Can You Be Found Where People Are Looking?

Do you know where your prospective customers spend their time online? Do you maintain a presence in those places?

Last night I came across an AP article about the recent search engine purchases of ad networks and why it’s a sign of how things are changing on the web. I encourage you to give the article a read, but the main point I want you to take from it is the idea that how and where people are spending time online is becoming more fragmented and most people are interacting less and less with a single source of information.

Search engines are modifying their business models to reflect these changes and so should you.

Gone are the days of emphasizing ways to attract and keep visitors — the way television networks long have operated — by creating destinations with anything people might need for work, leisure or companionship.

Instead, those companies are now more aggressively trying to follow Web surfers elsewhere — and bring lucrative advertising to them.

Pay attention to the idea that search engines are trying to follow web surfers elsewhere. A few years ago it was all about creating a portal that provided a one stop source of information. Today there are so many different ways to find the same information and people are spending time interacting with variety of them. They may interact with a portal, or a search engine, or a social media site, or any of the different sites that allow them to find what they need. Even more, people are using one site to find certain types of content and another site to find a different type of content.

So instead of relying solely on being portals for consumers, the major companies are creating one-stop shops for advertisers, who are increasingly wanting to buy ads centrally and place them where the eyeballs are. The networks take care of feeding the ads to smaller sites.

“We’re not interested in building yesterday’s portal,” said Ron Grant, AOL’s president and chief operating officer. “Consumers are finding what they are looking for is coming from more and more fragmented places. We need a way for advertisers to take advantage of that fragmentation.”

Search engines

are attracting more people but are keeping them for shorter durations as users find what they need elsewhere.

Where Can Your Customers Find You?

The discussion in the AP article is focused on search engines and advertising, but the lessons are for all of us. If your site is primarily a lead generation mechanism your goal might be to get someone to contact you about the services you offer. Does it make a difference if they find your email directly on your site or on your MySpace profile? Does it matter if the words that convinced them to call were found on one of your pages or in your reply to a question on a forum or other social network?

In the end how much difference does it make if someone purchases your products through the shopping cart on your site or through the one on eBay? Does it matter if it was your content or the content of one of your affiliates that ultimately made the sale? Ignore for a moment that your per sale profit is different depending on where the sale originates. Given the lifetime value of a customer should it really matter where a new customer first finds you?

The goal isn’t only to bring people to you. The goal is to be in front of them or have them think about your brand when they want what you have to offer. When you think of search engines it’s conventional to see them as a source of traffic for your site. However, what you’re really doing is building a presence on another site. Search engines are not the only place you can build that presence.

I want to expand on the idea of using social media as a source of branding in a post I’ll hopefully have ready later this week. For now think about the concept that your site isn’t the only place where your brand lives or where you can do business.

The web is social and the more you can embed yourself in the social fabric of the web the better your chances for success. Your customers are looking for you in a variety of places and not always directly on your site. If you aren’t in front of them when and where they look you can be sure someone else will be.

Where are you building a presence online? Can someone find you without having to find your site?

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11 comments

  1. I really enjoyed this post and can identify with it. Shortly after posting my very first response to a blog, it was in the top ten of ranked items in a search of my name. A simple gesture that took me mere minutes to write and I had another viable way for customers to find my brand. I look forward to your post on branding through social media.

  2. Thanks Stephen. Things similar to your experience are part of what I’m planning for my follow post to this one. It’s one I’ve wanted to write for awhile, but it needs me to create a few images so I’ve been procrastinating a bit. Hopefully I’ll have it later in the week. If not then next week.

    Other than comments on a blog where have you tried to brand yourself? I know writing for Invesp would one place, but have you published on other sites or have you built profiles at social media sites?

  3. Steven,

    I like how you took the concept and applied it in a manner that is applicable to every business online. In the past our website was the main source to generate leads for us. I noticed few months back that the number of leads generated from participating in online forums and other social networking websites increased month to month. Conversion on leads coming from those sources was sometimes better than that to leads coming from our own website. I guess it goes to show how important it is to participate in the social fabric of the Internet.

    On the same note, I notice that the more our writers are active in social outlets, the more clients and website visitors will want to work with them.

  4. Thanks Khalid. It’s interesting you mention leads. Most of mine tend to come after someone found me on a forum, though I’ve certainly generated leads directly through the site as well. In some respects I think it’s an indication some things on the site can be improved, though that’s really always the case with all sites, but it’s even more an indication of why it’s important to build a presence outside of your site and on the web in general.

    Do you find you generate more leads from specific social outlets or are the leads somewhat consistent across all where you participate?

  5. Good God I hope they can find our businesses. Between the blogs I write, and the guest posts I do, and the forums I’m on there should be multiple ways for people to learn about us. The thing people need to remember is being found in multiple venues takes work. It isn’t enough to simply leave your signature and move on. You have to provide content that has some value.

    The thing that remains constant, where ever people may find you, is the fact that you have to give them a reason to be interested in what you have to sell. Just being out there isn’t enough.

  6. Don’t worry Kristine. You’re all over the SERPs for your name. I think you’re business is there too.

    I agree it’s not easy work. It takes time to leave comments that add value everywhere. Thanks for leaving some of that value here by the way.

    Do you find there’s any one place that ends up leading to people contacting you? For me it tends to be posts I’ve left on forums.

  7. Linkedin and couple of the groups related to it have generated a good number of our leads. Second to that is stumble upon. Of course if I look at the traffic coming from stumble upon compared to the conversion rate for that traffic then the numbers are very low. However I can not complain when I get 4-5 leads a week from that traffic:)

  8. For me the forums generated a lot of traffic at first, and not so much now. Of course, I’ve slacked off a bit and don’t post as much as I used to. The radio interview I did generated some contacts, and the blogs seem to bring in interested people. Right now I’d say the blogs bring in the most people, the readership counts are steadily rising.

    Not, of course, that everyone who visits us buys, that only happens in bad television commercials. We do seem to have a steady stream of new people stopping by, however, so it means people can find us, which is good.

  9. Interesting Khalid that you’re getting leads from stumblers. I haven’t seen anyone else report that, but I’ve noticed as have others that stumblers tend to have the lowest bounce and stick around longer than other social media visitors. Is there a specific type of content that seems to work best?

    Kristine I’ve noticed the leads from forums come in waves. The first few months I post resulted in nothing followed by a couple of months in a row of new clients, most of whom are still clients today. Then for awhile nothing and back to more leads.

    It might have something to do with how active I happen to be participating at a given moment or maybe it’s one or two recent comments.

    Funny line about the bad tv commercials.

  10. Stumble did not give us any leads for a long time with. However, things changed when our posts for conversion stared getting traffic from stumble upon. The average time on site for that traffic is close 7 minutes which is decent. Also the bounce rate dropped a for that traffic. Leads started coming in about a month ago. Of course, the amount of traffic we are getting every week from stumble is close to 3k with around 3-4 conversions. Very bad conversion ratio but like I said, I can not complain about getting any leads!

  11. That’s interesting. I guess stumblers are interested in conversions then. Kind of ironic that when they started converting more in a sense on conversion posts. Still a better conversion rate than you might have gotten with some other social media sites.

    I haven’t had any leads through StumbleUpon, but it’s only recently people started stumbling my content. Stumblers do seem to stay longer on the site than others.

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