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Turning Sites into Gold: An Interview with Marketade’s John Nicholson

August 16th, 2011 | Interviews,Online & Small Business Resources,Quality,Small Business,Small Business Tips | 1 Comment »

I recently had the privilege of speaking with John Nicholson, co-founder of the consulting company Marketade. A savvy businessman and all-around great guy, John uses his experiences to help others with some of the most important problems that online businesses face. My interview with John has taught me a lot and I want you all to be able to benefit from what he has to say.

Tell me a little about Marketade?

Marketade is basically a boutique web consulting company that I started with my partner and co-founder, Karan Gill. While Karan works on web development and design, I focus on search marketing, web analytics and conversion optimizations. Both of us used to work at GEICO; I was in marketing and Karan was in IT. GEICO is very metrics focused and innovative with its brand and web presence. We’re able to take the skills and processes we learned there and use them to help small to mid-sized businesses.

When and why did you decide to create Marketade?

Karan and I started Marketade two years ago. We had each come up with the idea of creating a consulting company and after talking decided it would be best for us to work as a team. We felt that our Fortune 100 skills could help small and mid-sized businesses compete with much bigger competitors – which was an exciting idea for us.

What was one of the biggest challenges you faced and overcame in launching Marketade?

Business development and finding new clients. As an entrepreneur, you’re always running around with too much to do. This makes it really difficult to not get completely wrapped up in client’s requests. You have to be disciplined with your time and reserve some of it to develop your business. One thing that we did in this area was create a newsletter. Since we use this to write in-depth articles, our newsletter is a great way to show off some of our expertise. In fact, we got our biggest deal to date through a reader of our newsletter.

How do you advertise yourself to get more clients?

We don’t really advertise in a traditional sense. We think the best way to grow your business is through word-of-mouth from happy customers and that’s where we’ve focused. As I mentioned earlier, we do have a newsletter. We also use Twitter a little bit.

We’ve also gotten a few clients just from working at Affinity Lab, the co-working space in D.C. where we are based.

Have you had any trouble proving your business’ credibility and legitimacy to potential customers and website visitors?

Yes. We know that a lot of people come to our website and leave quickly, even though they’ve come from highly relevant search phrases. We attribute this at least in part to not providing our credibility. Our GEICO experience helps, but is not enough.

Lately, this issue has been on our minds as we redesign our site. People want to know who is behind the organization, so we’re planning on playing up our bios more. We’ve also recently become a Google Certified Partner and plan to promote that. And working out of Affinity Lab also has credibility, so we’ll play that up more too. One of our clients recently told us that it made a big difference just knowing that we had an actual address in D.C.

When you’re not working on Marketade, what do you do to relax?

I’m a pretty big sports guy. I enjoy soccer, tennis, yoga, and I recently got into surfing. I enjoy eating at ethnic restaurants. I also read a fair amount. Most of what I read is nonfiction and contemporary.

Based on your expertise, what two or three things do you think small businesses should be doing concerning online marketing?

One thing, which I’ve written an article on, is that small businesses need to optimize their website title tags. The title tag that appears on the top of your browser is a huge factor in Google’s organic search scoring method. Most people just put the name of their business. What they don’t realize is that they need keyword-rich title tags that include their profession service areas and/or location. Although it isn’t a particularly exciting form of marketing, it is drastically underutilized.

Another important thing is for businesses to take the time to understand what words people use when talking about their business. There is a Google Keyword Tool that allows you to see how often people search using a certain term. I often spend hours on this when working with a new client. It helps immensely not just with SEO, but with how visitors will interact with your site’s content. You have to know how to speak the language of your visitors. Business and technical jargon just doesn’t resonate.

Related to this, most businesses need better writing on their sites. There is too much focus on the next big thing – whether it’s video or social media – and not enough focus on good writing. Always remember that people on the web are in a rush and want to be able to skim content easily.

What tools would you recommend for small businesses in the online world?

The Google Keyword Tool I mentioned earlier is a great one. Google Analytics can also be really helpful. Don’t worry if you’re a non-technical kind of person; it’s pretty intuitive. Even if you only use it to get a better idea of where people are coming from, it can make a big difference. Both of these tools are free and they are great for helping businesses figure out how to increase conversions.

If you had to pick two lessons that you’ve learned from launching and maintaining your business, what would they be?

One lesson would be thinking in the long-term concerning business development. I know I mentioned this earlier so I won’t go into it, but it is essential for businesses. You need to make sure you set time aside for this instead of just focusing on what is immediately in front of you. That’s the only way to grow.

Another lesson is to realize the importance of time management and project management. These are especially important when starting up because you have to wear so many different hats as a small business owner. I make an effort to track almost every moment of my day. I always ask myself “Where is my time going and is it in line with what I’m trying to do with my business?” Unfocused time is a killer. Tools aren’t the key here, but they can help. We use Harvest and Basecamp to track our time and manage projects.

Do you have any final thoughts or words of wisdom to share with our readers and the business community?

Don’t be afraid to take the “old school” route when doing your research and learning new techniques. Go to the library and get a book instead of just looking online for articles. The problem with the rise of social media and SEO is that it also gives rise to a lot of useless information. A lot of “top 10″ type articles are not saying anything particularly new. They’re just regurgitating old information. If you’re passionate about something, go out and get a book written by a professional in the field. Don’t just rush over to blogs or to Twitter. After all, it’s also nice to disconnect after a long day of being in front of the computer.

Thanks to John for a great interview and a lot of great information! If you have any questions or comments for John, feel free to write them below.

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One Response

  1. [...] Turning Sites into Gold: This is an interview of John Nicholson from Marketade. The thing I liked the most about this interview was that Nicholson suggests going to a library and looking at books to get information.  I love libraries (although I haven’t properly been inside one in ages) and I think this is a source that most people overlook. [...]

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