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Are QR Codes Effective? 4 Steps to Make Sure Yours Are

Posted on | March 5, 2013 | 1 Comment

Four steps to make sure your QR code campaign is effectiveQR codes can be incredibly effective when used well, but many businesses haphazardly publish QR codes without really thinking through their strategy. While I love seeing QR codes incorporated into creative designs, what really determines their effectiveness are three factors:

  1. Where the consumers physically are when they access the code
  2. What value they get from the resulting link at that moment
  3. What immediate action they take next

This part is key: at that moment.

QR codes are instant links, and should serve an instant purpose. Just tracking how many people scan your code doesn’t tell you much. What happens next? Do they carry out the action you’re targeting with your landing page?

An article published last year by Entrepreneur Magazine discusses three ways businesses are using QR codes, but they don’t really address the effectiveness of each one.

One company tracks the number of visitors who come to their website via QR codes at trade shows, but do they track whether they’re converting those visitors to leads?

In another example, a gardening business handed out bumper stickers to their Facebook fans. The bumper stickers had a QR code linking to a YouTube video. While bumper stickers may be a good way to get a lot of local visibility, it’s probably not the best place for a QR code. People see bumper stickers while they’re driving. Are they expected to not only scan the code, but watch a video, while they are driving a car?!

Remember that your QR code is a form of mobile marketing. You want your QR code to provide instant value, right then and there, for the person who scans it.

As a consumer, I appreciate QR codes in stores when I’m considering a large purchase. Last year when I was shopping for a dryer, Best Buy had a QR code on each model that lead straight to their website where I could find all the specifications as well as customer reviews. Great! I could make a decision without writing down the model numbers then going back home to do more research.

On the other hand, I really wished there had been QR codes when I was shopping a few days ago for a new TV. We were at Walmart and, while they may have the best prices, they aren’t known for much else. The tags on each TV had no specs outside of the price and model number. I actually hunted for a QR code to bring the information up on my phone. I was hopeful when I found one on a box, but it turned out to be just the stand. I ended up typing the model numbers into Google. I got the specs I was looking for, but I also found other stores that carried the same TVs, as well as other search results such as problems people had had with particular models. Good for my husband and me in the end. Not so good for Walmart.

One of my first experiences with a really effective QR code was, surprisingly enough, through the State of California. Despite all the complaints of bloated, ineffective government, some people are doing things right.

The California Dept. of Motor Vehicles has an appointment system to minimize the wait time at their offices, but people aren’t always quick to adopt new systems. Many people still show up and take a number, then sit down for an hour or more to wait. I went once first thing in the morning, thinking it would be quicker that way. When I got to the counter and found out they were already estimating a 45-minute wait, they handed me a card and suggested I schedule an appointment to come back. The card was the size of a standard business card, but had a QR code to the appointment scheduling page on their website, as well as a brief ‘step 1, 2, 3′ explanation of the process. I scanned it, found out I could schedule an appointment for the next day (I had thought I would need to schedule much further in advance), and was on my way. When I came back for at my appointment time, I was in and out in 10 minutes.

QR Code for Linda's Pizzeria - Effective Use of a QR Code

Effective Use of a QR Code

Another QR code I’ve encountered that I found particularly effective was at Linda’s Pizzeria, a local pizza place. They were in the running for, “The Best of Sacramento.” Customers typically wait awhile for these homemade deep-dish pizzas. There was a table tent on the table asking people to vote for them, with a QR code that went straight to the voting page.

I was just sitting there waiting with my family, so I read whatever was in front of me. We’re regular customers and we love their pizza, so I was happy to vote for them. And they made it so easy – almost fun, even.

The other thing that made this work was that the voting system was mobile-friendly and very simple – no logging in, no creating an account – just click once and vote. Done.

QR codes can be very effective, as long as their use is well thought-out. If you’re planning a QR campaign, think about your goal and make sure you carefully plan out your strategy. Be sure to avoid the most common pitfalls, and answer the four questions below to create an effective campaign.

Avoid these common QR code mistakes:

  1. Link goes to a site or page that is not optimized for mobile viewing.
  2. Landing page content is not relevant to viewer’s immediate location or circumstance.
  3. Consumers aren’t given enough information about what to expect if they scan the code.
  4. Landing page asks viewer for something before giving them value (i.e. sign up, or buy now).

Four questions to ask yourself when planning your QR campaign:

  1. Where will your customers physically be when they scan the code?
  2. What immediate action do you want them to take next?
  3. How will the landing page you send them to give them value and lead them to your desired action?
  4. How will you track your results?

