The Online Ocularist: Paul and Jenny Geelen use content marketing to reach out to their clients
In September 2006, Paul and Jenny Geelen sat down with PublicityShip and devised a new online marketing strategy. 9 months later their mature, hands-on business had more than doubled, with new clients surging into their practice and international joint ventures flourishing. This case study tells their story.
Note: In May 2007 PublicityShip had grown to the point where it needed to separate its public relations business from its online marketing business – and OM4 was born. Paul and Jenny currently operate online using the OM4 platform:
How Paul and Jenny Geelen use the web to take their artificial eye business to the world. (Part 1)
By Louise Runkle.
Many small businesses start out as a hobby or by being very good at something, or both. And while loving what you do and excelling in it are important elements for success, if they are the only factors considered the business will surely stagnate. The creative, passionate and skilled people running these small businesses are often so focused on working in the business that they rarely think about working on the business.
This was the case with Paul and Jenny Geelen, specialist Ocularists who manufacture and fit quality artificial eyes. The brother and sister team took over the business from their mother 15 years ago. They hand-make and then skilfully hand-paint a prosthetic outer shell that (when fitted over an artificial round ‘eyeball’) becomes a patient’s new eye.
They are so skilled in their field that many clients report their prosthetic eye is not only very comfortable to wear, but so closely matched to their real eye that others have difficulty in telling them apart.
Paul and Jenny were founding members of the Ocularist Association of Australia in 1997.
Rethinking the artificial eye business
Over the years, Paul and Jenny had built a reputation with Ophthalmologists and other medical professionals in Australia as trusted, compassionate and highly skilled professionals, with a small but steady clientele. However they had never given much thought to marketing their business. They had been relying a small ad in the Yellow Pages, and direct referrals from Doctors, the same approach their mother had used over the past two decades. “We were just not business people,” Jenny professed with a laugh.
After deciding their business needed improving, Paul and Jenny engaged Julia Sutton of PublicityShip (now OM4) to help with new business systems. After learning about their business and implementing better back office systems, Julia got Glenn Nicholas, her partner (and co-founder of PublicityShip) involved to look at options for marketing the business online.
Various approaches to marketing their business were discussed, including taking their business online. The concept of the Long Tail (the idea that the sheer number of people now on the internet means that niche communities of interest are now a lot more accessible) was reviewed in terms of Paul and Jenny’s business.
Arising from the strategy discussions, Paul and Jenny came to several important insights.
Firstly, they developed a much stronger conviction that their service was more than just making an artificial eye for a client. They provided information, emotional support, reassurance, professional advice and friendship to clients, their families and prospective clients. As important as a high quality artificial eye was, the information and support was a critical part of their work, and they could see that communicating this information more widely would benefit a lot of people.
Secondly, they came to a realisation that they needed to change their business model to ensure their financial viability. Paul and Jenny realised they had been underestimating the cost of delivering their service, and had essentially treated their work as a labour of love.
Finally, using the concept of The Long Tail as a starting point, they reviewed their prospects for running a global business that served a niche market. After several discussions, they felt confident there were opportunities to find new clients outside their local market.
Following these discussions, PublicityShip developed a plan for Paul andJenny to use the Internet to not only market their business and expertise, but to communicate the additional information about eye loss.
While they already had a basic website, Glenn outlined for Paul and Jenny the key steps involved in marketing and operating a business online. The plan involved an expanded online presence and a strong emphasis on content. Content areas were chosen based on keyword research, so that it would help generate traffic for their site from relevant websites and search engines.
Recognising Paul and Jenny were busy (and did not have a lot of time to spend on content creation), support for content generation was built into the content plan. Their site would be designed to interest visitors and start an online conversation, and to help convert a visitor to a client.
Simple measurement tools were planned to enable Paul and Jenny to track their online activity and measure results.
Launching – content, content, content
Once Paul and Jenny signed off on the plan, the new website was built by the PublicityShip team and launched in September 2006. The new site emphasised the importance of fresh content, and provided Paul and Jenny with the ability to self-manage so they could add new content, change existing content or create new pages.
Stories of eye loss
In addition to information-rich web pages, it was planned that the site would feature client stories to help people better understand both the physical and emotional aspects of eye loss.
Paul and Jenny contacted their current customers and asked if they would share their personal account of losing an eye and wearing an artificial one – just like they’d shared their experience and emotions over coffee in the Geelen’s office. Almost every customer agreed to have their story published on the Geelen’s new website, as they hoped it would help others going through a similar experience.
The importance of the stories of eye loss was emphasised by a website visitor (who had recently lost his eye) who called Jenny after reading them. He said,
“When I knew there were stories to read, I had to read them. Once I did, I knew that I would be alright”.
He subsequently became a client of Paul and Jenny.
