A bit of background before I get to the juicy stuff: I set up the SEO and SEM (search engine optimisation and marketing) company Pure SEO after I emigrated from the UK in 2009.
As an honorary Kiwi I'm happy to report the business has thrived in this country, where we punch above our weight in tech innovation and engagement. What any web-centric Kiwi business struggles with, though, is simple lack of access - it's hard to keep up with what's going on in the forefront of our field internationally. As in touch as we are, it takes time for ideas and services to filter through.
For this reason and others, I was thrilled when Pure SEO was named the New Zealand winner of the 2013 Google Engage All-Stars competition in July. The competition for online agencies has been run twice before, both times in 2012, but this was the first time it was open to companies outside the US.
Pure SEO's win meant a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me: in mid-August I spent two days at Google HQ, the Googleplex, in San Francisco, talking to other practitioners from the US, Canada, the UK, Argentina, Mexico and Australia. When we weren't networking or sightseeing, we were soaking up advice from some of the smartest, most creative people in our industry, and hearing about what's next in tech (Google glasses are close to becoming a consumer-accessible reality).
From my time at the Googleplex, here are the top seven things people doing business on the web should know:
1) Mobile is now central to the decision-making process online. Most internet users use a mobile device (phone or tablet) at some point in the purchasing process, and nearly half of buyers are doing their pre-purchase research exclusively on mobile . (Next time you're in a waiting room or on a bus, look around and see how many people are using a mobile device to search the internet.)
2) Sixty per cent of marketers use numbers of followers, friends and likes as a metric of social media success, but this means little unless interaction and action is also calculated.
3) Marketing is changing. We are evolving to 'word of mouth marketing', which is good for business because referred customers are 13 per cent more likely to become long term customers, according to Professor Jonah Berger, who spoke at Google Engage.
4) YouTube is not just for cat videos. There is a huge opportunity for New Zealand businesses to gain value through YouTube advertising. The site has 1 billion unique visitors a month, and 42 per cent of shoppers for online services use video in their research. Nearly two-thirds turn to YouTube to learn about products.
5) If you're using AdWords, be careful about timing. A lot of advertisers turn off their AdWords after regular retail/business hours, but one in five online purchases occurs between 8pm and midnight.
6) Don't be afraid to DIY as you learn more about the web. SMEs can use Google Tag Manager to add or update website tags and mobile applications easily and for free. That is, you can add tracking code to monitor usage of your company's web and mobile services without having to ask 'the IT guys'.
7) Think local. More and more internet searches are for local products or services, so optimising your website for local search is important. Note: Try typing 'weather' into Google, and you'll see your local weather displayed first - you don't even have to input your location.
Another interesting benefit of the event was what I learned from speaking with the other agencies in the US, Australia and the UK. Google trials everything first in the US, such as the new Google image extensions, but the American agencies are not doing anything differently to those in New Zealand and Australia.
The UK agencies I spoke with do a lot of outsourcing to the Philippines and India, which has proved problematic when mistakes are made, but is highly lucrative when they get it right. The New Zealand market is different: We do not outsource anything as we feel the risk to our clients' websites is not worth the financial incentive. All our staff live and work in New Zealand.
The Googleplex itself was amazing. Everything was 'on brand' in Google colours, and Google bikes littered the grounds, available for anyone to use to get to another building. Technology, innovation and fun were everywhere; it's easy to see how the working environment could inspire great ideas and creativity.