I get a lot of personal client work from business owners that just don’t get the internet. I sympathize with them—it’s a big, scary place. Sometimes it’s tough to explain to them why things work the way they do, because let’s face it: people like to be set in their ways. I get a lot of people that like to think of a business website like a billboard; where you put one thing up one time and leave it for the entire world to see. That might have worked in the past, when the Internet was new and exciting and nobody knew what to do about it, but not anymore.
I believe it’s much more prudent to work smarter—not harder—and I try to pass that along to everyone I work with. Today, I’m going to look at four ways businesses use to attract traffic to their website, and why it’s a terrible idea.
“Tell Your Friends And Family!”
The oldest and most commonly believed misconception about the internet is that anything and everything that goes online is a success, and all you have to do is tell your friends and family to visit and you’ll be an instant success. I’m not saying Grandma Sally is worthless, but let’s be realistic: long-term success doesn’t come from the same small group of close friends and family. Word of mouth and having a good reputation is still valuable, but it requires a little bit more effort now.
Search engines and content marketing have enabled word-of-mouth on the right channels to fly farther and faster over the internet than ever before. If you run a business that is highly affected by consumer sentiment towards your brand, your “real-world” reputation won’t translate on to the internet unless you specifically try to get it there.
The smart online business owner would instead ask their friends and family to leave reviews on Yelp.com, +1s on Google, or any other consumer ratings website. Backlinks—when someone else on another website links to your website—account for the second most significant source of good search rankings on Google, short of having a lot of Google’s +1s. Encourage people to like and favorite your site, share it with friends, and review your business on other websites to make your good reputation reflect on the internet.
Selling From All Angles
“Old” business strategies see every outlet and medium as a sale opportunity. People like to compare my line of work to Don Draper from AMC’s “Mad Men,” but I’d have to disagree: Draper wouldn’t survive in an online world. His business is all about suave, attractive, and enticing hard sells around every corner. Ours is about encouragement, personal engagement and producing more than a catchy phrase and a stiff drink for lunch.
Hard selling, or a directly product promotion, doesn’t mix well with the internet. Businesses that push hard sales on Facebook and Twitter have terrible subscriber rates. Businesses that use pop-up ads get badmouthed and reported for spam. Business websites loaded with self-promoting advertisement banners and promotional materials get de-listed in search results, dropping businesses into internet purgatory. Internet users hop online looking for significant interactions, not hard sales, and they reflect this in their patronage.
Value goes a long way online, so share value with your customers instead. Show them something cool, or pass around something that interests you as a business or as an individual. Online readers appreciate personal engagement. Hard sales work every once in a while, if you’re careful. It’s best to expect that hard sales will be ignored unless there’s a major discount attached to them.
The Billboard Effect
Once your website’s up on the internet, people will see it, right? Back when nobody really understood how the internet worked, it was seen as new billboard space. People would “find” websites as they cruised around the web, like a car might pass a billboard on the highway. This thinking still has a hold on most people, especially those that aren’t familiar with the internet in the first place. Business owners get frustrated when this doesn’t play out how they expect it, but results take time (unfortunately).
To this day, there are actually rip-offs like “thousands of new hits overnight!” and “boost your search results in a few hours!” Shady marketers use bad tactics that manipulate search results and often get struck down and delisted by search administrators fairly quickly. Link sellers and traffic vendors prey on people that don’t know better and want instant gratification.
A good content campaign treats a website like an information resource, not a billboard. It involves an experienced business owner, or a content writing service, constantly working to produce valuable content that attracts customers naturally.
The Promotional Medium Run-Around
This is one of my favorites that businesses often don’t even realize they’re pulling. If you hear an ad on the radio or see a commercial advertising a product or a service, the advertisement more than likely says “visit our website for more information.” So you visit that website, and it’s just more promotional content, with no clear path for buying what you were interested in. Typically there are some phone numbers or email addresses with “CONTACT US TODAY!” next to them.
I’ve seen this a lot with businesses that are still uncomfortable with the internet or just don’t understand how people use their website. Businesses that mistakenly use their websites as purely promotional outlets run their potential customers around through these “feedback loops” that don’t really go anywhere. Unclear navigation or a lack of conversion features sends people running in circles, and eventually, they leave altogether.
If you’re directing potential customers to your business website, there should be a clear path to lock-in a conversion or a purchase. Even if your services require face-to-face attention, there should be a form that makes customers feel like they’ve done something towards contacting your business. Every little thing counts: you’d be amazed at what an email form does for business conversions instead of just linking your business email.
These are just a few tips from the content marketing pros for how to make your online marketing really count, and what old hat strategies haven’t stood up to the test of time. We work with businesses all the time that simply don’t know what to do about their website; due to inexperience or a simple unawareness of the tools available to them. Content Equals Money specializes in producing excellent, search-optimized material for any business with a need for better content and a willingness to work with us—experience and bleeding-edge internet expertise aren’t required!