Taking the time to think through these four questions will help you create a effective QR code campaign. Or, you may determine that a QR code is not be the best solution for the goal you have in mind. When you do launch your campaign, you’ll be able to monitor its success because you’ll have a specific conversion metric and a way to track it.

Have you used QR codes? Have they been effective?

Please share your experiences in the comments either about your own success or failure, or a personal interaction with someone else’s QR code. I’d love to hear from you!

Finding Opportunity in Online Criticism

Posted on | November 21, 2012 | 1 Comment

by Kristin Singhasemanon
First published in the Nugget by the Sacramento District Dental Society November 2012

Opportunity in Online Criticism - Online Reviews and Reputation Management

 

As a dentist, you sometimes have no choice but to make your patients uncomfortable. You poke and prod in their mouths, often giving shots, drilling, maybe cutting. They may leave your office feeling numb, sore and unable to eat.

The nature of the job makes some dentists feel uncomfortable about allowing, let alone encouraging, their patients to share their stories online, for the whole world to see.

Like it or not, online reviews are here to stay. Whether you run a restaurant, an automotive repair shop, or a dental practice, your business is fair game. A patient can snap a picture of his swollen jaw as he leaves your office, then post it immediately to Facebook with a note of how much pain he’s in. But he can also come back and rave about how great it was that the doctor called that night to make sure he was doing alright. And again in the morning. And then took action right away when he had a reaction to his medication.

Rather than shy away and hope for the best, embrace the world of immediate public feedback as an opportunity to bring new patients to your practice.

If you worry about the effect of negative reviews, positive reviews can be your best defense. Your satisfied patients far outnumber those who are discontent. You want your online reviews to portray that story. When people read your reviews, they are mentally evaluating the reviewers as much as they are the reviewee. Is this someone who’s opinion I trust? Are their claims too outrageous to be true? Are they upset about something that’s important to me?

When one bad review shows up after ten or twenty good ones, readers may be skeptical of the patient’s story. If you only have one or two reviews, they’re not sure who to believe.

Sooner or later you are likely to be faced with negative online feedback. So how do you handle it?

You can use the same principles you would if you were facing the patient in your own office, except your actions are on public display. If you handle it well, you can turn your patient, and the readers, into raving fans. If you handle it poorly, you may do more damage than the feedback itself.

Here are six ways you might consider handling online criticism:

1. Resolve the Issue Directly with the Patient

If you are able to identify the patient, you may be able to contact them directly to resolve the issue, then ask them to remove or at least update their review. Most review sites and social media platforms will let contributors remove their own post if they are willing to do so, but don’t ask them to take down the review until you have addressed their concerns first.

2. Respond Publicly to the Patient

Most platforms let you leave a response, and this is often the best course of action. It allows you to show off your exceptional customer service skills and to display a bit of class. According to Yelp, “Reviewers are usually thrilled to get a well-meaning response.”

First, make sure you acknowledge the patient’s concerns. Step back, calm down, and ask yourself if there was something you or your staff really could have done better. Admitting this publicly shows you are willing to accept and address mistakes. Think in terms of potential patients, and make them feel secure they won’t face the same problem. Say what you have done and what you are still willing to do to resolve the issue. Apologize if it’s appropriate.

You can encourage the patient to follow up with you privately (by asking them to email, call or message you), but be careful not to look like you’re just trying to hide the conversation from the public. If you feel the complaint is invalid, you can explain your side of the story, but be careful not to come across as defensive or confrontational. Keeping your response short and sweet without too many details is generally a good rule of thumb.

3. Delete the Post

On most platforms, only the author can delete a post. However, if a patient posts on your business Facebook Page or comments on your blog, you do have the ability to hide or delete it. Be careful with this though, because some people will have already seen the negative comment. They will wonder what you’re trying to hide, and suspicious minds have a way of making things seem worse than they actually are. Furthermore, the original author will likely be angered by your actions, and may come back to let everyone know you deleted their post, and even spread out to other platforms where you don’t have so much control. (NOTE: This applies to feedback from legitimate patients, not spam. It is perfectly acceptable to delete and report any spam posted on your Facebook Page or blog.)

When you respond publicly and treat social media as a customer service platform, you will have the opportunity to shine, to turn a bad story into a good one. Other Facebook fans or Twitter followers will be able to comment as well, and you may find them coming to your defense. Sometimes even complete strangers will repost your comment to compliment you on how you handled the situation.

If there is an actual error with the review, for instance it was intended for a different doctor, you should follow up with the platform it is posted on. While most platforms won’t delete a review just because you don’t agree with it, you should be able to get errors resolved. This may take some time, however, so it’s still a good idea to leave a polite response, showing empathy for the person’s bad experience, but explaining you aren’t the doctor they saw.

