All the conversations we’ve been having lately with prospective clients, existing customers, and other SEO experts reminded us to remind our digital marketing blog/SEO blog readers about the three types of links you want to include in website blog posts and pages to support ranking well, and therefore, being found on Google.
Internal Links For SEO
Internal links are hyperlinks on words found in blog posts or website page content that link to other pages or posts found on your own site, or even to content further down on the same page of the site from which you are hyperlinking (known as “anchor links.”) Notice how we hyperlinked the phrase “blog posts” and pointed ad clickers to the blog section of our site, “Ponderings.”
External Links For SEO
External Links — Google favors organizations who associate themselves with other creditable organizations. As we shared in this blog post, Google “judges you by the company you keep.” So, you do want to share links within your website content to subject matter experts who provide information directly related or tangentially related to your own services, products, or the topics about which you are writing. The following recently published blog posts are two great examples of our sharing links to relevant, beneficial, creditable, external organizations:
Backlinks — these are links that other reputable organizations share on their site that link to your organization’s site. You can look at the Acquisition reports in Google Analytics to see where your referral traffic, therefore, site traffic from external sites not owned by your organization, is coming from. That said, the report will only list external sites which have had visitors click on the link to your site to arrive at your site. Regardless, of whether individuals are clicking on backlinks, Google still rewards you from an SEO standpoint for having these links in place on external sites. Not sure what sites are backlinking to your site? Considering downloading and using SEO Spyglass’ tool. Regardless, it’s always a best SEO practice to keep growing the number of high-quality backlinks to your site, so you and your team should regularly consider what organizations you can outreach to ask for a backlink, then be sure to ask, and then follow up, if necessary.
Since no-one knows Google’s exact algorithm for ranking websites and the degree to which each of the above types of links will influence exactly where your site is presented in search engine results, our recommendation is to “diversify,” and always remember to include each of these 3 types of links in blog post and website content, as long as it feels appropriate — and not too forced — to do so.
Need help figuring out where in website and blog post copy to include external links or internal links, or help figuring out what organizations would be best for your organization to approach about a backlink? We’re glad to help, so reach out today!
A JOINT BLOG POST BY GAIL SNOW MORASKI AND RYAN BRUDER
As you do related to your personal life and home, it’s important to do a deep cleaning and decluttering of your organization’s online presence once in a while. So, why not tackle it while you’re already in spring cleaning mode? We’ve outlined, by digital marketing vehicle, various marketing elements you should revisit — and may need to address — as part of your spring tune-up!
SSL Certificate – We’ve discussed this in many of our SEO blog posts, such as this oldie but goodie, but if you’re still using an http:// vs. https:// address, and therefore, don’t have a security certificate associated with your website, you are hurting yourself from both a marketing and SEO standpoint. Chrome or other browsers may remind visitors your site isn’t secure — making prospective visitors afraid to visit. Plus, Google is less likely to serve an organization’s site up high in search results for relevant terms if the organization’s site isn’t secure.
Social Media Icons – Be sure that you house icons on your site (normally this is done in the footer or at the top of a website page) with associated links to each of the platforms on which you have a social media presence. If you no longer maintain a social media presence on certain sites, remove the icon from your site. Driving website visitors to an inactive social media profile won’t serve you well from a marketing standpoint.
Broken Links – As with the SSL certificate, broken links are irritating to both website visitors and Google. Google will ding you from an SEO standpoint, and visitors will wonder about the quality of products and services they’ll receive from you, if it appears you aren’t giving attention to and taking care of your website.
Blog Posts – If you maintain a blog section/page on your site, haven’t blogged in a while, and don’t plan to do so in the next few months, consider hiding that section of the site. As with broken links, maintaining a blog section that you don’t keep current can make website visitors think less favorably about your organization.
Outdated Event/Fundraising Info. – Ditto what we said about broken links and blog posts. Having outdated community events and fundraising events on your website just speaks to negligence, and not making & taking the time to keep your site current.
Your Social Media
About/Bio – You should revisit the About/Bio or other section of a social media profile that provides general/overview information about your organization to make sure it’s accurate and current. We’ve often seen organizations leave old phone numbers, URLs, or physical address info. up in these About/Bio type sections of their social media profiles. And, if you don’t have a link to your website included in the About/Bio section, you should add one — on any social media platform that allows for it — as a call-to-action (CTA) to visit your website.
Hashtags – As part of spring cleaning the above-mentioned sections of your social media profiles, make sure they include hashtags for which you’d like your profiles to be found. It may just be a matter of putting a hashtag in front of certain words that are already in the About/Bio section of your social media profile.
