Before you spend one penny on an AdWords campaign….

online advertisingBefore you spend one penny on an AdWords campaign – take a walk with me – a customer – through the whole “searching for a product or service” on the internet.

Yesterday – my clothes dryer quit working.  While draping my clothes over the railing of the upstairs over look is an option, it’s not particularly decorative – so the first thing on my “to do” list this morning is to find an appliance repairman.

Right now, it’s easier for me to search for this service online rather than try to find the latest version of the yellow pages.  If I had one of those jobs where you get up, get dressed and drive to an office – I’d be using my cell phone to perform this search as I sat in rush hour traffic.  However, because I don’t have to drive to my office – I sit down at my computer and begin my search for a local business online.

I go to Google and I type in the words “appliance repair [my city + state]” and hit enter.  This, by the way, is known as a “search query”.  These are the KEYWORDS that I am using to find what I need on the internet.  I could have just as easily used “dryer repair [my city + state]| ” or “[brand name] dryer repair [my city + state]”.

I am greeted with several Adwords ads – each containing my search query.  This is good.  I WANT a local service provider.  However, while the ads all lead with my search query terms of “appliance repair [my city + state]”, when I click through to the web site – there is no MENTION of them servicing my city.  As a matter of fact, one of the web pages proclaims proudly that they travel clear up to – well, to a town in the next county.

I’m well aware that each time I click on one of these ads, that each of these businesses will be charged with the click.  I can’t help but wonder how many other people in my city have clicked on that ad only to discover that the business does NOT provide service to our city.

One company has an elaborate flash page which takes more than 20 seconds to load.  That time is an estimate.  As I watched the elaborate show unfold – I clicked away.  I don’t want to be entertained – I want my dryer fixed – NOW!

I come to a really GREAT web site of an appliance repair shop.  It’s a GREAT web site, complete with a cute basset hound puppy as a mascot.  I’m such a SUCKER for appealing mascots.  I picked my pest control company because they dressed their cars up as mice.   With that experience in mind,  maybe it’s best that this appliance repair service is not local.  However, while the basset hound puppy was cute, it took me three clicks to find out the company is based out of a city over an hour away.

As I search, notice I’m looking for something really specific.  Yet, while the AdWord ads parrot my search terms – when they take me to a page which lists cities two and three counties away – I instantly think I’m in the wrong place.

If a keyword is worth bidding on – then it’s worth creating a landing page for that keyword.

I’ve written before about the importance of landing pages.   If you’re using the web for marketing, you’ll know it’s a numbers game pure and simple.  However,  the key concept is that those numbers include VIABLE prospects.

Once I exhaust searching the paid ads – that’s right, there were 9 ads and not ONE of them mentioned my city as an area they serviced – I move on down the page to the “natural” search.

Natural search are the results that DID  NOT pay to get moved to the top of the page.  These pages are here because they actually contain the words “appliance repair” combined with “[my city + state]”.  Fortunately for these businesses – none of which have an ad displayed – those who DID pay to have their ad displayed couldn’t convince me in 30 seconds or less that they had a solution to my problem.  Because paid search failed me – now I’m off through a hunt through the “natural” search.

THAT IS THE KEY TO USING ADWORDS: You’ve got 30 seconds or less for the page to load and to convince me YOU are the business I need to call.  You’ve paid to be bumped to the head of the list – take advantage of your one time only shot at my business!

Before I get to the “true” natural search, I see Google’s “local business results.”  This yields a better quality of options for me.  After all, there’s a map so I can SEE that each of these businesses is located near me.

I like Google’s local business result.  In order to sign up, the business owner must fill in a form with essential information.  Instead of assaulting me with an audio/video extravaganza – I see the essential facts I need to know – like what brands they service.  I can choose to click on the link and go to their website – or I can click the “click more button and see the results of the form they filled out to open the account. Without exception – I use the “more” button because the web sites are so poorly done.

I begin dialing and call the three businesses listed on local search which service my brand of dryer.

This is the moment of truth.  Across my city, phones begin ringing as I try to become a member of an appliance repair company’s “tribe”.

At this point, I could launch into a rant on customer service.  I’m getting answering machines at 9:15 AM on Monday morning.   These are the people who will be bitching about how the poor economy is killing their business.  Here’s a tip – it’s NOT the economy – it’s your lack of attention and commitment to your business.

