The impending end of 2011 brings with it the opportunity to plan your website marketing for 2012. So how do you create a plan for something that works in an environment that seems to change on a weekly basis? Yes, it’s a challenge but not an insurmountable one. This month I offer a dead simple framework to guide you through the steps necessary to create a plan that has a strong chance of being implemented.

 

My suggested format is straight out of a recent read I finished last month – “The Primes” – written by Chris McGoff, founder of The Clearing Inc, a Washington DC-based strategic management consulting firm. It’s a book that, on first glance, looks rather light on content but delivers some solid practical punch with the concepts it covers. I’m going to borrow one of these for the task of website planning.

But first, a few words on the concepts themselves and the reason why they ended up in the book. Chris describes them all as “Primes”. These are proven consulting theories that need to be followed exactly as described to deliver the required outcome they promise. Personally, I really love things that do this. Here at Permission we have a number of processes we follow to help deliver email campaigns, improve search rankings and optimise websites. Each of them relies on a standard approach that, when followed, does exactly like Chris’s Primes do – produce reliable results.

The “Prime” we are going to use today covers the required process to effect change through effective strategic planning. Here’s a picture of it.

I’m going to summarise the key points of this graphic and then apply it to your website planning process for 2012. There’s much more detail in the book, so best you either get along to your local library and grab one or here’s the non-affiliate link to find it on Amazon.

Here’s how the graphic reads.

As Is

This is the state your website is in now. So, for a web plan that would be the number of visitors your website receives, its existing conversion rate, bounce rate and, say, the % of traffic from organic and paid searches. All the key stats that reflect how well or poorly you currently market your website. Then include some bits on how easy/hard it is to add new content, and the frequency new content is added. Add how testing is run across the key web pages, the suitability of the technology you use, and even how the site compares with your competitors, etc. Everything that matters about your current situation that you and your team can agree on.

Environment

These are the things that you have no control over but that can affect your plans. The economy for instance, or your competitors’ activities. Maybe how social media may grow or wane. Or even the speed at which the roll out of super-fast broadband occurs. Or perhaps closer to home – how much budget a parent company may make available to subsidiaries for marketing. All are out of your control but in their own way affect what you do to creatively capitalize on them.

To Be

This is the vision thing. The good part where most love to sit back and dream away about what could happen in 2012 if everything fell into place. Compared with the ugly reality of the “As Is” stage this is nice, comforting and comes with a paucity of facts to challenge your ideas. It’s exciting, safe and therefore where the majority of time is spent when the task of “planning” raises its head.

Now a website “To Be” plan could well do with some stats to hang our vision on. So, your future numbers could include the % change in conversion rate your site will achieve or the rise in visitor numbers or page views due to your search rankings improving. A simple spreadsheet could be produced that showed by tweaking just a few variables – such as visitor count and conversion rate – how many more leads the business could bring in. Oh, it’s a great space to be in.

Strategy

This links the harsh reality of “As Is” to the glowing blue sky visions of the “To Be”. Some may write in here one line that says something like “engage a proficient business to help us” :). But while it’s an opportunity for us it’s not the full story of what really needs to be done.

Just refer to the “Simple Conversion Principles” article mentioned earlier in this newsletter. It would be no surprise to learn that nearly all great conversion rate changes occur once web managers know more about their web visitors’ desires and their methods of traversing their website. So a strategy of research and website tracking should be somewhere in your plan. Likewise, growing traffic is all about giving Google what it wants so it can’t help but improve the website’s ranking. Creating this “stuff” takes time but it’s just work not super-technical uber-geek stuff. So, an ongoing content creation strategy should be in the plan somewhere.

Stake

This is the last and probably most important piece of the whole process. It’s the part that many miss out from their plans – me included – but contains the core driving force that decides if all your work remains stuck in a folder gathering e-dust or if it gets reviewed and applied on a regular basis.

Stake = what happens if none of this is completed?

Never underestimate the pull of remaining in the “As Is” environment – it’s very strong. To break these bonds the Stake needs to be clearly articulated and agreed on by those involved in the plan. Writing this point reminds me of a stage in our initial customer review process that we take people new to Permission through.

When I look at it, this review is really a very detailed “As Is” discovery process. We detail a ton of facts – the website’s current conversion rate, how well it performs in Google and if any advertising channels are optimised properly. After this process, I get to a stage where I’m supposed to ask the question “So what does it all mean if none of this changes?”

To be honest I’ve always felt it was a bit too slick and “salesperson-like” to ask this question every time so it hasn’t seen the light of day in every session. (Based on reading this book I can assure you this will now change.) Anyway I’ve had a mixed bag of responses. But in every case, those who have a real problem they need to solve are the ones that get stuck into their site changes with gusto and work quickly with us to achieve some fast and dramatic change. The ones who face a slight annoyance if nothing alters, well, we can spend more time motivating for change to occur than actually delivering it.

So if the stake is weak – then so is the chance that the strategy will be applied.

Now I don’t want to scare people but here are just a few items at stake in most markets advertising online. These may help start you thinking about what’s really at stake if your plan doesn’t get implemented.

Your competitors improve their search engine optimisation faster than you do so your search rankings slide downwards at a rapid pace, which in turn dramatically shrinks your visitor counts.

The cost of offline media that drives your website volume increases and with it the resulting cost per lead, so much so that the economics of your business just don’t work anymore. Meanwhile, your competitors are fine as they own websites that convert at a greater percentage than yours.

And likewise, smarter competitors drive up the cost of Google AdWords bids to a level that’s sustainable for them – as their website converts so well – whilst in the process forcing you out of the online marketing market.

Through the lack of advertiser support the local newspaper market dies a gradual death, leaving you only the online space to advertise in but, due to the previous point, you can’t afford to enter the market.

Now we see some of these changes occurring at different levels across all of the industries we work in. You will probably have more you can add to your “Stake” part of your plan. My recommendation is to get stuck in and spend as much time here as you did with your “As Is” and “To Be” stages – they all deserve the same amount of attention.

When I look back at my own experience with business planning – both on the creating and implementing side – a lot of what Chris’s diagram and his additional commentary covers seems to ring true.

For instance, I once worked for a firm that had as its goal to achieve a specific turnover value – I forget the exact amount they were shooting for but say it was $200 million, up from the $50 million in revenue they were already at. It was a sizable step upwards. We were all told that for some reason $200 million was the magic number and we all had to work hard to aspire to reach it.

Now, producing a four-fold improvement in top line revenue is never going to be easy. And while they purchased some companies along the way to get closer to the goal, there were never any transformational changes made in their product selection and sales approach. The pull of doing what had always been done was just too inviting not to keep doing it.

So what was really at stake here? Now when I look back I can never remember the discussion of what would happen if we missed this number. And likewise, there wasn’t much comment on how things worked currently – the good and the bad (As Is) and what it would look like when we got to where we needed to get to (To Be), other than a line item on a set of financial accounts. Needless to say, the strategy failed to shift peoples’ behaviour and, other than a few blips of revenue through the consolidation of purchased businesses, the company stalled and ended up going backwards.

Then there was the opposite situation I was involved in when things really fired. This goes back to my experience selling business forms printing for a company that had just purchased a bright, shiny Japanese printing press that sat idle waiting for work. Our sales office was on the second floor, looking down at the very quiet machine.

The owners of the business sat down and spelled out the Stake part of the strategy while we all sat looking down through a window at a very quiet, very inactive and very expensive printing press. They told the whole company that if the press wasn’t kept busy through both the day and most of the night then this business would fail and with it so would our jobs. You couldn’t get much clearer than that.

With that simple but powerful statement we had the “As Is”, “To Be” and “Stake” parts our process nailed – all we needed was the strategy. We bumped away refining this part over the next 3-4 months but always motivated by the view of the rather sedentary machine below. Well it worked. The sales began to take shape and the revenue started rolling, as did that Japanese machine.

Funnily enough once the stake is clear, motivating and agreed by everyone then the rest just starts to follow. Perhaps that’s the secret right there for you on how to end 2012 so much further ahead than 2011?

