If you have been in business prior to the Internet age, you probably remember the annual visit from your Yellow Page representative and his display of all the large ads with color, all with a hefty price tag.
After a few years, you might have decided to downsize your Yellow Page ad because you felt you were paying too much. But when you made that request, you discovered that reducing the ad size wouldn’t matter much because you would no longer be “locked in” to the fantastic deal you agreed to in the past.
You felt trapped. You had to stick with Yellow Page advertising and many of you continued to spend thousands of dollars a year for your ad placement. For a few of you, you spent thousands of dollars a month.
Then came the Internet age — and the advent of electronic marketing — which meant the steady demise of Yellow Page advertising. So you joined the bandwagon and either cancelled your Yellow Page ad or reduced it drastically, and concentrated on your new website.
Obviously, not everyone fits this scenario, but it has been proven true for many over and over again.
You might feel the same way today with electronic marketing. You no longer spend as much on Yellow Page advertising, but with fierce competition with Internet marketing, you may find yourself spending more and more money on website design and search engine optimization (SEO) services. Just like in the day of the Yellow Pages.
While some of you do your own online marketing, others opt for paying an expert to do it for them. But no matter which path you choose, there are specific strategies you should be aware of as a responsible business owner.
Cleanfax reached out to various Internet and website marketing experts and asked them to share their ideas and concepts with you. Here is what we compiled.
Before we get into the strategies you should implement, it’s only fair to address the pros and cons of do-it-yourself Internet marketing.
“All business owners run into the same major obstacle when it comes to improving their online presence,” said Katie Harris, director of media operations with Spot On Solutions. “They just don’t have the time to figure out what they should do.”
Robert Ong, the managing partner with Need SEO, offered this comment: “Keep in mind that our profession is tantamount to the building contractor’s dilemma when Home Depot and Lowes stores became ubiquitous and appeared everywhere. It certainly enabled the handy lay person to do odds and ends better than ever before, but certainly did not replace a building contractor or professional builder that has the credentials and know-how for serious work.”
“A combination of client participation and the search engine optimization (SEO) professional is actually the best of all worlds,” Ong added. “That way, the client is educated and aware of what is happening and what they are getting for their SEO money.”
Tim Miller, president of ISADEX Corporation and ACleanerBusiness.com Website Solutions, had this to say: “Websites today, and search engines, are more complex, and certainly more competitive, than ever before. Whether you like it or not, the rules to successfully manage your website have changed. The tasks that were once handled successfully by one person, or even a do-it-yourselfer with an abundance of patience and zest for learning, have now been divided across teams of experts each applying their skills while vying for the coveted online consumer.”
Miller added that many are tempted to save money, but when it comes to your business, your income, your reputation — remember that you’re now competing against the best in a highly technical industry. “With rare exceptions, DIYs often spend valuable time trying to cut costs at the real expense of lost revenue. Leave DIY projects to your hobbies, not your career.”
Gary Arndts, with BlueRaptor Search Engine Marketing, took a different position. He said this: “Every day I see awful websites that aren't even optimized for search engines that were built by people who claim they are ‘SEO experts’ on their websites. Yet, I have seen excellent websites and Internet marketing programs that were produced by a small carpet cleaner spending a few hours a week on his or her computer at the kitchen table.”
Arndts noted that, in many areas of Internet marketing, especially website building, technology has made the leap from making things complex to making things very simple and easy to do.
“Today there are wonderful options available for the do-it-yourself person. It's not only a viable alternative, I think it is a wise move for smaller shops that are willing to dig in a bit and learn,” Arndts added. “After all, that is one way to get things done by someone who actually cares about your business. Do it yourself!"
While much of what people concentrate on today is with search engine optimization, the appearance of your website is crucial as well. Once a potential customer hits your site, you must make it easy for them to decide to use your services and book a job.
