March 1, 2024

Conversations: Advice From a Sticky Web Site

Similarly, the top result in a recent search for orange soda was not a soft drink, but OrangeSoda, a company based in American Fork, Utah, that creates online marketing campaigns for small- and medium-size businesses. OrangeSoda, which was founded in 2006 by Jay Bean, has 175 employees and 6,000 customers. Mr. Bean said that the company’s revenue was $19 million in 2010, and that he expected it to reach $32 million this year. But not all of his ventures have been successful. In 2005, he started a retail business that failed, but helped him better understand the marketing needs of his small-business clients.

Mr. Bean, 43, recently talked about why he named his business OrangeSoda, what he learned from his unsuccessful retail venture and what small businesses don’t understand about search-engine optimization. He also discussed why he thought Groupon made a big mistake when it turned down a $6 billion offer from Google. A condensed version of the conversation follows.

Q. Why OrangeSoda?

A. It’s sticky and makes us stand out, which makes people more likely to talk about and link to us. Most companies in our industry use industry terms in their names. From a branding perspective, they’ve limited themselves. We’re building a national brand and our name helps us.

Q. Does it create any confusion?

A. Surprisingly few people come to our Web site looking for something to drink. “Orange soda” is a fairly generic term. Users have to qualify their searches, so if someone wants to buy orange soda in bulk, they’ll search for “orange soda bulk.” It all goes back to keywords.

Q. Still, aren’t you competing for Web presence not just with your industry competitors but with Coke?

A. We are. But our focus is on our industry. We give very little thought to what Coke or Pepsi might do to optimize their sites. And most of the time, we outrank the soft drink companies because the term “orange soda” is just one of thousands of terms they are trying to get ranked on, while it’s core to our brand.

Q. What were you doing before OrangeSoda?

A. I founded, a search-engine marketing company that focused on small-business clients, in 1999. Marchex acquired ah-ha in 2003, and I was there until 2006. During that time, in 2005, I also started a company called Sunglasses Only. I had never sold anything myself and wanted to share the experiences of my small-business clients.

Q. How did Sunglasses Only do?

A. We closed in November 2010 and sold the assets at a loss. Initially, I planned an online business — I owned the domain name But I found the major brands require you to have a retail location to sell their glasses, much like car manufacturers. We didn’t want the traditional, 400-square-foot sunglass store. So we tried something different, selling 25 brands out of two stores that were closer to 15,000 square feet. We stocked 3,000 pairs of sunglasses. In 2008, the year we opened our second store, sales dipped 80 to 90 percent in one month during the recession. Business continued to suffer — sunglasses aren’t something you have to have. I’ve now got 300 pairs at my house. I’m selling most of them on eBay and to family and friends.

Q. What did the experience teach you about being a small-business owner?

A. My biggest lessons related to inventory. I had no experience with it as an online provider of services. Having inventory requires you to deal with a different set of complex issues, including theft control. I also didn’t consider that, if the typical 400-square-foot sunglass shop needs to get 30 people through the store every hour, I was going to need four times that amount.

Q. Why did you buy the domain name

A. I started buying domain names in 2000 and have two or three hundred. I don’t know why I buy them. I just do. But I don’t buy them to sell them — they’re expensive if you’re not doing anything with them. Mostly they’re ones I think I might use, or related to my interests. I like cars, so I own Some are just quirky, like I have no idea what I’ll do with that. None are particularly valuable.

The most expensive was, which cost about $2,500. Someone else owns So I have I own all my kids’ names. I don’t know what they’ll do in life, but they might need them. It costs me $9 a year to give them the option.

Q. What mistakes do you see small-business owners making on the Web?

A. One is that, because one-third of mobile searches have local intent, a small business that doesn’t consider mobile will miss the boat. More generally, business owners spend more time building their businesses, and less on what they don’t understand, like Internet marketing. Small businesses think they can do it alone, but they can’t.

Q. What can’t they do?

A. It depends on their skill set. But the problem is that there isn’t just one easy platform that allows business owners to easily create their own ads. There are dozens of advertising outlets on the Web — directories, search engines, social media — and you need to be using all of them. We create a system that allows business owners to manage these complexities across outlets.

Q. How are you different from all of the other S.E.O. gurus?

A. Most focus on national local. We do local local. For example, if a brand has 15 dealerships, we’ll do separate campaigns for each location, or at least break it down by region. Madison Avenue ad agencies and big S.E.O. agencies find it harder to run 100 different campaigns. But it’s necessary because search results focus locally. We focus locally all the way down to Sedalia, Miss. We’ll focus on Chelsea, not all of New York City.

Q. Why has your firm grown so much faster than other Web marketing firms?

A. Most firms try to work with bigger customers. But we built a platform specifically designed for local businesses with their smaller budgets. The trend is toward local advertising. But the Googles of the world don’t connect with small business. We’ve become the centerpoint in that connection process.

Q. How can a small-business owner tell if a Web marketer really knows what he’s doing?

A. The results will speak for themselves.

Q. Is Groupon, with its local focus, worthwhile for small businesses?

A. Businesses need to keep in mind that Groupon is just one thing and needs to be combined with other tools as part of a marketing campaign. A campaign should include, for example, a good Web site and strategies for search, mobile and social media. If you have all the basics covered, then you can benefit from Groupon by using it as a customer-acquisition tool.

Q. Do you think Groupon is worth its rumored initial public offering valuation of $25 billion?

A. No. They should have taken the $6 billion from Google when they had the chance.

Q. Why? What don’t they understand?

A. Groupon isn’t seeing very good supplier renewal rates. It’s not doing anything to keep those customers.

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