content attracts links because it answers questions,” says Clay. “You give value that encourages others to link to you. This leads to increased website popularity, search rankings and positive brand exposure.”

Meanwhile, there are several ways to keep your site fresh and relevant.

Blogging. Blogs are easy to update and help you stay in front of your prospects, clients and customers. Blogs can raise your page rank in search engines, sometimes dramatically, in a short time. When your blog becomes popular, it can easily spread by virtual word of mouth.

Joan McCoy, president of Little One Books in Seattle (www.littleonebooks.com), launched her blog in mid-2010. Instead of waiting for people to find her, she identified and befriended other bloggers in her industry. “We reached out to bloggers and inserted ourselves in conversations,” says McCoy.

She saw the power of blogger relations when, one day, her site’s visitor traffic went through the roof. “We traced it back to a single blogger who’d mentioned our company,” she says. “Now bloggers contact us, often saying it’s because ‘you’re all over the Web!’ ”

Online videos. Video on your web- site is a great marketing tool. “Video allows viewers a chance to see you, hear you and begin to trust you before they ever call or buy your product,” says Gerry Oginski (www.oginski-law.com), an attorney in Great Neck, New York. “Video helps me pre-sell my services, and it’s incredibly cost-effective.”

He has created about 375 videos that educate online viewers about how lawsuits work in the state of New York. These videos, covering topics such as medical malpractice, accident cases and wrongful death cases, “provide information that helps people make educated decisions about which attorney is right for them.”

Step 4: Tap into social media

Peter Leeds, also known as “The Penny Stock Professional” (www.pennystocks. com), publishes a popular financial newsletter with approximately 10,000 subscribers from six continents. Based in Ontario, Leeds combines his newsletter with social media tools to create a Web presence that has been instrumental in boosting search rankings and credibility with new prospects, landing a major book deal and gaining high-profile media coverage, including invitations to speak at conferences.

“We’ve seen that a single online channel will not help us reach online goals by itself, but when combining a YouTube channel, a Facebook fan page, online press releases and blog entries, this multiprong approach can really pack a punch,” says Leeds.

You can use social media to share expertise and create communities around shared interests. A good example is Fort Lauderdale, Florida–based Pet Travel (www.pettravel.com), which provides global pet relocation services. The company’s core website provides access to online pet travel experts, educational videos and an online community at www.mypetmove.com, where pet owners can post questions and offer advice. The company uses Twitter to provide customer service, and Facebook to stay in touch with customers.

According to Dave Evans, author of Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day, the types of social media you choose will vary depending on your business. “Don’t grab everything; just try to prioritize,” says Evans. “Is your goal to connect with suppliers or customers? What are you trying to achieve? You have to dig into your business objectives and understand what makes sense for your audience.”

He adds, “If you just start simply, you’ll quickly realize that social media is not an ‘Oh my God! What is this?’ proposition. We humans are good at socializing. I promise you, nine out of 10 people who try social media will look back a year later and wonder why they didn’t start earlier.”