Following – Check to see who you’ve followed in the past, and determine which individuals and organizations it still makes sense to follow, based on how your organization has evolved. Since social media platforms limit the # of organizations you can follow, you might free your organization up to follow some new and more-relevant individuals and organizations by discontinuing following irrelevant ones.
Branding Elements – Be sure that all your profiles are using your updated branding elements, such as an updated logo and other images.
Pinned Post – Check to see if any posts that you’ve “pinned” (so that they appear first when anyone views your profile) still make sense to be a pinned post. As with broken website links and outdated event info., leaving outdated pinned posts up speaks to your organization not minding its shop closely enough.
Story Opportunities – Make this spring the time you give some thought to whether, and how, you should be taking advantage of “story” capabilities. A feature that many social media profiles have available are “stories”, or a snapshot that is featured on a user’s social media home page/newsfeed (and your profile) that disappears after 24 hours. With this tool, you can post a picture or video that contains messaging that you deem super important, so your followers will see it up-front/highlighted all day. This is a great tool to use if you are running a promotion or have a big announcement of some sort to make, such as the roll-out of a new product line or service. What we love about this related to Instagram is that, within the stories capability, there is a feature where you can include a link to a website page. Employing this opportunity will help drive additional traffic to your site — something that standard Instagram posts can’t do since you can’t include a hyperlink to your site in them.
Abandoned Social Media Presences – If your organization made the decision to no longer be active on a social media platform on which you previously had a presence, remove the profile, if possible. If you can’t, add a post that indicates you are no longer posting to that particular platform, but asking profile visitors to “please join us on x,y,z social media platform(s),” and provide links to your profile on those social media platforms.
Your Google My Business/Google Maps Profile
Outdated Posts – Google My Business (GMB) allows you to post COVID updates, event info., offers and more. It’s a great service, but you need to make sure that you remove or change any outdated information as part of spring and ongoing cleaning efforts!
Capitalizing on All Categories, Such as Women in Business – GMB allows you to identify your organization as one that is woman-led, veteran-led, or Black-owned. If your organization identifies as one of these, be sure to complete this info. in the Info. section of the GMB dashboard. As you’ll see, we did this with our own GMB profile to capitalize on the fact that we are a woman-owned/woman-led business.
Locations – If you have more than one storefront/physical location that customers and prospective customers can visit, consider taking ownership and managing a GMB account for each of your locations to make sure you don’t miss out on any local search opportunities, therefore, prospective clients searching on “x,y,z near me.”
Info. From The Business – The “info. from the business” statement (that you can enter via the Info. section of the GMB dashboard) provides 750 characters to tell prospective customers what your organization is all about. If you’re not already taking advantage of this large space to promote your business, your services and products, and the solutions to problems you offer, be sure to complete this statement.
Need additional information or help related to any of the above? We are ALWAYS here to help, so please reach out.
I promised blog readers and myself that I would write a follow-up post to my original “Why I’ve Always” Walked” blog post, and based on my passion for walking, additional follow-ups to Parts I and II are likely to come. But, for now, we’ll stick to Part II and its focus, “no excuses.”
Wanting to keep up with my daily walks in late 2020 and early 2021, despite anticipated dips in New England temperatures, I made sure in Mid-October-2020 that I eliminated as many deterrents to walking daily as I could in advance of November – February colder weather. There’s been a lot of social media conversation around the “best or favorite item you purchased in 2020.” And while, a few furniture purchases for my breezeway to allow for outdoor visits with friends and the family were strong contenders, for me, the award for best purchase was and is my Tommy Hilfiger Faux-Fur-Trim Hooded Maxi Puffer Coat! Thank you Tommy and thank you Macy’s! Yeah, it cost me $157.50 since I purchased it prior to late-season sales (something I normally wait for when it comes to coat purchases), but to-date, it has been worth every penny I spent on it and then some. And, there’s still a lot of South Shore of Boston winter weather ahead of me!
I specifically sought out a coat that would keep me toasty warm while walking in all kinds of Northeast winter weather — winds, rain, snow, temperatures in the teens — without causing me to sweat too much or to feel too weighed-down. This coat is light-weight, keeps me super-warm, and it’s not made of Down, and therefore, doesn’t make me feel all clammy while walking in it. And, I love the fact that I can wear a lightweight sweater vs. a really thick one under it, since the coat itself is so warm. This prevents my movements from feeling/being restricted, and I don’t feel like a walking sausage when I walk!
I also invested in these boots from Toms because the sneaker-bottom works well for me and my ongoing right hip issue, and I don’t want concerns about keeping my feet warm, or having shoes that are comfortable to walk in, to get in the way of my walking either! They’re super warm and I always love the fact that a Toms brand purchase means someone who really needs one, will get a free pair of shoes.