4. Ignore the Post

While some consultants recommend this, ignoring a problem won’t make it go away.

Some platforms only allow for one response from each side, while others may allow for an on-going conversation back and forth. Platforms with open community discussion such as Facebook, Twitter, forums or blogs pose the greatest risk, and the greatest opportunity. If you don’t respond where other people can, readers may publicly start to validate the patient’s complaints. Others may feel empowered to step up with negative experiences of their own that they had previously kept to themselves. The discussion could grow and spread to other platforms, virtually “taking on legs of its own.” On the other hand, your gracious response will help readers better understand the situation, and could help rally your supporters to stand up for you as well. Understand the platform you’re working with, as this may affect your decision as to how to respond.

If you feel there is really nothing you can say to make the situation better, or that any response on your part will further enrage the unhappy patient, you may be tempted to leave the comment alone. Usually a simple, polite response is better than nothing at all.

Think about this in a real-life context. If a patient comes to the front desk and starts complaining, do you and your staff duck out the back door, leaving her to rant at an empty chair, possibly with patients in the waiting room listening? Of course not.

Try to simulate your real-life response online. You don’t want to get defensive and start a loud debate, but even if you were to sit quietly and listen to her concerns, thank her for her patronage, then let her walk out the door, that is still a response. You can do the same thing online. Acknowledge that you’ve heard them. Thank them for being your patient, and kindly say good-bye. Sometimes that’s all you need to do.

5. Spotlight the Post

Some companies have taken an extreme approach to negative feedback and found ways to turn it into positive marketing. If you went above and beyond to resolve a patient’s concern, you may want to show that off. If you corrected something in your office in response to negative feedback, again, showcasing your responsiveness can be a plus. You could publicly thank the patient for pointing out your shortcomings and helping you to improve your practice. On the other hand, some comments lend themselves to lightening the mood with a bit of humor (as long as it’s not offensive).

6. Get More Positive Reviews

Following a negative review, the fastest way to get it pushed down the page, and out of site, is to get more reviews. Put a button on your website linking to the review site. Hand out a card with a scanable QR code that takes your patients to the review page right on their smartphones. Hold a contest where you offer awards for patients who write reviews for you online. Provide an iPad in your waiting room where the homepage has links directly to the review submission page.

While you can encourage your patients to write reviews, you still want them to be legitimate. Don’t have your family members write a bunch of reviews. Don’t hire anyone to write you a positive review. Don’t post fake reviews under made-up names. Aside from the obvious point that it’s unethical, you may even get caught. Now that would be legitimate negative feedback!

Don’t Get Fooled by Free Search Engine Submission Offers

Posted on | July 5, 2012 | 11 Comments

So you’ve got a website, and now you need to get the word out and attract visitors. You know search engines are the best way to do this, so you’re eager to get your site indexed. Maybe you’ve read about submitting your site to search engines, or a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) company has promised to submit it for you. But are free search engine submissions really the answer to getting the search engine traffic you’re looking for?

Indexing vs. Ranking

First, let’s make an important distinction. Getting indexed is completely unrelated to getting good search ranking. When a search engine indexes your website, it simply means they have visited your site, they know it exists, and they have included it, or indexed it, in the search engine. Congratulations! You’ve been included in the most massive directory ever. According to World Wide Web Size, the internet, as of April 12, 2012, “contains at least 6.87 billion pages.”

This is of course an important first step, but it offers no bearing on how well your site ranks. For instance, if I do a search for, “kitchen remodeling,” I can go all the way down to the 15th page, and it still says it’s, “page 15 of about 25,700,000 results.” Almost 26 million results! With about ten results per page, that’s still well over 2 million pages. And all those listings are indexed in Google.

Google's indexed results for kitchen remodeling

To get search engine traffic to your website, you need the people looking for what you have to offer to actually find you. You won’t get found on page 20,623 of the search results. You probably won’t even get found on page 2. That’s why all the SEO companies focus on ‘how to get on the first page of Google’. What page you end up on is all about ranking. Of course you need to be indexed first, but that’s easy. The hard part is getting good search ranking.

Submitting Your Site to Search Engines

SEO companies love to throw this in as added value. “Free Search Engine Submission! We’ll submit your site to 100 search engines!” First of all, how many search engines do people really use? According to comScore, over 66% of searches happen on Google. Bing gets about a 15% share and Yahoo 13%. That leaves only 6% for all the others. If 94% of people search on only three search engines, where else do you need to be? Does it make any difference if someone promises to submit your site to 3 or to 300? Not really.

