Blogs build client connections

Vancouver business and web marketing consultant Doug Williams has self-published a book about his trade, and has advice for small businesses hoping to make their way to the top of potential customers’ Google searches.

His book, “Biz Blog Marketing” hit Amazon.com Feb. 8. He published it under a non-exclusive agreement with BookSurge.com for $575, and hopes it will soon be picked up by book giants like Barnes and Noble.

In the meantime, BookSurge’s web-based print service provides on-demand copies for his company’s Internet marketing courses.

Williams founded Doug Williams and Assoc. as a business consultant in 2002 and previously worked in senior leadership at Vancouver-based Silicon Forest Electronics Inc., Tualatin-based Western Electronics and California-based Easton Sporting Goods Manufacturing.

He broke into web marketing after he had trouble bringing Internet traffic to his firm’s website, which was designed by a contractor. He took matters into his own hands and learned to work with HTML and optimize web pages for search engine hits.  

“I’m a voracious learner,” Williams said. “You just immerse yourself in it and come out with a solution. You can learn anything through the Internet.”

Now his company approaches web marketing with a comprehensive business strategy in mind. Williams and 10 employees design and administer web pages and blogs after assessing clients’ marketing needs.

The company has grown between 50 and 75 percent annually since 2002 and sees 20 to 30 new clients each month, Williams said.

According to a November study by Nielsen Net Ratings, 70 percent of businesses have at least one website, and an increasing number are maintaining industry blogs, which Williams said are useful for branding and attracting hits from top search engines such as Google and Yahoo.

“(A blog) really is important for branding yourself as an expert,” he said. “It’s not for advertising a product – it’s about building connections with clients. You pick a subject they want to know about, research it and become the expert. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Blogging sites, such as WordPress.com, Typepad.com or Blogger.com provide web space – often for free – where independent writers can post articles and photos regularly and keep searchable archives of their work. Viewers can subscribe to get automatic blog updates by email and leave comments on articles or pass article links on to other readers.

Williams recommends bloggers keep posts short and frequent – 200 to 300 words, two or three times a week – to keep readers coming back. He suggests business bloggers avoid topics such as personnel issues, company or trade secrets, sensitive legal or financial information and strong political views.

“Before I’ll sell a blog, I make sure they’re willing to commit to the time it takes to maintain,” he said, adding that a blog usually needs one and a half to three hours of upkeep weekly.

As of April 2007, 22 of the world’s top 100 websites were blogs, according to Technorati.com, which tracks the popularity of 112.8 million blogs. With so many websites and blogs out there, it’s easy for a small business site to get lost in the cyber shuffle.

But Williams said they are still worthwhile for small businesses because Internet searches are now used like the Yellow Pages. Consumers look online for business information, such as hours of operation, lists of services and driving directions, he said.

Williams recommends businesses be intentional about using phrases common to web searches on their websites. Such efforts have put the Vancouver-based School of Piano Technology for the Blind at the top of hits in a Google search of word combinations such as “piano school blind” and “blind career impaired visually.”

Williams’ strongest piece of advice for small businesses is to avoid starting with a template-type website.

“Generally, those cannot be found on the search engines,” he said. “They’re quick and inexpensive but they don’t bring any traffic. Don’t find the cheap, easy solution unless you really don’t care about anyone finding your website.”

TIPS FOR BUSINESS WEB DESIGN

A business website should have a balance of graphics to draw visitors in and text to tell search engines what the site is about.

Do…

Create a professional image. The Internet creates a level playing field for businesses of all sizes.

Grab visitors’ attention in three seconds or less.

Design simple and intuitive navigation.

Have a clear call to action, such as “buy now” or “request a quote.”

Put contact information on every page.

Don’t…

Use blinking or scrolling text or auto-loading sound.

Use graphic intensive, slow-loading pages.

Use an intro or splash page. These get low search engine rankings.

Design a website in frames. They’re hard for search engines to find.

Design full-width pages. They’re hard to read on wide-screen computer monitors.

Source: Doug Williamson and Assoc.

Charity Thompson can be reached at cthompson@vbjusa.com.