Web Marketing: Search Engine Savvy

George the printer used to have it so easy. Before the days of the Internet craze, he had about five ways to convince customers to come knocking at his door. Direct mail, print ads, Yellow Pages, radio, and TV—that was about all he had to choose from (maybe a billboard here or there). Now, his options have exploded.

Take these five traditional marketing routes; the present day choices from this group alone are confounding. Will George choose a print ad in the Daily Sun or an online banner ad on dailysun.com? Maybe he’ll be their featured “weather sponsor” online or off. Will the Sun ask George to be a guest columnist or would a guest blogger be a better fit? Compound this by the mammoth beast called “new media” (social media sites like Facebook, website ads, search engine advertising on sites like Google, etc.) and you’ve got quite a mess on your hands.

With all of these options, how on earth will printing prospects know where to look to find George? Even more importantly, how will George know which of these marketing vehicles will get his print shop noticed most? And what about those people who are going to turn a blind eye to all of this and conduct a simple search online to find their printer of choice?

My advice to George would be to stop, take a deep breath, and then keep it simple. There are certain traditional truths when it comes to driving business to a printshop door. Don’t forget these, no matter how many bright, shiny new media options appear.

  1. Don’t ever stop direct mail. George is a printer; he needs to show off his wares. If George doesn’t use direct mail in his marketing, he might as well say he’s not confident in the cost or effectiveness of his product.
  2. Check in with the inbox. Email marketing is an excellent follow up tool. After George sends out a direct mail piece, he could follow up with an inexpensive but professionally produced email.
  3. Perk it up with PR, both offline in the form of sponsorships, speaking engagements, and press releases and online on social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook.

Those three simple steps are truly all it takes for the offline world to learn about your business. If he’s consistent with his efforts in those areas, George will likely see more traffic before he knows it.

But now let’s talk about those people who start their search for a printer online. Maybe they haven’t received (or noticed) these offline efforts and prefer to seek out their printer online. If you think there’s lots of competition to get your business noticed off the computer, online is a whole other ballgame. And the struggle for “first place” is even more challenging—but it is doable. Welcome to the world of search engine services.

The ‘O’ and the ‘M’

There are two pieces to the search engine services puzzle: search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). SEO uses tactics to increase ranking on a search engine site like Google or Yahoo. Tactics include, but are by no means limited to, adding keywords to a website, linking to and from other sites, and beefing up the mention of your company name in other online arenas (such as on those social media sites we’ve talked about before). The goal is to catch the attention of what they call a “search engine spider,” which raises rank on a search engine. If George has the time and the know-how to keep his SEO work in-house, this route will cost him little to nothing.

Search engine marketing (SEM) is paid advertising. George could pay for georgesprinting.com to appear on page one of Google when someone searches for “business cards,” if he was so inclined. We’ve all seen those listings that come up on the top or the side of a search engine site in a separate “paid advertisements” box when we search for something—that’s SEM. Generally, search engine marketing is a “pay per click” service. Your account is charged each time someone clicks on your paid link.

All search engine efforts should start with SEO. First, it’s inexpensive. Second, think about how many times you click on those “paid advertisement” boxes. How many times do you think your customers will? Try climbing those ladders the organic SEO way first by following these best practices.

Content is King

The best and most effective way to climb a search engine is to keep all of the content on your website relevant, up to date and full of keywords that someone might use to search for you. But don’t overdo it. Stuffing your site with “color printing” repeated over and over again will only get you penalized and possibly banned from a search engine list. That’s called “keyword stuffing” and search engine spiders are smarter than that.

Keywords are the most important aspect of SEO. Content must be relevant to a print buyer. Notice I said to a print buyer; not to George. A quick scour of a really cool application on Google called “Trends” (which gives terms people use to search for services) tells us that not one person in the last few months has used “wide-format printing” or “digital printing” to search for printing services.

So the lesson there is to use simple, user friendly printing terms that stay in print buyer speak, not printer jargon. But George can’t stop there. Think about when you’re looking for a local service. You’re going to type in the city and state of that service to save some time, aren’t you? You’re also likely to add a little extra detail to avoid a massive number of search results. So “business cards, whatevertown, Texas” might be a more realistic search. Maybe even “fast turnaround, business cards, whatevertown, Texas.” Now you get the idea. George needs to keep it simple, local, super specific, and stay laser focused on the searching habits of his print buyer.

Tag Your Site

Make sure your website programmers are adding meta tags to your site. Meta tags are lists of keywords that operate behind the scenes of a website to beckon those search engine spiders. Focus first on title and alt image meta tags.

The title tag is the text that appears above your website on the top bar of a browser window. It tells the user what the page is about and is an excellent place to localize and personalize because spiders pay close attention. Let’s go back to those business cards. George should make sure the title tag of his website page devoted to this product not only says business cards, but where he’s located and what types of cards he provides. “George’s Printing, Full-Color Business Cards, Whatevertown, Texas,” would be a good example.

Alt image tags describe any images on a website. Not only are these tags important for the visually impaired and if an image breaks on your site (the alt tag appears when someone mouses over an image or a broken image), but they tend to be a favorite spot for those spiders to spend some time. Again, stop and think here. If there is a picture of equipment, will buyers search for “Canon XYZ 100” when looking for services? Better list the products that equipment can provide in the alt tag such as “posters, brochures, letterhead.”

A Word on the ‘M’

Once their SEO is moving along, a lot of people consider moving on to search engine marketing. SEM has proven very successful for some companies, but think very hard before making this leap. SEM is expensive and there are as many examples of companies spending a lot and seeing very little return as there are success stories. My best recommendation is to proceed with caution.

One final note, if an SEO or SEM expert comes knocking on George’s door and he decides that getting some outside help might be worth the investment, George needs to make sure he does some diligent homework. Just as the keywords need to be industry specific, the expert needs to be as well. Otherwise he or she won’t have the knowledge to really help. George’s first question to this expert should be: “What do you know about people who buy printing?” The second step should be to make sure this caller is truly an expert (there aren’t that many out there).

Keep it up George! All this work will pay off. I promise. By keeping it simple, consistent, and smart, George is sure to see results and a lot more people are a lot more likely to see his business.

Tawnya Starr is president of FireSpring’s PrinterPresence. She has dedicated her career to educating printers. In 2005, she received the Industry Award of Distinction from NAQP for her service as a consultant and educator to the industry. Contact her at Tawnya.Starr@Firespring.com.