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Internet & Search Engine Marketing for Wineries PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Hicken   
Monday, 15 December 2008 19:34
A. Creating a Website and Search Engine Strategy

1. Do You Have a Search Engine or Internet Marketing Strategy?

What is a search engine or internet marketing strategy? Why should a winery have one? Most wineries haven't even considered these questions. However, if you are reading this paper, it is likely that you do, at least, have some inclination that the internet is important and that it should be considered as a part of your winery's overall strategic planning.

This paper provides information on search engine and internet marketing that is specifically tailored for wineries. I hope that it will provide useful information that will make it easier for you to understand the benefits of marketing on the internet and will enable your winery to assess its internet marketing goals from an informed perspective.

2. Website & Internet Objectives

While this paper will focus on search engines and search engine strategies for wineries, it is important to recognize at the outset that such strategies are, in fact, part of larger assessments that relate both to your winery's overall marketing plan and your winery's overall internet and direct marketing strategy.

There are many different types of internet strategy that a winery might wish to pursue. They range from the use of basic technologies such as the use of email to a full scale online direct marketing strategy using a wine club, online ordering, advanced search engine optimization techniques and pay-per-click advertising. Some wineries will want to pursue everything. Some will limit their strategy to narrow goals. No choice is the correct one. It all depends upon what type of winery you run and what your objectives are.

To give you an idea of the range of options, I have listed the fundamental uses for the internet below, in order from most basic to most sophisticated:

  • Email: your winery is connected to the internet in order to use email - no active web site or presence (this is rare for wineries).
  • Brochure Type Website: this the most common type of winery web site in BC - it provides information equivalent to the winery "brochure" and typically provides information on your winery location, wines produced, your winemaker and wine making philosophy.
  • Content Rich Website: typically run by a content management system - this type of winery web site usually serves as an online resource for customers with substantive content that is updated frequently. Commonly used in the U.S.
  • Search Engine Marketing (i.e. Marketing Your Winery on the Internet)
  • Online Wine Shop: customers can actually order wines through your web site. A basic implementation has only an online order form which is sent to you via email. A more sophisticated version is an ecommerce shopping cart system so that payments are processed automatically, shipping calculated, and orders tracked by the system.
  • Wine Club, Allocation Based Ordering and Internet Marketing: implementation of these types of systems is commonplace in California. Wine clubs typically send automatic shipments 3 or 4 times a year to customers based on their preferences at sign-up (this provides a good steady source of revenue for the winery). Allocation based ordering keeps track of the order history of all customers and allocates more of your most in-demand wines to your best customers. These systems are important for long-term customer satisfaction.

Most wineries in British Columbia are only doing the first three things on the list right now. However, an increasing number of wineries, particularly those in Washington and Oregon, are doing everything on the list and in the process are creating considerable traction for their businesses on the web and are creating a long term customer database which can prove incredibly valuable for the creation of consistent direct marketing revenue and repeat business.

3. Do You Want to do SEM?

Search engine marketing (or SEM) is basically the marketing of your winery using the major search engines (such as Google or Yahoo). For you to understand SEM, I need to explain how search engines work. The simple version is as follows.

The customer will type certain keywords for the search into the search engine (e.g. "bc pinot gris" or "oregon pinot noir"). The search engine will then return a list of results based on matching the customer's keywords with the content of your web site or the terms that you have chosen for your search engine ad. The results will include both a list of web sites that the search engine thinks match the search terms best (these are the unpaid search results - or "organic listings") and a list of paid advertisements (usually referred to as "pay-per-click" or "PPC" listings). On Google, the organic listings are on the left side and the paid listings are on the top and right sides - see the example below.

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Theoretically, the organic listings should be more trusted by search users than the paid listings and the user should be more likely to click on one or more of the organic results. After all, Google's success was built on the supposed accuracy of its search results versus its competitors. However, the lines have blurred in the last few years and I am no longer convinced that this is the case. My anecdotal experience indicates that a lot of users do not distinguish between the two sets of results and that the paid results can generate just as much traffic, or more, than the organic results.

As a result of the above, SEM splits into two basic divisions. The first seeks to rank your winery highly on the "organic" search engine results for searches which your potential customers would typically make (e.g. you want your winery to rank on the first page of the Google organic results for a search for your winery's name or for example your region or varietal specialty e.g. "okanagan wine"). The second branch of SEM involves advertising on the search engines (e.g. an ad for your winery is displayed on the Google search results page when someone searches for "okanagan wine").

Your overall business objectives may determine which of these two branches of SEM you use. However, it should be noted that the two branches are not mutually exclusive: many wineries use both to maximize their marketing impact.

While search engine marketing is not synonymous with internet marketing, it has become the predominant method of marketing on the internet. At the present time, search engine marketing (or SEM) provides a very impressive return on investment and can provide dramatic results in a relatively short period of time. Whether or not SEM is right for your winery is for you to determine but you should at least be aware of how it works, the potential results and the consequences of ignoring it.

B. Why You Need to Know About Search Engines

1. Why Search Engines are Important for Wineries

If you have only just started to consider search engine marketing for your winery, you are not alone. Many wineries are not marketing on the internet. This is true even for larger wineries and those with established brands and reputations.

However, the reality is that huge numbers of potential customers are searching for information on wine using internet search engines such as Google. In fact, there are probably hundreds if not thousands of potential customers searching for information on the type of wine that you sell each month. The usage of the search engines is increasing every month while the use of conventional search mediums, like books and television is declining. In addition, search engine marketing provides a much better return on investment than almost any other form of advertising.

2. Statistics - How Many People Are Using Search Engines

The potential reach of search engine marketing is huge. Here are some statistics to help you realize why search engines are big, big business:

  • 33 million searches per day in Canada
  • 59% of Canadians access the internet at least once per week, the highest reach of any G7 country (Comscore Media Metrics, October 2005 - likely higher today)
  • Canadian households spend 30.5 hours per month online, the most time spent online of any G7 country (Comscore Media Metrics, October 2005)
  • Web use is regular across all age groups: 91% of 18-34 year olds; 76% of 35-54 year olds; 26% of those over 55. With time, these demographics will mean that almost everyone uses the web regularly.

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3. Search Engines vs. Other Forms of Marketing

In 2005 and 2006, there were yearly declines in the time that Canadians spend with all other forms of media (and this is on top of previous year's declines):

  • Radio: -1% and -3% = down 4% in 2 years
  • Daily Newspapers: -2% and -5% = down 7% in 2 years
  • Weekly Newspapers: -4% and -7% = down 11% in 2 years
  • Magazines: -6% and -10% = down 16% in 2 years
  • TV: -10% and -10% = down 20% in 2 years

The following statistics provide you with typical "cost per lead" figures for various types of advertising media. In other words, they show you the typical cost for obtaining one customer using each advertising medium:

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As you can see, the cost for SEM is far, far lower than for other more traditional forms of advertising.

C. How Search Engines Work

1. Search Engines Are Their Own World

In order to understand the marketing opportunities that search engines offer, you need to understand how they work. Consider the following example. A winery believes that it produces the best pinot noir in British Columbia ... yet when the winery owner does a search on Google for "bc pinot noir", the winery doesn't show up anywhere. Worse yet, one of his competitors, whom he believes to produce inferior wine, appears in multiple places in the search results. What happened? How could Google get things so wrong?

Welcome to the world of search engines. Many businesses expect that Google will recognize their reputation in the industry and that they will appear in the search results. Unfortunately, that is not how search engines work. Google does not rely on human recommendations to establish its ratings. It relies partly on the content of your web site but mostly on "internet recommendations" which loosely translates into recommendations (read 'links') from other web sites that it trusts in the wine industry sector.

