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DTC, SEO and loyalty

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(This post was inspired by a “Viticulture Brief” that appeared in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat yesterday.)

My blog is just over five years old now, and what a crazy five years it’s been. In 2008 the wineries-and-social media arena was like the Wild West, filled with danger, opportunity, chaos, confusion, rattlesnakes and gunslingers. It was a bold proprietor who dared to jump in. Most held back, unsure of what to do, not wanting to make blunders. Like good businessmen, they preferred to let others blaze a path into terra incognita they could then follow.

Now it’s 2013. It would be sweet to say that the formula’s been figured out, but unfortunately, it hasn’t. There still is no template for wineries to trek the social media landscape–although social media consultants claim otherwise!

So what do we know now that we didn’t know in 2008?

In a way, nothing. The only difference is that what we knew then was obscure. Today, the outlines are clearer. We know for sure that direct-to-consumer (DTC) is just as important as we thought it was, and even more so for small wineries who find it hard to get distributed post-Recession. Whether it’s through a tasting room or a wine club, DTC remains the lifeline by which the family winery avoids being cast adrift and drowning.

We know, however, that DTC doesn’t happen all by itself but must be developed. There are several elements to this. One is for the consumer who’s Googling her way through the world wide web to come across your winery’s website. And not just come across it as, for instance, being #37 on a search result, but being one of the first hits, and having a provocative headline that will prompt the searcher to click on it.

For example, I just Googled “best Napa Valley Cabernet” and two of the first three hits are from me. (Yes, I was surprised, but not entirely.) Number one is an article I wrote for Wine Enthusiast, number two is Schrader’s website, and number three is a post from my blog.

Finding myself with such high visibility on such an important search topic is gratifying, of course; but the question for wineries is how they can do it. Schrader did; so did Robert Mondavi and Napa Cellars, albeit on page 2, and by the time we come to page 3, nobody’s reading anymore. This tells me that Napa Valley wineries are not doing a good job at search engine optimization.

Let’s suppose they were, through the usual tricks: Google+, key word use, extensive hyperlinks as well as linking all of your online presences to each other, and so on. But a key to landing in a top search result is frequency of online publishing. You can’t update your blog or website once a month and expect anyone to find it. It’s got to be everyday. That’s why people come back to steveheimoff.com Monday through Friday. They know they’ll always find something new (and not just some rehashed reviews).

This raises the issue of loyalty. Ask a brand manager what’s the best thing a brand can have and she’ll tell you customer loyalty. You can’t buy it (although it often money to establish). You can’t force the consumer to be loyal or do it with some gimmick. There’s magic how it happens. Jordan and Silver Oak have earned customer loyalty; their examples stand as inspirations to other wineries. This blog has earned reader loyalty. My readers never feel pandered to, or spoken down to (I would hope). They don’t get the feeling I slap-dashed some fast food together for them. Instead, they get something that appeals to their intelligence–they feel engaged. Engagement: that’s the soul of social media. Don’t talk at me, talk with me, and let me talk with you. Together, we’ll have a conversation.

Admittedly, it’s easier for me to have a conversation with readers than for a wine company. A company has too many levels of management. Everyone gets a veto; creativity is stifled in favor of white bread. But people don’t want mush; they want something substantial. Give them something real to chew on, and they’ll come back. Withhold it, and all the social media consultants in the world can’t help you.

  1. Steve, do you understand how SEO works? Google actually uses browsing history to customize search results. We all get different results based on our location and browsing habits. When I search for “best Napa Valley Cabernet,” articles from Robert Whitley, Lettie Teague and Greg dal Piaz are in my top results. Having yourself in twice in your top three tells me more about your breadth of reading others than your your actual online presence. Sure, your WE article (& it is a good primer) comes in #3 for me and probably just as high for many people, but you may not have as much visibility as you think… Or a firm grasp on SEO…

  2. Steve, your comments about frequency and loyalty aside for a moment (they are spot-on), Kyle is right about the search results being different for different users.

    “There still is no template for wineries to trek the social media landscape–although social media consultants claim otherwise!”

    There are, in fact, now templates for brands to follow to do exactly that, though they are not necessarily tailored specifically to wine as a product genre. There may be social media consultants who say that there are wine-related templates for that, but you should offer some examples I think if you want to build a case.

