As SME month comes to an end here at RDPR, we've decided to end proceedings with a detailed look at real-life examples of how some of the top SMEs in the region are utilising online marketing.
Using the SME 300 table produced by North-West Business Insider in November last year as a basis, we've delved into the web presence of the top ten companies to see how actively they're embracing online marketing, what platforms they're using and suggested potential areas where they could expand their efforts.
In a stark contrast to the research we conducted on housebuilders earlier in the year, we found that North-West SMEs were somewhat haphazard in their uptake of online marketing techniques.
Of the ten companies we looked into:
- Only one had an active blog
- Half of those with a Twitter presence were not tweeting
- Five had integrated Google Analytics with their websites
While the suitability of online marketing largely depends upon the type of business you conduct, and we'd never prescribe it as a one-size-fits-all solution for every business, we were surprised that so few of the SMEs we reviewed were actively participating.
Usually, we'd compare how companies are faring on various platforms and point out who's doing it best. But with such a small sample size, we felt it'd make more sense to profile each of the active SMEs in the top 10.
Site: UKFast is easily top of the online marketing class in terms of the SMEs we've researched. Its beautifully-presented site offers a fantastic user experience, every conceivable scrap of information a potential customer could want and an engaging, regularly-updated blog.
Social: UKFast's social team is on the ball, offering a daily flurry of activity and engagement. For the most part, they manage to strike a balance between promoting their own content and activities, and posting engaging, third-party stuff. However, their efforts are slightly weighted in favour of the former, and there's a definite emphasis on raising the profile of CEO Lawrence Jones.
The company hasn't opted to include a social feed on its homepage, however, and this section is only furnished with 'share' links (as opposed to 'follow' links to its profiles) for Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. Similarly, UKFast have neglected to promote their YouTube presence on-site, despite the fact it's flush with some great case studies, explanatory videos and … other stuff.
Content: Here's where we feel UKFast has scope for expansion. The company's main blog is brilliant in terms of activity and the quality of writing can't be faulted. However, their choice of topic is a bit haphazard and it gives the impression there's no overarching strategy for its use as a marketing asset.
Their content team's posts on new domain extensions are spot-on and their updates on the world of data security make for great reading. Despite this, the blog is slightly marred by the inclusion of somewhat-meandering posts that, while interesting, don't seem to have a clear aim.
The blog is also partially hidden away. Despite coming under the 'Why UKFast' section of the footer menu, it doesn't appear on the top dropdown menu. And there isn't a feed of the latest posts on the homepage.
Site: For a company that caters for a relatively niche sector, EA Technology boasts a robust, aesthetically-pleasing and functional site, and is seriously active on social to boot.
The site's simple layout does exactly what it says on the tin and is easy to navigate. The 'latest news' enjoys a prominent position, although it offers only the title of the latest articles, as opposed to a summary and 'read more' tag.
Social: While there's not much in the way of engagement with EA Technology's profiles, the company is certainly doing a great job of promoting their content and news. Its social team isn't afraid to veer slightly off topic to remain interesting either and they display great social etiquette with a decent amount of sharing of relevant, third-party content.
EA Technology has also made significant headway on the video front. Its YouTube is rife with great explanatory films that boast impressive production values, although some of its 'podcasts' appear to be mislabelled.
Content: EA Technology hasn't opted for a blog and its news section is largely devoted to press-release style content that intermittently covers company news or reports on/links to other things the company is involved with.
While it's an understandable choice given the limited scope of the subject matter and target audience it's dealing with, we'd nonetheless reiterate the benefits of blogging on search and social performance.
Site: As a business focused on supplying materials for use in graphics, Metamark's site is surprisingly no-frills. However, its layout is solid, functional and to the point.
It's got a wealth of product pages and the internal linking of its pages is done really well - encouraging the user to continue on their journey by flanking each page with relevant links, search options and suggested products.
However, it doesn't offer breadcrumb navigation and fails to make use of simple URLs:
For example, it currently uses:
While a simpler option might be:
While search engines have got exponentially better at crawling (reading) this type of complex URL in recent years, it can often be detrimental to a site's usability and user experience.
Social: Metamark is really active on Twitter, dividing its daily activity between engaging in genuine interactions and promoting its products (although the social team might want to rethink their use of hashtags - #RollUp for instance). There's also a dabbling of using Twitter as a customer service tool and some other, more whimsical activity:
Content: While it's opted for a blog, the company has chosen to host it on a separate Wordpress domain, as opposed to stationing it on its own site. This will almost certainly negate many of the search benefits associated with blogging, as well as being detrimental to navigation and usability.
