Small Businesses: Beware of Online Marketing Offers from Your Local Paper

Posted on April 28, 2011. Filed under: Advertising, Blogs, Jazz, Marketing, Media, Newspapers, SEO | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

This is longer than most of my posts. But I’m really het up! Music-wise, no relevance. I just picked something that always makes me feel happy and relaxed – Flor de Lis by Djavan.

These days, when you’re convinced you should be advertising in your local paper, your newspaper ad rep will likely be trying to sell you an array of online services. Some – like Hearst Media CT — will even offer you a dollar for dollar match of print advertising for every dollar you spend in online advertising. Sounds great, right? Now my $10,000 budget just became worth $20,000. Yes, but by what metrics do you determine the value of this offer. Right off the bat, the offer implies that the print publications are worth zero.

I am all for effective integration of online/offline marketing. However I’m finding that as traditional media – especially newspapers – transition their businesses online, there are some big pitfalls for unwary advertisers.

Case in point: I recently launched a new medical practice that draws from a pretty local market. We built a website and carefully optimized it for organic search. We registered the site in the key local search directories – Google, Yahoo! And Bing and quickly began coming up #1 on page 1 for our important terms.

The partners in the practice wanted to launch with some local traditional advertising as well. We canvassed the local media for print and online ad rates. In our area – Fairfield County, Connecticut — Hearst Media now owns four daily papers in all but one of the biggest cities and a time-honored chain of weeklies that covers some of the key smaller towns.

Hearst said to us: Whatever your ad spend online and in a targeted bi-monthly health/lifestyle magazine, we’ll give you a 100%, dollar for dollar match in print advertising in our other publications.

Here’s the rub. What is the online ad spend really worth. The promise is that there’s lots of analytic data to evaluate the online ROI, but the reports are a real disappointment. We bought visibility on three daily paper websites with geo-targeting to three local weeklies. The problem is that Hearst can’t break out the geo-targeting.

The rates are based on CPM – how many impressions – not click throughs. Unfortunately the sales staff is not well-informed and the analytics not precise enough to offer any advice on placement, aggregate analysis of what constitutes a good CTR, or anything that can be helpful to a marketer trying to get value for a client.

Then there are deceptive ‘SEO’ programs that are sold as collaborations with Google and other search engines to get you to come up higher in search rankings. No one at Hearst could really explain the program to us. The best we got was that you get a landing page on the back end of their site. Does it have a backlink to our site? I asked. Yes I think so.

Here’s what the SEO program turned out to be.

Hearst set up a landing page optimized with the same search terms we used on our site. They grabbed copy from our website, cobbled it together, wrote and added some factually incorrect copy that they never submitted for approval. They established a tracking phone number that pointed to the client’s phone number. The tracking number’s reason for existence was to prove to us that Hearst had pointed calls to us from this landing page. A visitor who was interested but not ready to call might write this number down and if they called it two months later when we were no longer advertising with Hearst, they would certainly think we were no longer in business.

The more agregious thing that Hearst did was to steal our entire website code and recreate the site under a new url – the same as my client’s but with a 1 added to it. They changed the phone number on every page of that site to their tracking number. The bogus site was optimized with the same search terms as our original site to drive traffic for our terms to the Hearst websites. So basically, they put us in competition with ourselves in organic search. They took the video we supplied them for the landing page and uploaded it to a YouTube account that used the client’s name and again pointed those who clicked to their site – not ours.

Worse yet they were charging us to put us in a situation where Google could demote our legitimate search engine rankings for duplicate content.

Who are they designing this for? Maybe if you’re a very small local business and you have no website or web presence, Hearst and others providing similar products – the other daily in our area The Hour has something similar – might help you establish some online reach that you wouldn’t otherwise have. But if you’re a small business that has invested in your own website, SEO and online reach – do not, I repeat DO NOT buy such a service. Take the money and create a blog, hire a good, local SEO consultant to optimize your site. (BTW – you can’t come up on page one for $35 per month for any really meaningful search terms.)

Maybe you’d be better off buying a banner ad on the newspaper’s site with a link to your site or see if you can get them to give you a direct back link from their site via some content you provide – which could be worth a lot to you. But in my experience you can’t really get meaningful reporting to help justify the investment in these programs. These new newspaper offerings are not malicious, just part of an evolution in marketing. But they are potentially damaging, nonetheless. Get yourself up to speed and be part of moving media toward truly mutually beneficial solutions.

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A Bricks and Mortar Model for Human Business on the Web

Posted on March 29, 2011. Filed under: Human Business, Jazz, Marketing, Social Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Today’s musical post is Scrapple from the Apple, a 1950-60’s classic throwback featuring Gene Ammons on tenor sax, Eddie Buster on Hammond B-3 organ, and Gerald Donovan on drums. Read on for the relevance.