Finally I get a busy signal.  It’s a welcome relief.  At least they’re in the office and answering calls – and other people are calling them as well.   I may have a winner – but I have to wait.

As I wait – I move on down the list of results to my search query and find a Superpages.com listing.  Oooo – the all inclusiveness of the yellow pages delivered online.  This sounds promising!  I click and am greeted with a page that lists 15 different paid ads.  FIFTEEN!!!  Many of these are for other search sites.  Just what I want to do on a Monday morning – go on a wild goose chase!

I scroll and scroll until I find the business listings.  However, this positively cryptic when compared to the local business results offered by Google.  I get out of the Superpages site and get back to the number which was busy 10 minutes ago.

BINGO!  The phone is not only ringing – it’s manned by a living breathing person who speaks English fluently.  RELIEF!  I am willing to wait until tomorrow for my dryer repair person if it means my search is over.

Thirty minutes ago, I thought my dryer would be fixed by nightfall – now I’m just glad to know I’ll be seeing someone this week.

By the way, I had to have my oven repaired about 5 months ago.  I was thrilled with the service, but I don’t remember the company name.  If they’d left behind a refrigerator magnet – I would have called them.  I remember the guy’s face and first name- but not the name of his business.  It’s too bad.  I liked him and he did a great job.

Which is why I had to go searching again.  I tried to follow the “path” I used five months ago – but none of the results I saw looked familiar.

Without a well defined, tightly targeted audience… well… Google Adwords then becomes just another way to drain cash from your accounts.  Before you spend one penny on an Adwords campaign, be sure you get inside your customer’s head and find out what they’re  REALLY searching for online.  AdWords is no play to launch a “spray and pray” advertising campaign.

Need help with getting inside your target customer’s head?  Pick up a copy of my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results for a step by step process you can follow to figure out the who, what where and most importantly WHY customers buy.

Business Building Strategy: The most important question of all…

business-building-strategyWhen you’re building a business – there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered.  Dr. Jean Murray says there are 10,000 questions you’ll have to answer as you start your business.  While I never stopped to count them all – I think she’s definitely in the ball park with that estimate.

Some of those start up questions are easy – and when a question is easily answered it’s usually answered quickly.  Some questions are hard – and it takes time to discover the answer.

There is one word which can drive your business towards success more quickly than any other word.  While this word can stand alone as a question – when it’s part of larger question – it’s presence signals that the question at hand is one of the most important you’ll ask over the course of your business.

This powerful word is easy to say – and easy to spell.

This mystical magical word is the word – WHY.

Why ask why?

Why is a powerful question to answer as you build your business.  In Business Building Strategy: What will you do to get their money?, I talk about a common business problem – those idiot customers and their stupid requests.  (If you don’t know me or haven’t spoken with me – you might not know that my tongue is FIRMLY in my cheek when I wrote the previous sentence.)  Often – when you’re tempted to “label” a customer as “stupid” or an “idiot” – it’s often because you don’t understand thy “why” which is driving the customer’s behavior.

For example,  “Those idiot customers keep calling to get directions to our store, even though we have a map on our web site!”

Ask “why” and suddenly the view of the situation changes.  Asking why helps to move the view of  from a customer problem – to a web site problem.

When you apply the “why word” to the questions raised – the questions suddenly take on an elevated level of importance.  You can even add this mystical magical word to a simple statement to turn it into a thought provoking important business building question.

Take this “complaint” – “My [insert advertising media here] is driving visitors to my web site – but it isn’t generating any new business.”  Adding the word “why”takes a complaint and turns it into an essential business building question.

Sometimes  answering this question is easy.  Sometimes it’s hard – but the reason it’s hard is not that it’s like solving a complex math problem hard – but rather it’s a “we’re going to have to do something that’s outside of our comfort zone.”

“Because I said so” is a LOUSY answer when someone -anyone – asks you why.   If you’re tempted to give that answer – take a moment to think.  Often, that answer is often a sign that you just aren’t willing to dig in and answer the real question – “why?”

Asking why often leads to discovering business problems which lie outside of your comfort zone.  For that reason alone – knowing the answer to “why” is essential.  The “why” can help you take that first scary step through the Looking Glass – which is known in MBA speak as “thinking outside of the box”.

Business Building Strategy: What will you do to get their money?

steps to building your businessI’ve been doing a lot of individual work with clients and a phrase I’ve been using a LOT lately is…. “What are you willing to do to get their money?”

