Archive for April, 2008

Longer Term Results of Local Internet Marketing

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Search engine marketing is a long term affair. Success comes from running a marathon not a sprint.

For natural search rankings it takes time for the search engines to find links pointing to a website and it takes time to gain increased trust with an engine like Google. But the results of this waiting game can be spectacular.

A case in point is a client I built a website for a little over a year ago. This is a seasonal business where the bulk of the activity occurs in the spring and summer. The site was launched in January of 2007 and the bulk of SEO work was done over the following month.

It took a couple months before we began to see a good volume of targeted local searches. This was perfect timing for the first wave of traffic that occurs during the spring time. Initially it was longer tail type search terms that were bringing this traffic.

It took longer to achieve good rankings for the main set of keywords for this business in the city they operate it. There was much more competition there. These kewords began to perform during the summer peak of traffic for their services.

All told, that first year was an incredible marketing success for that business. A little skeptical at first, the business owner was amazed at how well the interenet had performed for their business during that first year. What’s more incredible now is how traffic is responding going into the second spring season. Just take a look at the traffic chart below as well as goal conversions (sales leads) for the same time frame.

Internet traffic after the first year of local marketing

*Actual traffic numbers removed for clients privacy. The conversion spike you see in the winter was related to a service they offer during the winter and related to a large weather event that had occurred at that time.

You see how traffic rose quickly leading into the first spring then a second peak for summer. Traffic steadily died off through the winter and began to rise slowly after the new year. Now, as we head into spring, the traffic levels are rising fast and already beyond the peak of last summer.

This is solely from organic search traffic as no PPC marketing is being done for this client. As it is they get more requests for work than they can handle so pay-per-click is just not necessary. A good position to be in.

I’m sure most local businesses could see the same kind of longer term benefits from local search marketing. If you’ve been holding off on creating a proper internet marketing presence now is the time. The opportunity costs of waiting are just not worth it.

Be Careful with How Ads Appeal to a Local/Regional Market

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

They Could Backfire In Neighboring Markets

This lesson is being learned the hard way by Absolute Vodka.

In a marketing campaign targeted to a Mexican audience Absolute thought it might be good to appeal to Mexicans at a sentimental and emotional level by alluding to the past. Namely Mexico’s former territorial boundaries before they were lost to the United States some 160 years ago.

The ad features a map of North America with the Mexican border including much of California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and Colorado. It of course has raised the feathers of many Americans.

Absolute Mexico - the Absolute Vodaka Ad

While this ad campaign has garnered a lot of attention for the Absolute Vodka brand it could do serious harm to their sales in the USA. I’ve seen many comments on various blogs and news posts about the ad from very disgruntled Americans. Some stating they will no longer drink Absolute Vodka.

But usually even bad press is good press in the marketing world. I suspect that the negativity surrounding the ads will eventually pass in the USA. We do after all have short attention spans. Meanwhile Absolute has probably strengthened their brand, quite significantly, in Mexico and with many Hispanic Americans.

So, while Absolute is facing lots of criticisms, and offering apologies, their strategy may very well work out for the better. From a marketing perspective. If only because they are a massive international brand. A smaller brand could never get away with a fiasco like this one.

But there are many examples where smaller businesses, using historical rivalries between cities, have made for successful ad campaigns. This is particularly true in regards to sporting events. You can sometimes see restaurants and pubs using various types of derogatory slurs towards rival sports teams and their inhabitants as a means of appealing to local sports fans. But everyone knows that this is all in good fun as part of the long standing rivalry. Both sides are playing this game. But you still have to be careful.

So if your thinking of attempting something drastic, like Absolute Vodka did, to garner attention for your local or regional business be very carefully about how you do it and the potential pitfalls of offending others outside your immediate market area.

Tequila shooters anyone? Absolutely!

Geo-Targeting by Country for Organic Search

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

Letting the search engines know the specific country your business and website operates in is an essential search optimization technique for local search. Failing to address this can create drastically poor search engine exposure in the country that web surfers might be searching from. This is particularly true for businesses outside of the USA.