Google AdWords – Speed isn’t always your Friend

Google makes starting a new AdWords campaign a very easy task indeed. Within minutes you can gather together a selection of keywords, write an small text ad, load up your credit card details, and “baboom” – start sending them money and your website traffic. Most should achieve this in 30 minutes or less. At first this seems like good news for the time-starved executive. You are now advertising online on the country’s most visited search engine. Time to sit back, relax and just wait for the phone to ring or the email inbox to fill up with contact requests. Ideally both.

 This must happen for a few. Otherwise, those happy images of satisfied customers Google portrays on its AdWords home page would be false. Nevertheless, the Google advertisers who walk through our doors for the first time rarely share stories of drowning under a torrent of leads as a result of their 20 minutes of campaign set-up.

A few turned up at Permission with different stories last month. Well established and successful business people who were spending hundreds of dollars a day with Google and were a) not seeing much benefit from it, and b) not sure if this was typical of the experience of others.

Fortunately, each of them had agreed to complete our initial online marketing review process and because of this we had the necessary time to take them through their AdWords account, pointing out the good and not so good parts. The bits that were great for them and Google and likewise the bits that were not so friendly to their wallet.

Now, I firmly believe that Google has the interests of the advertiser at heart when they designed their account set-up process. They had to allow for a time-starved user with limited attention and, based on the complexity involved, the process does a great job. So all the big things – like keywords, budgets and ads – decisions the advertiser HAS TO IN­CLUDE to get going are covered in an easy to understand way. Meanwhile, what seem to be relatively small things – like keyword match types, choice of advertising networks and optimal account structure – well, Gooogle decided that these are best done AFTER the account was live.

Unfortunately, it’s these AFTER bits that can make all the difference. Which was why I found myself and my client peer­ing into a web browser at an AdWords campaign, picking over a campaign that had been removing thousands of dollars from his bank account each week and providing very, very little in return. Fortunately, we had this under control after a days work, but still, the money that was already spent was wasted.

So, in the interests of ensuring readers of this newsletter avoid such a situation, here are some of the fundamental AdWords Campaign Set-Up basics that apply to any campaign that is successful (for both Google and the advertiser).

Fundamental basic #1: Take control of your keywords

The underlying resource of any AdWords campaign is the keywords you chose to bid on. The Google Keyword tool is a free resource (just Google it) that will help you see which keywords attract the highest search volume for the regions you want to advertise within. So if you are an Auckland-based mortgage broker, after you have used this tool you may find that “Mortgage Brokers Auckland” is a keyword worth bidding on.

Google enables you to bid on this keyword in four different ways. These are called match types. There is broad match, modified broad match, phrase match and exact match. (For the sake of accuracy there’s a fifth type called negative match that I’ll cover later on.)

When you set up your account for the first time, broad match is the default option. Remember the set-up process is all about speed. So the time taken to educate you on the other match options and then let you pick which suits is put in the AFTER bucket. This is a shame because the default option can cause a lot of problems.

You see, broad match allows Google to present your ad for terms like these:

Mortgage Brokers Auckland
Home Mortgage Brokers Auckland
Mortgage Refinance Brokers
Finance Brokers
Reviews Mortgage Brokers Auckland
Mortgage Brokers Auckland Business Set Up

Some of these are good, a few not so. The other three match types help you refine the way in which your keywords match against what the searcher types in. It starts with the highly refined exact match. Then it gradually becomes more flexible – as each match type is used – until you arrive at the last option, the broad match choice, which opens your keyword up to a mass of terms that may or may not suit your business.

To follow is an image from Google that helps to show you all this in a friendly graphic for the search term formal shoes.

Fundamental basic #2: Know your negatives

The fifth keyword match type is a negative match. This is for keywords that people may use within the phrases you want to bid on but by doing so automatically discount them from being valid search terms. So in the previous graphic from Google, perhaps you didn’t sell any black shoes, or your shoes were just for men. In these cases, the terms “black” and “women” would be in your list of negative keywords.

These types of keywords can be applied to your whole campaign or to just one Ad Group. So when we see a campaign that only uses broad match terms and has no negative keywords then there are problems ahead.

Fundamental basic #3: Don’t mix networks or regions

Google can place your advertising next to their search results and also on websites that host their advertising. One key difference between the two is that one audience is actively searching for what you offer, while the other is passively reading about it. These are two very different environments to advertise within.

Nevertheless, when setting up your account (again, in the interests of time) your Google AdWords campaign is set up to run in both. This is usually not the best option for those starting. Our recommendation is to always focus on search­ers first and then, once you have figured out how to make this traffic stream work, begin work on convincing passive readers to click your ads. Trying to do both will muddy your results and make what is already a hard task even harder.

Fundamental basic #4: Carry on the conversation, deliver people to the optimal page

This brings me nicely into how the underlying structure of your account can either work for or against you. Think of it like the commonly used “house foundation” analogy – build on solid foundations and you improve your chances of future success. The foundation for an AdWords campaign is the ease with which it allows you to carry on the question raised by the searcher.

For instance, say they type in the keyword “black formal shoes male”. Just by chance they see your text ad that includes text like their keyword term. And, when they click on it, they are taken to the page on your website that presents them with your full range of black formal shoes for guys. So easy for them – a bit of work for you.

To achieve this experience your campaign needs to contain a lot of Ad Groups. An Ad Group is a Google term for a distinct collection of keywords and the text ads that work for them. Most new campaigns set up at speed have just the one. This will be filled with lots of keywords and perhaps only one or, if we are lucky, maybe two ads. When clicked, these will most likely take you to the home page.

If you run this type of campaign and the searcher types in “black formal shoes male” or even “brown formal shoes female” or possibly “white formal dance shoes male”, they are shown the one ad that talks generically about formal shoes. If they click this ad they will arrive on the home page of the website and have to find the right shoes for them­selves. People rarely do.

Fundamental basic #5: Track how well your money is being spent

My final fundamental basic. The online marketing space is littered with opportunities to track and measure. The prob­lem is usually the vast amount of data available, not the lack of it. The Google AdWords system is no different. And while, once again, setting up “conversion tracking” is something missing during the speedy sign-up process, it’s in your account waiting to be turned on.

Once engaged you will be able to see how much money you spent to achieve whatever conversion you want to mea­sure. This could be newsletter sign-ups, e-commerce sales or contact requests – they can all be counted. Some of the data may make you smile, others may not – but at least you will know what does and doesn’t work.

So there you have it. Five fundamentals that are missed during any super speedy new account set-up. Yes, it will take you time to do all five BUT, once done, your account will work so much harder for you.  Speed isn’t always your friend. Look here for more on our Google AdWords Campaign Management  Services.

“So Chris, any ideas on how important video is going to be for online marketing?”

This question was raised during the Practical Email Marketing course last month. It had me scurrying for a quick response. From memory I came back with a comment that I think was valuable but afterwards it got me thinking. So, how have our expectations changed regarding when video should be used? And where are the hot spot places for it to to be used to help you achieve more online? These are two reasonably chunky questions that I’ll try to begin to answer with these four points.

Point 1 – Video doesn’t have to be a “talking head” to work well.

It can sometimes be a struggle to explain complex products or services by words alone. Adding some pictures can help but still it could take way more time to consume this content than the average “time-starved” prospect is willing to offer.

You could replace all this with a person speaking to the camera – but still that will take too long. All they are doing is reading the mass of words you wrote previously. That’s where some cool animation can work wonders.

Here are some examples. First, look at the way Dropbox explain the features and benefits of their cloud-based storage solution. Visit them here: www.dropbox.com. The picture below of their home page shows their reliance on the animation.

It’s the only way they choose to get their message across. It must work – tens of millions of customers use Dropbox. Google is a great fan of this method of communication, too. Look how they decided to introduce a recent addition to Google Analytics – Advanced Funnel Tracking – see here for this animation clip: http://www.google.com/analytics/analytics-funnels.html

Both examples use animation in a way that is smart, fast flowing and packed with information that quickly imparts the message they need delivered. We have developed similar solutions for a few clients in some of the Adobe Flash game work we have created. Let me know if you would like to see some examples.

Point 2 – If a talking face is required you don’t need CNN production values to make it work.

Zappos is a reasonably sizable North American e-commerce store owned by Amazon that sells clothes, bags, beauty products, in fact a whole lot of stuff catering to the shopping desires of men, women and even those buying for their children.