A website can have too much clutter, too much flash and other distracting features that can cause a potential customer to hit the “back” button and go elsewhere in their quest for cleaning or restoration services.
“You must dress your website for success,” Miller said. He feels that, to impress an online audience today, cleaners and restorers should have a balance of graphics and text that work together to create an online identity that adds value to the business.
“While some will try to sell you on the importance of search position, don’t underestimate the importance of a website designed to impress your audience,” Miller added. “After all, being first in the search engines is only helpful if you’re able to convert those clicks into customers.”
Many Internet experts feel that, if someone is going to do their own online marketing, then using a pre-designed website template is a logical option.
And, as far as appearance, don’t forget the value of a website that is user friendly for the growing number of potential customers using mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. “They may cost some money initially, but it is worth the investment,” Harris said.
Ong echoed that thought. “With the transition from desktop to mobile smartphones occurring as the largest ‘game changer’ in the next 20 years, a well-constructed mobile website that is optimized will gather more traffic and client responses than anything heretofore.”
Often compared to digital “Yellow Pages”, online directories are a way for companies to include all their relevant contact information and get noticed by the search engines.
Do a simple Internet search and you will find more than 100 online directories you can use to promote your business. “Be sure that your business is listed on prominent directories such as Angie’s List, Merchant Circle, Yelp and many others,” said Harris.
While it can be a tedious process, you can, for a fee, use online tools to submit your information to a large number of them all at once. But to save money, you can opt to submit your information to them individually.
Online directories are a tremendous aid for companies marketing their services locally. And mobile phone searches will display a company that is listed with directories much more often than one that is not.
Backlinks are incoming links to a website. They add some validity to the algorithm of search engines. If you have valuable backlinks, it boosts your site reputation with the search engines and you will get more traffic.
You must make sure the backlinks are authentic and from reputable sources, instead of simply purchasing them from a company who claims they can get you dozens or even hundreds of backlinks instantly. While that is possible, it’s hard to fool the search engines.
While most business owners work hard to get valuable backlinks with organizations like their local Chamber of Commerce, charity groups and other relevant organizations, don’t forget the value of social backlinks.
“The social media arena has people chatting, liking, following and tweeting, and that makes a huge difference,” Ong said. “The SEO business is a huge popularity contest and those that grasp this concept faster will gain top rankings sooner and grab the clients.”
Harris feels that your social media sites are opportunities to share links to your website. “Did you know that tweets can help increase your website rankings because Google sees them as links?” Harris asked.
Much like a testimonial, a review is a posting on a review site, such as Google, Yelp, etc. by one of your customers who was pleased with your services. A review can greatly improve your search rankings.
Abhi Patel, with CleaningMarketingOnline, said you have to be proactive in order to get those valuable reviews. “Encourage customers to leave reviews by offering them discounts on their next cleaning,” he said. Leaving it to chance means missed opportunities.
“Have customers post reviews on Google+, Yelp and other sites. You can combine the reviews with your Google AdWords listing and make your listing stronger,” Patel added.
Keeping track of reviews is much like monitoring your reputation, Arndts said. “Your online reputation is increasingly going to impact your business performance. From Twitter to Facebook to review sites, other people are going to be commenting on your services in both a negative and positive light.”
Arndts suggested adding the name of your business to Google Alerts. It is a free tool that enables you to keep tabs on what others may be saying about your company. In addition, there are also monitoring services, such as Trackur, that will monitor social media for you. “When reputation problems arise, you may wish to respond online or contact the publisher.”
While you can do many things to the “mechanics” of your website so that it shows up in searches more frequently, one important component is fresh content.
Many business owners fail to add fresh content to their site simply because they are busy or distracted. Others aren’t sure what type of fresh content they should put on their website. It can be a challenge to develop fresh content, but there are ways to make it simple.
“Google loves fresh content,” Patel said. “One way to keep Google interested in crawling your site is to keep updating it with fresh content and anything that could be useful to visitors.” Patel suggests that when you add fresh content to your site, you also include it on your Facebook and Google+ pages.