Be Proactive About Preventing Obstacles and Eliminating Excuses
Yeah, that was likely more than you wanted and needed to know about my walking-related purchases. As a new year gets underway, I really just wanted to remind readers that when you take an offensive, proactive approach to health & wellness goals, or to other non-health objectives, you’ll increase your chance of success. I didn’t want any excuses to get in the way of my getting the exercise and sunlight I need to keep my mind and body healthy — particularly during our pandemic when it’s so important to one’s sanity to get outside and get a change-of-scenery.
“Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity”
I’ve always liked the expression “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” My ever-green blog post “While You Wait, Educate” speaks to this same premise. Maybe I’m stretching it a bit when associating buying a warm coat and warm boots with opportunity. But, hey, when friends have reached out to walk on a cold day, I’ve been ready for that opportunity to socialize, or when I run into neighbors while out walking, I have the opportunity to catch up a bit (socially distanced, of course!) because I’m warmly and appropriately dressed and don’t have to rush back inside/home.
With the start of a new year, I’d love to hear from my readers what preparations you’re putting in place to seize opportunities or to prevent obstacles from getting in your way of achieving an important personal or professional goal. So, please do share!
There’s two broad factors any organizations should ponder before they engage an external individual or organization to help them optimize their site to be found on Google, ideally on the first two pages of search results. These are:
The Reputation/Credibility of the Firm or Individual In-Question
The Nature of and Time Frame Associated With the Services Being Offered
How to Determine if An Individual or Firm Offering SEO Services Is Credible?
My current clients, prospective clients, and I all regularly receive e-mailed or LinkedIn requests from individuals or organizations claiming that they can and will get our website to appear on the first page of Google search engine results for terms relevant to the services or products we offer, or to the solutions to problems we provide. In fact, these SEO vendors, sometimes use the phrase “guarantee” or “guaranteed” along with it. That’s a huge, huge red flag. Without talking to you about your organization’s objectives, the target audiences and geography you serve, and the competitiveness of your marketplace — as well as researching whether or not individuals are even searching for an organization who offers your products, services, and solutions — it is impossible for these SEO vendors to know whether or not it is feasible for a listing with a link to your website to appear on the first page of Google search results.
Another big red flag related to ascertaining the credibility of any organization who approaches you about SEO services is whether or not their initial sales pitch to you includes selling you backlinks, i.e., links to your site that will appear on external websites and blogs. As we discussed in a previous blog post, the only external organizations you want sharing a link to your site on their own site or blog are highly regarded organizations with which you have a prior relationship or with which there are some synergies. Allowing an SEO services provider to arrange for such “spammy” backlinks on your organization’s behalf will ultimately cause a decline in how you rank in search results vs. improve how you rank.
Before you engage an individual or organization to assist your organization with being found on Google, ask for examples of the types of organizations to which they have provided SEO services, how they have analyzed and documented/demonstrated the positive implications of the services they’ve provided, and the steps/tactics they took to achieve SEO success.
How Do I Know What SEO Services I Need: One-time/Initial vs. Ongoing?
As we described in this blog post, if you’ve never optimized your website for search or paid someone to do so, and particularly, if you’ve never conducted keyword research related to it, you should be starting from scratch with your SEO and engage an SEO expert to conduct an initial/one-time/one-off review of your website and execute appropriate technical/organic SEO tactics. These tactics include but are not limited to:
incorporating relevant high-volume keywords uncovered via keyword research within your website page content and in your behind-the-scenes/meta tags
help setting up and/or optimizing a Google My Business Profile, so that you rank well locally and support being found more globally on search.
Once you have completed the important SEO work outlined above, if keyword research has indeed revealed that a high volume of individuals are searching to identify someone like you, then you’ll want to continue to take actions on a regular basis — daily, monthly, or quarterly — to make sure your organization is as well-situated as possible to be found on Google for relevant terms.
Ongoing SEO Services Packages
Many SEO experts and SEO consultants, like us, offer ongoing (monthly or quarterly) SEO packages. Services offered via an ongoing SEO package engagement likely will vary, but at a minimum, we believe they should include:
checking to see your site has no broken internal or external links
testing to see that your site load speed or the responsiveness/mobile-friendliness of your site isn’t negatively impacting where your organization appears in Google search engine results
ensuring that any new images that are added to your site include an “alt-tag” so they will be indexed by Google
making sure that any new pages or blog posts that are added to your website are indexed by Google
writing content (that includes high-volume keywords) for blog posts, FAQs, or other site pages to support being found for those terms on Google
maximizing your Google My Business profile by keeping it comprehensive, current, and posting to it with the same frequency that your post to other forms of social media to support Search Engine Optimization efforts.
