In today's market, every business needs to have an online presence. In the world of office coffee, the need is especially great. Even companies that once were hesitant about going online have now taken the plunge into the e-commerce ocean.
How could they not? The ability to advertise, inform, and provide online ordering has given OCS providers increased visibility, as well as easier access to their customers and the benefit of increased revenues.
But the influx of OCS companies onto the Internet comes with a price: increased competition. In fact, some office coffee and water suppliers are learning about competitors they didn't even know they had before they went online. This makes it more important than ever for an OCS operation to attract attention by emphasizing its relevance to people searching for a service provider.
In a business where finding a geographical edge is the name of the game, effectively getting the word out on your company means taking extra steps -- beyond just letting your existing customer base know that you now offer an online ordering system. It means advertising to a specific region, and being found by the right people there. This is where search engine optimization comes in.
Search engine optimization, commonly called by its SEO initials, refers to using various Web- and text-based techniques to help websites rank higher on search engines. If you own a website and have used "tags" or keywords in an effort to show up on Google, you have an idea of what SEO is about.
SEO success is often measured by how far up on a SERP (search engine results page) your website is, although the goal of any good search engine campaign is simply driving up logical site traffic. Many businesses, especially retail e-commerce companies, apply SEO in a manner different from that which works best for OCS providers. That is because "B-to-C" websites generally pay little attention to geography; they will ship anywhere, anytime. Obviously, office coffee service does not typically work that way. So, in order to be found by the right demographic (i.e. potential customers), geography is very much a priority.
From an SEO perspective, there are three primary ways specialty services are found: searching for the name of the service (in this case, OCS), searching for the location of the service, and searching for a service that provides a specific brand (e.g., Keurig). This means that, strategically, you will want to do some research and employ keywords on your site that strongly relate to search queries of these kinds.
The first one, searching for the name or description of the service, is of course a given. It is very likely that the term "office coffee service" is found somewhere, if not in many places, on your website. Brand referencing, or searching for a brand-name product, is also very common and, in many cases, practical -- especially if a potential customer is targeting one specific product category (a prime example is the rise to prominence of the term "K-Cups" in the lexicon).
However, service location is not always included. You would be surprised to learn how many site owners neglect to specify the areas they serve. This is a critical error that can cause a significant loss of potential business. In an industry such as OCS, it could mean the difference between surviving and thriving.
Whether you have hired a firm to handle SEO or are doing it in-house, indicating not only what you serve but also where you serve it is paramount to adequately advertising your company online, in order to be found by the "right" people. If you are an office coffee supplier that covers the Gulf Coast of Florida, it will not do you any good for office managers in Wyoming to find your site.
While geography is a crucial element in any OCS website SEO project, it is important to note that there is a lot of homework that has to be done in order to adequately demonstrate a geographic presence. For example, including the keyword phrase "office coffee service in Ann Arbor, Michigan" would only be one out of scores of possible matches using those keywords. Word sequence plays a role as well, though more so in some places than in others.
For areas that are not densely populated or very competitive, the order of keywords (and phrases) is not normally critical, as Google can certainly sift through non-relevant sites to display an appropriate ranking. This is not the case in areas that have a high population and are home to a host of competing companies.
Wherever the competition is heaviest, specifics come into play. Here, it is a good idea to include a winnowed grouping of keyword phrases that target a specific region. "New Jersey Office Coffee Service" is okay, but "Southern New Jersey Office Coffee Services" is better. It not only suggests a distinctive location, but it is a phrase which will be used by local companies when they search for an office coffee vendor.
One of the key aspects of SEO that is important to remember is not to overdo it by repeating a phrase many times on each page. This tactic was formerly much used by site owners/programmers to gain a higher search engine ranking. For instance, if a company wanted to be ranked high for selling car tires in Tampa, Florida, they would simply insert a phrase such as "car tires Tampa, Florida" a couple of dozen times on several pages. This was the most-used approach over a decade ago.
But as the Internet began to boom and more users got online, search engines became more sophisticated and this method (called "keyword stuffing") went the way of the dinosaur. That is in large part attributable to Google, whose software algorithms are given a great deal of credit for policing the Internet.
To many who know only the basics, SEO is merely the art of typing the same thing over and over again on a website, and having a catchy URL. Learning SEO tactics and being open to adapting to new ways of doing business online can contribute to a more productive and lucrative Web presence.
A geographical edge is important, and if there is one way to get it, SEO is that way. But search engine optimization is not just confined to rankings. All three major search engines (Google, Yahoo! and Bing) host services to further emphasize a business' physical location.
Google offers Google Places, a free way for businesses to list their address and details and a shortcut for people searching locally to find a company's information above other search results. Microsoft's Bing provides a similar module, Bing Places for Business, which also is free and allows users to supply company information, details and graphics.
Perhaps most importantly, both of these services require verification in the form of a personal identification number mailed to a company's physical address in order to authenticate the listing. In other words, you can't just sign on to your Gmail account, create a Google Places profile for your site, and expect it to show up online in 10 minutes. Google and Bing mail out their verification post cards fairly quickly, so the downtime between doing the online data input and having your company information show online isn't very long.
Yahoo's service is Yahoo! Local. It is also free, and offers a paid upgrade service for images and other additional information about the listing.
It is still early, as Google Places, Bing Places for Business, and Yahoo! Local only have a few years of use among the three of them. However, their value for adding other opportunities for your businesses to be found, combined with their help in pushing up that overall search engine ranking, cannot be underestimated.
The importance of integrating geography with search engine optimization is certainly not limited to office coffee and water services. Regional vending companies would benefit greatly from enunciating this point in their own SEO campaigns. From an search standpoint, vending and OCS are very similar. Both rely on geography, cater to employees and have a need to advertise new products.
Geography also matters because tastes differ from place to place across the country, and vary with the seasons. This is an important factor to keep in mind when optimizing your company's website. Trying to generate interest in traditional summer beverages (e.g., iced tea) during the winter in Vermont wouldn't make as much sense as advertising hot cocoa.
This means being vigilant. It would behoove the owner of a vending and/or OCS company with a website to keep on top of the seasonal changes relative to that general area. For example, if, in the winter, you quickly change your homepage to advertise the new flavor of hot chocolate, your business can be found online faster by the search engines. That means declaring two items of note right off the bat: 1) your company's name and the region it serves and 2) the product itself.
As more and more OCS companies begin to make their presence felt online, it will only be a matter of time before the competition truly separates itself. That also means more businesses hopping on board the SEO train. For the sake of your company's website, don't be caught waiting at the terminal.
TIMOTHY HANDS is a SEO content analyst for Denville, NJ-based OCS Access, a computer company specializing in website design and support for refreshment services businesses. In addition to search engine optimization, Hands is a copywriter and reference editor.