It’s easy to blame those idiot customers for not being smart enough or willing to work hard enough to do business with you.

You know – the idiot customers who aren’t SMART enough to properly spell your Eastern European last name which you use as your domain name.

The idiot customers who aren’t SMART enough to search for your business by name – and instead they’re searching for a solution to their problems.

The idiot customers who still call and ask the VERY questions answered on the FAQ page of your web site.

The idiot customers who call and ask for directions when there’s a map right there on the web site under “more information”.

What are you willing to do to earn their business?

One of the key elements I bring to my clients is an objective “outside eye”.  Often, my input will ruffle some feathers – because in the end – I can’t make your customers “smarter” or “prettier”.  Often – I find myself delivering this nugget of wisdom:

Your customers are NOT idiots – really. (Check out “Business Building Secret:  People are pretty smart” for more on this.)

We can spend shit loads of money trying to influence customer behavior  or we can go the  quicker, easier and more profitable route which is to change how YOU ARE doing things rather than trying to change how YOUR CUSTOMERS are doing things.

If you’re waiting for your customers to make it easy on YOU to take their money- well – good luck with that.  The worm doesn’t find it’s way to the early bird – it’s the other way around.

Something triggers the call…. maybe the “problem” has been niggling at you for weeks or months.  Perhaps it’s visited you in your dreams.  Something isn’t RIGHT and it needs to GET RIGHT – the sooner the better.

“Our web site is getting lots of hits – but no one is buying” – is just one sign that SOMETHING isn’t right.

That’s why you call in outside help – an objective eye – to see what you can’t see.  Just don’t expect the answer to be, “You’re doing EVERYTHING right – you just need better and smarter customers.”

So assuming that you KNOW something’s wrong – and that what needs to change is on your end – where do you begin?

It would be easy to see the forest if you just weren’t surrounded by all these damned trees!

Begin with this – you don’t know what you don’t know.

If you did know – you wouldn’t need outside help.

Here’s the catch 22 – when you don’t know what you don’t know – how can you tell the difference between someone who really DOES know – and someone who just knows a little bit more than you do?

There was a time when finding out how much an “expert” knew  meant sitting down – either in person or on the phone – and talking to them.  You ask questions, the expert answers and you try to discern whether this “expert” can solve your problem.

However, and this is where “experts get frustrated, often as a potential client -it’s hard to get “up to speed” in a single 30-60 minute conversation.   So – the prospective client meets with SEVERAL “experts” – asking questions and comparing answers.   It’s all part of the process of educating themselves to the point of being able to MAKE a decision but from the experts point of view – these people are wasting time and time is what most experts are selling.

However – there is a way for experts to circumvent the time consuming client education process.  Instead of sitting down with individuals – answering the same questions over and over – the expert can begin blogging.

About a year ago – I began to notice something about my “new client” conversations – the people who were calling had read my blog.  Because of this, they were calling me at a later point in the “decision making process”.  Instead of getting tire kickers – I was getting people ready to sign up to work with me.

I recently had a tire kicker conversation – from someone who hadn’t read my blog.  I found myself – in the conversation – directing these people to various blog posts to answer their questions.   That conversation reminded me of the “old days” before my blog – the days when I spent a LOT of time with “tire kickers”… trying to bring them up to speed as quickly as possible.

What are you willing to do get their money?  Are you willing to make the investment of time and effort to educate your prospective customers with your blog?

This is how social media works to build your business…

transparency in social mediaHere’s another real life story on “How Social Media” works.  I hope it helps to illustrate WHY it’s so hard to put an ROI value on your social media participation.

“Suzy” is a client of mine and she has a problem.  Actually, she has more than one problem.  She has MANY problems because that’s just part of building and running a business.  However, for right now – she has one problem which is obscuring all the other problems she’s facing in her business.

Many years  ago,  Suzy had another problem – she needed a web site.  She shared this problem with people she knew and eventually spoke with another client for whom I’d created a web site.  That person was happy with my work and recommended that Suzy contact me.  In the conversation that followed, she decided that she could TRUST me to solve her problem and she hired me to create a web site for her business.

Once the “thrill” of having her business online had passed – Suzy discovered that her web site wasn’t the solution she thought it would be.  See, she thought that her website was some kind of “magical, mystical” money printing – client generating machine. The problem didn’t lie in the web site though – the problem lay with Suzy.   Suzy didn’t know what problems her business was solving for her clients.  Because she didn’t know  what she didn’t know  – her web site couldn’t begin to solve her REAL problem.

