Apr 16 2009

Business Directories and Breadcrumbs, the Alternative to Google.

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So, you’ve junked your day job and made the commitment to your shiny new startup business. You’ve created your website, and what’s the first thing you do now?  Like just about every other startup business person you do the search on Google for your business name.

At this point, two things might happen:

  1. You discover you “own” the first page of Google results and you feel satisfied that you’re now on the map, or
  2. Your business is nowhere to be seen, and you lapse into a state of abject depression

OK, so it’s not quite as binary as that, but you get my point.  What we’re all hoping for is to see our business name up there in lights, right?

Let’s assume for a minute that you did find your business on that sometimes-elusive first page of Google search results. Before you break open the celebratory drink, let’s just think about this a little more.  What you’ve demonstrated is that people who already know your business name can find you.  But what about all those prospective customers out there who don’t yet know your business?

At this point you have to, as my mother would say, “use yer loaf;” it’s time to start to think about what keywords and key phrases those unknowing customers are likely to use to find your business. So, start now, make a list.  There are some key things you should consider when doing this. Here are my few golden rules for building out your keyword list:

Don’t use jargon unless its understood by consumers too.  Every industry has its own technical jargon that’s used internally by practitioners within the industry, but before slipping into those familiar words, consider first if they have crossed over into general consumer use.

Think local. Depending upon who you listen to, somewhere between 20% and 40% of all searches have a local component—a place name, or some other inferred geographic qualifier.  So, what’s your catchment area, what are the towns, villages, locations, urban areas, landmarks, counties, states, and even countries that you’re looking to serve?  Add those to your list too.

Products and brands. Clearly if you stock particular products and brands, or a particularly specialized type of product then these should be strong contenders for keywords and phrases.  One experience we had with Brownbook.net, which is my business, was a double glazing and patio supplier that won an order for over £7,500 when a customer found them through Google using the phrase “bifold doors” (this is a particularly specialized type of patio door that folds right back to expose your back yard).  Clearly, had they not included that key phrase, and instead stuck with generics like “patio doors” they would not have won the business (somewhat ironically, it transpired that that extra tag was added to their Brownbook listing by a regular employee—not a marketeer—that came across their listing).

Consider using modifiers. This is something new we’ve been experimenting with at Brownbook.net—advising our business customers to try adding modifiers, and early results look promising. The idea is to include keywords that tap into users’ behavior when searching—for example “cheap xyz”.  The word “cheap” is what I’ll call the modifier; it modifies your actual keyword (in this case the keyword being “xyz”).  Think about it, if you sell lifejackets, do you think people search for “high quality lifejackets”?  Of course they don’t, they search for “cheap lifejackets”, “lifejackets sale”, “best price on lifejackets” etc.  You get my point.  When I talk to brand owners they often have a problem with this until they realize the potential SEO benefits. Most brand owners don’t want to say their stuff is “cheap.” Rather, they prefer “good value”, but who the hell searches for “good value” anything?  So, brand owners might need to put the ego and “brand thinking” aside for this one.

Jump on a news bandwagon. Can you tie your product or service to a current news story or trend?  The most obvious example for me of recent years was the buzz that surrounded the iPhone.  All of a sudden a whole host of companies were proclaiming support for the iPhone, and justifiably associating their products or services with that hot brand.  The intention, of course, to attract people sensitized to that new trend.

Exploit the long-tail. The most obvious keywords and phrases are often those that are most fiercely competitive, and though search volume for those terms is high (which seems like a good thing) there’s so much content that gets returned in a search that your brand gets lost (which is bad).  So, consider long-tail keywords and phrases that have less traffic but are also less competitive.  The question to ask is this: So what if the search term is only getting 1,000 searches a month, if you can be prominent in all those 1,000 is that enough?  You may find you need only to capture a small percentage of that lot to be successful.  Think ‘big fish in small pond’.

Use common misspellings. Perhaps an obvious one; and one that’s already had a lot written about it.  Need I explian (sic) more?

