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Thursday, November 7, 2013

B2C E-commerce Case Study -- How Internet will Save a Furniture Store

Although we work primarily with B2B companies in redesigning websites and providing search engine optimization services, we have, on occasion, taken on a few B2C projects that seemed interesting to us.

What made them interesting? Usually an existing relationship with the client that would provide us with a great deal of latitude in using their site as an experimental tool to continue developing our knowledge base in SEO and social media marketing. That was the case recently, when we decided to take on the project of building a new website for Express Furniture, an Akron, Ohio, furniture store. The company had the ability to ship its products nationwide, but its old website was presenting some major obstacles.

Here's a rundown of some of the problems we saw and how we solved them to deliver a site that's now generating sales on a nationwide scale.

Obstacle #1 -- Custom CMS

Express Furniture launched its first website approximately eight years ago as part of a consortium of independent Sauder Furniture dealers around the country. One of those dealers offered to spearhead the website effort and had a site built that all the dealers could use. The only problem was that because it was a common site, there was little ability to customize to each dealer's tastes or for them to be able to easily create their own sales and specials. Additionally, as the site became outdated (new products need to be added and old ones needed to be deleted), the dealers had to go through their dealer friend to get site changes, and it became more and more difficult to get those changes done in a timely way. Because the site was built in a proprietary platform, the only way to fix the situation was to build a brand new site.

Obstacle #2 -- Defined Territories

When the dealers agreed to enter this arrangement for their websites, they also agreed to have their territory assignments applied to online sales. What that meant was that any Internet sale outside of a dealer's 70-mile radius territory would automatically be filtered to the dealer who set up all the websites. So, in essence, the dealers were limited to selling online to their current local customer base.

Obstacle #3 -- More Competition

The independent Sauder dealers for many years had enjoyed exclusivity rights within their territories that would have enabled them to continue flourishing had the manufacturer not decided to expand its distribution base. Office Max, Staples, Target, etc. were added as Sauder sellers, thus increasing the local competition for the dealers. Combine that with the fact that their websites could only physically sell in a 70-mile radius, and you have the recipe for financial doom.

Obstacle #4 -- Reduced Effectiveness of Traditional Advertising

As newspaper readership has continued to decline, so has the impact of local print advertising. For Express Furniture, a Sunday insert 10 years ago was golden in terms of bringing foot traffic to the store. Today, the value has significantly diminished, save for some major holidays that still generate high-volume traffic.

Fortunately, the Express Furniture owner saw how these issues could have a terminal effect on his business and he set out to make some big changes.

Change #1 -- Build/Own his Own Site

Express Furniture recently launched its new website, built in a portable, open-source content management system, and structured it so that he could accept and ship orders anywhere in the continental United States.

Change #2 -- Expand Product Base

With increasing competition from big box stores for the Sauder products, it became imperative that the business add additional product lines. The company has now forged relationships with a number of commercial office furniture manufacturers to balance out its offering.

Change #3 -- Change his Marketing Mix

Recognizing that print advertising was no longer working, Express Furniture made the decision to divert much of its print ad budget toward building and marketing its new site. The company began realizing dividends within the first week of launch, when site traffic climbed an amazing 30% in the first week. The business has begun to receive regular orders on its site, both within its original footprint and beyond, as well as a rash of new phone orders.

So, what was the magic formula? A comprehensive approach to Internet marketing, planned in concert with the site's construction, enabled the company to rush out the gate at a galloping pace.

Elements included:
  • A well-optimized site
  • Online and offline site promotion via press releases and social media
  • Content marketing on third-party social media sites

None of the elements are revolutionary, they're just coordinated and customized to fit this particular client.

What we found with this client was nothing out of the ordinary among businesses trying to navigate uncharted waters. The key to success is having a client that is willing to jump in those unfamiliar waters and begin swimming alongside his appointed guide.

Visit Express Furniture's new website.

For more information on how Pilot Fish can help your website become a true sales tool for your business, call 877-799-9994 or fill out this form.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Who says American innovation is dead?

American innovation. What’s that mean? Does it have the same significance today as years gone by?

I grew up in the heartland of American innovation. My dad, now long retired from General Motors, worked for many years for their Terex earth mover division before it was sold to a Scottish company. He finished his career at various auto plants in Northeast Ohio.

I remember as a child the Christmas display that Terex would erect in the expansive front lawn of their facility in Hudson, Ohio. Santa’s sleigh and reindeer, created from various types of the company’s machinery. It was a visible reminder to the community each year of the American innovation occurring behind the doors of that massive plant.

That plant occupant is long gone from Hudson and has been replaced by a variety of smaller businesses. Whether they’ve succeeded to fill the hundreds of thousands of square feet of manufacturing space, I don’t know.