So we’ve limited our focus to three search engines, Google, Bing and Yahoo. Each one does offer a form where you can submit your site, but what does that accomplish? At the least, submitting your site will send the search engine bots, or spiders, (computer programs that ‘crawl’ the web by following links) to visit your site. You might get indexed, but even that’s not guaranteed. The content on your site needs to be in good order, too. Do you have meaningful headlines and ‘crawlable’ content? If your home page is 100% flash, it may look like a blank page to the spiders. If they don’t see anything there of interest, they may choose not to index your site. If they can’t follow your links, they won’t go deeper than the first page. It pays off in the end to choose a web developer who knows a thing or two about search before you get started.

Let’s say your web developer did a good job of building you a search-engine-friendly site, and you just need the bots to come take a look. There are many other ways to get your site crawled besides submitting it to the search engines. The search engine bots can find your site by following a link to it, and this often works faster than the search engine submission forms. Posting a link to your website from any well-known, frequently-crawled site is likely to send the search engine spiders your way. Large sites such as Twitter and Facebook are crawled constantly throughout the day. List your website on your Twitter profile. Create a Facebook business page. Have a friend or your web developer announce your new site, with a link. Add your site to a well-know directory, or to local listings. Ping your site. Comment on a popular blog. Bookmark your site on StumbleUpon or Digg. List your site on your Pinterest profile. Any of these will serve the same purpose as submitting your site to the search engines. And most of these methods involve creating links to your site, which will actually begin to help your search engine ranking as well.

What if your site is already indexed in Google? If you’re already indexed, there’s no reason to submit your site using a search engine submission page. They already know you’re there, and submitting your site again won’t help you rank better. Focus your efforts instead on creating fresh content and generating inbound links.

Where Should You Submit Your Site?

Even though the endless offers to ‘submit your site to the search engines’ are largely scams, there are many places where submitting your site is a valid way to get listed. These are more often some type of directory rather than a search engine. Some directories are popular enough that you may get found directly through your listings, while others help you more by providing another link back to your site. Here are some places you may want to ‘submit’ your site:

  1. Local Directories – Local directories include those run by the major search engines – Google Places, Bing Local and Yahoo Local. Other popular sites include CitySearch, Merchant Circle, and Yellowpages.com. You may find your business listed in these directories already. If so, you can claim your listing and add to it. Make sure you submit your website, a full description of your services, and some pictures, if the directory allows for them.
  2. Review Sites – There is some crossover here with the local directories, but some other sites that focus more directly on reviews include Yelp, Insider Pages, Judys Book, and Angies List. You will find many other review sites that target specific niches.
  3. Shopping Directories – Shopping directories are critical for ecommerce sites. Google offers free listings in their shopping results, but you must submit your products monthly (good ecommerce software now automates this process). Unfortunately, free Google Shopping listings will be coming to an end later this year when they will switch to a pay-per-click model. Other good shopping directories include comparison sites such as BizRate, NexTag and ShopLocal, as well as social sites such as Kaboodle and Pinterest.
  4. Niche Directories – You’ll need to research these yourself, depending on your industry. For instance, Dr. Oogle is a site just for dentist reviews. Urban Spoon is for restaurants. Whatever your niche, there are likely directories or review sites for it.
  5. Webmaster Tools – Both Google and Bing offer Webmaster Tools. Once you verify that you own your site, these services can provide some valuable insite as to how your site is doing on these search engines, and what you can do to fix errors and improve your ranking. In addition to the information they offer, they give you a direct communication link to the search engine as well. In Google Webmaster Tools, you can set various preferences, and submit your sitemap. A Google sitemap is helpful to make sure their spiders are actually finding all the pages on your site.
  6. General Directories – There are numerous general directories that have been on the web a long time, with DMOZ and Yahoo Directory being the most well-known. A Yahoo Directory listing will cost you about $300/year – while it’s a highly respected directory, I question the value at such a high cost. According to SEO expert Jerry West, Best of the Web’s directory has shown more impact in recent tests for about the same price. DMOZ has long been the most respected directory on the web, but in my opinion has become a dinosaur that may never get around to reviewing or listing your site. I still recommend submitting to it once, but then move on and don’t worry too much if they never index your site. If they do, it’s a bonus. Many other directories offer free or low-cost listings. These do create additional links to your site and therefore have some SEO value, but these links are really not given as much value as in the past. It certainly won’t hurt to submit your site to these directories, but on it’s own it won’t have a huge impact on your search ranking, and, after a few key directories, your time is probably better spent elsewhere.

What do you think?

Have you been promised that your site would be submitted to numerous search engines? Has that extra item on the list of services influenced your decision when choosing an SEO company? Do you have any suggestions to add to the list above? Please comment below with your experiences and suggestions!
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