Browse through their products and you start to see that most now include a short video description. This is hosted by a Zappos staff member, takes just a few minutes and comes across as the ideal conversation you would get from a super-knowledgable staff member in any competing “bricks and mortar” store. Which is quite a challenge to find. Not the competing bit – the knowledgeable staff part!

As an example, here’s a link to some “Ocean Minded Dune Rider Shoes”: http://tinyurl.com/dune-raider. Look just down the screen and there’s the link to the video Zappos have done on them. It’s just 51 seconds long but boy does this guy get through the content in a professional way: http://tinyurl.com/dune-raider-preview.

I read recently that each year Zappos are loading up tens of thousands of videos just like this one onto their e-commerce website. There’s only one reason why they would go to all the hassle of producing, editing and then loading them onto the site – they must improve conversion rates.

Point 3 – Don’t forget your mobile audience – video works well there.

Recently, I co-presented a 50-minute workshop at a customer’s two-day conference on the subject of the growing smart phone market in New Zealand and its relevance for email marketers. We kicked off the talk with an open admission that neither of us had all the answers. But one thing we did know was that times were a-changing – faster for some in the room than for others – and with it their email formats will need to change as well.

This brings me back to smart phones and their ease of consuming video. Just by the nature of full-screen playback on a screen that fits into your palm, video content is a great fit for this market. So, while text and image content struggles with the restrictions of a single-column width format, full-screen video could be a winner.

Whether the mobile space is an urgent or a long-term decision is something your Google Analytics account can help you determine. Just peek into the special “Mobile” section of Version 5 (we covered it during our conference call this month) and there you will see the percentage of visitors that use mobiles and the top-line stats – bounce rate, time on site – on how your existing site serves them.

Point 4 – If you go long with your content, go long with your tracking too.

While on the subject of Google Analytics, why not call on its event-tracking abilities in Version 5 to see if people are really watching the full 40 minutes of the video you may put up? One of our clients uses video really well in their selling process. Nevertheless, a 45-minute video for an area of their website that targets prospects – well, I thought that could be a bit long. So we set up some tracking to let Google Analytics tell us a) if the video was being played and b) if so, how long people were looking at it.

The results were interesting. Yes, there were some people who did look at the whole video, and they did go on to convert quite well for the next steps of the sales process. Nevertheless, there was a larger group that quit after just 10 minutes of video and never went back to see more. So the video’s content was re-sorted to make it more engaging and to do a better job of “selling” them on the next stage.

There you go – four points that I hope make you want to reconsider how video content can be used in your online marketing.

Have fun.

Attracting a thousand visitors during a month is a reasonable target for most company websites. This allows for a fair dollop of traffic from Google’s search engine, perhaps a smattering from paid advertising and the rest made up from those who know the businesses’ url and arrive as direct traffic. A thousand visits breaks down to approximately 50 each working day – or an even more approximately one every 10 minutes.

Just imagine that amount of real person traffic walking around your offices. Six every hour moving around you and your team, wandering from room to room. It would be quite a fast “wander“ though. Expect some speed in their steps as they take less than a few minutes for their visit, before leaving through the nearest window. Then there will be those who just “bounce” into the first room they find and then leave – never to be seen again.

Very occasionally you may have one who will raise his/her hand and ask for some help. Perhaps they might complete a form or even use their mobile phone to ring your office. Nevertheless, the vast majority will just hang around, look, read and then move on. A silent ongoing procession of reasonably inactive people.

Just image if you owned a retail store and your actual shop visitors acted in this way. Lines of them entering your store, looking around, picking up product – not asking any questions – and then promptly leaving without saying a word. Now there would be some who would purchase and, if we use some standard credible online e-commerce conversion rates, they should represent between 3 and 4% of the total crowd.

Online these percentages work but offline – in the world of real leases and staffing costs – these figures are a fast track to financial ruin. Here, a retail operator needs to hit conversion rates of 5 to 6 times these figures to make things pay.

Anyway, back to the hoards of people walking around and doing very little. So what would the smart retailers do in a situation like this? Well, the last thing I would expect is for them to sit back and do nothing and let all their hard work just fail in front of them. Nope, they would go through a long list of things to try and entice these visitors to release the grip on their wallets. Ideas like a) laying out the store differently to make some stock easier to get to, or b) reworking their range to better appeal to their visitors, and perhaps even c) improving the lighting so the darker areas at the back of the store are now a breeze to fossick around in.

I’ll give you an example of the smarts that can be applied in the retail space to extract as much money as possible from your wallet. A friend of mine owns the local pharmacy. He is a very smart operator and recently decided to grow his business by taking over the shop next door. This meant he had the opportunity to completely re-design the shelving and stock layout for the whole store. So because he knows what he doesn’t know, instead of sitting down with a piece of A4 paper and a cup of coffee and figuring it all out over a lunch break he spent the money and brought in a retail expert.

This person analysed the floor area and the types of products shown and then drew up a complete map of where to place what product – even down to the height they were to be placed on the shelving. For instance, the more profitable lines were placed at eye level in easy-to-spot locations. The spacing between the shelves was fixed too – just so two people could bend over and look at each shelf and not touch bums. Yep, making people go bum to bum is a definite no no. Anyway, the upshot of all this work was that his business grew in floor area by say 20% but his sales grew by an even larger amount.

Here’s another example – this one is from my history of selling business form printing way back in time. I joined the company the same week they had taken delivery of a new fandangled printing press from Japan. This was able to produce very specialised business forms – think invoices and packing slips – that combined a piece of paper on one side and an adhesive label on the other. Now it was possible to print both a packing slip and the delivery label all in the one place.

My job was to visit businesses in Auckland promoting this solution. It was a job that the directors of the company told me in the interview was the easiest in the whole company. Such was the obvious and immediate value this solution offered.

The only problem was that no one wanted to hear my story. They all thought it was too hard to alter what they were doing and, what’s more, nobody wanted to be the first to tackle this new technology. I probably presented my story to over 50 companies and they all said NO. Some quite forcibly.

I was a reasonably thick-skinned sales person but still, once I reached a month with no sales after 50 presentations under my belt, things were looking grim. Even the directors were starting to question the merits of the expensive piece of Japanese Iron they had sitting idle in their warehouse. So we all sat down and, in a caffeine-induced haze, decided that the sales message needed some serious changes and with it the inclusion of just one happy customer to give it some credibility.

So my job changed to finding not a list of customers but just one who would take this product on for FREE for two months and only continue to use it if it cost them less than their existing product. Fortunately for me, Kodak Auckland were keen to take the “no risk” option and within two months they were happily churning through their own forms with no desire to let them go. Once we had one well known customer, then doors started to open and the product started to take off.

Both of these examples support the case that when problems or opportunities are right in front of our faces we generally do the right thing and a) call on help to fix it, or b) get together as a group and find a way to wade through the mess to find a solution.

However, when it comes to matters online the story is very, very different. Here, where the action is hidden, any such failings in the vast majority of cases are left to fester away, causing a steady stream of harm.

So how do you avoid this occurring for your website?

Well, first you need to correctly configure your website tracking to make what lays hidden more obvious, so that you too can “see web people” and the problems they are having. One of our customer coaching calls a few months ago discussed the selection of tools you can pick from. Google’s Analytics product is a good one to start with. Once set up, this will allow you to see the web pages (think aisles of your shop or parts of your sales message) that either assist or inhibit your sales process. For instance, problems may occur when visitors are unable to find the product they want or perhaps locate the answer to a question they may have. Or your website navigation could be so poor that visitors arrive and leave after just seeing a very small number of the pages you would like them to.

Some smart tools even allow you to virtually follow your visitors as they click through your pages and skip from page to page. I talked about this in last month’s newsletter. By using these tools you really do feel like you are wandering the halls of your website with your prospects.

Secondly, once you have all the recordings you want and more Google Analytics data than you know what to do with, then you will need to call on some independent advice to tell you what is and isn’t working. This requires some specialised skills and there are a few companies that offer this service. You should be able to find a business that can sell you a small “tasting plate” of consultancy to point out a few good and not so good parts of your online presence.

