22/04/2011

By Mike Southon
FT Columnist

StartUp Britain launched last month with great fanfare and has received both plaudits and criticism.

It would be churlish to fault the motives of people who want to support entrepreneurs, but some of the criticisms were valid. There were some errors on the site, some non-UK companies were being promoted and the choice of suppliers was limited.

The response from the founders was that StartUp Britain is a work in progress, the errors would be fixed and many more people would be involved, not just a self-selecting elite. Time will tell if StartUp Britain manages to attract large numbers of people, and then convert them to being entrepreneurs.

The challenge with any web site is to give visitors exactly what they want as soon as they arrive, keep them on the site for a significant amount of time and finally ensure they return on a regular basis.

John Straw has a long track record in digital marketing, having built and sold one of the first search engine optimisation (SEO) companies. He now runs Linkdex, which won the 2011 Innovation award for SEO and natural search.

He explains that it is critical to start your SEO programme with a well-researched target keyword list and then constantly to measure success against the Google ranking. All your content needs to be optimised, with one page for each core group of keywords and you should ensure that other pages link to your content.

Crucial is your relationship with Google, and your use of their AdWords programme of sponsored links, using them to outspend your competition more effectively. He sees all web site activity as a commercial auction where the rules are constantly changing.

He recommends that links from government departments and universities are more highly valued by Google than any other, and that if you use a PR company, you should task them to ensure that they generate articles that contain links back to your site.

Next, you need to turn visitors to customers. Karl Blanks and Ben Jesson are co-founders of Conversion Rate Experts, who work with several international clients including Apple and Facebook.

They explain that attracting traffic is not the only problem; you also need to figure out exactly what they are doing when they get there. Their company puts in exhaustive metrics to measure results against activity, even designing two versions of a particular page and then comparing the results dynamically.

StartUp Britain has many competitors, not just for its own site, but also for the particular commercial partners that it has chosen. If they are successful, they will soon face a bigger challenge, when all the other suppliers in a particular area demand a listing on the site, and the opportunity to offer discounted deals.

StartUp Britain will then have the same dilemma faced by the Business Links, to either try and list everyone for completeness or attempt to recommend particular suppliers, which can be construed as favouritism.

As the amount of content on the StartUp Britain site grows, the navigation on their site will also become more difficult. The causal user will find the sheer volume of information a challenge, so the site needs to constantly develop and measure its SEO and conversion rates.

Face-to-face mentoring filters all the information available, selecting only that specific piece of information needed by their entrepreneur at that particular time. Mentors then provide a guided, personal journey through the process of turning a good idea into a great business.

StartUp Britain needs to precisely mirror that process in order to deliver on its worthy promise to make Britain a more enterprising place.

StartUp Britain can be found at: www.startupbritain.org
Linkdex can be found at: www.linkdex.com
Conversion Rate Experts can be found at: www.conversion-rate-experts.com

Originally published in The Financial Times: www.ft.com Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon- Co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur & Business Speaker- www.mikesouthon.com

Mike is one of the world’s top business speakers, a Fellow of The Professional Speakers Association. Mike is a Visiting Fellow in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at London South Bank University. He has made frequent appearances on television and radio, has a monthly sales column in Real Business magazine and is a regular commentator in the Financial Times.

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