Using SEO to Grow Profits --Morgan
WHAT’S THE first thing a print buyer does when considering a new print supplier today? The answer, of course, is to Google them. Obviously, being listed on online search engines is directly related to the amount of traffic your Website generates. The higher your Website ranks on a search engine, the greater the chances a potential lead will click through to view your content. As you are probably aware, search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN use Web crawlers with complex algorithms to rank pages, and savvy printers know how to take advantage of the system.
Yet our research at Print Buyers Online.com has shown that printers are lagging behind in such marketing efforts. In January, we asked our print supplier members, “What efforts does your company take to ensure search engine optimization (SEO) for your Website?” Surprisingly, only 50 percent of our members are taking strides in this area. Forty percent said they were planning to incorporate SEO into their future strategies, and 10 percent said they were not interested in this process.
This is in stark contrast to an October 2008 study conducted by the Aberdeen Group, which found that 71 percent of all industries are now implementing formal search engine marketing initiatives. Yet our data demonstrates that many printers are not taking the initiative to ensure the highest online visibility for their organizations.
We recently launched a redesign of our Website, www.printbuyers-online.com. Although we are not experts on SEO, here are some of the things we learned along the way, which will be helpful to printers who are just starting out on the optimization path:
Don’t bark up the wrong tree. The first lesson in search engine optimization is to know your audience. Pretend you are a print buyer and need a printer for a major project that is coming down the pipeline. Unless buyers have to use printers who are on an approved supplier list, most will start with a quick Google search to find what they need. Think about what words they would use—embossing, diecuts, FSC certified—and, if you offer these services, get them into your Web pages and URLs. Learn how to let the system work for you by making it as easy as possible for those who seek your services—and speaking to them in a language they understand.
Another important thing to review is your Website analytics. This will give you the ability to see how potential buyers are finding your Website and what they do once they get there. Tracking their behavior patterns will generate higher conversion rates (i.e., a visitor is converted into a customer), if you use this data to refine your marketing efforts. A good starting place is Google Analytics at www.google.com/analytics.
Be as clear as a bell. While you are trying to make your site as accessible as possible, don’t forget to make your contact information readily accessible. There is nothing more frustrating than searching a Website for a way to phone or e-mail a company—or worse yet, be directed to a generic “info@” address. People want to know how they can get their questions answered quickly, such as how many years you have been in operation, what equipment you support and whether or not you are chain-of-custody certified.
In addition, the location of a print supplier is very important to a buyer, so ensure that your plant information is readily available. Print buyers will give up and move on to a competitor’s Website if you make it too hard for them to find the information they seek.
See the forest for the trees. Remember to take a holistic approach to search optimization. Every time a new page of content is coded, the title should be given great consideration. Christine Churchill, an expert in the SEO industry, advises: “If you have time to do only one SEO action on your site, take the time to create good titles.” Titles should be indicative of the content of the Web page, and the language should tempt searchers to click through to your site.
Choose wisely. When creating a title or meta tag for your site, keep in mind that generic terms such as “printer” won’t get you highly ranked in search engine results. “Printer” would be an ineffective word because it could mean anything from a laser ink-jet printer for the office to a professional print supplier. Use too many generic terms, and your site may not get ranked at all.
Also, keep semantics in mind when labeling your content. Remember that there could be different meanings to the words you choose, ones with which you may not want to associate your product.
And, don’t forget to include geographical verbiage in your tags (for us, it would be Arlington, VA) if you have a strong local base. There is a good chance a print buyer will include a city and state in their online search.
Break new ground. One of the reasons our Website has become more successful is because our home page content is now constantly changing. By continually updating your Website with new articles, achievements, printing capabilities and samples of your work, you will be providing more places for the Web crawlers to work their magic—and helping yourself generate more leads.
Do not compare apples to oranges. When you code the URL for a landing page (any page other than the home page), remember to use words that are indicative of the information that will be hosted on that page. Although this information is not weighted as much as the domain name, these words will be bolded in search engine results. They are the first thing an eye will go to after the title, and many surfers will click through based on this information.
Prune your branches. There is only so much space on a company’s home page. Picture your Website’s home page as a tree, with the landing pages as branches. The main substance of articles, tips and blogs is usually positioned on branches rather than the foundation of the tree. Keep in mind that, when creating landing pages that will showcase this information, it is critical that the URLs be straightforward, clean and user-friendly. This will enable the Web crawlers to access your content and display it in the search engine results. For example, type in “scented varnish” in Google, and the top two listings are from Concord Litho. Because this printer made the effort to include “scented varnish” in its titles and meta tags, they are rewarded by greater online visibility.
Get the biggest bang for your buck. Don’t feature the same content on different landing pages. For instance, at Print Buyers Online.com, we feature a “Going Green” section that showcases educational articles and resources on sustainability in print. At times, we repurpose some of this information on our “Tip of the Day” section on our home page. When we do so, we ensure that the Tip of the Day link directs people to the page located on the Going Green section.
If we instead posted the copy in two different locations, it would not show up on a search engine because it would be considered by the Web crawlers as duplicate content. Remember to keep your landing pages as direct as possible to ensure the greatest bang for your buck—in this case, the time it took to write, code and display each article online.
Don’t be green with envy. There are now several free online competitive analysis tools to discover how you stack up against your competitors. Visit the following sites to achieve better clarity on your market presence vs. that of your competitors: www.alexa.com; www.compete.com; www.market-leap.com; and www.spyfu.com.
Keep in mind that most of these sites don’t do a great job with organizations that have fewer than 20,000 views per month. They will still give you a snapshot of Website traffic over the last 12 months.
Compare your track record, and try to figure out what generated the highs and lows. Was it a special promotion that was offered, a conference that took place, or a discount on membership? Whatever the answer, use your findings to learn what you—or your competition—did right. Then implement them into your business strategy.
Teach an old dog new tricks. Any of your staff members that create content for your Website should be trained on the importance of optimizing SEO. Be sure to sit down with your writers, programmers and Web developers to confirm that all team members are on the same page. It is also a good idea to schedule monthly meetings, so team members can discuss what they are doing to implement SEO into the areas of the Website that they manage.
Money doesn’t grow on trees. If you’re thinking of hiring a firm to perform SEO on your site, think twice. Many of the techniques these organizations employ, you can do on your own. But, if you do decide to hire one, make sure you have a clear understanding of how they operate. Ask for samples of work from their previous clients, learn whether they follow Google guidelines and find out what techniques they intend to implement for your site. As with anything, be sure you understand exactly what you are getting for your money.
Remember that SEO is a constantly evolving process and should remain at the forefront of your mind, as you go about your day-to-day activities. And, never lose sight of the fact that it could potentially be one of the most effective techniques in attracting new business. PI
About the Author
Suzanne Morgan is founder and CEO of the annual Print Oasis Print Buyers Conference (www.printoasis.com) and Print Buyers Online.com, a free community of more than 12,000 print buyers whose member companies purchase more than $14 billion a year in printing. PBO conducts research on print buying trends and teaches organizations how to work more effectively with print suppliers. Morgan can be reached at smorgan@ printbuyersonline.com.