    Generally speaking, when you talk about the wine world, I love reading what you have to say; when you talk about social media, I tend more to cringe! :) My impression is often that you haven’t done enough of the research or legwork in that area to properly bolster the positions that you take on SM. Now, I’m not saying that you’re wrong in some of those opinions, what I’m saying is that I rarely see evidence presented to back up your statements in a way that I would accept them as properly informed (as I do when you talk about CA wine). And you’re way, way, *way* too good a writer for someone like me to let you get away with that without chiming in! :)

  3. I have to agree wholeheartedly that DTC is the lifeline for many small producers across the globe and it seems to me that that business is increasing exponentially. I have found that the SEO tools that you can attach to WordPress sites to be a great guide to getting it more right than not, especially for the SEO neophyte. I am impressed at how the SEO tools have both guided us to get greater exposure for the site (cavetocellar.com) and how it they taught us the basics of SEO at the same time.

    Small producers need to be able to access SEO at low cost, and it seems to me some of these templates for sites like WordPress are offering some great solutions.

  4. Hi Steve,

    Great little article. A few quick points…

    Google delivers highly personalized search results now. So when you searched for “Best napa cabernets” you will see results that are in fact your articles, which comes from sites you may have visited in the past. If you click the little “globe” icon in the top-right side, it will hide personal results, and give you a much more accurate view of who’s ranking for what.

    A little side fact that’s worth noting is that authorship also plays a big role in today’s online marketing. You need to claim your G+ profile and attach that to content, which helps attribute it to your “author rank” – a growing factor in search rankings.

    lastly, rankings do not equal sales. It’s more important than ever to create content that adds value, is useful/usable, and encourages sharing. It’s great to rank for key terms, which helpsthe “discovery” phase of visitors finding brands, but the middle/longtail phrases are were conversions take place.

    With regards to the lack of templates to follow for SM…that’s not entirely true. Each brand must take a different path, and although they can follow guidelines like:
    - Share others’ content
    - Engage in real discussions
    - Locate influencers and build relationships with them, so that they will in turn share your content

    It’s really up to the brand to create something valuable that’s worth sharing across social media channels. I think content strategy is the new SEO. Every brand will have a different approach, but the basic tenets will stay the same.

  5. That said, you have one basic idea here that is very important.

    You must publish on a regular basis, and it must have substance. Even one crap article will hurt your reputation, and lowers people’s expectations. Quality engagement through useful content is what drives people to want to associate with your brand.

  6. Steve still has the top result (SEOmoz Pro Keyword Difficulty Report):
    1 Dissecting The Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Subappellations
    http://www.winemag.com/Wine-Enthusiast-Magazine/May-2013/Dissecting-Napa-Valley-Cabernet-Sauvignon/
    2 Top 10 Cabernet Sauvignon – NapaCabs.com
    http://www.napacabs.com/Top-10-Cabernet-Sauvignon-C443.aspx
    3 10 Napa Valley Greats You Can Take to the Bank by Robert Whitley …
    http://www.creators.com/lifestylefeatures/wine/wine-talk/10-napa-valley-greats-you-can-take-to-the-bank.html
    4 Top Cabernet Sauvignon Best Wines Ratings Prices | Gayot
    http://www.gayot.com/wine/varietals/best-cabernet-sauvignon.html
    5 90 Plus Rated Cabernet Sauvignon Red Wine from USA | Bounty …
    http://www.bountyhunterwine.com/storeitems.asp?score=90plus&varietal=Cabernet%20Sauvignon&winetype=Red%20Wine&cc=WINE&country=USA

    A smart group of results. First is a wine magainze (by Steve with article maps, photos, reviews, ratings so I can see why it does well), second shopping, third reviews, fourth ratings, fifth shopping.

    Steve, next time append &pws=0 to the end of the google search URL. Your overall points I agree with despite the analytical error.

  7. i deleted a longer comment, because it is mostly the red wine talking. but i will say this: distributors pay the bills. dtc is just spending money

  8. Very interesting article – what you say is very true… ‘you can’t update your blog or website once a month and expect anyone to find it’. However I wouldn’t say you necessarily need to update it everyday – I feel this depends on the purpose of the site.

  9. Great article Steve,The Search Engine Optimization (SEO/SMO) Analyst can quickly understand and support initiatives that will contribute to the goals and success of client campaigns. SEO has been website marketing strategy for a very long time, many website owners still believe that the primary goal of SEO is simply to achieve top positions.

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