For instance, here at Permission we offer an Online Marketing Business Opportunity Review. This costs less than $500 and includes some service guarantees that should make even the most tentative of buyers feel comfortable to proceed.

After this short engagement you should have a better feel for the size of the challenge ahead. For instance, do 100% of your visitors fail to engage with your online sales presentation – as was the case with my printing story? Or are your e-commerce sales so bad because visitors are struggling to navigate through your virtual aisles – as could have been the case with my retail friend if he didn’t call in the experts when setting out his new space.

Fortunately, every website will have its own collection of problems to work on. Its just that some are more severe than others. Knowing which ones you have to battle with all depends on your desire and willingness to “see your web people”.

Before I started Permission I was the general manager of a smallsoft ware company whose website was in desperate need of some search engine optimization. We were nowhere to be seen in any of the results we should have been.

This was in late 1999, a time when there were only a few companies that provided search engine optimization services but somehow I managed to locate a company keen to help us out. I told them what I wanted to achieve and enquired how all this SEO ‘stuff ’ worked. Just the normal nosey Chris Price way of doing business as well as me being interested in knowing exactly what work was going to occur in exchange for my money.

Well, the salesperson then decided to throw every piece of technical web-like jargon they could muster at me, achieving their desired goal of making me feel totally confused. They then went on to tell me it was indeed a very complex area of specialization and way beyond the scope of being explained within this meeting and, anyway, I shouldn’t worry about the detail – they would manage this for me – and all for a very ‘reasonable’ fee of $2500 – per quarter over two years.

Back then I had no idea what was what, so I signed on and for two years we were ranked reasonably well for our brand name. Yep that’s all – no ranking for the generic term for the service we provided – just the brand name (which, I might add, was in the URL of our domain name). Now I know that this was something that should have taken someone about 5-10 hours to achieve. And for this I paid about $20,000 all up. Not good, and something that to this day still makes me angry.

Personally, I find the business ethics behind ensuring the prospect remains in the dark so as to ruthlessly maximize your gain to be abhorrent but, unfortunately, it is still quite apparent in the online optimization marketplace. It’s one of the reasons why we have a strategy of educating all those customers (who want to learn) on what will be done and why to achieve their goals online. And so I personally spend over 15 hours each month producing both this newsletter and the content for our monthly customer conference call.

To push this education theme even more for search optimization, I thought this month I would slay some of the many myths from this area of online marketing. I have settled on the top five I come across most often.

Myth No 1 – Search engine optimization is a mish mash of ‘black box’ techniques that only a highly skilled and technical
person can understand.

Rubbish. While Google must be one of the world’s most complex software applications to do what it does, the theory behind helping it index and rank your site for the keywords you want it to are relatively straightforward and what’s more can be explained in a few pages. Google does a good job itself on this page here:

Search Engine Optimisation by Google

There are no complex formulas or new pieces of jargon to learn. Just follow the steps and you will see results. And, as I have mentioned before, as a business owner if you can understand how New Zealand’s provisional and terminal tax works then I’m sure you can master all of the complexity that online marketing has to offer – including search engine work. But, that said, it still requires work. (Now that part you may not want to do yourself.) And the amount of work required will depend on the competitive nature of your market and style and size of your website.

Myth No 2 – Your rank is determined by the volume of traffic your website receives.

Nope – not true either. There is no correlation between your visitor count going up and your rankings moving in the same direction. It would be nice but if this was the case then all the top rankings would be filled with high-traffic brand name sites – which is definitely not the case and therein lays the opportunity for the small business wanting to level the marketing playing field online.

I see Google’s goal being to deliver highly relevant results to its searchers. And relevance is all about content and its apparent reputation online – definitely not visitor volume.

Myth No 3 – If you advertise with Google your search rankings will rise.

Sorry, a ‘no’ again. And I’m thankful this is the case, too. Now, I admit that your site may get indexed quite soon after your ads start appearing but unless something has changed since the last indexing run then this shouldn’t alter your ranking. The separation between paid and organic advertising is similar to that you experience between the editorial and advertising content in a hard copy magazine.

Myth No 4 – Every place in the search rankings has the ability to attract a similar volume of traffic.

So, if you rank No 3, then the clicks your ranking could achieve are close (but perhaps a smidgen down) on those that would come if you achieved a ranking of No 1. While this sounds like a highly logical supposition, it’s not true. That first ranking can collect an obscenely unfair amount of traffic. See the graphic to follow from Seobook.com. Notice the super slice of traffic a top No 1 ranking achieves and how it quickly drops down for ranking 2 and again for 3 as the law of diminishing returns carries on as the rankings drop down the page.

Now knowing this you can see that optimization eff orts need to be focused on achieving No 1 rankings for as many keywords as you can sustain. Like most areas of online marketing there are limited resources to apply so trade-offs have to happen. Therefore, it may be better to apply your efforts to achieve a No 1 ranking on a lesser searched term for which you are currently recording a No 3 rank than to move your ranking up from No 11 (top of page 2) to the bottom of page one for a higher volume and more competitive term.

Likewise, if you are already No 1 for a keyword it would make sense to see if you can get another page ranked below it by moving it into the first page results, which can let Google automatically bring it up below your No 1 rank – so now you have both a No 1 and No 2 presence. See the pic to follow that shows this in action for one of our clients, Boston Wardrobes.

Myth No 5 – The content in the Keyword META tag on your web pages positively affects how they are ranked.

I once had a client call me up in a very annoyed state because he had been told (apparently by a friend of his brother) that this was the case. He promptly demanded to know why we hadn’t entered much detail in this field on his site. This told me two things. First, I hadn’t done a good enough job of telling him what did and didn’t work – so my education was off the mark. Second, that I was charging him too little as he thought his friend (who was not in the industry, I might add) knew more than me. I provided a fix for both problems and everyone was happy – eventually.

Anyway, it didn’t take long for me to show him that top-ranking pages on his site were there with absolutely no content in this field, which supported the theory that Google, and most other search engines, ignored this field when deciding who should rank where.

So there you have it, my top five search engine optimization myths debunked with a short comment on why, for you to ponder. I hope that this has gone some way to dispel any confusion you may have had about this fascinating area. It’s one we certainly enjoy working in. The challenge of facing off against your competitor in the search results is something we relish. Let us know if you would like to know more and I, or one of our team, will help out.

These are a couple of bad news stories that fortunately finish with happy endings and with some lessons for you. For these two new clients, March was not a good month, with each of them going through their own online marketing horror story. Fortunately, we were able to be the knights in shiny web-page armour and helped remove them as quickly as we could from the proverbial smelly stuff.

I’ll start with the worst of the two stories.

It began with the client engaging an individual on a retainer basis to help them as their online lead generation consultant. They selected this person as they had some good experience in the industry and they were also a personal friend, whom they had worked with in a prior business.

This new consultant was tasked with looking after the whole lead generation process from attracting web traffic to converting it into leads on the client’s site. The client was new to all things online so the consultant was pretty much left to their own devices. They managed the Google AdWords and Analytics account and even the system they used to collect and respond to leads. All this started to get some action as their work started to bear fruit.

As the client knew very little, the consultant chose to initiate the new account set-up process with the main vendors involved – namely Google and the lead capture software vendor. During this process, he passed subsidiary login details to the client but retained the master level account status.

Each month the client received a small report about what was going on – attached to this was a steadily growing account for the consultant’s services. The client then asked questions about what was happening and why the fees were heading north but nothing was forthcoming. The lead flow was a trickle compared with what they expected and because of this the cost per lead was a problem and not commercially viable. So they started looking further afield for advice.

They came to us during this stage of the process. As is normal for clients arriving at this stage, we offered to complete a general audit of their existing lead generation efforts. We were supplied the necessary account login details and a description of their desired objectives, and then kicked this process off.

During this assessment work we registered as leads onto their website – just to see how easy it was and to look at the messages that were being sent out. We did the same for their email newsletter sign up – in fact, for every conversion option on their website we filled in our details and sat back to experience their prospect promotion.

On first glance, it all looked quite good. Yes, there were some issues with the form design and the amount of data they were collecting (too much too early) but overall things looked reasonable. That was until the existing supplier noticed our contact details in the leads coming in. They were not happy.

