Confluent Forms LLC, located in Easthampton MA, is a boutique branding, graphic design, web design, web development, Blogger development, and PHP/MySQL application development firm providing services to customers from the Fortune 100 to local non-profit organizations and academic institutions. Serving Western Massachusetts and beyond.

A website solution for a tough economy

by on September 27, 2011
Last updated on
Our company headquarters is in Northampton, Massachusetts, a town with a very strong culture of "buy local" ingrained in the social fabric. Walking down Main Street you can count on one hand the number of chain stores found here and the local banks greatly outnumber the Big Bank entities. Small businesses dominate.
But in this tight economy, how does a small business that can't or won't "deep discount" compete against the large online retailers? How can they keep their existing customers motivated without slashing their prices, let alone grow?

Flash-back to a year ago: we had very few local clients. Importantly, we didn't have what we felt was a compelling strategy and package to sell to these small businesses that would make sense for us or for them. A more affordable "static" 5-page website just wasn't appealing. We asked ourselves: what product could we develop and offer, within a reasonable budget, that their existing site didn't fulfill?

The strategy to answer this question didn't begin to form until our first client project using Blogger, a makeover of Pinch Gallery's website. This website became the "missing piece of the puzzle" for continually engaging customers and fans of Pinch, creating new fans (and customers!) of the store through showcasing new artists and their beautiful work, and driving visitors to become Facebook fans or newsletter subscribers. The initiative behind the project was "how can we keep Pinch in front of them so that they're going to come in to see our new products".

We decided to keep the site in Blogger and to experiment in going beyond perceived barriers of what could be accomplished in the Blogger system.

Some quick statistics for Pinch over the last year have included at 4x increase in the number of Facebook fans, a 13x increase in the number of monthly active users, and a 5x increase in average monthly traffic to the website. This increased website traffic and customer interest encouraged Pinch to explore opening an online store which went live in July and has been a success, especially among the fans of Pinch who live outside of the Valley, but also in capturing new customers who happen to find the products through search engines.


How can we keep our customers and fans engaged and thinking about our business?

That question has driven each of the local, small business websites that we have developed since launching Pinch's site. That question yields different results for different projects.

For Ode (a women's clothing boutique), that question yielded the "Inspiration Board", using blog functionality for style/beauty articles, look books, inspiration photos, Arts Night Out event notices, and articles about their monthly philanthropy. We've also added a page "Where has your Ode bag been?" showcasing photographs submitted by customers of places that they've taken their Ode bag, around the Valley and around the world.

For Impish (children's clothing and gear), we decided that expanding on their focus of "selection" by enabling them to publish product spotlights and reviews was the perfect way to go. Publishing these articles accomplishes a goal trifecta of 1) showcasing products to customers/fans that might never have considered them, 2) establishes Impish as a trusted vendor with expertise, and 3) increases search engine rankings to drive new visitors to the site.

And for Bakery Normand, what is a better enticement to visit a bakery than mouth-watering photographs of pastries? The Bakery waited until 2011 to have a website, and since the website has launched, they have jumped right in and begun using it to the fullest. They've written articles about new seasonal offerings, communicated their ordering schedule for holiday products, and thrown in some philosophical pieces that you know the baker was mulling over as he waited for the bread to rise.


Writing the articles is the first part of the strategy of engagement, the second part is tying those articles in to the other forms of media and methods that your fans and customers use to keep in touch. For some people that takes the form of a newsletter signup (Constant Contact, Vertical Response, or even Feedburner for blog updates), some become Facebook fans, and others might want to follow you on Twitter. There are ways to automate your publishing from your website/blog to all of these services, simplifying the process for you, leaving you to the real task of sitting down and writing. You don't want to clutter your page with too many social media outlets, but choosing the most popular, and giving the options that make the most sense for you and your customers, will help you keep connected.

The third part happens because of the content you've written and distributed through the social media landscape: search engine results! Search engines love fresh content and they will reward the site with new inbound traffic. Each new article that is written contains keywords and phrases that help it get found for more and more search queries. More content, good content, and lots of generated returning links from 3rd party sites to the website will place the site higher and higher in targeted searches. This search engine strategy is one that can be practiced without needing to hire a search engine marketer or search engine "optimizer" to artificially inflate the site's search engine standings. By the website owners publishing the content that has been made an integral part of their website, their search engine marketing happens organically..


The technical solution

All of the projects mentioned above use the Blogger platform for their website, taking advantage of the largest blogging service to create content-rich websites with custom branding and design. We've found that we can do amazing things with Blogger, and the platform adds a number of competitive advantages that make it more than ideal for offering this small-business-friendly website solution.


How are YOU keeping your customers and fans engaged and thinking about your business?


If you're interested in discussing a new strategy for your company's website, and the ideas above have given you some ideas for how you can use content publishing to retain, engage, and grow your customer base, please give us a call at 413-282-8742 or email us at info@confluentforms.com



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