My client thought he had an SEO problem. Indeed, his sites leave plenty to be desired in that arena: few in- or outbound links, text embedded in images, that sort of thing. Still, all his sites rank well for searches on keywords and phrases.
Nevertheless, he believes his business is "hemorrhaging customers due to our insufficient SEO and SEM."
But search is among the least of his marketing problems. What he really needs to be worried about is content. You have only to look at his stated business problems to identify the problem. This client owns and operates a variety of automotive businesses in the New York metropolitan area. His businesses sell new and used vehicles from several manufacturers, as well as parts and service. Pretty straightforward.
His stated problems? Half his regional prospects are purchasing vehicles one state over, in New Jersey, in the erroneous belief that prices are cheaper, as is sales tax. And 65 percent service their vehicles at local shops rather than at his dealerships due to their belief that it's cheaper and faster to do so.
And one issue he didn't catch, but I did: negative reviews. "This place is honestly horrible," complains one customer on a Google Places page.
These aren't issues search can address until you've developed and put a content strategy in place to inform and educate prospects and customers -- and to manage your online reputation. It's not as if the tools to do so aren't there, or easily at his (or any other marketer's) disposal.
Here are some steps this business could take to address its customer issues and manage its reputation with content, while improving search rankings to boot.
Blog: Clearly, this merchant has messaging and communication issues. A blog, integrated with a well-thought-out editorial calendar, could inform and educate consumers not only about the business, but about the issues and objections customers have about doing business with them, while at the same time establishing a platform of trust on a regional level. A blog can easily address this issue and establish this chain of dealerships as thought leaders and a go-to source of information on buying and servicing vehicles in the region. Carefully chosen keywords and tags would help attract local in-market shoppers. In addition, the blog could provide sorely needed links to the dealership websites. Win-win.
Facebook: The client has a Facebook page, but not a Facebook strategy. Posts are frequent and relevant to the brand but highlight only generic information, such as links to spots on YouTube for brands the dealerships sell. Nothing wrong with that, but why isn't the client using Facebook to address customer objections to dealer versus local service options, or the advantages of buying vehicles locally rather than in a neighboring state? If this business were to launch a blog, entry headlines could automatically populate the Facebook page, which would amplify the messaging without doubling the workload.
Reputation management: One of the biggest reputation problems most local businesses have online is being blissfully unaware that they have reputation problems in the first place. You need to monitor Google Places, Foursquare, Yelp, Citysearch, Zagat, whatever local online review sites are inviting customers to praise -- or excoriate -- your business (and let's not leave Twitter out of this, either).
Reuse and recycle: Once a content marketing initiative is underway and relevant content is being generated on a regular basis, it's time to stand back, take a look, and figure out how to leverage content assets. Take the blog, for example. A collection of posts on the advantages of buying a car in one state versus another can be recycled into an e-book on the topic and offered for download on the corporate site as well as on the social media channels on which the client is active. Perhaps a series of posts on how to diagnose and repair minor problems in the car models these dealerships sell can be converted into a series of YouTube videos. Of course, there would be a call-to-action at the end to visit the dealership for issues the consumer isn't quite up to tackling alone.
The advantage of all this? Positioning the merchant as a voice of authority in the field, a source to turn to for advice and information. And oh yeah -- boosting the search rankings of all the company's sites in the process.
This client could easily have pled other issues with his marketing: "I have an email problem," or "My search [or display] advertising isn't working."
It kind of makes you wonder how much digital marketing growth is hindered because self-diagnosing clients visit specialists when instead they should first seek the advice of a channel-neutral general practitioner.
Rebecca Lieb is globally recognized as an expert on digital marketing, advertising, publishing, and media. A consultant, author, and sought-after speaker, she's the former VP of Econsultancy's U.S. operations.
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