Just 20 minutes south of there, lay the reminders of similar stories in downtown Akron, the former Rubber Capital of the World. General Tire, gone, bought by Germany’s Continental and moved to North Carolina. Firestone, most operations moved out, bought by Japan’s Bridgestone and moved to Nashville. B.F. Goodrich, gone, acquired by France’s Michelin and moved to South Carolina. Even the lone remaining original Akron rubber tenant, Goodyear, long ago shut down most of its local production. Some of the buildings that hosted all those operations have found a second life as the home to newer, smaller businesses. But, there’s no question the hangover of all that consolidation in the 1980s and early 1990s still haunts Northeast Ohio today, especially after the latest recession.

And, I’m sure that story is replayed across the country in various industries.

But there are bright spots. Perhaps losing some of those manufacturing giants has given all of us a greater appreciation for the businesses that remain and continue to push American innovation. I look at our clients and I see a high level of innovation and craftsmanship that many have assumed was shipped overseas along with so many jobs.

Companies like ProVia, a manufacturer of entry doors, replacement windows, vinyl siding and manufactured stone, whose home base is in Sugarcreek, in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country. They create and manufacture their products at facilities in Ohio and Mississippi. This month, they launched a web-based home remodeling tool that enables homeowners to sample ProVia products on photos of their own homes. That’s innovation.

Another client, T.O. Plastics, in Clearwater, Minn., manufactures custom thermoformed plastic packaging, housings and products for a variety of industries, including medical, electronics, food packaging, consumer, industrial and horticulture. Last month, they debuted two new plant tray products, produced at their plant in Clearwater, in partnership with their customer Plant Pie. That’s innovation.

And, another client, Industrial Service Solutions, which recently acquired and owns seven industrial service companies around the country, oversaw the redesign or expansion of several of those firms’ websites: Bay Valve Service, Inc., of Seattle, which provides valve repair services for customers in 17 western states; Mid-American Machine & Equipment, of LeRoy, Kan., which sells refurbished, reconditioned and used industrial machinery and equipment; and Madison-Smith Machine & Tool Co., of Glasgow, Ky., which provides machining, fabricating and field services. That’s innovation.

Innovation comes in many forms across a wide variety of industries: One of our Akron-based clients, Union Process, just collaborated with a Pennsylvania company to incorporate UP’s particle size reduction equipment into a lime slaking to produce high-quality lime slurry and eliminate grit disposal and its associated problems.

Wilmington, Mass.-based Metrigraphics LLC, a leading designer and manufacturer of micro flex thin film circuits, recently delivered its 15 millionth sensor substrate to a major medical device OEM. That milestone is just one point in a six-year relationship during which Metrigraphics has collaborated with its customer to develop and qualify a growing number of variants for new applications.

ATL, a Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based maker of flexographic labels, is at the forefront of innovation in anti-counterfeiting packaging – helping other manufacturers protect their own innovations and securing the intellectual property rights of American industries.

All smaller than the industrial giants I remember as a kid, but American innovators nonetheless and the type of businesses all around us that will continue to create opportunities for homeland workers and define American greatness for years to come.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What's a good website and SEO worth to a business?

It's been an interesting week at work. Not unlike other holidays, things slow down a bit as our clients take well-deserved vacations. So, I usually find the time for some introspection of our business -- what we're doing, who we serve, how we're perceived and what we're hearing from clients regarding their web marketing plans.

We've got a number of big projects we're working on: website redesigns, big website updates, SEO projects. It's fun to work with clients who are engaged in wanting to make the best impression for their business online.

Then you have those that are at the other end, the ones that don't want to invest in their site now or ever, or who are willing to invest so little that it can't have any marked impact on their performance.

It got me thinking, "What's a good website and SEO worth to a business?"

Friday, April 19, 2013

Slideshare: Delivering in promotion and B2B SEO

For many B2B companies, SEO is gaining in importance as they begin to understand the dynamics of how search engines work. Unfortunately, many B2B companies are still way behind the curve; they know they need good SEO, but their understanding of what that entails is woefully behind.

In SEO circles, content marketing is the rage for 2013, but it's a concept that not all our clients and prospects are understanding just yet.

So, let me put it in the simplest terms, using one specific example of a resource for content marketing: Slideshare.

In addition to making sure that your website content matches the types of searches people are doing to find you, it's also important to promote your content more widely across the Internet. Remember the old days, when we all had a business card? That business card didn't do us much good unless we distributed it, by passing it out at trade shows, during visits with clients and prospects, and by advertising our contact information in print ads.

Well, your website is now your business card, although Google has certainly made it much easier to find you. Now the key is to make sure your "business card" doesn't end up at the bottom of the stack, where no one will look for you. Creating content you can seed on third-party sites and link back to your website is one way to help move your "business card" up in the deck.

The more links you have from other websites, the more credible your company will be viewed by the search engines, and the higher your site will rank.

There are a number of ways you can create content for these third-party sites, but let's just focus on one today -- Slideshare.

Slideshare is like YouTube, except instead of sharing videos, you share Powerpoint presentations. For businesses, this is great, because it's very likely you have at least one sales or marketing person in your organization who has created a Powerpoint, so the technology isn't daunting.

