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Moving Up with Social Media

A venerable Vancouver business, Ferguson Moving already had a solid business base of repeat and referred clients. Then, working with the online solutions provider SmarttNet, Ferguson parlayed shrewd, innovative strategies into a whopping 2,000 percent increase in its Internet traffic. Talk about becoming a mover and a shaker …

Ferguson Moving and Storage is the oldest moving company in Vancouver. It started out in 1916 with a flat-deck Ford Truck with canvas sides. Today, Ferguson moves about 2,700 families a year into new homes. With 70 percent of those moves being repeat or referred customers, the company has a solid business base.

But every business needs a good supply of new customers to prosper and grow. So, in mid-2008, with only three percent of business coming from the Internet, and page after page of start-up companies ahead of Ferguson’s site (www.FergusonMoving.com) on Google, VP Lorne MacInnes decided it was time to enlist some online marketing expertise.

MacInnes’s search led him to SmarttNet (www.MarketingSmartt.com), a complete online solutions provider with a knack for moving clients up the search engine rankings. SmarttNet uses well-established search engine optimization techniques, combined with newer social media strategies.

In the 18 months since Ferguson enlisted SmarttNet’s help, Internet traffic has soared by 2,000 percent. Ferguson can now be found on the first page of Google for all its important keywords (mostly related to moving and storage in Vancouver), and 18 percent of business now comes from online leads. The company has tripled its staff – going from 15 to 45 – just to deal with the increase in business. And while many companies have struggled with the impact of the economic downturn, Ferguson’s revenues have actually increased – by 32.5 percent – bringing it to $3 million in revenue for this year.

“We need to be where our customers’ eyeballs are,” MacInnes says. “And these days more and more people’s eyeballs are on a computer screen.”

Martin Wong, marketing officer at SmarttNet and a partner in the company, worked closely with MacInnes to develop the strategy that would see Ferguson’s search engine rankings start to climb almost immediately.

Wong is a staunch believer in social media. In fact, it was an early version of social networking that first connected him to SmarttNet nine years ago. While playing a “really geeky” Internet game involving a multi-player dungeon, Wong mentioned to one of the other players that he was about to begin his studies at the University of British Columbia. The other player, who worked at SmarttNet, mentioned that Saleh Tousi, the son of SmarttNet’s founders, was also heading to UBC. He suggested Wong keep an eye out for him.

So, when a Saleh showed up in his first class, Wong knew it had to be the same person. He approached Tousi, and the two became fast friends. Nine years later, Tousi is the CEO and Wong’s business partner, and they’re running SmarttNet together (though on a busy day, if you call tech support, you still might get either one of them on the phone).

In addition to online marketing and search engine optimization services, SmarttNet provides business Internet connectivity, co-location services, and web design. Having been in business 17 years, SmarttNet intimately understands the nature of the Internet. Its staff knows that the tools available to maximize Internet use change dramatically over time. According to Wong, “social media,” and the broader label “Web 2.0,” embody what the Internet was always meant to be.

“The Internet has always been about sharing information,” Wong says. “But there were technological limitations that kept social media functionalities from catching on.”

With those limitations – including limited bandwidth and a lack of easy-to-use and accessible development tools – now out of the picture, the Internet has finally become the interactive space it was always envisioned to be. It’s that interaction that gives social media its name – and what makes social media so easy to implement as a marketing strategy.

Unlike TV campaigns, or even old-fashioned static websites, where the presentation is as important as the message, social media are all about interacting with your customers, giving them information and tools, and encouraging their feedback and participation with your brand.

“It’s no longer a one-way message,” Wong says “It’s about collaboration between businesses and consumers.”

For Ferguson, this meant getting rid of their old, brochure-style website, and harnessing their 94 years’ worth of moving expertise to create a helpful and dynamic experience for visitors. SmarttNet guided Ferguson to offer information that potential customers were already searching for online, and to use keywords in all of the materials it created. SmarttNet helped Ferguson make sure its information came up when potential clients Googled popular search terms. It also helped Ferguson build credibility as a knowledgeable and customer-focused company at the same time.

Based on SmarttNet’s strategy, Ferguson started by writing articles filled with moving tips and posting them to online article directories like EzineArticles.com. Each article includes a link back to Ferguson’s site. Since Google views links from outside sources as “votes” for the value of a website, each link helps to boost Ferguson’s ranking. The next step was to post the same articles on FergusonMoving.com, adding valuable keywords and content to the site itself.

Then, Ferguson and SmarttNet repackaged that same information into videos, which they posted to YouTube, and embedded on FergusonMoving.com. Both Google and real people love video – and it’s one of the most interactive features you can get on the web. It’s also easy to create with the most basic equipment – like a webcam.

“It’s more about the value of the content than the production values,” Wong explains. Within just a couple of weeks of implementing SmarttNet’s strategies, Ferguson started to climb in the search engine rankings, and within three months noticed a distinct increase in online leads. “I’d recommend SmarttNet to all businesses,” MacInnes says. “Except my competitors in the moving and storage industry!”

Now, SmarttNet is helping Ferguson break into social networking – the most social of all the social media. With newly launched Facebook and Twitter pages, Ferguson has two more ways to interact with potential customers – and two more platforms for all that valuable content they’re creating. And with Google now indexing both Facebook and Twitter, these additional platforms will help Ferguson maintain its rankings.

This may sound like a lot of work – and it would be if done manually. But SmarttNet sets clients up on WordPress, a content management system originally designed for blogging, but now used by many companies – including Ferguson – to manage entire websites.

WordPress has several major benefits. First, it’s free – and its reputation is right up there with enterprise solutions that charge tens of thousands of dollars. Second, because WordPress includes built-in tools that make it as easy to update a website as it is to update a blog (meaning no technical expertise is required), companies can make frequent updates to their websites – maximizing all of the great content that most companies already produce on a regular basis but never get around to posting online.

And last, but perhaps most important, WordPress includes plug-ins that automatically syndicate content across a number of platforms, including Facebook and Twitter – so Ferguson employees only have to post the material once to reap the benefits of multiple social media tools. Plus, WordPress creates an RSS news feed of all website updates. This means visitors can subscribe to see all new Ferguson content, just like they would subscribe to a blog.

In the end, though, it’s not the tools themselves that help a website climb in the search engine rankings – it’s the quality of the content that’s distributed through those tools.

“Google is a dynamic animal,” Wong says. “If you focus too much on the technology, it puts you in a more vulnerable position. If you have tons of good content and people linking to you, then 10 years from now your website will still rank high. Having something to say is more important than where you say it.”

Once Ferguson has landed a sale, MacInnes provides the same excellent customer service that’s been the company’s trademark for 94 years. Its new online clients become part of that 70 percent repeat-business base. “It’s important to make it easy for people to find you,” MacInnes says. “But there still has to be a ‘you’ at the end of the line. Don’t try to use tricks just to get your phone ringing.”

With SmarttNet’s guidance, Ferguson is now asking those happy customers to review their service on HomeStars.com, a review site specific to home- and moving-related businesses. The excellent reviews help establish the company’s reputation further, and, in turn, bring in even more online leads.

According to Wong, it’s this relationship with customers that’s most important. Internet marketing in general and social media in particular should simply be seen as new channels for connection rather than a whole new marketing philosophy.

“The strategies are not that different,” Wong says. “There are just new tools, and you have to adapt to the consumer having more of a voice. If you want good reviews, focus on customer support and good service. There you go – that’s social media.”

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