Blog posts appear to be typically posted on a monthly basis and the content is geared towards showcasing Metamark's products in action through a variety of case studies. The writing is engaging, posts are resplendent with pictures, and the varied examples do a great job of bringing the products to life in real-world scenarios.
Our recommendations would be two-fold for Metamark. The first issue would be transitioning the blog to its own domain. Content could sit quite nicely in the 'news' section, where only one stand-alone story is currently posted for instance (the rest simply link through to the blog).
Secondly, we'd urge Metamark to look into blog content that goes beyond case studies. There's a range of benefits to blogging even for the niche-est areas and while capitalising on this is no easy feat for SMEs, there are numerous ways to overcome these barriers.
Site: Citation's site doesn't attempt to do anything fancy, but is absolutely spot on in terms of layout and functionality. Silo pages like 'health and safety' are flush with relevant subpages and stand-alone items like 'training' contain a wealth of detail.
Social: Citation includes social 'follow' links in the footer menu, a decision that's certainly in keeping with the uncluttered look of the site.
Its Twitter activity is fantastic, featuring a great mix of interesting news that's bound to attract the attention of its target audience and a relatively even split of self-promotional stuff (which is really topical, well presented and packaged in the majority of cases).
Despite advertising a LinkedIn presence in its social follow buttons, Citation aren't making use of this channel, which could be considered an odd choice for dealing with what we'd consider to be the primary social network for the company's assumed target audiences.
Content: While Citation hasn't opted for a blog, some of the content situated on its 'news' section could certainly be considered in this light.
This section is peppered with press-release style content, but there's also plenty of short updates on relevant goings-on within Citation's practice areas. While the writing is generally of a good quality, these are often short and some are largely made up of snippets of government releases.
Curation is a valid tactic and time-saving device when it comes to posting relevant, on-site content, but we feel there's potential for the business to get much more out of these articles.
Citation's 'news' section layout also doesn't lend itself to search-friendliness. Posts aren't hosted on their own pages and are instead laid out in their entirety - which can also detract from usability.
The way Citation has opted to use tags means that users must make their own way through posts based on the month they were published - another factor that can stand as an impediment to getting content read.
Site: Despite a somewhat-crowded layout, Risktec manages to include the majority of important elements on its homepage.
Navigation is intuitive and it does a great job of getting around dense subject matter by visualising some of their services:
Social: Not much to say here, we could barely find a trace of Risktec on social and their presence certainly wasn't developed in any meaningful sense. Of course, this could be a deliberate choice on the company's part - after all, social success does require time and effort - but we'd caution them against neglecting what could be a valuable avenue for promotion.
Content: Risktec is another company that has opted to forgo a blog in favour of news - which could be an understandable decision given the relatively niche field in which it operates.
The news it posts is written in a press-release style and is very company-focused. Although this approach might be seen as professional and factual, it can often result in a pretty disengaging read for visitors. Equally, the third-party coverage the company has attracted from prestigious organisations would benefit greatly from an injection of editorial commentary (as well as links to the relevant article).
Site: Overlooking the malfunctioning keyword search and redirect to Orthoplastics.com, this company's site is uncluttered and to the point.
Content: Very little in the way of news and what is present is hosted in downloadable PDFs.
The Bottom Line
As mentioned it's undoubtedly valid to question whether online marketing is a valid or viable option for individual companies, but SMEs as a class can definitely stand to reap the rewards - or at least pick some low-hanging fruit in this area.
While the online marketing uptake from the SMEs we looked into was a bit erratic, we found that those who were participating were generally handling whatever elements they chose to focus on fairly well.
Although some were certainly being held back by aspects of ineffective implementation, it's well worth noting that even those at the top of their game in certain respects could stand to benefit from a focus on best practice.
Here's the full breakdown of the companies we surveyed:
Do you think online marketing is a viable avenue for SMEs, or does the time and effort needed to achieve success outweigh the potential benefits? We're always keen to see what you have to say, so don't be a stranger and leave us a comment below.
And if you're an SME looking to get to improve your marketing and PR or generate leads through online marketing - be sure to check out our free introductory guide that'll help you assess and pick the best option for your business: