Friday, 13 June 2008

Training companies should do more online marketing (Question: Do you need to have a large marketing budget to gain a large presence on the web?)

Over the weekend I was trying to find some free open source software to convert AVI (video) files to DVD (that’s enough technical detail!). Anyway, I searched for a hour and all I found were the same two companies offering a free 30 days trial (thereafter you had to pay).

I searched on google and the other search engines – these two companies dominated all the (unpaid organic) search engines (!). I searched on blogs. I searched social networking sites (eg. Facebook). I searched online news. I searched discussion forums. I searched bit torrent sites (download sites) and their related communities, but still all I got pointed to were the same two commercial companies. It seems that everywhere I turned for independent peer advice had been infiltrated by these two companies (through multiple personalities!).

Are there only two companies offering what I want? No. There are hundreds of different types of software out there to do what I want. The morale of the story is that these two companies had superb web marketing and dominated the web (this type of marketing is called Search Engine Optimisation SEO). I bet both companies had only one or two guys doing their web marketing stuff and a small budget – yet they dominated the web.

My question is – why don’t training providers do the same? It’s cheap and just takes staff time (together with a small marketing budget).

However, many companies do spend a great deal on SEO, but find it much more cost effective than offline marketing (TV/radio/press etc). It partly depends on whether you have 1 or many products to sell, and how you want to position your brand.

My objective view (objective I promise!) is that my own company (Ufi learndirect) is the best company by some considerable distance for web marketing. But still it does not dominate the web like some other companies in their field (learndirect probably has only 20% of the coverage of the two companies stated above). We’ve good for searches under terms like “courses”, “skills for life” and “business courses”, but not for terms like NVQs, training or particular subject matter (I’m talking unpaid rather than paid searches). Even under the terms courses, skills for life and business, we do not really dominate search engine results. We don’t come up under blogs, social networks, micro networking sites/blogging sites for mobile, VoiP sites (eg. Skype), online news and community/professional/sector sites in the way some other companies do. These are the ways that really influence customers and learners. Our learners are increasingly using the web in ways that were previously the reserve for under 24 year olds or the geeks. It is time for training companies to really “get the web” and start doing some stuff. You don’t need a large marketing budget the dominate the web. You need time, effort and people expertise.

PS. I run many of my blogs past the relevant Ufi expert in their field. So thank you to Chris Jackson for commenting on the draft (Chris is an expert on web strategy & web marketing). Chris’ point was that many companies invest hugely in Search Engine Optimisation. Companies are spending 30% of their marketing budgets on online marketing (I’ve seen recent figures stating that it is now 50%). Many companies are now spending roughly 15 to 20% of their total marketing budgets on SEO. My view is that companies need to rebalance their marketing budgets to ensure a big enough proportion on SEO (as this is better value for money). Why don’t you check your marketing budget: are you spending 15-20% of the marketing budget on SEO?

The alternative is to devote the equivalent in staff time on SEO. You can achieve a great, great deal via SEO at very low budget cost if you have the staff expertise and know-how. However many training companies fail on both accounts – they don’t spend on SEO, nor do they devote staff time to it. They are missing a trick.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Darren, I found your post very interesting. I also work for Ufi learndirect and have noticed some of the things that you have mentioned. As you probably know there are a number of factors that contribute toward your ranking in search engines i.e. domain extension, age of domain SEO factors and other unknowns that the search engine algorithm thinks up.

I would tend to disagree with the notion that SEO has to be expensive (15-20% in marketing) and agree moreso with your closing paragraph. Yes there is work involved in maintaining a good position in the natural search results but a lot of the techniques are free or freely available but do take time.

The example that you cited about your AVI to DVD converter software is a good example of keyword domination. The two companies you mentioned have isolated the keywords that users will be searching for and concentrated on those in terms of their SEO.

Looking at the learndirect example, learndirect do not appear to be competing for the keywords you mentioned i.e. skills for life, business courses, NVQ so they would not rank for them. A quick look at the keywords in the meta tags (view page source)seems to bear this out .

Another example is e-learning. Your blog says that learndirect is the largest elearning company outside of China, however if you enter elearning into Google, learndirect does not rank (not in the first 5 pages anyway). This probably means that they are not competing for this term either or not doing enough SEO around this keyword to maintain a position for it.

The site that does hold second postion for this term is comin second to wikipedia which is understandable. They appear to be competing for the term by looking at their keywords. Strangely enough they do not rank in Alexa wheras learndirect does and their traffic appears to be a fraction of what learndirect gets. This would indicate that it might be possible for learndirect to dominate this keyword if they chose to target it.

As you mentioned it's a matter of how learndirect want to position itself. There are distinct advantages that Web 2.0 offers to those sites wishing to get ranked highly in the natural search results, but these techniques also require time to setup and maintain but are not difficult or costly. In summary Keywords + SEO = Traffic = Rank.