Got questions about what we shared above? Please reach out. We’re glad to talk you through all of this, and if appropriate, we’d love to present you with a proposal to provide you with one-time or ongoing SEO services.
Video is valuable for any business, as it can be used to amplify your brand utilizing interesting visuals and engaging storytelling. However, many marketers and business owners may not know that video can also be used to support search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. Here is how to own search engine results even further – utilizing video.
#1:Create evergreen content, and host it in evergreen places
Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok are fantastic places to post videos – but unless those videos are consistently being served up to new individuals via paid ads vs. only being viewed organically by followers of or visitors to an organization’s social media profiles, the view-count is very likely to drop after the first few days of posting on these platforms. YouTube is the number two most used search engine behind Google. Utilizing a platform like YouTube will allow your video, and therefore, your organization, to remain in search results consistently. This will help your SEO efforts and allow your content to keep working for you, even after the initial drop off from feed-based channels like Facebook.
#2:Utilize your keyword research
Keyword research allows you to identify the high-volume “search terms (known as keywords)” which individuals and organizations are entering into a search engine like Google to identify organizations that offer the services, products, or solutions to problems that you do.
Use keyword research you already have to both inform your video and take advantage of the keyword research you spent hours collecting. If subscribed to an SEO service, such as SEMrush, or even if you just use Google Ads keyword planning tools, utilize the information offered by the software/tools. Many times, these services will cause the researcher to think of blog post ideas based on their findings – do not be afraid to turn these into video! And, then be sure to tag your video appropriately in YouTube with the keywords for which you want your video to be found.
#3:Use Closed Captioning and Subtitles
The above is arguably the easiest way to help yourself. While you can use your video title, description, and tags as ways to help your videos rank, make it even easier for search engines to rank video for desirable terms by providing a transcript. Not only are you providing closed captioning for accessibility purposes (which search engines also applaud), but you are also providing a script for search engines to rank your video for appropriate search terms and keywords that you have incorporated in your script. Some services provide automated closed-captioning services, but they are not always perfect. It takes a bit of time to complete, but will pay dividends in SEO efforts.
If you want to boost your video presence online, check out Social Motion, a company dedicated to creating high-quality, buzz-worthy, and engaging content for social and digital media. We’re always glad to hold a complimentary phone chat with you to discuss your particular marketing challenges and opportunities and how video, such as the one I shared below, can help address them.
Last week, I went “in town” (traveled from my office on the South Shore into Boston) to meet with a client. As I often do when I make the 45+- minute commute to meet with a client, or attend an industry or networking event, I ran a few errands after my meeting. There’s always a birthday gift or a new book to be bought, right? I stopped at Copley Place/The Prudential Building to buy a couple of ingredients that Sur La Table and Eataly carry, and also visited Barnes & Noble to purchase “The Secret” (a cool treasure hunt guide with a Boston reference).
Initially, I thought I was just having a lucky or “random acts of kindness” day, because employees in each of the businesses I mentioned above were so welcoming, helpful, or kind — something I hadn’t experienced to such a degree at retailers in a while. But, then it struck me on my journey home, how much retailers must be recognizing the need to step up their customer service game if they want to survive in the next year, never mind the next ten.
I’m likely stating the obvious here, but the plethora of online shopping opportunities, particularly, Amazon.com, is causing retailers across the U.S. to close their physical shops/locations in busy downtown areas and shopping malls. Whether it be filing for bankruptcy or completing closing up shop (literally and figuratively), recent victims of the uptick in online (particularly one-stop) shopping include Papyrus, Payless Shoes, Forever 21, Barneys New York, Gymboree, and more. And, it’s common knowledge, that time-honored retail giant, Macy’s, whom families have visited for generations, will be closing numerous storefronts.
My aforementioned shopping experience in Boston leads me to believe that many retailers are now coaching and requiring their sales staff to deliver exceptional service in hopes of maintaining a strong physical vs. online consumer following. So what were some of the stepped-up customer service tactics I experienced at the retailers mentioned above?
lots of smiles from individuals working on the floor of stores or at the registers
being greeted when I walked in the door
being asked by more than one employee if they could help me find anything or if I was finding what I was looking for
being offered food samples
being given double the portion of the food item I was purchasing (but only paying for the original one portion) and being alerted to that by the employee
displaying interest in my needs, my life, what problem I was looking to solve, etc.
engaging me in a lengthy conversation related to a product I was purchasing and why I was excited about it, and sharing in my enthusiasm
Based on the way I was made to feel noticed, valued, and important, I will definitely revisit all the physical stores of these retailers again. I’m someone who enjoys chatting with salespeople at stores, window-shopping, and being able to feel, test, try on, etc. a product I’m hoping to buy. Part of that may be due to the fact that I work out of my home office and all my co-workers are virtual. I welcome getting away from my office once in a while and excursions that provide opportunities to socialize. I know this does not hold true for all consumers, though — many don’t want to have to socialize with salespeople or leave their home to run an errand after a busy workday.
