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The Worth of Your Words: Does Your Website Need a Blog?

doyouneeda blog

You’ll have to make a ton of important decisions when you’re building your first website. One of those important decisions is whether or not to attach a blog. If you’ve done any research into websites, you’ve probably noticed that many successful websites already have blogs. There are many good reasons for that, and it’s important to understand them if you want to compete for business online.

The short answer is that a blog is almost always worth the effort if it reaches your target audience. In this post we’ll explain the basics of blogging, the benefits of having a blog, and how to start yours.

The Truth Behind Why People Blog

If you’re not familiar with the term: blog is short for “web log”. Blogs have been around for many years and in the “olden days” people used them – more or less – as online journals. Only in the last several years have businesses realized the benefits of blogging.

Businesses took to blogging mainly because Google decided that fresh and original content made for good search results, and instituted a number of changes to google.ca and google.com to reflect this. Google is the primary search engine used by most of the world, so businesses try very hard to do what Google wants them to do in order for their websites to show up at the top of search results.

Two Google updates in particular (named Panda and Penguin)  encouraged the growth of blogs. Panda set new criteria for quality content, and decimated what Google considered “low-quality” websites. Penguin punished “over-optimization” and invalidated a lot of the SEO tricks that people relied on to game Google’s system for deciding what results ranked at the top of their search pages.

You might be thinking that the content on your web pages is high quality and should be good enough. But product descriptions do not often provide enough rankable content for most websites, and Google values content that is fresh and new over content that has remained unchanged for a long time. Since blogs are so easy to update, many businesses started adding blogs to successfully rank higher. Blogs now serve an important part of many business plans from the smallest of businesses to the largest.

The Benefits of Having a Blog

Beyond boosting your search rankings, there are other benefits to having a blog. A blog can…

  • Help you educate your customers on what you want them to understand

  • Give your website some character and personality

  • Provide a place for customers to communicate with you publicly, through comments.

If your site becomes popular, you can also sell advertising space on your blog to other companies that want their ads in front of your readers. This could mean a nice, passive income stream for you.

Starting Your Blog

Starting a blog is very easy and costs little or nothing at all, other than your time. We recommend starting with WordPress – (the most popular blogging platform), where you can quickly set up a blog and start publishing content.

But what to write? There are no hard rules about what qualifies as an acceptable submission. We try to publish posts on topics we think our customers, and our prospects, want to learn about. This brings readers to our site and gives them something of value. Blogs give you an opportunity to express your personality: you can discuss relevant personal experiences, or you can focus on professional topics. As long as you keep your desired audience top of mind, you’ll succeed.

Tell us what you think: Are you blogging? What do you write about?


SEO: What It Means, Why it Matters, and How You Can Get Started Today

SEO

If you’re one of the many small businesses who have heard about SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, but aren’t really sure what it means, then this post is for you.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is a collection of strategies designed to attract as many people as possible to your website by displaying your website in a search results page.

Search engines – mainly Google, but also Yahoo! and Bing – drive most of the traffic on the Internet because they match specific websites to the things that people are searching for. You’ve no doubt used search in the past to find products and services, right? The results that show up when you search are not random. The search engines choose the results that they believe are the most relevant to what you’ve typed. The most relevant results show up on the first page, and less relevant results are pushed onto later pages where most people never even bother to look. SEO is about “optimizing” your website so that it looks as relevant as possible to a search engine for the right searches.

SEO Matters, A Lot.

There are two statistics that should drive this home for you:

1) 89% of the population uses search to find products and services online.

2) Almost 99% of all people who use a search engine never visit the second page

So one of the very best ways you can drive new business is to show up at the top of search results. And SEO is sophisticated enough to make sure that you show up in the right place at the right time. If you sell arborist services in Nepean, you won’t show up for a tree service search in Calgary. If you’re an aesthetic dermatologist, you’ll optimize to show up for searches related to Botox and Juvederm in your area.

How Can I Get Started Now?

To get a jump start on SEO, focus on the following:

Have a Universally Accessible Website: Your website needs to be accessible to as many customers as possible. That means having a friendly and easy-to-understand design that works on as many devices as possible including computers, e-readers, and phones. Here is a good guide to get you started.