As a result, if there is lots of discussion of you, as a winery, on the internet and lots of links to your web site, then you will appear important and trusted to Google and you will rank highly in the search results. If no one 'talks about you' on the internet and no one links to you, then you will not appear important.

The end result is that if you would like to rank on Google, you need to be prominent on the internet. Google does not 'owe' you a good search engine ranking because you are making good wine. You need to be a good winery on the internet. There is a big difference.

2. Searches and Results

When a potential customer uses a search engine, they are already searching for information about wine or about your wine. They are actively interested in wine and in purchasing wine. The customer will type their keywords into the search engine (e.g. they might search for your winery name or, more generally such as a search for "oregon pinot noir"). The search engine will then return a list of results based on those keywords including both organic results and paid ads. Basically, you and the customer find each other as a result of your common keywords. At this point, you must still convert the potential customer into a paying customer who actually buys your wine but ... you already know that the customer "wants to buy" - you know that they are someone who is likely to buy wine.

If your winery does not appear on page 1 at the number 1 organic spot for a search on your winery's name then you have some serious SEO problems with your website. If a competitor or competitors appear higher than you do on searches for your own winery name, they those are serious issues which need to be corrected immediately: an analogy would be to your phone number - if someone dials your winery phone number, they do not expect to be forwarded to one of your competitors.

However, you may also wish to appear with a high ranking for a more general search (such as a search for "oregon pinot noir" or "bc pinot gris", see example below). Of course, the key for your winery is to make sure that the search engine returns your winery high up in the list of results that appear - you want the customer to click on your winery rather than on one of your competitors. Preferably, you want your winery to appear either high in the organic listings or as one of the top matching paid ads (or even better - as both).

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There is a science to achieving good ranking results in that the search engine results for both the organic and paid listings are based on (mostly secret) algorithms which rank the results according to various factors.

3. SEO Services

SEO or search engine optimization is the name for services that advise you how to get either your winery web site appearing higher in the organic listings or your advertisement appearing high in the paid listings. Generally, it takes some significant time and website redesign to get your winery site to appear high in the organic listings for more general searches. While these expenditures are often worthwhile, particularly in the long run, many wineries opt for the quicker route: a high paid listing can usually be obtained fairly easily by implementing a well-designed pay-per-click campaign. A good pay-per-click campaign can often attract hundreds, if not thousands, of web visitors and can be launched very quickly.

4. Don't Ignore "Validation" Searches

Search is becoming the new gateway for consumer information. For general information, consider these statistics:

  • 78% of Canadians online will use search engines to research on and offline purchases
  • 27% of those who researched product info online purchase online
  • 45% of those that search for product information online still purchase via traditional retail

These trends indicate that consumers (and customers!) are using search more and more to research purchasing decisions even if they do not buy online or have no intention of buying online.

This has obvious implications for wineries because while the majority of purchases of wine are still made offline, it is a virtual certainty that many of your customers or potential customers are reviewing you and your winery online before buying your wine in an offline transaction. If you can provide compelling information on your wine online, you may cement a sale offline but if you can also make it super easy for the customer to buy the wine at your website, you may get the customer to make their purchase online. If you can do that, you have established a direct relationship with a consumer that will provide you with higher profits and may evolve into a long-term relationship that can provide consistent and constant revenue directly to your winery.

D. Implementing Your Search Engine Marketing Strategy

1. Getting Buy-in Within the Winery

Depending upon the size of your winery, the implementation of SEM may or may not pose problems.

Starting a pay-per-click campaign should be relatively easy. With the assistance of a reputable SEO consultant, you can generally have a campaign up and running within a few weeks. The SEO consultant will generally do the following:

  • Research your industry sector and advise you regarding the number of searches currently being done in that area.
  • Determine the most effective search terms to utilize as part of your campaign.
  • Estimate the cost of the campaign and the results.
  • Set up some type of monitoring system to gauge the success of the campaign.

Because you can cap the cost of these campaigns easily, a PPC campaign is a very easy and effective way to get started with SEM.

