Last year U.S. companies spent more than $26 billion advertising on the Internet. They’re on track to surpass that record number in 2011. In the latest in our occasional series, WNPR’s Harriet Jones looks at the small Connecticut companies who are benefiting from that trend.
Times might be hard in many industries right now, but at the offices of WebSolutions in Meriden, you’d never know it.
“Even if marketing budgets are shrinking, more of that marketing budget is shifting towards what we do and provide for people.”
Lori O’Brien founded WebSolutions with Tom Barton back in 1996, days she describes as the Wild West of website development.
“So you had a lot of people asking for a quote from us, and then saying, oh, you know my brother’s nephew’s next door neighbor can do the website for us, so I’m going to go with him.”
These days the whole field has become a lot more professionalized.
"Well, this is part of an application we use to manage our hosting environment. Our hosting environment consists of about 17 different servers...."
Chris Anton is Technology Director at WebSolutions.
“There’s been a lot of technological advances and really a large increase in the software engineering body of knowledge, which is really the amount of knowledge you have to have to successfully program websites – much greater than when we started 10, 15 years ago.”
As the field changes so the company has to adapt and expand its services. It now employs 16 people, and is still hiring. WebSolutions has acquired three other small marketing companies in recent years, and now has 500 clients. As well as building websites they manage and update content for clients, offer search engine optimization and social media campaigns. Lori O’Brien says the advent of Facebook, Twitter and other platforms has opened the way for much smaller companies to take full advantage of Internet marketing.
“Dollars and cents is what it all boils down to, in that a lot of the social media opportunities out there are free, or close to free. You also have the ability to change and evolve and grow those campaigns without much cost to you.”
But in Internet marketing, keeping up is the name of the game.
“In our office right now the big thing is talking about Google Plus. Facebook has been going through a lot of changes both to aesthetics, functionality, privacy, things like that, and the question is will everyone shift over to Google Plus or not. And I’m sure there’ll be another one on the horizon.”
WebSolutions is one of the bigger and longer established players in Connecticut, but new companies are coming into the field all the time. Site-Seeker is a New York-based company that two years ago established a foothold in Connecticut via an office in Bloomfield. Kathy Hokunson’s job has been to develop a client base here, and she’s followed her own advice, with a social media campaign.
“So one of the things that I did was I got on Twitter and I started following everyone in the marketplace that I considered peers and competitors. And I engaged with them and really started building out the Site-Seeker brand. And my number one goal was that as I started competing in bids against other vendors, when they said we’re also talking to Site-Seeker, I didn’t want them to say ‘who?’, I wanted them to say ‘oh’.”
Eighty percent of Site-Seeker’s clients are manufacturing businesses who usually aren’t looking for consumers – they need to sell their services to other businesses.
“Manufacturing in the last year to 18 months is really starting to embrace the fact that the website can impact their businesses. Four or five years ago, they just wanted a brochure – you know, just put a picture of my building, tell them what my facilities are and that’s all I need. And now they’re really coming to terms with the fact that it could be an effective lead generator.”
To that end, Hokunson has her clients sign on for a full year of services. The costs can vary from about $30,000 to as much as $200,000 per year, depending on what they need.
“And what I tell them is in the first three to four months when I stop by you’re going to look at me like, ‘what did you sell me lady?’, and I said about month six maybe we’re going to have lunch again together, and by the end of the year we’ll be good friends and you’ll be thrilled with the success that we’ve delivered.”
That success, she says is increasingly measurable through tools like Google analytics, and it’s not all about winning the search engine wars.
“We actually rarely ever report on position to our clients. We rarely call them up and say ooh, you’re number one on Google. But we report to them more on what are the different terms and phrases they’re being found for. And when they’re found for those phrases, what are they doing within the website? How many of them are actually getting to a contact form and clicking submit on that contact form?”
When it comes to social media, Hokunson says getting it right can drive success in the most surprising places.
“I have a client that manufactures and sells globally orbital welding machines, and they have an incredible presence on Facebook. Actual great conversation about training session in Brazil, types of equipment and where they can get spare parts and how much they love their machines. I was actually kind of floored by it.”
Forty-four percent of small and medium size businesses polled last month reported using social media campaigns – that compares to less than 20 percent using older methods like billboards and TV.
For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.