There are just a few things you need to know while creating a Slideshare presentation to make it an effective piece of content for SEO purposes:

1. Include keywords that are important search terms for your audience so that your presentation can be ranked well by search engines;
2. Include links in the presentation to your website so that prospects can find your site and so the search engines can associate the content with your company;
3. Try to make it interesting to generate the most interest in your topic.
4. Once you've posted it, share it via your social media accounts, by e-mail and by embedding it on your website.

If you haven't jumped in the content marketing pool yet, start with Slideshare. It's not difficult and it'll help you get a feel for the SEO and promotional opportunities with third-party content sites.

Here's an example of a Slideshare we prepared for our client EDCO Awards, a manufacturer of corporate awards.

Need help with your SEO and website marketing? Contact Pilot Fish at 877-799-9994 ext. 2104 or fill out this form.

When it comes to B2B SEO, being with right SEO company key to success

I hate to be an alarmist, but we've seen enough examples of really bad B2B websites and SEO efforts that we know there are a lot of companies not getting good design or SEO service.

Some of that could be a function of budget, ie "You get what you pay for." But, there have been enough times where we pick up a client after they've dealt with months of frustration working with a web developer that ultimately can't deliver what they need. Sometimes it's a lack of knowledge on the developer's part, that they really don't know SEO. Sometimes it's plain old trickery; the client has succumbed to promises that turn out to be too good to be true.

Many of our new projects come from those types of situations -- the business went with someone cheaper, more local, a relative or friend, or a company that seemed really slick (and they were). They wasted time and money and oftentimes are forced to put good money after bad to fix a really bad situation.

So, to help out all those businesses that might be struggling with a web design or SEO company relationship that just doesn't seem to be panning out, here's some advice. Get out. Get out of that relationship and find someone who can really help your company with their Internet marketing. And, to that end, here's a column on things to watch out for and how to identify a reputable SEO company for your B2B website and SEO.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Beautiful and energy-efficient replacement entry or patio doors

The clocks will be turning forward this weekend and Spring is right around the corner. It must be time to start planning those home renovations for this year!

After the housing crisis that engulfed our country the last few years, more and more people are opting to stay in their homes and update rather than buying a newer more expensive home. And, there are plenty of TV shows that appeal directly to the eager homeowner seeking a new look for their kitchen, bathroom, landscaping, etc. My personal favorite is "Love it or list it" on HGTV.

If you're looking at replacing any doors or windows, I'd recommend you take a look at ProVia. They have some incredibly beautiful replacement entry doors and sliding glass patio doors.

What's more, they've just been awarded the 2013 EPA Energy Star Partner of the Year Award for their energy-efficient entry and patio doors. So, you're not only getting a door that enhances the looks of your home, you're also buying a high-quality product that improves your energy use.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Content marketing driving B2B website promotion efforts

There's no use hiding from it, content marketing is here to stay and more important then ever.

If your business would like to show up on the first page of Google (who wouldn't?), its Penguin and Panda updates made content marketing a much more important wrench in the SEO toolkit.

In fact, a new report by the Content Marketing Institute says that 91% of business-to-business marketers engage in some form of content marketing, with businesses employing an average of 12 tactics to disseminate their content.

Among those businesses, content marketing is taking up a much larger piece of their marketing budget, an average of 33% of dollars spent in 2012.

Interested in finding which content marketing tactics are the most popular among B2B companies?

Read more about this content marketing report.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

It's not about being anti-gun, it's about being pro-common sense

An armed guard at Columbine High School and a police officer writing a speeding ticket nearby exchanged gunfire with Eric Harris but failed to stop him and Dylan Klebold from killing 15 and injuring 23 in 1999.

Yet, the NRA’s response to the recent shooting in Newtown, Conn., is that we should have an armed guard in every school. So, when that fails again, what will be their response? Arm the teachers, principals and fourth-grade safety patrol?

In most of these cases, the shooters have no illusion of coming out alive, so putting guns in schools not only will not deter shootings, but might provide added incentive for those seeking a way out without using their own gun.

Since their post-Newtown press conference, the NRA has increased its vigilance against gun control laws and now plans to exert even more influence over judicial nominations, opposing anyone who has any hint of a pro-gun control sensibility.

On the second anniversary of the shooting of former U.S. representative Gabby Giffords, she and her husband, former astronaut and ex-military man Mark Kelly, announced the formation of Americans for Responsible Solutions, which seeks common sense controls on the type of weapons sold and to whom they are sold.

As gun owners from one of the most gun-friendly states, Giffords and Kelly understand the culture, politics and personal cost of this debate and are uniquely qualified to represent our call for gun laws that reflect the will of sensible gun owners and non-owners alike.

The NRA has had many years to build its membership and coffers and remains one of the most powerful lobbies in the country, even though it represents the interests of a small minority (gun manufacturers and dealers). No private industry should have such a strong hand in determining safety policies in our country. The collective voice of individual citizens must be heard and heeded.

Please join me in supporting this effort with your voice and your financial support, because we all know that the only way to make this point of view "louder" than the NRA's is through active financial support of efforts like this one that will directly reach out to our lawmakers.