I’ve shared all of the above as a reminder and warning to anyone who is responsible for sales at their particular organization, regardless of the organization’s nature. Great customer service never grows old or goes out of style! It’s as relevant — in fact, it may be more relevant — than it was in the 1800’s (hence, the exaggerated dinosaur reference in my blog post title) when Brooks Brothers, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, Bloomingdale, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Barnes & Noble opened their doors. While I do hope this stepped-up customer service effort will keep the retailers I cited from losing their brick & mortar presence, I wonder if such an effort might have kept them from being where some of them are today — close to closing up shop.
Not that long ago, I wrote about the importance of “differentiating with detail.” The more detailed an organization can be about what makes them the best provider of a particular service or product, and therefore, how they stand out from a competitor, the better.
In somewhat of the same vein, as I help organizations of all shapes & sizes better position themselves to rank well in search engine results for the terms their target audience(s) are most regularly searching on, I’m continually reminded of the importance of detail and the benefits of “unpacking your adjectives” called out in the Schoolhouse Rock piece from my childhood below. What I’m seeing on a fairly consistent basis is this — organizations are not qualifying or describing their services or products in enough detail. They know what product or service they offer, and therefore, expect their target audience(s) will know too. The problem with this is that their target audience may not find them in the first place, through a search engine search, because the organization isn’t sending out appropriate signals via their website content and behind-the-scenes page title tags.
Here’s some examples that demonstrate the issue above:
Let’s say you’re a business-to-business (B2B) organization primarily offering consulting services to a particular industry or related to a particular function/department of an organization. You need to call that out in website page content and page title tags. For example, if your organization primarily works with higher education organizations or individuals in HR roles at an organization, you need to qualify/modify the phrase “consulting” in website page title tags and content, i.e., use terms like “HR consulting services” or “higher education consulting services.”
Only offer your products or services in a particular geography? Well, that’s another reason to break out the adjectives and modifiers like “Greater Boston”, “South Shore MA”, or “New England” in website content and page title tags like “South Shore MA digital marketing agency” or “digital marketing agency serving New England.” You wouldn’t believe the number of organizations I’ve seen with websites that have no “geographic triggers” in website content or page title tags to inform search engines where they operate/who they serve. In this scenario, it’s impossible to rank well in local search or in geographies you serve that are “not local.”
Are your services or products offered on both a wholesale (B2B) and retail (business-to-consumer (B2C)) basis or just one or the other, and is that obvious to search engines who are crawling/indexing your website content and page title tags? For example, if you offer food products that can only be bought retail or wholesale, are you making that clear through using the right modifiers like “hospitality industry food products” or “food products for the hospitality industry?” Or, “consumer food products” or “retail store food products?”
Do both businesses and individuals/homeowners need the type of services you offer, and do you only offer one or both? Make sure you spell that out through language in page title tags, such as “home roofing services”, “residential roofing services”, “commercial roofing services” or “business roofing services.” Or, “residential real estate appraisal services” vs. “commercial real estate appraisal services.”
I think you get the idea, and trust me, you’ll reap great SEO rewards just by keeping the above need to “modify” in mind when you either review an existing website from an SEO standpoint, or are writing page title tags and website content for a brand new site. And, as you go through this exercise, as our blog post reminds, think about how and when to use acronyms, industry jargon, scientific terms, internal speak, etc. to modify/qualify certain services or products you offer. Give great thought to whether your target audience(s) are using the aforementioned in the search terms they enter into a search engine like Google. If you don’t think your audiences are using those terms, forego using them in website content and page title tags, and instead, use the “lay person” terms that they are likely using.
Not sure what search terms/keywords your target audience(s) are most frequently entering in search engines to identify organizations that offer your particular products or services? Reach out. We’re keyword research and planning experts and can help you determine what phrases to focus on in website content and page title tags and how to best modify and qualify the products and services you offer.
In my last blog post, “In Praise of Praise”, I shared my thoughts about how, in this day and age of “digital sharing”, an organization’s success or failure may be very dependent on customers’ online reviews/ratings. The same success-failure relationship holds true for an organization’s customer service quality, which, of course, individuals likely take into consideration when reviewing or rating an organization online. As a marketer, I’ve always believed prompt, effective, exemplary, and customer-satisfying customer service delivery is an organization’s most important marketing tactic and a marketing “no-brainer” along with having an effective website that is optimized for SEO. In very competitive markets, where there is little differentiation between products or services offered, it often is the one and only true differentiator.