Suzy’s REAL problem was  she wanted clients for her business.  However, when she asked for a web site – what she got was a tool.  How she used the tool determined whether or not it would solve her problem.

Frequently, when it comes to solving problems – often what you need are PEOPLE not TOOLS.

Over the next few years, Suzy struggled.  Fortunately, Suzy picked up a copy of  my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results which helped her to discover exactly what problems she was solving for her clients.   Once she knew what problems she was solving, it literally changed the way she viewed her business.

As a result,  she decided that she needed a NEW web site. This time she knew exactly what she wanted her web site to do – and  we relaunched her web site as a blog. Now – Suzy writes regularly about the solutions she provides.  As a result, she’s stunned at how effective her web site (a.k.a. her blog) is at bringing new clients into her practice.

The other day, Suzy discovered she has another problem.  Unlike her previous problems,  this is a problem I can’t help her solve but one that I’ve also faced in my business. So when she fired off an email asking me if I had ever experienced this problem – I was able to offer the name of another business owner who does provide a solution.

At this point, you may think, “She’s going to tell about how she’s connected with the solution service provider on [insert name of social networking site here] and her client then found her solution provider who is also on [insert name of social networking site here] and because they’re both connected to her profile.  Viola!  Social media marketing at work. ”

THAT IS NOT HOW SOCIAL MEDIA WORKS... at least, not in this case.  (If/when it does work like that – it’s the exception and not the rule.)

While it’s true that I am connected with both this client AND the solution provider on several social networking sites and in THEORY – she should be able to “sift” through my connections and “discover” the provider of the solution on her own- that’s not what happened.

She didn’t know what she didn’t know – which included not knowing the REAL problem or the REAL solution she was seeking.  Often – that’s the case.  She didn’t KNOW she needed a drill – she just knew she needed a hole.

I started this blog post with a promise to illustrate how social media works to build your business.  However, there’s a catch: Social Media Marketing can’t build your business if you don’t know what problems you’re solving or what  goals you’re helping your clients/customers achieve.

In a perfect world, everyone who solves problems for business owners would have a blog and they would use their blog just like  like Tom Volkar does over at Delightful Work.  (I “pick” on Tom a lot here because Tom is doing a SUPERB job of using social media CORRECTLY in my humble opinion.)

However, in reality – my source doesn’t have even a basic web site – and he does very little with his social networking profiles.  As a matter of fact, he’s only recently began checking his email regularly.  However, he’s not a tool – he’s a solution so he’s worth the extra effort to connect with him.

When I passed along his email address – I did so hoping that a spam blocker doesn’t make it impossible for her to connect with him.  It’s times like this that I wish I could instead send my client to the solution provider’s blog.

If he had a  blog – she could read the tales of how this gentleman has helped OTHER business people solve their problems – similar problems to the one she’s experiencing.   If she wasn’t ready to take action yet – she could subscribe to his blog  or his email newsletter and “stay in touch”.  She’s MUCH more likely to do so because I recommended she connect with him.

Eventually, when her problem got big enough – got hairy enough – got ugly enough – (a.k.a. big enough to warrant writing a check) she could contact him directly for a solution.

Isn’t that better than just passing along an email address and hoping that a spam blocker doesn’t get in the way of making a connection?

This is how social media works to build your business.  It’s word of mouth advertising made better – made stronger – and most importantly-made  more effective.

You can’t judge social media marketing’s “effectiveness” by followers -or RSS subscribers – or blog comments – or even an Alexa ranking.  In reality, social media is just a communication tool – and it’s only as effective as the message you’re communicating.  The fact that – unlike other marketing tools – social media marketing DOES allow you track and measure – visitors, followers or subscribers – it give the ILLUSION of being “measurable” and “trackable”.

Long ago – I did a web site redesign.  The site in question had GREAT content wrapped in lousy graphics and poor navigation.  After the redesign – sales increase 450% in the following quarter.

Unfortunately – in order to “measure” the ROI of social media marketing – you need those kids of “before” and “after”studies.  There are still people who will argue that a professional “face” on your web site isn’t necessary – and all I can say is “It depends upon what goal you have set for your web site.”

If you’re wanting to use your web site to make tons of money using Adsense – then an ugly web site can definitely be an advantage.  When you’re running Adsense – you WANT people to click on the ads and leave your site.  A high bounce rate is DESIREABLE in those cases.  However, if you’re wanting to sell people something at YOUR site – well, why encourage buyers to go elsewhere – whether it be with Adsense or an ugly site?

