Does SEO really work? Well, former software developer Chris D’Agnese saw an opportunity to build a promotional products business solely off of online sales, based on the ideas that consumers like to research and compare before purchasing. Using simple SEO tactics, Inkhead’s sales increased 32% from 2008 to 2009. As a member of the Promotional Products Association International, here’s what Chris had to say:
Tell us about your business.
The internet happened to be a perfect medium for the promotional products industry due to the vast amount of product and supplier choices, fast turnaround times required, low competition, and customer need for lower pricing and streamlined processes. So I, and two other, very good software developers, set out to revolutionize promotional products on the Web by creating an organic, robust Web application that is seamlessly integrated with our website, our ordering system, billing system, and CRM system, all in one.
It’s a place where marketing professionals, small businesses, universities, government and the like can go online at any time of the day, any day of the week and research/purchase quality promotional items to promote their business/message and do it for less money and effort.
Now that we have an award-winning, world class Website, a happy and knowledgeable staff, things are going better than ever. Sales are reaching record growth numbers year over year, and we’re in the process of moving to a new location to accommodate for the near 100% increase in employees.
What was the biggest challenge in starting your business and how did you overcome it?
Getting 15000 + products on the site maintained and ready for purchase. There are many options available to consider when purchasing promotional items, and online, it can be a very challenging task when there are so many items and suppliers to choose from. There are materials, colors, imprint areas, decoration methods, shipping methods, rush production options, images, etc.
How do you display these options to the user so that the information is clear and concise? How do you calculate and present back accurate pricing instantly based on user input? With so many products, how do you categorize them so that a user can narrow their choices? How do you then encourage the user to take the steps required to convert them into paying customers? When pricing changes, how do you update all of the products before they are out of date again?
These are just a few of the challenges we face and continue to optimize. The key is to do more planning and testing than implementation. It should be an organic and ever evolving process. If you dive in and start trying to display every product available with every option available, that’s all you will accomplish and when you’re done, you’ll have to do it all over again.
What marketing and promotional tactics did you use to grow your business and why?
We have tried everything from affiliate and referral programs, to direct mail, catalogs, email blasts, and online Pay Per Click advertising. We used these mediums at first because we were really just following the lead of most others in the industry.
We thought, “If these guys are doing it, then it must work.” Well, we were wrong. We learned that just because successful companies are doing something, it doesn’t mean they are doing it correctly or optimally and if they are, it still may not be the right thing for our company.
We learned that print marketing and Pay Per Click advertising are incredibly expensive and not great converters. We then changed our strategy to focus on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). That was one of the best decisions we ever made. If done correctly, this avenue yields high volumes of qualified buyers at a very low cost.
What marketing and promotional tactics worked best, and why do you think that is?
The core of our business comes from high levels of search engine visibility via Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). There’s just no better medium for the amount of lead volume for the low amount of costs. The unique visitors (not the meaningless “hits” metric) to our website via search engines are over 100,000 per month and costs us next to nothing. Where else can you get that much exposure for so little money?
If you had to start over again, is there anything you would do differently and why or why not?
Make sure every partner, vendor, and the like are not only part of the potential success, but that they are also held accountable for the potential failure. And make sure it’s in writing. Even though InkHead has enjoyed a great amount of success, we would be a great deal further along had we dotted a few “I’s” and crossed a few “T’s” when forming relationships.
What advice do you have for new entrepreneurs pursuing their business dreams?
Increase your chances of success by learning to fail.
Don’t get too busy making plans for all your future success, yet plan for failure, always in writing, and when it goes wrong you’ll have a chance to try it again.
If you’re going to do something, get it done immediately. Perfect plans never get executed, so start things a step at a time and build as you go, but do it now. If you don’t, someone else will.
Embrace the Web.
Relationships are essential when starting and maintaining a new business. No vendor, customer, partner or employee enjoys building relationships with business owners who are arrogant, unethical, or too prideful to accept responsibility for mistakes. So, you must leave pride at home and learn to gracefully take your blows. Resolve issues quickly by being straightforward but respectful.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
There is no greater value to a business owner than being seen and heard as a recognized brand. Promotions and relationships are proven to be the most effective way to do this. That is what InkHead’s business model is all about. That is what we do for our customers, employees, vendors, and ourselves.
Thanks for your great insights and tips Chris! We wish you all the best and continued success!
How about you? Do you need help with your SEO copywriting and marketing strategies to boost sales, awareness and credibility? Please write to me here or at www.rembrandtwrites.com.