I’ve also always been a big stickler when it comes to doing your job and doing it well — this includes having high expectations of myself as well as my co-workers, and thus, my always wanting to deliver outstanding work, both in corporate and consulting roles. I’ll never forget how, while employed at my very first permanent post-college job in a prominent bank’s corporate banking area, it was noted in my review as a criticism that I had too high or unreasonable expectations of co-workers. I couldn’t understand that being a negative trait at the time, and I still don’t comprehend why it was a perceived as a weakness that I would voice a concern to my manager whenever staff in the Bank’s wire transfer area messed up a transfer for the Bank’s biggest corporate customer — whose relationship I and my boss managed.
DO YOUR JOB
Fellow Bostonians and fans of the New England Patriots are sure to be familiar with the “Do Your Job” command associated with Coach Bill Belichick in recent years. I’ve been thinking about this statement a great deal lately, primarily because I have had, or friends and family have shared with me, so many recent experiences where individuals didn’t, had to be pushed to, or refused to do their job. It seems like it’s becoming more and more common for individuals to:
deliver slow or no service
express through body language or spoken language that they’re annoyed that they have to serve or help you, or that you asked them to serve or help you
ask you to self-serve or do their job for them
be immersed in their cell phone and not their job
continue talking with their co-workers when they see you standing at the counter or in line waiting to be helped
A couple examples of the above. Earlier in the week, my husband and I visited a popular and busy museum in New York City. The individual working at the coat check did not speak to us at all when we came to pick up my coat and bag, despite having chatted quite a bit with us when we dropped them off. Instead, she was very slow to get up out of her chair and get our things for us, and seemed very irritated that she had to do so. The fact that she had spoken with us previously meant there wasn’t any kind of language barrier getting in the way of her communicating with us. Therefore, she could have said “thanks” when we handed her our token and ticket to pick up the items, wished us “a good evening” as it was late in the day, or commented or asked about our visit or about our returning to the Museum. Even a smile would have gone a long way with us.
A family member recently needed help with a technical issue he was having with some software. He couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t able to get the software to function right, despite numerous attempts to use it to accomplish a necessary task. Instead, he was asked to do an extensive amount of trouble-shooting and rework on his end by the software company, when the individual with whom he was interacting could have easily identified the glitch/helped him resolve the issue. Basically, he was being asked to self-serve. And — I know I’m stating the obvious — that’s a common occurrence right now. We’re being asked now to regularly self-serve at checkout lines at the grocery store or pharmacy when we purchase products, and even self-serve related to services we receive. And, even some smaller shops have implemented such technology.
Sure there are times when it’s helpful or quicker for customers to be able to self-serve, but I don’t believe that individuals should ever be forced to self-serve, and if we have to self-serve, shouldn’t we receive some kind of product or service price discount? Self service should be just one of several service options offered to customers. By offering self-service, organizations may believe their customers will be more satisfied, and in some cases, that may be true, but the organization also misses out on the opportunity for an individual to rave about the exceptional/outstanding/world-class service they received — service that may be the deciding factor in whether they return to a store location or use a particular service again, or the deciding factor among those with whom a client shares information about your organization’s service level.
So, what are the marketing and management implications of all of the above?
Managers of front line staff need to regularly conduct an assessment of how those customer-facing staff are doing their jobs and if they are doing it well via:
service surveys conducted of customers — I’m going to give a shout-out to the Lucerne Hotel in NYC — because they recently surveyed me with an online tool at the beginning of my stay and after my stay. Way to stay on top of any possible customer service issues!
hiring a mystery shopper to provide customer service experience feedback if your organization has one or several storefronts or locations where individuals receive face-to-face/in-person service from an employee
other tactics, such as listening in on a staff member’s phone call with a customer (this should not be done without the staff member being aware of it, of course, or at least aware that, at any point, you might might be listening in on a customer call)
Organizations should ask themselves whether ALL of their target audiences/customers will welcome having to self-serve. If the answer is “no,” and there are customer or prospective client audiences who likely won’t welcome self-service, then a service option where an organization’s employees assists or waits on customers is required.
I’d so welcome hearing your thoughts and experiences related to being the victim of someone’s unwillingness to do their job or being forced to self-serve. So, please do share!
As I continue to talk and work with clients and prospective clients related to driving target-audience traffic to their website, via a variety of digital marketing activities, I’m regularly reminded of a phrase spoken by the leader of a webinar I attended last year — “your website should be your work horse.” Whether you spell it as one word or two, as shown below, the phrase “work horse” indicates someone or something that consistently, and endlessly, accomplishes a difficult task.
