This is a repost of an old Case Study published in May 2014, entitled ‘Who Are You?’ Is your online identity crisis hurting your organic search visibility? I often speak to small business owners about improving their online visibility, notably in local search results.
Does your website suffer from identity crisis? In this post, a local antique store asked why their website was not performing well on Google search. The antique shop website had four separate aims, and had constantly rotating stock of consignment items that were not adequately described for search bots. Also, none of their informational pages were composed using key phrases or descriptions. Sometimes I am asked to take a look at older websites to determine how to improve sales, increase qualified leads, or position the company as an expert in whatever it is the proprietor does best.
Almost a decade ago, I was called by a prospect who explained his profession, qualified himself as an expert in his field, and asked whether I might be of assistance in stimulating online sales. We spoke at least an hour, I took careful notes, visited his website, and agreed to formulate a plan based on my findings and what his competitors might be doing. I asked who managed the online store, and was told their ‘programmer’ managed the database. The task as I comprehended it was to improve online sales.
Three hours later my phone rang and the prospect’s wife gave me an entirely new diatribe about what she expected from her website. She wanted people to give them consignments to sell in their store. More stuff to sell versus more online sales. I told her the plan I had detailed for her husband: that I would take a look at the content and improve the meta tags and other source code on their web pages. When I said “meta tags” I heard her hold the telephone out and yell across the room to her husband that she didn’t know what I was talking about.
So conversation number three begins and they now want me to be their webmaster. The site they wanted help with is not ecommerce-enabled, rather random items are rotated through the home page and an internal search engine accesses the inventory database. The online store is linked to the company site. Now they were talking about overhauling the online store so every item would have its own page… for an inventory of 900 items.
My Analysis and Recommendations
A month later after finally being given access to the web pages, I uncovered some messy code, some best-practice errors, and silly keyword and description choices. Repairs, tests, more tweaks and tests were made, and after carefully reading the active and defunct pages, this is what I discovered. The plain html pages revealed four separate identities and goals for this one company website: as a venue for
1. ecommerce sales for their vintage and collectible wares
2. asking for consignments for sale in the online and/or physical store
3. obtaining appraisals, particularly for estates
4. offering showroom floor or cabinet display space in the physical store
What I Changed
All page titles, keywords and phrases, and descriptions were tailored to the category or the information on each of the main pages. A sitemap was prepared and submitted to major search engines such as Google and Bing. I wrote a detailed report, mailed it to the company with my assessment and edits with an invoice. They never paid me, they would not answer their phone when I called, and within a year they had closed their doors.
If you have an existing website, especially an extensive product catalog, decide how you want to frame your online identity. When your brand has a good reputation and your company longevity makes you known for more than one specialty, be sure to have a separate page for each specialty, and don’t be shy about tailoring the page source code titles, descriptions and keywords for each identity. Remember that your content is being read by humans, but indexed and given relevancy by search bots. There is no point in citing keywords in the source code that do not appear in the page content.
How is your company’s Online Health?
Why is an online self-exam important? If you have not taken a look at your business listings and search engine visibility in the past six months, set a few hours aside to perform an online self-exam.
Imagine an outdated business description being found by prospective customers. Are your products or services up to date? Have you refined or added to your business services? Are contact details accurate? Is your address spelled correctly?
My first step in what I call the ‘discovery’ process prior to a new business consultation is to go to three major search engines and perform some due diligence. I review the sponsored links, I count all the links in which the business name might appear, I take stock of page density, peruse industry directories, look for directory listings, and how many other thriving websites your name may appear on. In my work, I am solicited by international companies trying to sell me advertising, partner with me, and share website links in directories I have not yet heard of.
Like many other very small companies, my own listings are the LAST ones I research. For many of the local small businesses I contract, I also look at what the competition might be using to get a leg up in the listings. If you have a lazy Sunday afternoon, do yourself a favor and see if your business listings are accurate and up-to-date.
Finding Yourself: The Process
STEP 1: Type in your company name in Google, Yahoo, Bing, AOL search. Follow all the links, notice how many listings appearing on each page, and how many pages in which you can find yourself. I strongly suggest claiming your Google Business Listing and keeping the business info current.
STEP 2: Type in the industry or service + your local area, region, county or town (i.e. “northeastern connecticut”, “central massachusetts”, “new england”, “downtown Boston”). Will all your competitors appear before you? Do you show up at all? You may want to rewrite your website page titles or descriptions.
STEP 3: Type in your website address (URL) in Google or any other major search engine service – then review all the links that appear. Are there any dead links, obsolete pages, incorrect entries? How many pages of links do you dominate? This morning I discovered an entry created for me in a website designer business directory. For the most part this listing was accurate, however the word “tiny” had been substituted for the word “small” in the phrase “small business website specialist”, making me a “tiny business website specialist. I found no photo, no logo, a misspelled street name, incomplete profiles and descriptions of services, and an opportunity to add nice details for a reciprocal link on my website. I claimed this ad and it is now being reviewed.
STEP 4: Look at the websites of your closest competition. Do the pages load in quickly? Are there any dead pages or graphics that fail to appear? How does your website performance measure up? Pay attention to the page titles displayed in the top of the browser on the competition versus your own website. If the competing websites are real class acts with current social media posts, you may need to rethink your online marketing plan.
Help on the Way
Search engines vary in the number of characters or words allowed in titles and descriptions in your web pages. Testing the copy in various analysis services is a must. Most research and discovery sessions to evaluate business/website visibility will take between three and six hours. Corrections to website copy must be published and tested. Often times, the findings require the client to roll up sleeves and claim free listings to update or correct on his own behalf. A client that expects a hands-off approach to his online presence is setting himself up for failure. The internet is 25 years old, and ignorance of computer operation can no longer excuse you. Consider hiring a third party to take appropriate action in commercial directories and/or social media resources.
Get a jump start on website promotion when you utilize social media in a small business. Anyone with a Facebook account has been asked to participate in “likes”, “follows” and “comments” by vendors, service providers and blog sites. You feel you should be utilizing the new social technologies in your marketing efforts, but what do you do after opening your account?
Keeping it real on Facebook
Facebook has been described as the number-one time suck on the net. As a platform for families, extended families and friends, folks can be themselves, reveal their inner children, share the fun, and continue conversations. Facebook ‘friends’ were friends, the site was a neat place to meet, share the love, plan real get-togethers, and share pictures of vacation spots and the grandkids. Many offices have their staff wired to the internet, and many people keep their facebook page open all day!
The environment for the entrepreneur and business, though, is not casual and carefree, and commentary is not always friendly. A spontaneous comment or shared political post potentially opens your thread to everyone, including people who have little else to do than spew (ever see YouTube or Yahoo comments threads?) … there are haters, spammers and flamers lurking everywhere.
This summer I found an award-winning social media marketing training resource which outlined the basic tenets of today’s major social media sites. Though Facebook dominates (today), there are new sites opening up every few months. While you may have dismissed Facebook as a fad, know that it dominates the social sharing world (today), and thousands of companies are exploiting the site as a low-cost marketing medium.
If you are like me and other busy sole-proprietors, you may have experienced “paralysis by analysis”. If you have a company Facebook page, a LinkedIn profile and a list of existing clients, I can help you learn the basics, and together we can map out a long-range plan to monetize your efforts or attract new clientele. Existing clients will be billed at my prevailing website design rates and may contract my services on a monthly basis.