Of course the client was fine during all this – they wanted some ‘warts and all’ feedback on how their website was performing. But what they didn’t expect was how the existing consultant would react.

Within a few moments of the consultant finding out that we were involved they a) shut down the client’s access to their website; b) changed the master passwords on the client’s Google AdWords and Google Analytics account and, to finish it all, c) altered the passwords for the lead capture system so all the client’s leads were now hidden to them. Nice.

The client only found this out when she noticed that it had been a few days since a sales lead had come through. And when she tried to login to her website to load up a newsletter, she found to her dismay that her access details were being denied.

Needless to say, when she contacted the consultant asking what was happening she received a barrage of complaints about why Permission were involved at all, and what right did we have to look around ‘their’ work (which, I might add, the client had already paid for in full).

Quite quickly, things became very heated and relationships fell apart. The client called me late one afternoon telling me what had happened and I couldn’t believe their story. Within minutes we had a plan to wrest back control of the site – our first priority. Fortunately, she did own the domain and the hosting account. Passwords to both these were quickly changed and then we got into doing some rather devious things to break into the site’s content management system to reset the password. Once this was achieved we focused on capturing the leads that were still flowing in.

We had the client quickly set up a new lead capture account and then ‘plumbed’ the conversion forms in to this and set up the auto-response emails as best we could. Next up was changing her Google accounts.

As luck would have it during the early stages of the review I had taken a copy of their Google AdWords account so I could best show them what was broken. This proved very helpful later on but first we had to establish a new Google Analytics account, set up all the necessary goals and then overlay this onto the new linked AdWords account. Having my copy made this last step achievable and took a few minutes as opposed to the days of work we would have faced if we had to start from scratch.

Yes, the client had ‘lost’ all their historical website analytics data and, more importantly, the leads that had not been sent through before things blew up, but at least they had wrestled back control.

So here are the three lessons you can take away from my Horror Story No 1.

Lesson No 1 – Own your Google AdWords and Google Analytics account. Each of these tools allows you to easily ‘invite’ (and de-invite if you want) others to help you manage your work. Add to this list any other application, especially a lead capture and responding tool.

All Permission clients have the master status on their accounts, with us having the necessary access to manage the content that sits within them. So they ‘own’ their Google AdWords account, their Analytics account, and any other account type we need to get their lead generation system into shape.

As an aside, only a few days after this event I was introduced to a small team within a major High street financial institution who had their advertising agency manage their Google AdWords advertising. Only recently, they found out that this agency had chosen to sub-contract another online agency (without their knowledge) to manage this work for them. Not only does this raise some rather serious ethical issues, heaven knows what will happen to any of the great marketing data that is being collated as a result of this campaign.

Lesson No 2 – At the outset of any lead generation project, set clear objectives on what the project is to achieve. These should highlight specific results you want your consultant to deliver on. Remember those rather vague responses that were attached to their invoice? There would have been a lot more transparency if both parties knew the exact results that were expected. For instance, an expected lead count per month, or maybe a search ranking figure for a certain keyword, or even a cost per lead rate from all Google AdWords traffic – all of these are good objectives.

Lesson No 3 – Treat the management of your sales leads with the same respect you would the management of your hard-earned cash. In reality they reflect your future ability to create the latter. So would you let someone else manage your cash within a process that wasn’t transparent to all? Now, I know that there are a few who have lost millions of dollars only recently by allowing this to happen to them, but you’re smarter than that – aren’t you?

Horror Story No 2

As I mentioned before, this one is relatively mild compared with the previous story BUT, again, it’s a story that I had to have confirmed before I believed it actually happened. It involves a website, a developer, a client – and a dispute.

I know there are a lot of website developers out there who are good, honest people who create sites that their clients absolutely love. I’m sure of it. Fortunately, we know of a few, so when someone needs a site created we pass their details on knowing that there’s a very good chance a happy story will be the result.

But, saying all this, you would be surprised to know how many people walk through our doors with a website build story that is full of strife. Missed deadlines, poor design and all with lots of promise coupled with a paucity of delivery are just some of the stories we hear. So it was not a surprise when this client came to us with a tale of something similar.

It had all started out well – it usually does, or it doesn’t start 🙂 . Then there was a change of staff at the web design company and the ‘client facing’ person was off on maternity leave, which left the technical guru behind them to take control of the project. This staff change coincided with all future ‘client to developer’ communication now being via email. From then until now there was not one phone call made to the client. Now this is some achievement as their project went on for 2–3 months.

Email is great, but it still can’t replace the need to talk to someone sometimes and, while it wasn’t the only reason, it didn’t help matters, and the website build started to head off the tracks and into a dark place where the project just drags on – and on. This is the space where everyone involved just wants to get the project resolved as quickly as possible.

This generally means that along the way things are missed and the original scope is lost in the build process as the job gets handed from developer to developer. No surprises that this happened here and things that were expected by the client failed to materialize and what did arrive wasn’t expected. As were the contents of the final bill, which were a fair bit different from what was quoted – not a lot mind you, just enough to make it worth an email from the client. And that’s when things became rather inflamed.

The tirade that came back to the client from the developer was extreme to say the least. Things had obviously been boiling up for a while and the questioning of the account was the final straw. Apparently, the email message went on for pages (I never saw the original) but it was the final paragraphs that had the real punch. They were to the effect that if the account was not settled by a set time then the site would be taken down and not re-instated until the funds had been collected. Nice #2.

So the client had no choice but to pay the bill but, within a few minutes, was on the phone to me to see how they could extricate themselves from the situation.

Now I realise that, as a supplier, the developer has to guard themselves against customers asking them to do work and then not paying – so they need some recourse. But still, to threaten this when all the customer is doing is questioning the account? This doesn’t bode well for a mutually satisfying future relationship.

Anyway, we needed to know more before we could get this client moving again. First up was the subject of intellectual property. Who owned what – specifically to do with the site’s content and its content management system? I had the client go back and check the terms and conditions the supplier had sent them before starting the project. Guess what – there weren’t any.

Then they somehow had to gently find out if they could move the site to a different hosting account – one that they could own – as a short-term step to wrest back control. This is not a subject that is easy to broach AFTER a project has started but, nevertheless, they are making progress. The developer is playing difficult but the client is making slow, steady progress. And, yes, in the wings is a nice tame developer we have introduced them to who is able to manage things once the move takes place.

So what are the three lessons with this one?

Lesson No 1 – It’s true, only the paranoid survive. This is the title of a great business book by Andy Grove, the then CEO of Intel – but also a good mind state to be in – even if just for a short time before you start that next website build. Then you can ask yourself questions like – what happens if we end up in a dispute – who will arbitrate it? What documents show clearly who owns what? How do we protect all the work we put into this project? It doesn’t need to get into small 6 point type and fill three pages – but if you want to fall back on it then have your lawyer look over it and ask your developer to agree to it. And if they offer terms and conditions to you, check through that 6 point type to see what answers they have to questions like these.

Lesson No 2 – I was once told to never hold a credit card with the same bank I banked with. I assume the theory goes that if things get very tight financially and people are shutting accounts down left, right and centre then at least you have a piece of plastic with some credit on it to get you by. So I think the same should apply to your website hosting – that is, never host your site with the people who developed it. Some content management systems make this a challenge, but most allow it to work. Do this and you will never have some testy developer threaten to take down your site unless you pay their account.

Lesson No 3 – Generally, it takes more time to properly specify any creative work, like a website build, than the actual creative work will take. And this is one of the main reasons why so many web build projects head off the rails so quickly and so dramatically.

Most people entering into projects like this rely too much on what is said rather than what is written. So while email was the chosen mode of communication for a large part of this project – and this caused some issues – IF the project had been accurately specified at the start, it would have had a higher chance of survival.

As another aside, late last year I came across a person who does just this – specify websites for clients. He then goes a bit further and helps them engage suppliers to build them, too. Peter has been in the industry for ages, does a great job, charges reasonably for his services and guess what – his projects end in happy stories.

Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to engage Peter on their next project BUT time spent documenting what needs to be done and why – as if there was little chance of verbal communication – is time well invested.