Have a Sitemap: Search engines use special little programs called crawlers (or spiders, or bots) to programmatically read through your website and figure out if it’s relevant to searchers. You need a good sitemap (a map of all your pages that a crawler can understand) if you want crawlers to be able to see everything you have to offer. Creating a sitemap can be a little complicated, but Google provides a list of recommended tools that you can download to create a sitemap for you.

Use the RIght Keywords: Keyword theory is a linguists dream. If someone is searching for pandora, do they mean the bracelet or the myth? You need to figure out what keywords people use to find the products or services you offer, and then use those keywords in your website. Sometimes it’s easy (“real estate lawyer toronto”) and sometimes it’s hard (“laser treatment”). Keyword selection is a fine balance between competition and popularity. Here is a good guide on how to choose the right keywords. (Carrie, I’d like to do a topic on this. Perhaps we could replace this link when that one is completed) (OK; sounds good)

Tags and Titles: Every page on your website has a tag and a title. While you can’t see them from inside your website, customers can see them from the search engine. You need to make sure that your tags and titles are properly written to attract the most search engine AND customer attention. Here are Google’s own guidelines for creating page titles and tags.

Don’t feel like taking this on yourself? We don’t blame you – it’s why we’re in business. However SEO came about, the bottom line is that it’s a time sink for small businesses, but a necessary one. We can manage it on your behalf; simply contact us today.

 


New Home / New Outlook

Last week was an exciting one for Team OutRank as we packed up and moved to our new home at the scenic and historic Harbourfront Neighborhood.  Situated at the intersection of Bathurst and Lakeshore, the new OutRank offices underwent extensive renovations to make it ready for the 100+ new occupants who were eager to move in.

The history of the building is almost as long as the Lakeshore itself, and aerial photos of the neighbourhood from not long after it was built 80 years ago reveals that it is practically the only structure that has stood the test of time.

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Previous neighbour to our current home (highlighted in red) was Maple Leaf Stadium (highlighted in blue), home of the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team from 1926-1957

 

Originally built as a mincemeat pie factory in 1927, the building was brought into the Rogers family in 1937 when Edward S. Rogers Sr. (Ted Rogers’ father) purchased the building to be used as a radio studio. The building remained as a radio studio throughout those years, eventually being leased to CHUM FM for several decades; Ted always wanted to keep the building as a Rogers corporate asset because of its historical place in the city and his family.

 

In 2012 renovations began on the building to not only bring it up to date, but into the future of Rogers, with the choice to make OutRank its core.  Renovations included all new roof and windows, state-of-the-art heating and cooling systems, modern washrooms and kitchens on each floor, open-concept collaborative workstations and lounge areas and perhaps most appreciated, multiple boardrooms all featuring new furniture, technology and whiteboards.

 

Special mentions must be made in thanking two individuals without whom this monumental move would not have been possible.  Kevin Chuc, our IT specialist, who overcame huge technical challenges in making sure the space could handle the digital demands of our data-hungry workforce.  And Sherry Rahaman, our office manager, who tied off a seemingly infinite number of loose ends and paved the way for a completely seamless transition from our old space to the new.

TeamOutRank

Can Your Business Benefit from Twitter?

Can Your Business Benefit from TwitterThere are a lot of social media networks out there that can help you build your business: Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. Each offers different strengths and weaknesses, and each has proven popular for leisure activities. But are they actually useful to your business?  In this post we’re going to look at Twitter, the San Francisco-based startup with over 500 million users that disrupted the way we use the Internet.

Twitter Explained

Twitter can come across as a confusing place if you’re unfamiliar with social media, and to be honest, the best way to truly understand it is to try it out (and it’s free!) But we’ll take a crack at laying out the basics:

  • Twitter is an information network; a place where you go to find the latest stories, ideas, and opinions on whatever topic interests you.

  • Twitter’s information is displayed in small bursts of content produced by its users. These bursts are maximum 140 characters in length and are called Tweets. Here’s an example:

  • You can create a free Twitter account in a matter of minutes and compose tweets on whatever you want, then broadcast them to the people on Twitter who follow you.

  • But you don’t have to actually tweet. You can also use Twitter to follow people or businesses who interest you, and read their broadcasts.

  • Twitter’s underlying software helps you find people to follow, and also helps other people find and follow you. Unlike Facebook, where the messages you see and compose are limited to your own network, on Twitter they are public.