The implementation of an organic listings campaign is more complicated. Generally, your SEO consultant will do the following:

  • Review your existing web site's content.
  • Review your existing place on the internet and with the search engines.
  • Review the competition within your industry sector and advise you how difficult it will be to achieve good results.
  • Discuss with you the changes that will need to be made to your web site.
  • Discuss the costs of SEO and how long it will be before you can expect results.

As you will note, it is often necessary to make some fairly significant changes to a winery web site in order to achieve good organic listing improvements. Because of this, this type of SEM will require broad cooperation throughout your business. If you have a small winery, this may not be a major problem but if you are in a medium to large-sized winery, you will need to enlist the assistance of those that currently manage the web site, you will need to get changes to the site approved, and you will need to have a budget to pay for all of this.

2. Organic SEO: Fix Problems with Your Site

Your site will be indexed by the search engines after it has been "crawled" by a search engine spider (essentially this means that the search engine does an automated collection and review of the content of your site using a small program called a spider). The search engine's subsequent assessment of your site (and its categorization for search results) will be based on this review. As a result, it is important that the search engine spider sees everything on your site and can analyze it correctly.

Unfortunately, search engine spiders are finicky creatures and certain common techniques ("spider traps") used to build and run web sites can interfere with them, sometimes to the point that they will give up on your site entirely. Here are a few of the most common problems:

  • JavaScript Navigation: Javascript is a special type of computer code which is often used to generate drop-down menus and other slick looking tricks that are connected to your site's navigation bar. Spiders have trouble following these types of links: as a result, they may not see or index all of your site unless they can get to it through other more conventional links.
  • Flash: Flash is a technology which allows web sites to display eye catching graphics similar to animation on a web site. While the search engines can read some Flash content, there are generally a lot of problems related to a correct indexing of it. You should not use Flash for the important substantive parts of your web site.
  • Database Driven Pages: The pages of some web sites are generated by a database or content management system. Search engine spiders will sometimes ignore the links to these pages if they are not configured correctly.

Your SEO consultant will advise you fully on any problems that your web site may have in this regard.

3. Organic SEO: Optimize Content

The first step in working some SEO magic on to your winery web site is to optimize the content for the search engines. Basically, this means that you will redesign your web site such that content is included and displayed in such a way that it works well with the search engine spider. As a result of this, the content of your site will be indexed and ranked as optimally as possible.

Normally, this will not mean a huge rewrite of your site. In the early days of search, good rankings could be obtained by stuffing your page full of keywords (e.g. putting "okanagan wine" all over your page, perhaps a hundred times). However, today's search engine algorithms are generally designed to reward content that is aimed at humans. As a result, a useful and informative and naturally written site will generally perform better than one that looks like it was designed for a search engine.

Nevertheless, the layout and design of the site is very important. Generally on winery sites, fairly significant improvements in search engine rankings can be achieved simply by making relatively straightforward changes to the layout of the site.

In this regard, SEO for wineries is generally easier than trying to do SEO for other industries. Some internet business categories are extremely competitive when it comes to SEO (think "internet pharmacy" for one). However, many winery web sites are not properly optimized and, as a result, you can "leapfrog" your competitors by doing some SEO on your site.

4. Organic SEO: Attract Links

As I noted above, Google does not rely on human recommendations or reputation to establish its ratings. It relies partly on the content of your web site but mostly on "internet recommendations" which loosely translates into recommendations (read 'links') from other web sites that it trusts in the wine industry sector.

You can get a very general sense of where your winery web site ranks on Google by checking your PageRank (a rating of 1 to 10 as to how "important" your site is to Google: this is visible if you have installed the Google Toolbar) or by visiting a site such as www.touchgraph.com which will provide you with a graphical representation of where your site sits on the internet according to Google.