Ong also has strong feelings about fresh updates to your website. “Today, content is king. It is the SEO press releases and news releases that must be filled with authentic and genuine content that is ‘newsworthy,’” he said.
Photos and videos can be a source of fresh content as well, Ong said.
Many business owners use blogs to add fresh content to their websites. A blog is a simply tool that makes adding content much easier.
Harris said that, when you regularly post articles as part of your fresh content campaign, you can see an improvement in your organic (free) rankings. She suggests you improve your posts by including photos, videos and specific information.
“For example, if you are posting an article about frozen pipes, make sure your content is specifically about frozen pipes,” Harris said. “All posts should use relevant keywords, your city name, and you must have your business name in the text.”
The only way to know if the effort you put into your website is really working is to look at the SEO results. Tracking is an important component of website management.
Arndts compares it to checking the “health” of your website.
“For various reasons, websites that were once healthy in the eyes of search engines can develop problems. It’s wise to occasionally check to see if your website is being properly viewed and indexed by search engines,” Arndts suggested. “After all, search engines are where most of your online traffic will originate. Google Webmaster Tools is an excellent place to start.”
Arndts said you need to verify your site ownership with Google, then sign in to your Webmasters account and under the “Health” menu you can see how many of your pages are currently in the Google Index, if there are any page errors that are preventing your pages from being crawled and if there is any invasive malware (short for malicious software) on your site.
Other search engines have similar tools. Bing now offers SEO Reports designed to provide suggestions on areas where your site may be improved to comply with SEO best practices, Arndts added.
Joe Burnich, with CarpetCleaningWebsites.net, said it is easy to get caught up in the online advertising trap because there are so many options. Tracking can prevent you from wasting your time and money.
“There is nothing wrong with trying out different advertising venues, but if you don’t know what’s working, then you will waste a lot of money,” Burnich said. “It’s absolutely essential that you track exactly where your calls are coming from.”
Burnich said to pay attention to sources such as pay-per-click, organic listings, mobile ads, Yelp and other sites. “Make sure you ask each and every client where he or she found you. If you are pouring money into something and you don’t know the return, you could potentially be wasting thousands of dollars.”
Last, but not least, is the value of keeping everything you do online organized.
“When you first set up your website, e-mails, online directories and social media profiles, you will quickly find that you are up to your neck in usernames and passwords,” Burnich said. “It is very important that you keep this information organized so that you can easily retrieve it for future use. I recommend creating a spreadsheet with Microsoft Excel or Google Drive. There should be four columns: Website URL, Username, Password and Notes.”
Part of organization is realizing that anything can happen to all the hard work you put into your website. With that in mind, Burnich suggests a strong backup plan.
“Crazy things can happen online and you need to be prepared, especially if you are managing your own website,” he said. “Web servers can crash, hackers can attack or maybe you clicked the wrong button and your site disappeared. It is essential that you backup your website to your hard drive or an offsite backup service… or better yet, both. I recommend doing this on a weekly or monthly basis depending on how often you make updates. Talk to your hosting company about how to handle backups, as they may even offer an automatic scheduling solution.”
Enjoy the rewards
Managing your online presence can seem like a full-time job. It can be daunting, confusing and frustrating.
But with proper planning, organizing and implementation of the various tools and concepts available to you, it won’t be long before you are seeing great results from your online campaigns.
Jeff Cross is the senior editor of Cleanfax and is an industry trainer and consultant, and offers carpet cleaning and disaster restoration marketing workshops through Totally Booked University (www.TotallyBookedUniversity.com). He also offers IICRC-approved seminars in the categories of carpet cleaning, upholstery cleaning and color repair. His IICRC carpet cleaning classes and upholstery and furntiture cleaning classes have helped thousands of technicians succeed. Contact him at JCross@NTPMedia.com.