So there you have it – two horror stories and six lessons that I hope you can learn from. All I can say is that I only hope that April doesn’t bring with it any more stories like these.

Know a good electrician? How about someone to help fix the rather sad roof on our bach? Or even a business who knows the best way to fix a roof rack to Claire’s car? These are just a few situations in which I needed help this month and each one had me asking people around me for some suggestions. In each case it worked. We found just the person to help fix our fuses, mend our roof and strap our bikes safely to the roof of the Mazda.

You have probably done the same yourself. I mean, how else do you tell the difference between electricians – especially when they all look the same – other than by asking others for their experience? Plus, it scared me witless just getting up on my roof to see holes where roof should be let alone spending ages up there poring over the finished product. Nope, I needed to find someone who had re-roofed and not felt the pitter patter of rain on their couch afterwards.

Sometimes, however, I have asked for feedback and got nowhere. This leads me to where most people do their hunting – Google’s search engine. Nowadays, finding a list of possible tradesmen shouldn’t be hard for most industries. I covered this last month in our customer conference call, in which I presented examples from the search term “Adelaide Electrician” – there were a few!

The problem is they all looked the same. That’s where the addition of some “social proof” in the form of a collection of customer testimonials would have been enough to make one stand out from the crowd.

If you are working through our “Grow Conversions – Website Optimisation” service module all this should sound very, very familiar. In fact, if you have been a client of Permission for any length of time then you would have heard me prattle on about this again and again. Nevertheless, for all the air I have expounded, and words I have written, I could count on one hand the number of clients who take it to heart and start to actively gather testimonials and incorporate them into their website marketing strategy.

Yep, it always sounds like a good idea. But that doesn’t mean it gets done. So we continue to politely “nag away” during our review calls, pushing for the testimonials we were promised the month before.

Customers tell us that the problem is not deciding “if” they should ask their clients for feedback – everyone agrees this is a good thing. It’s more “when” this act should occur. Ideally, you would want to pick the time that has the greatest chance of seeking an amazing result. So perhaps for the dentist this could be while the customer is in “the chair” just after their painless cavity has been completed. For the mortgage broker, maybe this occurs once the house has been settled and the client has moved in.

I suggest you trial a few different places within your own sales process and see which one provides the most reliable results. Once you have found your winner, just add the task into your sales process and ensure your team follows the process – again and again. And after make sure to implement those social proofs into your online marketing strategy.

So is all this work worth the effort? Well, I hope the screen shot below kills any doubt.

This snapshot from a client’s Google Analytics “All Traffic” report reveals a 24% increase in conversion rate for their paid advertising campaign with Google AdWords. The main difference between the two sales periods being reviewed was the addition of a steady stream of positive client testimonials. These were not long dissertations either – just two or three lines with the first name of the client and their location, e.g. Chris from Pt Chevalier, Auckland.

So how many of these do you need? I believe that in this case there is never too many. For instance, the team at Agrigarden does a great job of collecting testimonial content to help them sell their Grillo Climber Ride-on Mowers. Their sales page just keeps growing longer and longer as we add more. And as this grows, so does their conversion rate.

Recently, they have been very fortunate to receive a few unprompted video testimonials from raving fans of the product – check them out here www.rideonmowers.net.au. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

And the best place to put all this new social proof content? I suggest around the places where your visitors are considering whether to take the next step. So this could be on a form you ask them to complete, or even the order confirmation page of the e-commerce shopping cart. Wherever they could be pondering – “Now is this the best thing to do?” That’s when content like this can be used to reassure them enough to get them across the line.

We specialise in helping brick and mortar New Zealand businesses effectively market their services online.  (Here are a few customer case studies.)   This is one of the many articles we have written on the subject area.  Complete a quote request today if you would like to know how we can help your service company achieve more online.

The Power of Increasing Your Maximum Cost per Lead

How much will you pay for an average quality lead? Seems like a rather innocuous detail, doesn’t it? Especially when you compare it with all the rest of the parts of the online marketing puzzle we all have to manage.  However, I believe that this rather small figure is one of those relatively hidden metrics of website marketing strategy that, on first glance, looks quite minor but on further reflection really does have a major part to play in showing the true strength or relative weakness of your sales process.

Nevertheless, when I ask people new to Permission what they will pay for a lead, in nearly all cases I receive a rather blank stare. Very few have given it any thought before, let alone calculated what it could be for their business.  Now for whatever reason, this month has been a month where I’ve posed this question more often than most. And as per normal, I’ve received a batch of silent responses in return. It’s made for some interesting sales presentations.

Prolonged lengths of silence are not usually the best things to occur during your first meeting with a prospect. Usually these are times for much chatter and many questions. But not much silence. Nevertheless, I’m not put off by the space this question provides, so I power on and dig into what the value “could be” if the prospect isn’t too sure.

Sometimes I rephrase the question.

“So, Mrs Prospect. If you were able to give me a certain amount of money every time I delivered to your front door a prospect of OK quality, what amount would you be willing to part with?”

“Well it depends.”

This is an answer that means we are underway. Now, we need to qualify the exact product/service this “Permission delivered” prospect is interested in purchasing and the likelihood of them purchasing it after hearing my prospect’s sales message.

This usually leads us into a discussion of future figures and stats that may have us saying, for example, that a quarter of all the leads they present to go on to buy something. And perhaps the average amount of profit per sale that they are willing to allocate to marketing may be $160. Therefore, without allowing for any repeat purchases, a feasible cost per lead could be around $40. So, if they happened to decide to spend $1000 per month with Permission then they should expect in return 25 new sales to make the transaction work. And likewise, a new customer count above this means that things are looking very good.

So now we have a marketing success benchmark of $40. This means that for any marketing the company produces – so long as they can track its effectiveness – if it produces leads of OK quality at sub $40 value then all is OK.

Thankfully, when it comes to tracking the effectiveness of marketing, the online marketing space does a grand job. Google Analytics in particular really simplifies the task of matching website marketing expense to sales revenue. It’s all there waiting to be found in easy-to-digest reports.

Using your new-found cost-per-lead value as a benchmark for marketing success is just one simple way to make the work required to produce the figure worthwhile. Nevertheless, the real power of this metric is when you use it to reveal the health of your sales process. This comes with the startling realization that the healthier your process is the more you will be willing to pay per lead.

Yep, moving your allowable cost per lead upwards – that’s where the real possibilities are. Increase it, say, to a place where you are able to pay twice or even three times more than your competitors can afford per lead and still make money. That’s where the marketing magic really starts to arrive.

And before you yell out “buying business is not for me, Mr Price” – be aware that I’m not condoning any short-term marketing strategies that some foolishly see as being a necessary evil to capture market share. Nope, this is about being able to operate a sales conversion process that is so much more efficient than everyone else in your market that it remains sustainable to you but economic suicide for your competitors to follow.

Now some may read this and say, “Chris, what are you talking about? Surely if you are converting leads at a three-fold higher rate than your market then you can keep spending the SAME AMOUNT as your competitors and just bank the extra sales revenue.” Or those with a particular aversion to spending any marketing budget may be considering how this strategy could even enable them to REDUCE their marketing spend by a third and still end up with the same number of leads.

So why not consider taking either of these choices instead of INCREASING your marketing spend?

Well, my answer is that all three are “valid” options for you to consider. There you go – good old-fashioned, no commitment “consultant speak”. However the “best” choice really depends on your aspirations for the future.

Because really, the first two choices are about increasing business efficiency, whilst the third option – of spending more – is all about maximizing growth opportunities. You take your pick; however, remember the first customer conference call I presented this year? The one about the expected growth – or lack of it – for the NZ economy in 2011? Now, I’m no economist, so I cribbed from the few who are and their prediction was particularly uninspiring (and that was before the events on February 22nd in Christchurch). So don’t expect much latent growth from the economy around you – so best you go and find your own.

Let’s say you can move your affordable cost per lead from $40 to $125 – not an insignificant jump but, nevertheless, not beyond the realms of possibility based on our experience. This change uncovers a few new opportunities to consider. For instance, the use of a wider range of media types that may have been out of your reach before. Maybe radio and even TV could be an option at these values. Competitors that remain at a sub $50 cost per lead just couldn’t afford to follow you into these media types without burning too much cash in the process.

