Rogers targets small biz with new online marketing suite

One of Canada’s largest telecom players has decided to bring its game to a different field.

Rogers Communications Inc. recently rolled out an online marketing service aimed at small businesses. Called Outrank, the service promises to help companies generate more inbound phone calls and emails by offering a suite of products that include Web site design, search engine optimization (SEO) services, campaign tracking and paid search marketing.

“Outrank essentially aims to help small businesses generate more inbound phone calls and emails from potential customers by marketing the company online and making their brand visible when people are searching for their services,” said Milind Mehere, general manager of Outrank.

“We know that consumers typically go to the Web first to research a product or service before contacting or going to a business. Unfortunately, less than 45 per cent of Canadian small businesses have a Web site,” he said.


Converting clicks to customers

Prior to heading Rogers’ Outrank, Mehere co-founded the UnitedStates-based YodleInc. in 2005. The online advertising company uses a proprietary bidding algorithm designed to optimize online searchability for local businesses in order to drive new business leads. The company has since grown from a small operation to a firm that has 800 employees and more than 20,000 SMB clients across the U.S.

Outrank will be using a combination of SEO best practices and paid search marketing strategies to help Canadian clients build their business, said Mahere.

Outrank’s services cost anywhere from $500 to upwards of$2,500 per month. Within the last few weeks since the Rogers service opened, some 25 companies have signed up. Many of the Outrank customers signed up for $900 per month contracts, said Mehere.

Much of the money paid by Outrank customers is spent on a marketing budget designed around an online campaign for the business. A Web site with about 10 to 12 pages of content is designed for the business (although Outrank can also work with the business’s pre-existing site).

SEO elements are built into the site, then Outrank bids on keywords and creates online ads for the company. The ads are then distributed to the top search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing.

Outrank’s performance dashboard tracks the performance of the site and the campaign and reports to the customer on items such as number of inbound calls and clicks, incoming emails, click through rates, key words and traffic and conversion rates.

Not the only game in town

Rogers is not alone among large companies offering Web marketing services to smaller businesses. Last year the YellowPages Group in Canada released a similar suite of online marketing offerings geared towards the same market.

With Yellow Pages 360 business owners can have a three-page Web site developed and hosted for them for as low as $50 per month. The YPG team also provides SEO, search engine marketing services and 24-7 technical support.

“The online arena is a tough area to play in for many small businesses,” said Anne Marsolais, director of communication for YPG in Montreal. She said many SMB owners are overwhelmed by the resources and expertise needed to launch and manage a Web site or an online marketing campaign.

The new Rogers offering is not going to pose a threat to other businesses offering online marketing services such as Web design andSEO, according to the chief of one such company.

“It’s still too early to tell how the market will react. However, the way I see it, Rogers’ product is not going to be competition,” said Dev Basu, a search engine optimization specialist and president of Powered by Search in Toronto.

He said services rolled out by large companies such as YellowPages and Rogers are typically meant to “upsell their current customers.”

“The service targets companies that are still looking to get their feet wet in online and social marketing,” Basu said.

As such, he said, the services are aimed at a wider array of businesses and offer products geared to fit a certain range of common Web marketing needs. By contrast, companies such as Powered By Search and smaller boutique Web marketing outfits operate in a way that zeroes in on the specific needs of individual clients.

“There’s a market for the $50-a-month Web site design and hosting, but what you get is a cookie cutter type of site and services,” said Basu.

This type of service might be ideal for some businesses, but firms that want to differentiate their brand or bring their marketing campaigns to a higher level need a more tailored approach, he said. “A site or online campaign for a plumber will not be the same for a flowershop and one flower shop might need an entirely different approach from another flower shop.”

Mehere of Outrank counters that the service he offers comes with a large degree of customization.

For instance, he said, each Outrank customer is given their own account manager who monitors and optimizes their site and campaign according to the goals set by the client. These account managers, he said, are Internet marketing experts who are Google Adwords certified professionals.

“If they find that people are dropping off from the site, they are trained to carry out measures to stop this,” Mehere said.

Basu hopes that services such as those offered by Rogers and Yellow Pages help educate business operators about Web marketing.“Hopefully when they’re ready to take their campaign up a notch, they come to us.”

Nestor ArellanoNestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter,read his blog,and join the ITBusiness Facebook Page.

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