By Erica Bray
We live in an Internet-centric world, and with a record-number of Americans either starting or running a new business, it’s no wonder that many start-ups seek advice on how to achieve digital success from experts such as Stephen Rosenberg.
Rosenberg is the co-founder of Perfect Pitch Concepts, an online marketing agency that helps entrepreneurs launch websites and create digital strategies. It's a much-needed service. Nearly 27 million Americans, according to a recent report from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), have either started or are operating a new business -- the highest number in the two decades since the group began recording such activity.
This proliferation of startup businesses, Rosenberg says, is due to the ubiquity of mostly free technology; a job market that makes entrepreneurship attractive; and a generation of Millennials who think they can impact change faster on their own rather than at a large corporation. "These days, you can just put up a website, roll up your sleeves and get to work," he says.
It all translates to an expanding digital jungle in which new businesses fight to stand out. Rosenberg shared his insights on how to do just that.
This statistic from Google might surprise most people: more than 50 percent of businesses don't have a website. It begs the question, does every business "need" to be online?
Yes, most should be online. The Internet and globalization brought competition to pretty much every nook and cranny on the planet. That puts intense pressure on brick-and-mortar businesses. If you used to be the local, say, sewing shop -- suddenly you are competing with the world. That competition has only increased and will continue to do so.
How can a start-up standout digitally in a sea of so many businesses?
The secret is to build a brand. Search engines [such as Google] primarily favor quality brands that people can trust to reliably deliver positive experiences. Consumers want to know who’s behind a site before forking over hard-earned money, and before believing they’ll actually receive a product the site promises to deliver. This sliver of doubt is the difference between a domain and a brand. It’s important to SEO [search engine optimization].
Take the real-world example Cocktaildresses.com. It’s a perfectly fine, simple e-commerce site, but it isn’t a brand. It’s purely transactional and without real content, or a story or testimonials. When people search online for the term “cocktail dresses,” the engine they use will populate results for sites tied to brand names -- instead of generic ones like Cocktaildresses.com.
How, then, does a domain name fall into digital branding strategy?
Domain names set the tone for the entire brand. A name is everything, but it’s still only the beginning. The core of every great brand is a product or service that lives up to its promise. For Amazon, it’s low prices and cheap delivery on seemingly everything. For Google, it’s a revolutionary way to organize and instantly access the world’s information.
How can you build a trusted brand?
Branding is about more than just your name, logo and color palette. It’s about acutely understanding your core value proposition, mapping out your company’s purpose and having a plan to live up to that promise.
What’s your opinion about the newest domain options, such as ‘dot-agency’ (.agency), ‘dot-world’ (.world) and ‘dot-life’ (.life) -- also referred to as ‘not-coms’?
If you can tell a story on a not-com, versus forcing a story a ‘dot-com’ thenI’m all for it. Take your brand for instance, Name.Kitchen. Is the company literally a kitchen? Hardly. But the mash-up suggests ingredients coming together to create something with meaning, and it’s highly memorable, which is an incredibly important part of branding and SEO.
The engagement consumers have with a brand is tied to its storytelling; it’s what makes it mean something to us. For storytelling to lead to business conversions it must be cross-functional and flow across four primary areas: Business, Technical, Content and Social. [Learn more in this business and branding development guide on the Perfect Pitch Concepts blog.]
How exactly can a “not-com” domain benefit a startup’s online presence?
Probably the most important thing a ‘not-com’ can offer is memorability. Most people don’t type a site’s full URL to find it online. Instead, they search for a product by its brand name. If you’re a quality brand, consumers don’t even think about you as a ‘dot-com.’
Think about that for a moment: People look online for a brand, not a ‘dot-com.’ Without getting too metaphysical on you, there isn’t a real gap between a brand and “online;” a ‘not-com’ helps break down any final barrier between the two. Not-coms provide creative flexibility beyond the limits of the ‘dot-com’ world. They create opportunities. They allow you so many naming options that you can create a brand name that’s the exact match of your domain name.
What about the widespread thought that you must be a ‘dot-com’ to be discovered online?
There is this popular misconception that you need a ‘dot-com’ to get traffic. As if having a ‘dot-com’ is all it takes to unleash the floodgates of the web. To put the nail in the coffin of this misconception: Why would Google invest so heavily in ‘not-coms’ if they didn’t see a future in them? As far as SEO goes, keywords are still useful in domains, but the generic top-level domains (or domain endings such as: .com, .kitchen, .agency, etc.) don’t really matter.
What we’re seeing in this ‘dot-com’ vs. ‘not-com’ traffic debate is a classic mistake of confusing correlation with causality. Just because most sites that get a lot of traffic are ‘dot-coms,’ doesn’t mean that being a ’dot-com’ is the reason for that traffic.
If a domain name isn’t the silver bullet, what core ingredients affect traffic to a website?
Generating site traffic comes from having: a quality, mobile-friendly website; fast load speeds; intuitively structured information; relevant content; inbound links; positive reviews; a solid business strategy; social media; technical SEO issue remediation … and so much more.
If you’re pulling all that off, then you’re delivering a positive experience for visitors and deserve traffic. Why should a lower-quality site outrank a higher quality site just because it lives on a ‘dot-com’? What Google is interested in is delivering the best result. That’s what Matt Cutts, the influential Google spokesman on search-related issues as part of the company’s search quality team, said in a video.
What’s the secret to serving up your business as that “best result” online?
The best advice I can give is to optimize for humans. Instead of thinking too much about search engines, think more about positive human experiences. Don’t use a keyword over and over, thinking that it’ll help Google find you, even if it makes the page look terrible. Google will find you and then likely ding you with a spam warning.
Build your site with strong fundamentals and continue to invest in ongoing content that tells your story. Strive to attract other quality websites to link back to your site -- a major component of SEO. If you do all that, you’re building a quality brand -- and that’s SEO. People trust brands, and Google likes sites that people trust.