Posted October 23, 2006 9:00 am by with 2 comments

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By Eric Hebert

The first Wednesday of every month, our local business committee gets together at the bowling alley to discuss the happenings around town and how it affects the local business. Their main function is to promote the city and its businesses. They accomplish this by holding fun events several times a year in hopes of attracting outsiders to come in and experience what the city has to offer, which is rich in culture. Like my grandparents, they have no clue how to use the internet properly, especially when it comes to advertising these events. They primarily advertise through newspaper ads, billboards, flyers, and other means of communication via 1974. Nevertheless, they do experience moderate success with their events using their rather small marketing budgets. Did I mention that the city is also a college town with 20,000+ students with their eyes glued to a computer screen all day?

Then came a new idea for the fall, right around the time I started attending these meetings. Mind you I am fairly young (24, with most of the committee being 45+ and have years of business experience). The idea was to promote the committee’s website, which does feature descriptions and links to most of the businesses’ websites. Fantastic! How were they going to do this? Spend a $1,000 on t-shirts with different URL’s printed on them that would redirect to the committee’s website. They would then hand the shirts out to the business owners for their employees to wear. Not a bad idea, considering many people shop and walk the street everyday. That is of course if everybody actually wears the shirts (By the way, it’s been a month and I’ve seen one t-shirt-one!). Another means of promotion made more sense, which was to reimburse any merchant who included their URL in their print advertising. So why was this doomed for failure? Why did I feel smarter than this committee of esteemed business owners?

I began to introduce to them the idea of maybe using some internet marketing techniques to help bring traffic to their site. One of the first things I noticed was their inability to recognize the importance of Search Engine Marketing. When asked about ranking high for specific keyword phrases, they responded with “We already are number one on Google for the name of our city�?. Mind you this was not done through any outside SEO, but ranked high because it’s the official city website.

This is where I suggested ranking high for the name of the college that resided in the town. How many more people are searching for that word? How many of these people are probably interested I what the town surrounding the college has to offer? Probably all of them! Step one in opening their eyes was not only explaining the importance of traffic to their site, but the quality of traffic and where that traffic comes from. Online marketing is about eyeballs, but more importantly about eyeballs that are looking for what you have to offer.

Step two was introducing Pay-Per-Click. Most of these people are used to a CPM or “number of subscriber�? model of buying media, you know, 20th century style. When introducing PPC to this mindset, it can be hard for them to understand. I asked them what they think is more important: 1000 random people coming to their website or 100 people who are very interested in what that site has to offer? The smart ones in the room chose option number two. Stressing the importance of qualified leads and their importance helped them understand why PPC is so powerful. After we were on the same page, I told them that they could be number one in just a few days, that is if the keywords were affordable and the budgeting made sense. The instant gratification of PPC can save lots of time in trying to decide if a marketing campaign is proving successful.

The final point I addressed, and the most important to any campaign, was the website’s landing page. The page itself was rather horrible. The site did not feature any of the print advertising branding, navigation was difficult to understand, and colors scheme gave a dark, cold feeling. Let’s just say any visitors would probably not spend too much time looking around. I addressed just some basic points that many didn’t realize: Navigation has to be designed for the visitor in mind. Correct contact, about, and site map pages need to be available wherever the visitor may be. Colors and fonts should match print advertising so the visitor feels they have found the right place. Navigation should point to pages which feature descriptions and contact information for local businesses, which is the objective of the entire campaign. These rather simple aspects of design were an afterthought to the committee, as if they thought their visitors already knew where everything on the site was and could immediately find what hey were looking for.

There are many misconceptions about online marketing in today’s business world, whether it is in large corporate environment or in small-town business committee. As an internet marketing consultant, one of my biggest challenges is getting people to “unlearn what they learned�? about marketing and advertising and think outside the box for a change. Knowing how to speak with those who are unfamiliar with these concepts is kind of like talking with your grandparents; dumb it down a little bit, don’t use industry gibberish, and have some respect for them at the same time. Don’t make them feel small or stupid; focus on the benefits of each technique and why it will continue to benefit them in the future. The more they begin to understand, the more they’ll come to trust you in the future. And trust, my friends, in this industry, goes along way in building your success.

[The above article is a submission for Marketing Pilgrim’s Search Engine Marketing Scholarship Contest. Each Monday in October, entries will be published and the most popular article of the week will qualify for the $5,000 grand prize. If you’d like to submit an entry, please view the contest entry-requirements and guidelines.]