And on a subject closer to our digital space, your bidding strategy with Google AdWords could be turned on its head with a change like this. Understand that your bid price is not everything that ensures your placement – our last conference call on Google AdWords shared that Google formula for us all – but still, if you push the cost per click upwards you will stretch not only yours but your competitors budgets too.

And finally, for those involved in face-to-face selling, let’s not forget about the skill set of the sales staff you can employ now. Their salaries, and the training/resources you provide them all can head upwards as you are able to “spend more” to capture each sale.

All three options are worth considering, but how do you actually go about nudging upwards your affordable cost per lead? Here are three quite generic strategies that may help (of course there’s a longer list of specific online marketing methods within our Grow Conversions – Website Optimisation Service Module).

Strategy #1– Optimise your sales process

Yes, a basic one I know, but the facts are that if you increase your sales conversion rates from 25% to 50% then you are able to effectively double your marketing spend and achieve four times more sales.

Sound interesting?

Selling is really just another business process that needs managing. Just like manufacturing, accounts and marketing. Each of these four processes contain a series of carefully crafted steps that need optimizing by those that care. But how often does this occur?

All my work experience has been in sales. I’ve sold valves, pumps, scientific equipment, printing and even outsource mail-handing services. Some deals were worth $150, others $25,000, and a few a cool $1.5 million in annual services. But in none of them was I ever sat down and shown exactly the right way to sell what I was selling.

I did have some early training in my first job with David Forman Sales Training (remember them?). But other than that, I was left to my own devices. Now, don’t get me wrong, there was some activity and result tracking throughout this. Some companies were more detailed in this regard than others. However, none of them sat me and the rest of the selling team down together and collectively pulled apart the complete process to find the best way to sell their products.

And this is not a unique situation. Based on my experiences since then, I would suggest that 90% of businesses do not apply a process to their sales methods. So the odds are in your favour that your competitors will be in this 90% group. It doesn’t mean you should be.

Strategy #2– Improve your opportunity for repeat business

If you run a business with very little chance for repeat customer business then good luck – I hope your marketing is up to standard. It will need to be. Look at the industries with a low propensity for repeat sales (investment banking, high-end computer software) and within the market leaders you should see some of the best marketers working away. They are tasked with bringing in a steady supply of new leads every day, every month – all at the right cost to keep the wheels turning.

In comparison, those businesses with a strong chance of repeat sales can usually survive with less than exceptional marketing efforts. Yes, they still need a supply of leads but their repeat sales keep them going when their new prospect work drops off the boil.

For instance, a friend of mine has started a consulting business that is definitely in the low repeat group. His customers will use him once every 7 years.  That’s a long time between invoices.

What he provides has some strong margins in it, but not sizable enough to ensure he can survive this length of time between drinks. And it gets worse. Unfortunately, he freely admits to not having any marketing skills whatsoever. He’s an expert technician but promoting and marketing are not part of that mix. Plus, did I mention he began the business undercapitalized so any promotion needs to be done on the cheap?

At the other end of the repeat business spectrum, another friend, whose business supplies a service in a completely different market, has an almost certain level of repeat purchase with his customers. Probably the best I have ever seen, barring electricity retailers. Once his customers buy from him they just keep on going. Marketing for him is an expense account at a local café for him to chat away with existing customers as they brief him on the next job.

Strategy #3 – Increase the expected margin from each new customer

I’m not going to give up on my friend for whom I have predicted a long period of struggle. Nope, I’m going to keep on pestering him with advice to ensure he makes a go of things. And at the top of my list of pestering points is the challenge for him to sell other things to his customers to help him bridge his 7-year gap.

It’s a simple strategy and one that Amazon recently used when they purchased Diapers.com and Soap.com for a reasonably massive USD 540 million. I would safely say that both soap and nappies are consumed with a higher purchase frequency than books and electronics equipment so all this must be good news for Amazon. And thankfully, my friend doesn’t need to invest the same amount as Mr Bezos but, nevertheless, adding a few higher frequency purchase items to his own basket of goods can only be a good thing.

So there you have it. A few reasons why the act of pushing upwards your affordable cost-per-lead value is a good thing, and a smattering of options to help you achieve this. If this is all new to you then I suggest you start with calculating (with a reasonable level of accuracy) your maximum affordable cost per lead. Then you can use this to gauge the effectiveness of your online marketing followed by some tactics to nudge the value upwards to further reap the marketing benefits this will bring.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your service business market online

 

This month it has been a pleasure to deliver some very pleasant surprises to a rather sizable cluster of clients new to Permission. Each of them ran their business in a very similar way. This I found out as they answered the questions included in our online marketing opportunity review survey.

There’s a few questions in there that are quite tricky. Questions such as the actual numbers that make up their sales process. Details like “What percentage of prospects do you convert into customers during the sales process?” Or “What is a client of average quality worth to you over their productive lifetime?”

Most clients reply with some very approximate answer. “Around 50% or between $1500 and $9000.”” But in the case of this fortunate group I received a list of exact figures – for instance 82% and $1750. This level of detail continued with their responses to all the questions that asked for some figures. These people clearly knew their numbers.

This made me grin from ear to ear when I noticed that their website was either bereft of any website analytics software or that what was there was woefully configured. I could just see that these “numbers” people were going to love the stat detail that their fresh new Google Analytics application would provide. It was going to completely change how they managed their website marketing strategy. Things would never be the same.

Over the years I’ve seen a number of ways that this could all play out. Here are just a few of the common scenarios that occur when “numbers” people are given the gift of a numbers website.

Scenario 1 – “Finally I have your Attention”

My first experience of this scenario occurred over 6 years ago with a city-based, large recruitment agency. Before we were engaged, their website was seen as a necessary part of doing business but nothing too special. They pinned their sales growth upon inspiring their recruitment consultants to open the right doors and meet the decision makers
responsible for making the next hiring decision.

So it was with some reluctance that they let me set up a Google Analytics account and convince their web developer that it was worth the effort to place the tracking code on all their web pages. I waited for three weeks of data to be gathered before I sent the first website visitor report to the CEO.

Now, this gentleman was a very hard person to track down. We rarely spoke face to face – usually the link in our communication was his very capable PA. So I emailed the report to her so she could print it out and ensure he looked at it. What a surprise when he called me 20 minutes after I sent the email – asking me to check the figures as they were
obviously wrong. The stats were way, way too high.

But they were right – the web developer had done a good job and Google rarely makes a data collection error. Yes, their website was really receiving over 10,000 visitors each month. A count that would take his army of recruitment consultants about 10 years to see. Needless to say within a few hours of me confirming the veracity of his figures, an appointment had been set for us to meet up and website marketing strategy was underway to make the very most of this traffic.

Scenario 2 – Time to Fix some Mistakes

My other situation starts along very similar lines to the previous one. A rather large corporate, owning an appropriately sized website, producing a steady stream of leads. This all made their web developer look very good – even though there was no tracking installed, so “good” was very subjective.

Needless to say, I pushed for some analytics just to confirm how good the good news really was. Again, I had to convince both the web developer as well as the client. In the developer’s eyes the Google Analytics tracking code was going to cause their shopping cart to crash. Our team listened and then went on to show them other sites using a very similar code base as theirs without any problems. So they acquiesced and the code was installed.

However, this time the Google Analytics story was the opposite of scenario 1 – bad news indeed. Yes, there was a steady stream of leads but the stats showed these came with a sub 1% site conversion rate. In their industry the range was between 5% and 8%. Unfortunately, they were squandering traffic because one type of browser (which a sizable percentage of their visitors used) was failing in their shopping process.

Once we picked up the problem we immediately called their developers with some charts to prove our point. Thankfully, in a week the fix was in and with it came a sizable bump in conversion results.

Scenario 3 – A Feeling of Control Settles over All

This has to be my favourite of the three. Nothing too extreme. Just the general feeling of control settling over what was previously seen as something unmanageable. It’s the scenario that I predict will come to the people we started working with in April.

These were all very smart business people running very successful companies. However, when “numbers” people are tasked with managing anything that can’t easily be distilled down to a series of digits then things are usually left alone. In nearly all cases this is the wrong step to take. But if you show them how to collect and interpret the right data then their methodical and rational skills are able to capitalise on the opportunity their website represents.