Additionally Twitter is organized by a phenomenon called hashtags (for example, #business or #SpecialOffers). People use the hashtag symbol # before a relevant keyword or phrase (no spaces) in their Tweet to categorize those Tweets and help them show up more easily in Twitter Search. Clicking on a hashtagged word in any message shows you all other Tweets marked with that keyword.

Because of this format, Twitter really excels at several different things. It is a great platform for building a customer base online. If you share interesting information about your business, or use it for offers or small contests, you can develop a large following. This slide presentation from Crow Communications is an excellent primer on how to get followers on Twitter.

Twitter is also a great platform for connecting with people on an individual level. Once you have an account, people can start tagging your business. That means you can interact with customers who have both positive and negative experiences to share. You can thank people for nice things said, and score points by working with complainers to make their problems right.

This could be a big time investment, so you first need to know whether it’s worth the effort.

Twitter Appeals to the Young and Urban

Twitter is a huge phenomenon, but it is still limited to specific demographics. You won’t get much traction on Twitter if your customers don’t use it. Social Media Blogger Buffer indicates that Twitter appeals mostly to young adults aged 18-29 and urban residents.

It stands to reason that you’ll get the best results if you already sell products or services that appeal to the young and tech savvy. If your business is geared toward offering services to the elderly, or to residents of rural areas, Twitter might not be right for you, at least not insofar as reaching your customers is concerned.

Twitter can Educate

Even if your customers aren’t on Twitter, there is another reason to try it: education. If you want to learn more about your industry, or marketing, or technology, you can use Twitter to find experts in your space. Simply follow them, and see what they have to say in your tweet stream. Often they’ll tweet links to articles, blogs, and websites you might find interesting and educational. And since Twitter is free, you’ve got nothing to lose by giving it a shot.


Two Worlds United: Making Your Online and Offline Marketing Work Together

2 worlds unite

Running online and offline marketing campaigns at the same time might seem overwhelming, but could help you achieve better results than implementing either campaign in isolation. In this blog post we’ll discuss how to combine both online and offline marketing for maximum results without straining your budget – or your brain.

Three key tips to consider are as follows:

  • First, choose a single strategy for both online and offline marketing. As the adage goes, do one thing, and do it well.

  • Second, build redundancies into both campaigns to drive more business and optimize cost.

  • Third, identify which types of messages are best suited to online, and which to offline.

Start with a Single Strategy

You shouldn’t be trying to do different things with your online and offline marketing strategy. They should both stem from the same basic key objective. For example, if you are trying to push a particular product or service, both marketing campaigns should be devoted to accomplishing that. If you are focused on building a larger customer base, both campaigns need to focus on that, instead.

Build Redundancies

Building redundancy means developing online and offline campaigns that support one another.  For example, if you’re developing a poster or a sign, you must include your website URL. (And if you don’t have a website, you should get one!) Always drive your offline audience to your online presence, and make sure your message is consistent.

In the same fashion, there are many ways to make your online advertising support your offline business. Your website must display your “brick and mortar” address prominently. You should also embed maps on your homepage so that anyone drawn to your page by your online advertising can now find your business in their community.

Finally, your tactic of choice needs to be reflected clearly in both your online and offline campaigns. If you’re sending a flyer out with a 10% Spring discount, be sure to include it on your website as well. This consistency will help you achieve better results.

Assign Goals Correctly

Your marketing strategy should have a set of specific goals. Those goals should be assigned to your online and offline campaigns depending on which campaign can accomplish that goal most effectively. You are probably used to having your offline campaign bear the brunt of your advertising, but there are many things that an online campaign can do more effectively for the money.

 Online marketing is typically best for:

·         Attracting General Interest

·         Turning Consumers into Communities

·         Collecting consumer information (names, addresses, and other form fields)

·         Achieving small transactions

Offline marketing is typically best for:

·         Targeting consumers who don’t use computers (the elderly)

·         Attracting big-ticket purchasers

·         Dominating one space (competition is much noisier online)

After you have been running both types of campaigns for a while, you should start to understand other strengths and weaknesses. Try to act on this knowledge whenever possible, so you end up with the most efficient strategy possible.