Now, for the second horse reference — “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Technical SEO, paid search ads, and social media posts & ads are all effective means of driving traffic to your website, but if your website isn’t your work horse, or doesn’t cause a horse to drink, all the other digital marketing tactics in the world won’t help your organization generate more leads and sales. In almost all instances, an organization would serve itself better, from a lead- and sales-generation standpoint, if it invested time and energy to support its website being its workhorse — prior to investing in and launching other traditional or digital marketing activities to increase website traffic.
In many cases, your website will provide the first and only impression an individual or organization has of your organization. Your website should reflect that:
you pay attention to detail
you care about your organization’s reputation and image
you care about accuracy
you strive to make your visitors’ life easier and you don’t want to waste their time
your clients and customers can expect great things from your products and services because, well, you’re a top-notch, well-pulled-together organization
you are relevant and current
you are able to make — and do take — the time to ensure your website’s information is current and links and any interactive tools on your site function properly
Steps to make sure your website is your work horse, and that will ultimately contribute to your being the “dark horse” in your industry or niche:
Make sure there are no misspellings/typos on your site and your writing adheres to good grammar principles. It’s easy enough to spellcheck and grammar-check content/copy in MS Word or other software before you load it to your site.
Check your site regularly for broken links, particularly links that point to another organization’s website, since these external sites may remove or move content to which you’ve pointed.
Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. I won’t name any names of content management solutions (CMS) or free or inexpensive website creation tools or hosts. You tend to get what you pay for, and sites using cheap or free tools often end up looking cheap too — particularly when they allow for a website that is small and hard to read and not sized to work well on your desktop or laptop computer.
Related to bullet #3 above, be sure to launch your site on a CMS that allows your website to be “responsive”, i.e., respond to the device which accesses it, whether it be a mobile phone, tablet, or desktop or laptop computer.
Be consistent with where and how you use fonts and colors throughout your site. For example, use the same font and color for page headlines throughout your site.
Make sure your site has a “cohesive” feel and certain pages don’t look like they belong on a different planet than other pages.
Make sure your site is secure. Any website should be an https:// site vs. https:// site. Horses can sense danger, and nothing is going to cause a horse to bolt faster in this day and age of identity and privacy theft, than an indication from their browser that your site is “insecure.”
Forego any kind of over-the-top dynamic video, photo, and graphic displays that are going to cause your site to load too slowly. Horses want to keep moving forward. Any kind of roadblock could cause them to take an undesired detour.
Pay attention to current website trends, and when your existing site strays too far from those trends, update your site’s look and feel, so it feels fresh and relevant. Likely, you’ll need to do this at least once every five years.
Include user-friendly navigation that calls out in clear language the topics that visitors would expect and want to find on a site that offers the types of products and services you offer. Related to this, create and include content & interactive tools that will ensure that visitors can accomplish what they want and need to do on your site. This should ultimately lead to sales and lead generation for your organization.
In keeping with bullet #10 above, use clear “call-to-action” buttons (that link to appropriate page of your site) throughout your site that pertain to tasks your target audience(s) will wish and expect to accomplish when visiting your site, such as “subscribe to our e-newsletter” or “schedule a complimentary discussion.”
Make sure any text is properly aligned and there are no extra spaces between words or inappropriate spaces between paragraphs or large blocks of text.
Remove outdated documents and content, such as pdfs with information that is no longer accurate or relevant/timely.
Delete events that have long since passed from your events calendar.
This is Marketing/Branding 101 – but be consistent as to how you refer to your organization throughout the site and with logo use.
Don’t make your site a dumping ground. Less usually is more. On any one particular page, don’t include so many call-outs and links to pdfs or other pages of your site, or so many graphics and images, that it’s impossible for your visitor to know where to focus.
As is obvious from the above, while well worth the effort, making sure your website is your work horse and, therefore, will lead the horse to drink is not for the work-shy. If the tips above, have you saying “hold your horses!”, we’re always ready to “saddle up” and get you moving in the right direction quickly!
I was prompted to write this post because of recent exercises and discussions in which I engaged related to how an organization differentiates itself from competitors. Earlier in the week, related to an opportunity I was pursuing, I needed to express in writing what makes me and my organization different from (well, really better than) other marketing consultants. I also had a discussion yesterday with a prospective new client — one in the very initial stages of creating a brand/identity — about the importance of calling out in marketing activities, including branding, what made his shop different from competitors.
Q: Why Should Your Target Audience(s) Choose Your Product or Service Over That of A Competitor?
