One of the most important aspects of any business is marketing. Vending operators market by wrapping their vehicles with logos, mailing brochures or taking out print or radio ads, but what about the digital marketplace?
Search engines are the new phone books and people use social media as an alternative news source, yet, according to Neil Swindale owner of VendCentral, a digital marketing firm dedicated to helping vending company owners grow their businesses, most operators aren’t utilizing the Web to its full potential.
“If somebody lands on your Website, chances are they don’t know who you are,” Swindale said. “They’re going to base their perception of your company on your Website.”
That is why it’s so important for vending operators to budget for, and plan the creation of, a Website before committing to creating it. Swindale believes having a cheap Website is almost as bad as not having one at all.
Swindale operated his own vending company for a number of years before launching VendCentral 15 years ago, so he has been on both sides of using the Web for digital marketing. He believes there are two main concepts to focus on when developing a Website — conversion and search engine optimization (SEO).
Swindale defines conversion as the Website’s design and navigability. First impressions are everything in sales, and when consumers come to a vending Website, their first impression of the entire operation lies in what the Website looks like, and how much it can tell them. Swindale focuses on three key factors to conversion that can make or break a vending operation Website. They are design, information and images.
Swindale believes having a modern design that dazzles the consumer is the first step to drawing them in. The home page of a site should be well-representative of the operation. Having a large, strong logo, images of the operation and interactive links that clearly inform the consumer and navigate them through the site is a must for any vending Website.
Consumers will not go out of their way to find information, according to Swindale, so making it accessible and easy to find is important. Having links on the homepage that lead to subsequent pages dedicated to information is a good way to help consumers navigate the site. Links Swindale suggests include:
About Us — a detailed history of the operation, including background, achievements and affiliations.
Products — a complete listing of products available in all channels, be it vending, coffee service or micro markets.
Technology — any new and innovative technology in the vending operation that might intrigue consumers.
Contact Us — this area should include all contact information including the address, phone number, fax number and direct email link so visitors can leave a message directly from the page.
Images and video
Engaging site visitors is an important part of having an interactive site. Because of that, Swindale suggests having up-to-date photos and interesting video snip-bits. They are a good way to inform the consumer about an operation and add to a Website’s appeal.
Search engine optimization
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is all about being found, explains Swindale. Customers use search engines to find information, and having a strong SEO presence ensures an operation’s name is toward the top of the results, improving the chances it will be viewed.
Swindale has seen the numbers. He knows the more consumers that find a business through search engines (due to good SEO), the more site visits for that operation, which in turn brings potential sales. His tricks to utilizing SEO include keeping the target local, using business listings online and digital advertising.
Most consumers will narrow down their searches by entering local keywords like cities or states. This ensures the consumer a more concentrated list of operations for them to do business with, explains Swindale. This is to the operator’s advantage. Because consumers are searching locally, vending operators don’t have to compete at a national level. Instead of solely using the word *vending* as a keyword, operators can accompany that keyword with a geographical area they service, narrowing the number of sites they’re competing with and giving them a better chance of being found.
Free Local Business Listings
Search engines, such as Google, offer free local business listings. Swindale encourages vending operators to list with these sites as the search engine, in this case Google, will find keywords within the information and use them to suggest businesses for consumers searching locally. To sign up, create a Google account and visit the Google Places website (places.google.com).
All search engines allow businesses to pay for advertising on their sites. This can also increase SEO, according to Swindale. Operators can budget how much money they want to pay per click, and determine how much money per month they are willing to spend. The search engine will then act as an auction, giving precedence to the highest bidder of payment per click. There is no limit to how much a business can bid, and the search engine will generally only charge $.05 to $.10 more than the second lowest bid, explains Swindale. Once the bidding is complete, when a person searches the chosen keyword, for example vending, the vending operator whose bid was highest will have his or her business advertisement displayed on the top of the page.
William Mandile, president of Champion Vending in Astoria, N.Y., relaunched his Website three years ago. Using Swindale as a consultant, the new site focused on conversion as well as SEO and its entirely taken the place of his sales department.
“A vending company without a Website is like a store without a sign in front of it,” Mandile said. “A majority of people look online for vending [companies], and if you don’t dedicate the money to making the site the way it should be, it can really hurt your business.”
The digital marketing platform is something vending operators can’t ignore. With search engines and social media playing such a large role in how consumer’s gather information, being a part of the digital world is a must. An effective Website is a way for vending operators to set themselves apart from their competition all while sharing their brand with a potentially new client-base.