How Does Google Know What Country Your Business is In?

Top Level Domain Extension

Your domain name may give the first clue to your target country. The .com domain extension is primarily a generic extension. It has of course become the dominant domain extension but on its own it does not necessarily indicate anything about a websites location.

Country specific domain extensions on the other hand directly indicate the country the website is supposed to be targeting. For example my blog’s domain, Stever.ca, is a Canadian domain name.

A full list of country specific domain extensions can be seen here.

Web Host Location

The physical location of your web hosts server has a unique IP address and is tied to a physical mailing address. Determining the actual location of your hosts servers is highly important. Meanwhile many host companies misrepresent their server locations. Some pass themselves off as an American or Canadian webhost meanwhile their data center can often be located elsewhere.

This is a larger problem for Canadians than it is Americans. Most web data centers from the vast array of hosting business out there are located in the USA. Many Canadian hosts are using data centers located in the US. Some US companies may even be using data centers located in Asia or India.

You can use an IP checker like ip2country to determine a servers location. Simply enter the IP or web address of the hosts site or any sites you know are hosted by them. You should also ask the host before you open an account where their servers are located and where the IP addresses resolve to.

Google Webmaster Tools

A couple months ago Google added a new feature to their webmaster tools that allow you to specifically tell Google the country you are targeting with your website. This function is particularly useful if you are using a generic TLD like a .com or .net AND your host is not located in your country. Setting your Geographic target in the Webmaster Tools will update your sites geo-targeting in Google Search Results within a few days of making the changes.

I recently had a problem with a Canadian clients website that was using a .com domain name. They had obtained hosting from a Canadian company with servers located in Montreal but for some reason the IP address of the server was not resolving properly (ip checkers showed no country). As a result their results in Google.ca were terrible.

They had page 1 rankings for many of their main keywords in Google.com but were ending up way back on page 5 to 8 in Google.ca for the same terms. For many Canadians web users the .ca engine is the default that Google serves them. Google is tracking the searchers IP too.

After arguing with the host and them trying to tell me that Google does not care about physical locations I then remembered the Webmaster Tools Geo-targeting feature. A few days later the site was up on page 1 of Google.ca with pretty much the same rankings it had in Google.com :)

Geo-Targeting and the Other Search Engines

MSN and Yahoo are slightly lacking in how well they geo-target websites. They obviously use domain extensions but Yahoo in particular ignores server location, or so I’ve heard. Yahoo is in the business of web hosting and have a network of data centers around the globe. They realize that many websites are simply not hosted in their home country and that the web hosting industry is truly competitive on a global scale.

Other than that I don’t really know how Yahoo and MSN do their geo-targeting. :( Perhaps another local SEO professional could chime in with some info on that??

Switching Away from the .COM

It is certainly true that the .com domain extension is the most recognized of all the TLD’s and as such many businesses feel they must be using a .com

That’s changing. Outside the USA most people know and recognize their own country specific domain extension. So well so that it can add a certain level of credibility to a local business. In Canada you have the .ca, Britain has the .co.uk, Germany the .de, France the .fr, Japan the .jp, Australia the .com.au, etc., etc.

With internet users maturing in their knowledge of the web these country specific domain extension no longer are simply second rate domain names. If your business is still concerned about having a .com should try and register both. Redirect the .com to your country specific domain to capture the type in traffic who forgot your not a .com.

Considering the space of .com real estate becoming scarcer with good names harder and harder to find, as well as the importance of geo-targeting, using your country specific domain extension is often the way to go for local business websites.

Even the .us domain extension has value for Americans, though considerably less than the .ca does for Canadians. The legacy of the .com being the standard has been preventing the .us from gaining the credibility that other country level domains have achieved in their home countries. But this is likely to change over time.

Geo-targeting for Pay-Per-Click Search Marketing

That’s a separate topic for a future post, I suppose.

Update: I eventually did write two articles about geo-targeting for PPC