Good Luck with Your Online and Offline Campaigns

Now that you understand how to start with a single strategy, build redundancies, and assign goals correctly, you should have much better returns from your marketing in the future. We hope you’ve found this topic helpful, and we encourage you to leave any comments or questions below.

 


Word of Mouth is Alive and Well

You told us: word of mouth marketing is still critical to your business. In a recent study conducted at OutRank, close to 90% of small businesses surveyed indicated they rely on word of mouth marketing to sustain their businesses. On the whole, Canadian small businesses favor a grassroots approach to marketing and focus on the following:

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  • Building, maintaining and nurturing relationships with clients through regular interaction, face-to-face when possible to generate repeat business and loyalty
  • Establishing a reputation as a reliable resource through good work, honesty, integrity and always aiming to meet or exceed customer expectations
  • Leveraging reputation and relationships with existing customers to generate new clients through word-of-mouth and referrals
  • Networking to connect with prospective customers and build awareness of name

SMBs could benefit from considering how social media helps achieve these goals. Our friends form KnexxLocal wrote a terrific post for Business News Daily with some tips on how to leverage social media to fuel word of mouth marketing.

Some of the key takeaways include:

  • “Today, a single Facebook post extolling the virtues of your kitchen contractor can reach hundreds, if not thousands of latent customers, depending on the influence of the person responsible for the post.”
  • “64 percent of consumers read online reviews before making purchasing decisions.”
  • “Technology has made creating and sharing customer reviews as simple as snapping a picture, writing a few words and hitting send.”

Read the full article here: Social Media Amplifies Word of Mouth Marketing

 


OutRank in the Community: Sorting Food at the Daily Bread Food Bank

At OutRank, we believe that investing in our communities needs to be a priority. Since we opened our doors last January, OutRank employees have served meals at Ronald McDonald House, raised over $1000 for Movember Foundation Canada and donated over $3000 worth of toys to the SickKids Toy and Game Fund for the 2012 Holiday season.

Our most recent event was to volunteer our time at Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank. 25 OutRankers visited the Etobicoke facility and  waded through box upon box of donated food items.

We weeded out expired food items or items with damaged seals, sorted food into specific boxes, and with the precision of FedEx, implemented the Food Bank’s labeling and packaging system. The food items that made it through our strict inspection system went onto the shelves to be offered to families in need.

One of the highlights was this letter, which we found taped to a paper bag full of food:

OutRank Community Service - Food Bank Letter

A letter from a child taped to a donation bag

The letter reads: “I would like to give you some food. I am  going to give you some pasta, fruits, baby food, and pasta sauce. I really hope you like it. I chose these items because they are good for saving it and that’s good. It is really healthy. I hope you won’t be hungry anymore. I hope you have a merry, merry Christmas with your family! From, Holly.”

Why the Food Bank? Over the past five years there has been an increase in the hunger epidemic in Toronto due to the state of the economy post-recession. Studies show a correlation between unemployment rates and daily visits to the food bank, and in 2012 there were 1,123,500 visits to food banks, up 18% over the pre-recession period. Perhaps more concerning is that 32% of food bank clients have had to give up food to pay rent because the average food bank client spends 71% of their income on rent, leaving them just $5.83 for food per family a month.

OutRank Community Service - Food Bank Team Photo

25 OutRank Employees at the Daily Bread Food Bank
Back Row, L-R: Nima S., Justin B., Richard R., Michael L., Kevin S., Alex K., Josh B., Ryan S., Chris P., Matt E., Middle Row: Sonya C., Joel V., Kasia M., Sara M., Olisa H., Abe T., Ian E., Estefania B., Yanel D., Danielle P., Stephen D., Front Row: Carrie S., Kelly from the Food Bank, Mark B., Josh A., Anna-Liisa R..

With statistics like those, we did our best to power through as many boxes and bags as we could during our visit. We also learned that you can’t offer expired food items to food bank clients – and it’s important to remember that when donating. If something has no date on it, the Food Bank can’t take it. And if it has a date that’s one to two weeks in the future, chances are it will be expired by the time it hits the shelves at the Food Bank. So good things for all of us to remember as we donate in the future.

OutRank Community Service - Food Bank Checking Expiry Dates

Checking expiry dates on donated items

 


OutRank is Hosting an Open House For Sales Professionals

digital-sales

Attention sales professionals: We’re hosting an Open House at our head office in Toronto on March 27, 2013 at 6PM.