Business owners are discovering that the REAL value in social media is the unsolicited feedback social media provides for their business.  How can you put an ROI figure on learning that the “free” sample you offered is simply pissing off potential customers?

It reminds me of the Mastercard ads –

Setting up a web site for your business:  $X

Launching your free sample promostion to grow your email marketing newsletter: $X

“Discovering your “free” sample is pissing people off  – PRICELESS!”

Social Media Lesson: Reach out – Listen – Learn

social media's magic ingredientIn the post –What Michael Jackson can teach business about social media… I shared four valuable social media lessons business owners should learn from the life and death of the King of Pop.

The first lesson was that being first doesn’t mean as much as you probably think it does.   I’ve worked with many clients who drastically over-estimated how long and hard the road is when you’re truly blazing a new trail through the wilderness.  (They don’t call the LEADING edge the BLEEDING edge for no reason!)

The second lesson was the importance of reaching out – listening a learning.

In Creativity is Easier when you have a Partner – David Wright shares an AMAZING story of how reaching out -listening and learning helped him turn losing the only job he ever loved into not only a book but also a business (Collective Inkwell).

There’s a lot of value in the “community” aspect of social media.   There are lessons to be learned via social media if you’re willing to reach out – listen and learn.

There are life lessons to be learned in social media – whether they be lessons from the road courtesy of Betsy Wuebker lessons in self defense from Lori Hoeck,  lessons in the art of possibility from Davina or  lessons in laughter from Lance.  You could live five lifetimes and not accumulate half of the life lessons shared in those just four blogs.

There are POWERFUL business lessons to be learned  as well.  Liz Strauss writes intriguing, instructive posts teaching CEO’s how to correctly “view” social media.  In Could You Be a Chief Executive Social Gardener? she models through words AND actions social media’s real value for brands.

Social Media can show BOTH sides of the story

New business owners can learn from experienced leaders in their field who freely share their expertise via social media.   Tom Volkar shares freely his insights on starting a new business- the RIGHT business for you with posts like Why Rock The Boat?

However, once you’ve chosen your business – you need practical advice as well – from those who have “been there, done that and bought the T-shirt.”   For exmaple, David Airey shares his words of wisdom about his own formula for design pricing.  However, if you’re a designer there’s also a wealth of information from those who are struggling with the process of finding the “right” designer…as Sara Healy does in her post The Still Small Voice Was Right.

Social Media showcases both success and failure

We all love success stories – but sometimes those success stories don’t give us the full picture.  Jason Cohen has written a WONDERFUL article on how most business “advice” is flawed  because it generally focuses exclusively on the “success” side of the coin.  In Business Advice Plagued by Survivor Bias he shares what is possibly the most illustrative word picture of how focusing on the success may actually cause you to miss the most valuable business lessons of all.

The “traditional” media is obsessed with success… to the point where they’ll gloss over the time, energy and failures that go into building a successful business.  However, in the social media arena – most bloggers are more than willing to share their failures as well as their successsed  as Barbara Swafford has done in Bloopers, BooBoos and Ideas That Went Bust.

Social Media may have more in store for us than just valuable lessons

social media saves the worldThere’s a lot to be learned from social media – but Danny Dover makes a case for Social  Media  my be a key to Saving the world. Dover reveals in this post:

Social media has the potential to become the greatest early detection system that the world has ever seen. It is faster, nimbler and has more access to user data than any traditional search engine.

Social media is powered by all of us individually. Because of this, you have the ability to make a positive difference.

When Michael Jackson died, I read somewhere that the server hosting one of the breaking news web sites had at one point 42 hits PER SECOND.   That’s a lot of people seeking information from a single source.  Fortunately, that information “disseminated”  quickly – much to the relief of a server admin I’m sure – but it shows how BIG this world is and how connected we are thanks to social media.

This is why I “cringe” when someone wants to reduce blogging to the mere act of “lead generation” and “lead conversion”.

It’s not that I’m against making money – or even evaluating what marketing tools are “working” and which ones aren’t.  It’s just that trying to put an ROI value on social media is not only premature- but possibly pointless.

As you can see here – there are a lot of GREAT lessons – both life lessons – and business lessons – being shared via social media if you’re willing to reach out – listen and learn.