By James Thomlinson, Head of Digital, Bell Pottinger Digital

More and more businesses are appearing online in some way, shape or form every day. Naturally, this means it is harder for businesses to compete online and stand out in a world that never sleeps. You only have to look at the furore around the Royal Wedding to understand this, with people trying to cash-in by purchasing savvy domain names, ensuring these are highly optimised through proven SEO (Search engine optimization) techniques and then selling merchandise or advertising space. Where there’s a communication channel there’s an opportunity for commercial gain.

For SMEs (small and medium enterprises) this creates an obvious problem. While it is possible to compete for generic search terms, e.g. ‘cheap Sony television’, it requires investing a lot of time and money in a good SEO agency. For most this isn’t an option.

Smaller brands need to look closer to home. Whether a potential customer has read an article about a business, attended an event, or been recommended the business by a friend, the next thing is for some search engine due diligence.

So, what happens when you put on your Google Glasses and search your company? Are there enough of your digital assets on the first page and do they get the right message across to help the customer make a decision? After all, Google enjoys nearly 80% of the UK search market and of the millions of people that use it only about 20% ever go to page two.

Some tips for SMEs to ensure an effective search engine reputation:

1. Website: consider creating dedicated landing pages for key business areas with supporting video and images or case studies to further sell the business. If the business is communicating regularly with the media, ensure it has a Media Centre with latest news about the company in the form of press releases or industry comments.

2. Wikipedia: as an online encyclopaedia overseen by a community and used by millions, it is afforded a lot of authority and ranks highly in search engines. Businesses should have a presence and appear in relevant industry entries. But, be warned to check Wikipedia’s strict guidelines to avoid embarrassment.

3. Multimedia content: not only are video and images more engaging for customers, it is no longer best practice to give media just a text press release. Creating low budget video content is a great way to engage an audience and prompt greater proliferation of content and messaging around the web. Use websites like YouTube & Flickr to host this content. Owned by Google and Yahoo! respectively, they will – providing the content is optimised well – rank higher in search engines.

4. Social media: channels like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn also rank highly in search engines. They are also becoming increasingly effective as search engines in their own right. Not every channel will be right for certain brands, but Twitter is a great opportunity to tweet about both industry and company news, and can help raise awareness online.

5. Business directories: an easy hit for SMEs that rely on customers based on location is to submit information to well-known business directories. It’s also a good idea to submit the business to Google Maps so it appears in both searches for the brand and also wider searches, e.g. ‘digital printers in Holborn’.

6. Media/blogger relations: finally and most importantly, some good third party endorsement will work wonders. While mainstream media titles for some SMEs may be out of reach, thanks to the ‘power of the long-tail’ there will undoubtedly be some niche publisher or blogger crying out for content. Providing these are approached in the correct way, they can be an easy win.

The most important thing to remember is that whatever online channels you choose, make sure your branding and messaging is consistent. Far too often we see brands diving into social media, not thinking about the bigger picture and creating an online presence that is highly fragmented and confusing for the customer.

There is a real need for a coherent strategy behind what companies do online. The name of the game is to make sure there are plenty of opportunities for the customer to find your brand and click-through to the point of sale.

The best way of doing this, is making the most of the front page of Google. By making sure all the good content about your brand is out there, you can help your business to punch above its weight…

By James Thomlinson, Head of Digital, Bell Pottinger Digital

Watch the video below featuring Stephen Waddington discussing how the SEO can give ways to recommendation via social media


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