After yesterday’s firestorm, I feel the need to clarify a few things and then explain what I mean by branding.
1) Was I linkbaiting? No. Telling the truth as I see it even when it is unpopular is not necessarily linkbaiting. I do have a small gift for provocative titles though.
2) Do I really believe what I said? Yes, every word. Some people seem to find it stunning that I would actually believe what I wrote. Trust me when I say I do believe it.
3) Do I know what I am talking about? You can be the judge of that. I have been pretty successful selling online for ten years though.
4) Can a small company actually brand themselves? Yes, and if you keep reading, I will tell you how.
If you are a store that sells other brands and are currently depending on SEO, you are probably in deep trouble. I don’t care how spider-friendly and organized your site is or how many metatags you add, articles you write, or inbound links you barter for. Products come and go, and while in the past, you could achieve SEO for new products quickly, those days are almost gone. My guess is that most companies with this business model have seen decreased sales and profits over the past three years.
I know this to be true because I have watched what has happened to that part of our business, and I have talked to numerous other companies in the same boat. In the past, watching for other brands to become popular and then capitalizing on their success worked. Today, it still works but not nearly as well, and the trend is getting worse every year.
If, on the other hand, you spend time branding your company, or if possible, your actual products, you are going to be immune to this trend. Is it more difficult to do? Yes. Is the initial cashflow as good? Of course not. But if you change your focus from SEO to branding, within a few years, when all the SEO-dependent stores are out of business, you are going to be in much better shape.
Three years ago, when I recognized the trend, I made a decision to use the great cashflow we had from SEO-driven business to start building the Vitabase brand. Over the past three years, I have watched the SEO-driven business shrink and our business built on our brand grow exponentially.
Branding is normally associated with expensive media campaigns that try to get a brand drilled into the consumers’ heads. That approach is out of reach for most small companies and is not the way we brand either.
Here is a 3-step branding process for a small business:
1) Develop a USP (unique selling position). I know–this is advice that you have heard before. However, I cannot tell you how difficult it is to have a USP in internet retail–very few internet retailers have one. We have struggled with this issue for years and are constantly refining what our USP is. “Great customer service” and such things are not USPs.
2) Improve every part of our business to the point at which customers are loyal and refer others to you. We like to call every way a customer interacts with us a touchpoint. Phone calls, emails, packaging, products, and such are all touchpoints that need to be in a constant state of improvement.
3) Incentivize customers to talk about you and your USP. You can call this viral marketing or word of mouth marketing or any number of things.
If you are successful with these three steps, your branding will improve. Also, since many customer conversations take place online, your inbound link profile will improve as will your traffic and conversion rate. And by the way, so will your SEO.
Now, I am not saying that these three steps are easy. In fact, they are very hard. But they are also within the reach of a normal small business. If you can do these things very well, the outcome is quite predictable–you will grow. I am not as optimistic about a small company growing online if they just follow the typical advice of the SEO industry.