OutRank by Rogers is a leading local online advertising organization, serving Canadian small and medium size businesses. We’re looking for talented, driven sales professionals bursting with integrity to join our growing team, so if you think you’ve got what it takes, then we would love to meet you.

Hiring managers and top reps will be in attendance, so you’ll have a chance to network and show us your stuff.

Come for food and drink; presentations and interviews. Bring 2 hard copies of your resume, your business cards, and be ready to pitch!

Date: March 27th, 2013
Time: 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Location: 350 Bloor Street East, Toronto, M4W 0A1

When you enter the building, an OutRank representative will greet you and escort you inside. No RSVP necessary.



Three Tips To Market Your Small Business Online

Phone Book Artwork

Phone Book Artwork by Kristiina Lahde

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”  - Charles Darwin

Let’s face the harsh reality that your prospects have given up on flyers and phone books. Today, almost any need can be fulfilled by searching on Google or another search engine. To build your customer base, your business needs a credible online presence that is easily accessible to the millions of searchers out there.

Think about it: if you’re an arborist in Kelowna, and someone needs emergency tree services, they’re not likely to have your flyer at their fingertips. But they are very likely to go to Google or Bing and type “emergency tree services in Kelowna.” And they’ll do so from whatever device is most handy – their computer, their phone, or their iPad.

We call that Local Search. And as a small business, you need to figure out how to make sure you show up at the exact moment that prospect is looking for the services you offer.

Here are three key tips to nailing local search. These are high level for now, but over the coming weeks we’ll drill down into each of these.

Tip 1: Your Website Still Matters

You’ve got a website, right? But is your website built in such a way that it will show up in search results when people are searching for the services you offer? If you don’t know the answer to that, don’t worry – most people have no idea. But your website needs to do three things:

  1. Answer the questions people are searching for. If someone is looking for “kitchen renovations” you need a page on your site that describes your success in providing kitchen renovations. Match the words your customers are using; don’t generalize.
  2. Display fresh content. Search engines like to rank “fresh” websites higher than “stale” ones, which is the reason you see so many blogs out there today. So don’t assume once your website is live you’re done. It needs care and feeding, kind of like a cat. It’s not something you need to do every day, but you’ve got to check in once in a while.
  3. Address your locale. Serve the Greater Ottawa area? Make sure you mention that. Halifax and Dartmouth? Waterloo but not Kitchener? Be clear about your geographical boundaries up front, and avoid visits from people you can’t serve.

Tip 2: Your Mobile Strategy Matters Even More 

Is your website easily navigable on an iPhone or a Blackberry? How about an iPad? Not only are people searching on the go, they are searching from their mobile devices even when their computer is right in front of them! Mobile usage will soon eclipse desktop usage, so your online presence must be optimized for mobile.

Tip 3: Yes, People Do Click On “Sponsored Links”

It’s a common misconception that people ignore the sponsored section of a search results page and go right to the organic listings. And truth be told, that was the case for many years. But not any longer. 65% of high-purchase-intent searchers click on sponsored links. Looking for people who are ready to buy what you’re selling? Invest some time in Google AdWords or MSN AdCentre (which powers Bing and Yahoo), and watch your traffic skyrocket.

Excited to learn more? We have a lot more tips and tricks and animal analogies in the coming posts, so subscribe to our feed or just check back any time.


Welcome to Our Blog; We’re So Glad You Stopped By

digital-marketing

There’s a lot of content online, and only so many hours in the day. So I’d like to start by thanking you for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit our blog, because we know you have many choices. We’re here to support all you Canadian Small Businesses out there looking to better understand how to promote your business through online marketing techniques.

Did you know that almost 90% of Canadians go online to find local businesses? That’s an opportunity of immense proportions, but it’s tricky to make sure your business shows up in the right places at the right time. With this blog, we want to demystify the world of online marketing and give you the tools you need to be successful.

We’ll also use this forum to share valuable tips and tricks with our customers, to introduce new products and promotions, and to share a little bit about our community.

We encourage your comments and suggestions, so please use the comments section to share feedback and suggest content you’d like to see.  And again, thanks for stopping by.