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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The non-commercial Internet
An intriguing observation about using the Internet for business is that it doesn't really work for sales and marketing (even in the context of a construction marketing ideas blog). Sure, there are tacky and purportedly proven successful approaches to marketing over the web -- you see this all the time with these lengthy web pages filled with testimonials, calls to action, video clips, and offers of 'free newsletters' which turn out to be thinly or not-so-thinly disguised sales pitches. They work to some extent, I suppose, as do corporate (or even small business) websites which are sought out by potential clients, perhaps at the early stage of research processes. These are the variations of the electronic brochure -- useful if someone already knows about you, is looking for some more information and confidence-building support, but wants to gain insights about you without too much direct involvement.
Keyword advertising and 'pay-per-click' lead generation also have their place; here you have extremely effective measurability, and can match your commercial marketing to the organic or non-commercial side of the web. Nothing wrong with this -- it can be the most cost effective advertising you do.
But all of these elements overlay the following very direct and blunt observation: If you really want to take a leadership role on the Internet, you have to put your business interests to second place, and focus on giving real value without any expectation of return. A deviation from this role will, short term, cause your marketing to be perceived as spam and, long term, will harm your reputation.
The reason for is observation is simple. We are past the stage where readers -- at least readers with reasonable intelligence and experience; and these are most likely to be your clients for AEC services -- believe everything they see or read on the web. They quickly scan the website and if it 'smells' promotional or self-serving, avoid it like the plague. Yes, once you are well established, you can build some subtle marketing or promotion into your site or blog, but if it overpowers the thing -- or is seen as its main obvious purpose -- bam, readers will hit the delete or back button almost as fast as the speed of light.
So, is there value in creating content-rich websites and blogs where readers can gather information and even solve their underlying problems without giving you a cent of business -- especially when creating the useful content may take many hours of work and result in your giving away your insights and what many people would consider to be proprietary secrets?
The answer is 'yes' if you allow for longer-range impact.

  • Your authoritative website and/or blog will achieve, naturally, sufficient back links that it will begin rising in the organic search engine rankings. This is not instant, and since the search engines like Google and Yahoo are indeed businesses which sell paid advertising for their profitability, they are not going to rush to give you top space on truly valuable keywords unless your content really is useful and non self-serving;
  • Your Internet presence may eventually result in media attention, positive publicity and a higher reputation;
  • You may find your web presence enhances your current client and employee relationships.
These advantages, of course, are offset by the time and effort you need to spend at the work. But if you are thoughtful, you won't need to spend as long as you think.
For your website, for example, consider including several pages of knowledge and resources relevant to your area of expertise and skill (and your local or regional market considerations). Done right, this 'evergreen' content only will need occasional refreshing and updating -- or can be supplemented with a blog or similar resource; requiring some time each day or week, but not much effort in maintenance or posting. Don't worry about selling anything on these pages -- in fact, edit them so that your marketing message is 'out' and your value to readers is in.
Then relax. Your phone won't ring, you won't receive enthusiastic emails saying "I want to do business with you" and you'll wonder if anyone is reading your words. At least initially. But after about a year, if you do it right, you'll begin seeing signs that things are working. And I believe after two to three years, you'll see tangible and meaningful business success from your efforts.
Does this posting seem a little autobiographical? It is.

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