Most service provides hope to get some leads through their Web sites, but they aren’t always particularly knowledgeable on search engine optimization. I recently talked to Ben Finklea, chief executive officer of Volacci, a professional search marketing firm. Here are a few SEO tips from Finklea, whose customers include hosting and cloud computing providers.
First, don’t start with SEO.
Finklea said its’s a mistake for companies to plunge into SEO without first fixing their Web sites. SEO may boost the sales conversion rate even with a less than optimal Web presence. But a company stands to get a much better conversion rate if it takes the time for usability testing and A/B testing, he noted.
A/B testing shows half of a Web sites’s visitors the “A” version of the site and the other half the “B” version. The approach is used to test graphics and other Web site elements with live users, Finklea said.
And service providers don’t have to break the bank to conduct a simple test or two. Finklea points to http://fivesecondtest.com/ and http://www.feedbackarmy.com/ as source of low-cost testing. Feedbackarmy, for example, charges $15 for a usability test in which a customer submits questions about his or her site and receives 10 responses from Feedbackarmy reviewers.
Google’s Web Site Optimizer, meanwhile, handles A/B testing. Finklea said it’s a handy tool. “If you’ve got a Google Analytics account, then you’ve already got a GWO account,” he said.
Know Your CustomersThe starting point for an SEO project is getting the sales and marketing team together to get a handle on who they are selling to -- or who they want to sell to.
“Who do you want to do more business with?” asked Finklea, noting that there’s typically a subset of the customer base that’s particularly profitable or easy to work with.
The answer to that question may propel a service provider back to its Web site. Finklea said he often finds a disconnect between who the client is selling to -- as evidenced by the site’s content -- and who they actually want as customers. The task here is to fix the messaging, before moving on.
The disconnect may also call for organizational changes. If sales and marketing aren’t talking, they should be.
“Marketing is usually in charge of the Web site messaging, but sales has to handle the leads from the Web site,” Finklea noted. “Close that loop. What is the sales team hearing? Are the right kinds of clients coming through the door? What can you do on the Web site to turn away the people you don’t want to talk to? Filtering who you don’t want is just as important as capturing those you do. The less time sales has to spend on misaligned leads, the more time they can spend on the ones that count.”
Find the WordsWith an understanding of the target customer, service providers can look into keywords and phrases. Finklea identified a couple of ways companies can track down the keywords most likely to lead customers to your Web site.
One method is to build that quest for keywords into the sales process, Finklea explained. When a customer initiates contact, ask how he or she found out about the company and, if that person arrived via search engine, ask what terms they used. Another approach: survey long-time customers to find out what they would type into a search engine to find a company like yours. Finklea also cited free tools such as Google Keyword Tool to help get companies started.
Stay FocusedCompanies may be tempted to select overly broad key phrases in hopes of generating loads of traffic. Wide-angle key phrases may pull in visitors, but not necessarily ones that want to do business with you. Companies targeting specific vertical markets, for instance, need to narrow the scope if they seek more than just raw traffic numbers.
“They may find key phrases that are very specific to what they want to do will actually drive a much larger number of good leads to their sites,” Finklea said. “It makes the SEO process so much easier when people coming to your Web site are already pre-qualified” because a certain key phrase brought them in.
Finklea suggested that companies test different key phrases before expending budget on an SEO campaign.
Create Content SilosOptimizing a Web site for search engines is the next step. A company can only optimize its front page for three to five terms at most, Finklea said. Beyond that, he suggests creating content silos. He described a silo as a group of pages all about the same -- or similar -- topics. With such a silo in place, service providers can optimize for the relevant terms.
“Google loves this because it helps them determine what that part of the Web site is all about,” Finklea said. “You can then expect to get a good stream of traffic to that content silo so you should definitely think of it as a landing page. Build those calls to action right in there.”
Don’t Sit BackGetting good search results? That’s no time to rest. An SEO campaign may take six to 18 months to have the desired impact, but that is just the beginning, Finklea said. Companies need to continuously improve to fend off competition and keep the customers coming.
At this stage, service providers can start testing markets.
“If you have a good flow of visitors, you can show them different products, services, and see which ones they’re interested in,” Finklea said. “If you’ve got 1,000 people a day looking for hosting, show half of them an offer for email marketing. See if that’s something they’d buy from you.”
Companies can also “start doing cool things with the flow of visitors,” Finklea said. Those things could include starting a forum, A/B testing different page designs, or asking them to sign up for a company newsletter.
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