By Will Wynne, Managing Director, ArenaFlowers.com
I run Arena Flowers (arenaflowers.com), the online florist I launched with my green and green-fingered business partners, Steve and Ronald, in September of last year.
Arena Flowers is the first and only online British florist selling Fair Flowers Fair Plants (FFP) accredited flowers and plants - the new international standard which champions the ethical treatment of flowers, their environment and their growers.
That means Arena Flowers has a story to tell, something which has played no small part in our success to date, both in terms of sales and in terms of generating interest in the business.
An online business which has an interesting angle, which does something different or differently, is more likely to be written about both online and offline. The more it’s written about online, the more likely it is that new customers (and search engines) will find it.
At Arena Flowers, like at all online shops, we want to appear as near as possible to the top of search engine results for our targeted set of keywords.
Online businesses spend a lot of time researching the keyword combinations against which to optimise their site and their content, using tools such as Google trends and techniques such as keyword density optimisation and keyword difficulty checks.
We feel we have done a fairly good job of this over the last year, partly with paid-for listings and partly through strong positions in organic / natural searches.
However search engine placements are subject to unpredictable external factors and are thus volatile; in the case of natural search, due to the vagaries of the Google dance and Google’s ever-changing search algorithms, and, in the case of paid search, due to the competitive environment (eg. entrants to the market bidding up certain keywords and certain campaigns/keywords unprofitable).
Fortunately, before we’d ever truly experienced the volatility of search engines we were already working on a broader marketing strategy outside of search, to include affiliate marketing, comparison shopping, an eBay shop and, more recently, social networking.
This grand sounding strategy boils down to something very simple that all online businesses know (or at least they should!); build a business that could survive without Google’s natural search traffic and that isn’t too reliant on adwords. It makes sense in terms of de-risking a business’s profile and basically not being a hostage to Google.
Our website is commercial, but we try to make it friendly too, with quite a bit of background information and visuals about the team, as well as our aims and goals. Our ethical credentials help here too. Visitors can see us working away behind the scenes and so hopefully will be less likely to think of us as just another faceless internet entity.
Take advantage of new technological developments
Given the power of the internet, in particular following all the developments in the medium’s interactivity as a result of web 2.0, the last thing we want to do is produce the online equivalent of a mail-order catalogue.
We want to use all the multimedia and web development tools available to make sure people know who we are and to make sure that interacting with our website is a fun and colourful experience, like our flowers. All this helps our visits/sales conversion rate and average order price.
Blogging and Social Networking
Arena Flowers has a blog of course, arenaflowers.com/blog, but also videos on You Tube, a slot on BT’s Tradespace (which we’re still developing) plus we’ve added social bookmarking links to all our pages, so people can share pages from our site that they like.
The Arena Flowers blog is not only about flowers. Often it’s about key events in building Arena Flowers, the development of the website, or about online marketing and blogging itself – and sometimes it’s just a bit of fun.
That’s partly because all of the above are important elements of running Arena and partly because that’s what other bloggers are interested in and it’s what they relate to and link to.
Interest in Arena has surfaced on other blogs out there in the blogosphere, some of which we have actively solicited, some of which has occurred organically.
If you’re serious about networking your business online, then it makes sense to read and understand what bloggers are talking about, as often they are at the leading edge of online activity and trends.
You could also invite them to comment on your own site, if it fits with their particular blog. Bloggers are often fiercely defensive of their independence and would not appreciate being simply regarded as a marketing channel, and rightly so.
We recently approached some highly regarded bloggers to ask them for input. Despite three years’ experience in marketing at eBay.co.uk, it was nerve-wracking experience. But we did it. We offered a £50 free trial of our service.
If they weren’t comfortable doing it, if they felt compromised, we said we’d happily give £50 to a charity of their choice (and one blogger took us up on that offer). Also, we made it clear that if they thought we were rubbish, they should say so.
The idea worked well, as we connected on a human level with some online thought leaders and whilst we didn’t get an abundance of inbound links, we got some great input re the site (including fixing a serious bug) and some great editorial reviews of Arena.
Social networking is undoubtedly a long game, in the same way that building a brand is too. As a business, online or offline, having people say good things about you is a lot harder than saying good things about yourself.
Build consumer confidence
Consumer confidence and reputation can’t simply be generated overnight nor can they be bought; they have to grow over time. To many online organisations, where traffic can be bought instantly in Google, this feels achingly slow and frustrating.
In the long run, we believe that these kinds of slower burn, deep-seated reputation-building initiatives will be hugely significant and will help us build a stable business that is able to survive the knocks that Google, or anyone else, throws at us. And you can rest assured we’re going to have fun doing it.
Check out 12ahead, our brand new platform
covering the latest in cutting-edge digital marketing and creative technology from around the globe.
12ahead identifies emerging trends and helps
you to understand how they can apply to modern-day companies.
We believe 12ahead can put you and your
business 12 months ahead of the competition. Sign up for a free trial today.