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Generally, if you want to improve your ranking, you need to attract links to your site from other wine related sites that Google trusts. The easy way to get started on this is to purchase links in reputable directories. However, there are a multitude of ways to accomplish this and I would strongly advise hiring a reputable SEO consultant to assist you. Aggressive short term techniques, including link exchange programs, are likely to actually hurt you in the long term so be careful before you retain a consultant. Be particularly concerned if the consultant promises dramatic short-term success ... this is usually achieved by methods which are "bleeding edge" and which could get your site banned or blacklisted by the search engines.

5. PPC SEO: Optimize Paid Search

If you decide to do a paid search campaign, your obvious starting point will be Google AdWords. Why? Because Google has over 80% of the search market in Canada (just over 60% in the U.S.). If you are not advertising on Google, you are missing the vast bulk of the marketplace. If your campaign works on Google, you can expand to the smaller players, Yahoo and MSN.

While you can set up a Google AdWords campaign yourself, it is usually extremely beneficial to have an SEO consultant do it for you. An SEO consultant will ensure that you are bidding on the right keywords, that you are bidding the right amounts, and will monitor your campaign for you to make sure that it is performing properly.

While there a multitude of considerations when starting your PPC campaign, the most important one is the determination of the keywords that you will bid on. Your SEO consultant will advise you on this. However, one basic tip: do not get carried away with bidding the highest amount for the most commonly searched keywords. For example, in BC, the most commonly searched keyword term is "okanagan wine". While success with that term would undoubtedly provide traffic, you may get more, better and/or cheaper traffic by targeting a more specific term. Thus, if you specialize in pinot noir, people searching for "okanagan wine" may find you but they may not be looking to buy a pinot noir whereas people searching for "okanagan pinot noir" are an exact match.

6. Measuring Success (Analytics)

Whether you do organic SEM or PPC, it is critical that you implement some type of system prior to the commencement of your campaign which will monitor both your web traffic and the conversions that you get from traffic to actual customers. Otherwise, you will have no way of knowing how your campaign is working and whether you need to make adjustments. In terms of organic SEM, you will need to make sure that your web site is being monitored by some decent analytics software. If you are willing to share your traffic statistics with Google, you can use their free analytics program (screenshot below). If you are doing PPC, much of the monitoring capability is built right into the AdWords program. However, an analytics program will give you an additional layer of results for comparison.

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Nevertheless, the most important statistic will be the number of actual customers that you get from the campaign. This can be measured directly by Google's analytics software. In fact, web analytics will provide you with shockingly accurate statistics regarding the return on your advertising dollars - much, much better than any other form of advertising.

SEM is generally an extremely successful form of marketing and usually provides a much lower cost per customer than other forms of marketing. However, you will not be able to confirm this or make meaningful comparisons unless you are scrupulous in the implementation of a proper analytics system.

7. Examples of Good Winery SEM

You may wish to check my blog for examples of good winery SEM which I post there whenever I come across something noteworthy.  The web site is at http://www.winemarketing.ca .

F. Conclusion

It seems obvious that some level of SEM can assist every winery, whether big or small. How much SEM you decide to do will depend upon your winery's marketing strategy and budget. However, I would urge you to reconsider your overall marketing strategy in light of your new-found knowledge of SEM. SEM can often produce better returns for your marketing dollars than other advertising media. At the very least, and because SEM costs are easily capped, most wineries should try out some limited SEM to see how it works. If the campaign proves successful, it can be expanded and marketing dollars can be permanently redirected to SEM.

Over time, SEM can build your winery's internet presence so that it builds the direct marketing share of your overall revenue. This can produce a long-term boost in your winery's number of direct consumer relationships and will increase your profit margins because you are shipping wine direct rather than through distributors. In a world that is becoming increasingly dominated by internet search, the only real marketing faux-pas is to ignore SEM entirely. Now you know not to.

Mark Hicken, BA, LLB.  Juice Wine Marketing Group
T: 604 868 1375 E: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it W: http://www.winemarketing.ca

Last Updated on Monday, 15 December 2008 20:23
 
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