Thursday, May 29, 2008

Virginia Internet Marketing Training - Ask Kelly & Ted - A Separate Franchise Website?

Here's a good question we've had from several clients -

"It seems like we're getting a fair amount of clicks to our Corporate-hosted website (we're a franchise owner) and then a subset of goal conversions. However, we're not seeing over 50% of those goal conversions actually come through. I'm concerned that our website content is not driving people to follow-through. A couple thoughts on why are 1) our website content isn't being kept updated by Corporate, and 2) our actual homepage template doesn't really allow for customization, is pretty mundane and the graphics aren't pretty.

The website is not a priority for the Franchise HQ, however, I believe that our local consumer has a high expectation for the "website experience" and so I'm contemplating creating our own website, so that we can really customize it to our needs. I would like to get your thoughts on whether this is a good idea?"

Here's our first message back:

Yes, a major part of search engine marketing success is the attention given to the "landing page", or basically where customers are funneled to convert. Many online advertising campaigns establish specific landing pages (i.e. not always the home page) for particular campaigns. As a franchise owner, the "corporate" website may be helpful because you don't have to maintain or design it, it has a bunch of built-in backlinks from other corporate pages, and it also may be the only way you can actually advertise your "corporate brand" (i.e. you can't use the "official" logo on non-corporate generated material, for example).

We have another client with a similar situation, whose "corporate" professional services site doesn't do much for him - so we set up a few other sites for his business, but without using the "Corporate" name (it's not allowed). We used other names, terms and phrases to spell out the product and association. It's been pretty successful from a page ranking and conversion perspective, and we obviously can do what we want to it for design. We also worked with some real estate agents, whose brokers established their initial web presence; but they wanted their own site, for custom control of current listings and messages. So the situation is fairly common.

For your own website, there's basically three routes to take (for a static, html/css-only site).

1) Free - set up a blog (blogger or wordpress), a myspace or facebook page, merchantcircle,, etc. - it's free, and fairly easy. There's drawbacks (like it's not your own domain), but it's quick and easy. (Though professional SEO services should still be obtained).

2) Inexpensive - a reasonable site can be created using a free template, and shared hosting services - this requires some web programming, but not a lot - $300 (to a web programmer), and $10-20 per month hosting will usually get you a decent 1-5 page site using a free template (or just copying someone else's design, being careful to avoid copyright infringement).

3) Custom site - the sky's the limit, especially if you want a unique, custom design - expect to pay at least $1500 and up (unless the "customization" is really limited).

We've dealt with all of the above - it really depends (1) on your budget, (2) the sophistication and uniqueness of the functions and design of your site, and (3) how "big" your site is. But go for it - the more presence you have on the Internet, that you're in control of, the better for your business - especially if "Corporate" just isn't coming through for you.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Virginia Internet Marketing Training - Ask Kelly & Ted - More Traffic?

Here's a recent question that came to us - while it's a question we obviously hear a lot, there aren't a lot of places to go that succinctly summarize the steps to take (at least from our Internet Marketing, Media and Communications perspective):

"What are your recommendations to generate more traffic, etc? When do you guys get involved - during the page designs, build or post build?"

Our answer:

"Generating more traffic" is a big part of our business - but it's not the "end-game" of your business or our relationship. The "end-game" is more business for you, meaning more sales, referrals, publicity, etc. So, "generating more traffic" is a large and necessary piece of the puzzle, but there are also many things to do before and after the traffic is generated.

To actually generate more traffic, it's going to involve AT LEAST the following activities, each of which requires research, content design and generation, monitoring and updating. (Note - many businesses do just some of the following - determined by their budget, marketing plan and particular competitive positioning).

1 - SEO (search engine optimization) - optimization of the website; there's a long list of things to do, many of which may be peculiar to the specific site. Things like the right metatags, keyword density, html optimization, anchor and alt text, etc. Note that optimization for search engines needs to be balanced against optimization (i.e. usability) for people - the end game is not just traffic, but conversion of landing pages (i.e. people actually take action).

2 - SEM (search engine marketing) - distribution of optimized content and backlinks to sites and directories on the web - the specific form of the content (includes multimedia) and where it's placed will be specific to the site, its business and reputation, and the marketing plan. Note that "marketing" means both "free" placement, and "paid" placement (like Google Adwords). Creating and maintaining Adwords campaigns is a real science - that's why you should only hire "certified" professionals. These campaigns can range from $30 to many tens of thousands of dollars a month in pay-per-click charges - it's serious business.

3 - Social Media Marketing - this is like SEM, but much more "conversational", and there's a certain amount of reputation and community building that needs to happen, among the "right" sites, and very carefully (i.e. you need to play nice in the sandbox). Marketing formats include everything from text comments to videos. Think Facebook, stumbleupon, delicious, etc.

4 - Plain 'ol Online Marketing - this is not necessarily targeted at search engines (but should always consider copywriting that's optimized for keywords) - this includes email campaigns (with associated "opt-in" harvesting), classifieds, banner ad placement, and affiliate marketing (which presumes some digital content has been produced to offer or sell). This also implies some degree of digital content management - meaning, the various content and digital assets are managed and coordinated as they're created, distributed and tracked for performance.

5 - Online/Offline coordination - Northern Virginia media advertising and communications (and elsewhere, obviously) happens with flyers, by mail, broadcast on the tv and radio, on billboards (print and electronic), and at in-person meetups - a coordinated campaign on and off the Internet should be leveraging the same copywriting and graphic themes and messages.

6 - "Communications" - the broad industry we represent is called "Marketing AND Communications"; not all digital or physical content generated for broadcast or individual consumption is for advertising purposes. Much is simply for business communications purposes, whether to simply inform existing customers or to let broader audiences know what you're up to. Like press releases. Press release in particular, however, should be well-coordinated with your marketing campaign, in terms of keywords and backlinks. Other communications might be for individuals and organizations in non-profit activities - like creating an online social media resume.

"When do you guys get involved?"

It's always better to get started on the marketing campaign, and translating it into web content, as soon as possible - so that a new website has "built-in" SEO and SEM features, and so that the search indexes can get started indexing the site and building up the page rank. The answer is, therefore, "as soon as possible, even long before your website or digital content is created".


Friday, May 9, 2008

I Am Modern Magazine for Moms

Just a quick press release for I Am Modern Magazine for Moms - one of our great partners and a fantastic Northern Virginia business.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Between and Among the Hyperlocal - Intergeostitial Marketing

We've been experimenting for some time with internet marketing to the areas that are difficult to define in terms of set geopolitical boundaries and zipcodes. Areas you know, and can describe to your friends and neighbors, but nobody else knows about. Most hyper-local marketing initiatives by advertisers and media organizations (like and zero in on consumers and readers by zipcode, town or community name. A very few are able to organize by the concept of "neighborhood" - but when the area and group of consumers isn't definable from the outside with legal names and numbers, it must be defined from the inside (i.e. by "social media techniques") by place names, descriptions, relationships and a loose aggregation of zipcodes, boundary lines, landmarks and perhaps business names.

We love making up new words (like our last "avonym"); so here's our term for this sort of Internet Marketing - "intergeostitial marketing". Interstitial literally means "standing between", and refers to the space among other notable interest items - interstitial marketing refers, on the web, to those nasty pop-unders that appear between web pages and sessions. The "geo" obviously refers to geospatial determinants - think of an area you'd like to market to in terms of what the Google map looks like, bounded by lat/long degrees - not in terms of what the post office or county treasurer's office thinks of it. More like a politician's view of an area, with boundaries drawn around people and their activities, among referenceable geospatial landmarks.

Our primary example is Dulles South, an area of southern Loudoun, western Fairfax and western Prince William counties in Virginia - generally known as Dulles South from its relative placement to Dulles Airport. Our visitors and readers habitually drive on local segments of Rt. 50, 28, 29, 606 and 629, live in HOA-managed neighborhoods or the few small towns, shop easily among the three counties, typically identify themselves with respect to the county (i.e. eastern Loudoun or western Prince William), send children to private schools in multiple counties, and include a large number of zipcodes that to most marketers don't seem to relate to each other in terms of demographics. But they do, to those that live there.

So in order to market effectively to this interstitial area, it's mostly a social marketing effort, driven by a deep connection, interest and understanding of what seems to outsiders as a very transient and loosely-coupled demographic. News, information, business openings, bake sales, school events, traffic incidents - all these information types need to be promoted, harvested and leveraged to build and maintain the tapestry of keywords/keyphrases that make sense to the area. The advertising and marketing needs to be coupled with the network of local affiliations among bloggers, small-town newspapers, home businesses and email networks. This kind of intergeostitial ad network is also a very new concept - more traditional "vertical ad networks" aren't yet quite getting the concept that a "vertical" market can be a self-defined and self-maintained "super-neighborhood/businesshood", that basically revolves around family life.

We've got lots more to share on this concept and practice of "intergeostitial marketing" as our experiment continues - let us know of an area you feel is similar.