Some of my greatest lessons are usually prefaced with a spectacular piece of personal failure. For instance, there was the time I installed some untested software in a mission critical application (yes, it failed beyond my wildest nightmares).

And the time when I told my mountain bike mechanic not to complete the extra repair he strongly suggested, which ensured that two weeks later said bike fell apart midway through an 80km event.

Nevertheless, not wanting to endure the same pain twice, I am now super-cautious when it comes to any new software installation, and whatever the bike mechanic suggests gets done quick smart.

A few of my clients have shared their own personal painful business experiences, which like mine led to some interesting ‘learning experiences’. And, like me, they didn’t want to go through the same discomfort twice so they implemented the necessary change and moved on.

Making the decision to change is not always easy. For instance, last year I read a case by Andy Grove (the then CEO of Intel) that spoke about the resistance of the Mini Mainframe computer manufacturers to capitalize on the opportunity presented to them by PC technology. Their choice was to either change or remain the same. Change meant supporting a new machine that sold for less than their current offering, with its commensurate reduction in margin. It also came with such ease of use that there was little hope of bundling with each sale lucrative service contracts to support them. Needless to say they didn’t change. The net effect was that the PC server market grew quickly in sophistication, so much so that it eventually replaced the whole Mini Mainframe market they operated within, forcing them all to shut down their operations.

Thankfully, the changes that most of us are presented with are nowhere near as severe as this. And in most cases, we are able to flex our change muscles and move on. Nevertheless, last year I witnessed a selection of businesses, for whatever reason, sit back and decide not to alter their course. And guess what, in each case the pain has not gone away.

In fact, the change they now need to make is greater than the one first presented to them. In each case, the change they had to make was quite generic and as such could present itself to all of us. And so, based upon the lines of forewarned is the same as forearmed, here are some details of just three of these instances.

Now the smart ones among you will see two sets of benefits in here when reading through these notes. First, there is the obvious one of having the opportunity to plan ahead and decide how you could react if these challenges came your way. And then there’s the counter-situation for the more aggressive marketers amongst us. For this group, the list offers a few ideas worth pondering when considering how to inflict similar discomforts on your own competitors.

As per usual, commercial sensitivity means that for each example I have had to change bits to protect those concerned but I’ve done this in such a way as to still make the tale useful.
So let’s kick off with pain and change situation No 1.

Change #1 – When the Underlying Marketing Business Model Shifts

I’ll start with the most difficult of changes to face. Difficult because it requires the most change and as such leaves the majority dumbfounded and unsure where to start. All this occurs when the fundamental economics of marketing your service to your customers is turned upside down by a dastardly competitor who approaches the market in a very different way than the rest.

The company on the receiving end of this change operated within the health and beauty sector. They were locally owned and operate solely online. The range they sold was extensive, offered to the mid to low end of the market and, due to some very smart product sourcing arrangements, offered at the lower end price point. Their pain arrived with the entry of an overseas competitor offering like for like products. The competitor’s pricing strategy was similar or only slightly below their own. So, at the start is seemed that the market would be won in the online marketing area with similar budgets going head to head. Whoever implemented the right messages in the correct way would win.

But then the new arrival changed the game. As if overnight they seemed to dramatically overspend on new customer acquisition. Our client was willing to spend up to $25 to acquire a new customer. The competitor was marketing way above that – with estimated costs of up to $100 per sale. All for an initial gross order value that was, at a rough guess, at best 50% of this cost. $100 to receive gross sales of $50, with at best a 45% margin on this value! It just didn’t make sense.

Nevertheless, they continued spending marketing budget like this for a few months. Somehow they had configured their business to ensure it worked profitably while also spending four times more per customer than our client was.

Fortunately, I was lucky and found a few friends who were customers of this new operation and were willing to share with me the marketing they received during and after the sales process. It was quite impressive. To start, their website offered numerous up-sell options during the sales process to help squeeze as much profit as possible from each transaction. And then, once that first sale had occurred, customers received a steady stream of email and print-based marketing offering them a range of options to entice them to make their second and subsequent purchases. It was a profit-producing machine that let them push margins skywards. The net effect was that they were able to overspend others in the market by a factor of four and still make money.

To counter this strategy, I suggested to my customer a long list of changes. This started with their website, and then moved onto order processing and, finally, client follow-up. Now, of course, all this meant work and quite a bit of it too. It also required some cash, which was slowly diminishing as the full effects of this new competitor were starting to bite.

I shared with them all of the insights I had from seeing their competitors marketing first-hand but all to no avail. They thought their competitor would run out of money – they didn’t. And I could see the writing on the wall so we parted company. And so, six months later I see their competitor high up on the sponsored listings in Google while my ex-client is nowhere to be seen. Their market size has shrunk so much that even their AdWords campaign seems to have disappeared. All because they refused to accept that the pain wasn’t going to go away and that it was time to act and act fast.

Change Required #2 – Lack of Difference = Prospect Indifference

The Internet is a cruel space for those that offer ‘me to’ services or products. Prospects can react in split-second timeframes – all it takes is a quick click of the browser’s back button and BAM they are back to the search results screen.

The ‘pain’ experienced here comes from sending high-priced traffic to a website producing below-average conversion rates. In this example, we started with a client early last year who should have expected a one in ten conversion rate but was struggling with the reality of a one in twenty result.

When I printed out their sales page and compared it with their competitors – other than the colours and images – they told a very similar story. Each one stood for good service, great value and flawless execution. There was nothing obvious to help you compare one against the other. This leaves Mr. and Mrs. Consumer one option to guide their choice – price – a core reason why most in this market make below-par returns.

Anyway, I took my printouts and set them down on the customer’s desk, pointing out the landscape of sameness in front of us. And, unlike my previous tale of woe where the client refused to alter track, this time there was a willingness to change the website marketing strategy. My client looked at each page in detail and admitted there was a problem that needed fixing fast. The wider business team was involved as together they brainstormed how to alter their service to make it stand out from the competition.

It wasn’t a quick fix, but once done they had something that made them stand out from the crowd. So much so that once the site was updated with this new content, then conversation rates started to climb.

Change Required #3 – Becoming Too Big to Care

My last example highlights how the size of a company can affect (negatively) its ability to react to pain and change. Bad news if you are this size or rapidly growing towards it BUT good news if you are a minnow trying to market against giants.

The story starts with a single web page whose sole purpose was to produce a steady stream of sales leads for a particular service the company offered. It did this with a credible result of being five times more effective when compared with what the company had previously done. So everyone was happy with their online marketing strategy.

Then the market changed in two main areas. (Fortunately, there was a gold mine of survey information collected within the landing page data that quickly revealed this happening.) Firstly, the types of problems that prospects needed to solve had shifted. Over time, the market these prospects operated within had seen a sizable drop in overall demand. This meant that price was more of an issue than before.

The symptom of all this was similar to the previous example – falling conversion rates and a need to re-write the landing page copy. But no one seemed to care. The business was very successful in other areas and as a whole was growing like a weed. Roles were shifting almost on a quarterly basis and new staff were coming and going. It was hard enough to find someone who was now responsible for this part of the site, let alone convince them there was a problem to be fixed.

And as the days ticked by, their selling message became further off-market, pushing downwards the weekly lead counts. All this was occurring while their competitors (who, by the way, were smaller operations) were changing their content almost on a weekly basis. It was frustrating to watch such success slowly fall away but in the end I let it slide. There really wasn’t much else I could do. Their smaller competitors were slowly but surely ‘eating their lunch’ as they actively tuned their prospect sales funnels
to better suit the changed market.
OK, so where does this leave us?

Well, during the next 6 months of 2011 your business will be presented with a few market changes that may or may not fit within the realms of the ones mentioned here. Some of them will be preceded with some market ‘pain’ that may be more obvious than others. However, in each case there will be two options presented to you to fix this pain – either change or remain the same. Please be very careful when deciding which ‘pain’ deserves no reaction on your part.

And for those wanting to drive the market rather than have it drive you, then please take your pick from the three presented here or add your own. Just ensure your own pace of change is faster than your competitors and you will be the cause of some angst in 2011.