Keep your keyword list current. With all the above, regular attention is important, but especially with product and brand names, and bandwagon strategies. You just got a new product range in? Update your keywords. You spot a new trend that you can associate with?  Update your keywords.  This isn’t always as easy as it sounds, and though its easy to be blogging with current keywords, entries you may have created in local directories may be harder to change quickly, if at all.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I’d certainly encourage all you smart people out there to add your own suggestions via the comments.  Now, lets assume now you’ve compiled your master list.  So how can you use it?

A few breadcrumbs go a long way

I’m going to focus on one concept called breadcrumbing (no, nothing to do with the idea of a breadcrumb trail) on your webpages.  In this case what I’m referring to is dropping little ‘crumbs’ about your business all over the web, to allow prospective customers to find their way back to your web presence, and thence to actually contact you.

Many years ago, when websites among small businesses were still uncommon, a lot of attention was spent by businesses on their websites; their showcase or home on the web.  These days, with so many websites out there the focus has shifted, to encompass not just your website, but all the places in which you can create high value links back to your website, drawing in attention from many places.

This technique does two things for you in relation to search engines:

First, getting plenty of high value links to your web site has always been desirable for getting your website up the rankings.

Second, and of increasing importance for young and agile small businesses, the object is to dominate the search results by populating them with other sites as well as your own that are all referring people back to your own.

Using local and business directories for breadcrumbing

A large chunk of my career was spent in big directory companies, but recent years have lead me towards the more distributed publishing model of social media and user generated content.   I speak with many small and large business owners all over the world, and one common thread emerges: those that are web-savvy are using these sites to list their businesses to execute a breadcrumbing strategy.

Of course they want their own website to appear in the search results, but those whose strategy has matured sufficiently also realize the value of getting several bites at the cherry by having third party sites where they’re listed too.  Its actually not about getting found in these sites themselves, but about piggy-backing on their good SEO to get found in the primary search engines.  So this becomes a slightly more indirect but additional route to customer acquisition:

User behavior on the web started out something a little like this: Open web browser –> type URL to visit business’s website –> customer acquisition.

Then it became: Open web browser –> query a search engine –> click to business’s website –> customer acquisition.

Today, the process goes more like this: Open web browser –> query search engine –> click to a site where a business is featured –> read something interesting enough to engage the user –> click to business’s website –> customer acquisition.

Hidden in this process is an obvious, but often overlooked, point: the distinction between the behavior of search engines and the behavior of people. Getting in the results (with your own site, and with referring sites) is only the start; getting people to click on one of those links and be motivated enough to actually get in touch with you is the key.

Conclusions and advice

What we’re really seeking with this process is almost omnipresence, to be everywhere we possibly can.

The advice then, considering my area of experience, is to use local search sites, vertical directories, and general business directories to list your business in as many places as possible, with relevant keywords and key phrases, and with links back to your own site if you have one (if you don’t, choose one of these directories as your main presence, and direct all other breadcrumbs to that site). You also must be prepared to invest the small amount of time required to keep these fresh and current.

This is not something that needs big budgets and large marketing teams.  It can be done on a shoestring, if you pick your places carefully.  It doesn’t necessary require paid listings; a lot can be done with free listings.  Consider that the ‘traditional’ directory companies are built on a sales model that required expensive sales forces and the corresponding high overheads, and their prices will reflect this.  Consider, also, that it’s often not the traditional directories that have the best chance of getting you into the search results pages—many of them still think that they are the point of entry for consumers, when most of us know its Google—so a strategy that embraces several of the alternatives at lower cost may be more effective.

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2 Comments on this post


  1. Scot said:

    Good thorough introduction to SEO

    April 17th, 2009 at 2:31 pm
  2. With This Diet I Was Able to Lose T h i r t y P o u n d s in Thirty Days said:

    Hi, cool post. I have been thinking about this issue,so thanks for posting. I will certainly be coming back to your blog. Keep up the good posts

    May 6th, 2009 at 6:47 am


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