Answering the above question is no easy feat! In certain industries, and with particular product and service offerings, it can be extremely difficult to identify a differentiator, particularly if your organization operates in a highly regulated industry where certain product and service features are limited or mandated by state or federal regulations. I’ll give an example from my corporate marketing days. I worked for two health plans who served individuals qualifying for state-funded health care coverage, such as Medicaid. The states in which the health plans operated had very specific guidelines regarding what plans could and couldn’t offer members related to the various healthcare coverage programs for which they were contracted. This made it very difficult to create and execute program benefits, features, services, etc. that stood out from competitors. For example, on the customer service and coverage front, state-contracted health plans were required to achieve a mandated level of customer service and coverage. One of the ways plans attempted to stand out was to offer tangible wellness benefits such as free car seats, bike helmets, etc.
Despite the type of challenge described above, I believe each and every organization can and should identify what makes them unique/special/different (in a positive way!) from competitors. To aid you in landing on a “differentiator with details”, i.e., an explanation that has some “meat” to it and isn’t vague or general, I’ve outlined steps and questions to use as you brainstorm individually or with others at your organization about how and why your products and services outshine your competitors, i.e., why your organization rocks!
STEPS FOR DETAILING YOUR DIFFERENTIATOR
Step One: Identify Broad Differentiation Categories In Which Your Organization Falls
Determine the broader categories on which your organization can differentiate its products & services. Note that there will likely be some overlap and your organization will fall into several categories.
convenience (location, online/website user-friendly tools & apps, hours of operation, portability of service/product; ease of use of product or service)
product features (consider how they speak to the various senses: taste, feel, appearance, sound, smell)
less tangible benefits, such as free assistance on certain topics or activities or ongoing e-communications that educate client on topics of importance to them
customer service (hours, days, quality, free vs. cost – does client have to buy service package?)
speed (how much turnaround time to receive service or product post-order/engagement?)
depth of expertise (# of years in business, in a particular industry, on a particular topic, background of organization leadership, etc.)
price/value (this can be tricky to promote, and often isn’t the best way to differentiate yourself, unless you know you are the lowest-cost provider, and that “low cost” won’t be associated by your target audiences with being low quality)
quality & durability of work, services, or product (materials used, how long something will last/be valuable)
breadth of offerings (can your organization meet several needs or pain points of clients immediately, or if needed in the future?; do you offer one-stop shopping or connections to experts when needed?)
organization size (what does your size allow for — more personal attention, less overhead equating to lower cost, more services and diverse staff experience?)
Step Two: Evaluate Which of Your Broad Categories of Differentiation Matter to Your Target Audience(s)
Ask and be honest with yourself about the following:
“Does/do my target audience(s) value what makes me different/is my differentiator important to a prospective customer?”
“Does my differentiator speak to a particular pain point or several pain points that a prospective client is likely experiencing?”
“Are you able to communicate your differentiator quickly/efficiently in a language your audiences will understand?”
At a minimum, you must be able to answer “yes” to #1 and #3 above if you plan to market your differentiator and have it resonate with target audiences, and ultimately support sales and lead generation.
Step Three: Build Out The Details of Your Differentiator
Hopefully, the above exercise landed you on one or two broad categories of differentiation that will be meaningful to prospective clients. Now, it’s time to build out the details. Let’s use size as an example. The “About” page of my site includes the following reference “Our small size means our Principal, Gail Snow Moraski, will be directly involved with your account, providing the experience and attention ALL clients deserve.” If your organization is a large shop, and you believe prospective clients will benefit from that, elaborate on why being large is beneficial. Your details around your large-size differentiator might reference the diverse, extensive experience of staff, the one-stop shopping you offer, the many, varied services you offer, or even the stability of your firm and the likelihood it will be around for a while.
Another differentiator example from our my own organization. Our tagline is “Maximizing Results Through Research-Supported Marketing.” I hope and believe that it expresses to prospective client audiences that I won’t encourage them to execute or continue any marketing activities that don’t generate leads or sales for them. And, that our tagline conveys that we are a data-driven, analytical shop. I consider my research and analysis skills a differentiator from some fellow marketing consultants who offer certain marketing & communications services, particularly writing- or creative-related ones, but don’t necessarily know how to determine in advance what marketing vehicles or activities (employing content or images/graphics they’ve created) should work as far as generating sales go, or how to go about analyzing what worked in the past. On the other hand, some marketing consultants have differentiators or skills that I don’t have, such as an artistic background/eye or experience creating and laying out sizable documents, such as annual reports.
In sum, the key to identifying and promoting your differentiator(s) is knowing which of your strengths a prospective customer will value most, and then, making it clear through understandable, concise statements what that differentiator is and how your target audiences will benefit.
We always welcome a good marketing brainstorm, so if your organization is struggling with determining your differentiators, which to promote, and how to effectively communicate them, we hope you’ll reach out.