February 2007
What is your Internet strategy?
The Internet is becoming a sophisticated marketing tool for the print industry
Most people in our industry have finally reached the conclusion that the Internet is not going away any time soon. Many still look at it as a threat to printing, but most have figured out how to use it for things such as e-mailing files or FTP sites (Loading Dock in Peterborough, Ont., has a near-idiot-proof program for FTP sites). As for using the Internet as a marketing tool, that’s another story.

When you ask many printers, “What is your Web strategy?” you get a blank look or answers like “We have our address and phone number on our site and a couple of nice pictures.” Some come back with equipment lists, product list, or a mission statement from the president. It’s like business cards—every printer has to have them but otherwise not much thought goes into them.
The reality is that the Internet has become a very sophisticated marketing tool for the printing industry. Companies such as Vista Print in Windsor, Ont., and Amazing Print in Toronto, Ont., only sell online and have become very good at it. Vista Print’s sales were US$152.1 for the fiscal year 2006, ended on June 30, up from US$90.9 the year before.

Just having a static website with pictures of your president and equipment lists, for example, doesn’t work anymore. Customer interaction tools, such as online shopping carts, order templates and storefronts are becoming the norm. Web-to-print is becoming one of the new driving forces in our industry. Fortunately, the costs have come way down. Not too long ago, you could spend hundreds of thousands on web-to-print applications with limited capabilities. At Print World, a number of vendors, such as Pageflex, Printer Presence and Bluestream, were offering packages at more affordable prices for the average printer.

The Web is unleashing two major changes on print sales. First, now more than ever, the specialist will have the advantage. Try doing a Web search for “printing”—you get millions of listings. Try “book printers” and you get a lot fewer but still too many to be useful. Try “short-run book printing” and you get Blitz Printing in Calgary on the first page of results. It’s not a big shop, but it sells short-run book printing across North America, most of which comes from the Internet. If you’re a specialist, you’re easier to find on the Web.

The second, and probably the biggest, impact the Web is having on how printing is sold is searchability. If you want to be found or listed on a search engine, you’re going to have to be proactive. No matter how good your web-to-print site is, you need to generate traffic and get the right eyeballs. If you don’t appear on the first page of a search, forget it. How your site is ranked by a search engine depends on a number of factors such as title tags (key words that show up on the browser’s title bar), key text words—not pictures—on the page, and even the number of external links from other websites to yours. Each search engine has different ranking methods and they keep changing. So taking the “Build a great site and they will come” approach is not going to work.

Attracting potential customers to your site will be an ongoing battle, and one reason the likes of VistaPrint, and Amazing Print are successful is because they’re very good at getting high listings on engine searches.

Devising your Web strategy may be one of the most important decisions you make for your company. How interactive your site is is one thing. Whether anyone can find your site is even more important. No strategy is the worst strategy.
Alexander Donald is the publisher of Graphic Monthly Canada.
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