Every time I work with a client to establish a human approach to online marketing, my thoughts turn to Sneddon’s in Lambertville, N.J., across the Delaware River from New Hope, Penna. Sneddon's Sign Courtesy of Yelp

This wonderful, family-owned business is in its third generation of Sneddon ownership. Earlier it was known as Mutzie’s – a childhood hang of chef Gabrielle Hamilton whose book Blood, Bones and Butter at this moment tops the NY Times and Amazon best-seller’s list.

Walk into Sneddon’s and you’ve time travelled back to a 1950’s luncheonette with booths along one perimeter, formica-topped tables down the middle and a long counter on the other side with swivel stools facing the griddles and food prep surfaces. Inside Sneddon's with favorite waitress Terry
This picture of the interior of Sneddon’s courtesy of UrbanSpoon.com includes our favorite waitress Terry standing at the counter.

Sneddon’s is a community of locals, sophisticated, part-time/weekend residents from New York and day tripper tourists – all of whom are attracted by the friendly, unpretentious atmosphere of the place.

It delivers what its community values – simple, high quality food prepared with pride, reasonable prices, and a staff – from dishwashers, to cooks, to waitresses, to owners — that embraces the customers, remembers them by name, stops by their tables to chat and exchange updates on family, news, the weather and how their experience at Sneddon’s is going that day. I’m always confident that my eggs over easy and well-done Philly scrapple – a local breakfast meat – will come out prepared as ordered.

My mother has been lunching there almost daily for years, first with my stepfather and mentor John Walsh who died several years ago. The Sneddon’s folk have lived through my mother’s joys, health problems, community involvement, death of John with care and concern. I know that if she didn’t show up for lunch for more than a day or two they’d call her and if they felt it necessary dispatch someone to her home to be sure she was ok or help her in any way possible.

Since the Sneddon’s have owned it, the business has passed through three generations. Some days, all three generations are there — the current owners working, the previous ones stopping by to say hello or to bring fresh produce that they grow and contribute to the kitchen.

The staff – local and culturally diverse – also has family stopping in for an after-school snack or some other touchpoint with the loved one employed there. The whole environment is relaxed, friendly, no tension – a real pick-me-up regardless of what’s going on in life.

I try really hard to replicate something of the Sneddon’s experience on the websites, Facebook pages and other online communities of every client, regardless of what business they’re in. Sneddon’s is a successful, busy beehive full of hard-working and happy people. Its human spirit is something for other businesses to aspire to.

Please share your human business role models!

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What’s Your Online Marketing Plan? A 4-step outline for success.

Posted on April 13, 2010. Filed under: Content, Inbound Marketing, Internet Research, Internet Traffic, Jazz, Public Relations Marketing, Social Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Today’s musical post has nothing to do with the marketing post. It has to do with the most beautiful week of the year – and an admitted bout of Spring fever. Everything’s bursting out in bloom. This April is particularly enjoyable as signs of economic recovery are in the air. Enjoy Sarah Vaughan’s upbeat take on I’ll Remember April. You might have to listen and read separately. I’m having trouble multi-tasking on this one!

Lately I’ve been speaking with a number of companies who have jumped into the online marketing world. They have a website, a blog, a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account. Only one problem. They don’t have a plan.

Here’s a typical scenario. The website hasn’t been updated for a Web 2.0 world. It hasn’t been optimized for search engines, there’s no clear call to action or data capture point, there’s no shareable information and the site doesn’t necessarily reflect the personality of the business or the interests of its audiences.

The blog is a bunch of commercials or just offers links to other people’s industry information – and it isn’t connected to the website. The last post was six months ago. The Facebook page has exactly the same information as the homepage of the website. The Twitter account tweets occasionally about god knows what to who knows whom.

Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” So these businesses are definitely on the right track. They just need to figure out the other 20% – the basics. Here’s an outline to start you thinking.

  1. Marketing communications basics still count. First, ask and answer these questions:
    • Who are your audiences?
    • What are your key messages?
    • How are you positioned relative to the competition and the marketplace as a whole?
    • Do you have a recognizable brand identity/personality and do you employ it consistently throughout your communications?
    • Do you have clear marketing objectives?
  2. Start with your website and make it a functional hub for all of your online marketing communications.
    • Redesign to reflect your company’s character and meet defined objectives.
    • Identify the keywords/search terms for which you can realistically hope to rank with search engines.
    • Optimize your site and the content.
    • Make sure your content is updated regularly and includes your key messages, keywords and search terms.
    • Use a variety of content platforms – text, video, audio, PowerPoint, etc. 
    • Add analytics.
    • Make your site interactive.
    • Add a blog or connect the one you already have.
    • Add info-sharing capabilities.
  3. Select social media that make sense for your business by making sure that your key audiences are there.
  4. Integrate and leverage everything.

In future posts we’ll flesh these topics out. In the meantime — Smell the flowers!!!

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