PublicityShip had another idea for keeping fresh content on the site, and to tap into the worldwide audience for artificial eyes – create a web log, or blog as it’s often termed.
A blog is simply a regular posting of personal stories, ideas, thoughts, opinions and experiences on a website – like an online diary. Blogging is rapidly expanding its popularity from traditional social and community ranks to being embraced by businesses of all sizes, across the globe, as an inexpensive, simple and effective way to communicate with a target audience.
The Geelens use blogging to reach their target audience, offer knowledge and support and to provide an avenue where customers and potential customers can get to know them. The Geelens categorise their blogs according to topic and an average of six blogs are posted each month on topics ranging from emotional responses to eye loss, to how the Paul and Jenny paint such realistic artificial eyes. The Geelens invite readers to respond to their blogs, and they provide links to other relevant blogs or websites. Blogging and linking to other websites is enabling the Geelens to rapidly build an active community of people around the world interested in the topics of eye loss and artificial eyes.
“We have an ideas board in the office, and whenever we get an idea for a new blog topic, we stop what we’re doing and jot it down on the board,” explains Paul. “The next time we are all sitting down over coffee, we review the ideas board, expand the discussion and allocate a writer for the new blog.”
A ghostwriter, writing on Paul and Jenny’s behalf, helps ease the load of developing new content for the site. Julia is the main ghostwriter for Paul and Jenny, and obtains information and ideas by “following us around the office with a pencil and notepad,” laughs Jenny. Julia interviews clients and writes their stories, being careful to capture the essence of their story and to use their own words. Client stories are always reviewed and approved by the clients before being published. After interviewing Paul and Jenny, she ghostwrites some of their blog posts and they thoroughly review each post before it is published.
Search marketing and content marketing
PublicityShip helped Paul and Jenny get started with search marketing, setting up a Google AdWords campaign on relevant keywords. For example, if you use Google to search for “artificial eye” or “prosthetic eye”, you will most likely see a link to Paul and Jenny’s site.
They also helped Paul and Jenny with content marketing, which is actively using their content to generate traffic (through links) from other blogs and websites.
Rather than having to engage a ‘search engine optimization’ specialist, their website was built from the ground up to be search engine friendly. For example, each page has a specific title in plain english and uses headings properly so that keywords can be easily understood by search engines, and the site automatically provides Google with a new Google Sitemap when the content is changed.
Measuring and tracking
The final step in their online plan is to measure and track the visits (or hits) the website receives.
Paul and Jenny use Google Analytics. This free tool lets them see how many visitors they receive each day, a map showing where (right down to specific countries and suburbs) their website visitors are coming from, and the keywords used in web searches that find their site. They can also review which pages of the website are being read and how long a visitor stays on each page. Technorati is an additional service focused on tracking links to blogs, so Paul and Jenny can see how their blog is being referenced by other bloggers.
Paul and Jenny’s business has grown considerably in the first six months since the new website was launched. The website and blog extends their traditional Perth referral base, and takes it all over the world. Yet it still targets just those people with an interest in, or need for, an artificial eye.
Paul and Jenny’s site receives traffic from all over the world. The website has led to new clients from Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UK and the Middle East. Jenny recounts:
“Recently a woman rang from Bahrain, and said ‘I want you to make me two eyes. You are the best in the world. I want you to do it’. She had formed this opinion from our website.”
Search marketing and content marketing efforts have been effective. Their new site is fully indexed by the search engines, and search rankings for important keywords are climbing strongly. A Google search for ‘ocularists’ or ‘ocularist association’ returns Paul and Jenny’s website in the first page of organic search results. Recently when a prominent Australian journalist was seeking information on artificial eyes, his research on Paul and Jenny’s site led to a radio interview.
In addition to online marketing, PublicityShip have also helped Paul and Jenny with print and broadcast media publicity. A short campaign to support Jenny’s annual clinic visit to Darwin led to excellent coverage and she has now more than doubled her clientele in the Northern Territory.
After careful consideration of their pricing model, a new price schedule was published at the same time the new website was launched. With assistance from PublicityShip, a new brochure was also prepared that explained Paul and Jenny’s services. The transition to the new price schedule went smoothly.
Another benefit of the online marketing strategy is the stories that were once just coffee chats between Paul, Jenny and a patient, are now reaching (and helping) a worldwide community interested in artificial eyes and related topics. The client stories and blogs on the website help to build trust with prospective customers and solidify relationships with existing customers.
The stories and blogs are also available in the Geelen’s waiting room.
“Not only do customers enjoy reading these, but I find myself referring back to blogs on various topics quite regularly.” Paul Geelen.
New customers report feeling more prepared for their new eye after spending time learning about the Geelen’s and their work.
People often feel very isolated and emotional when dealing with a traumatic experience such as the loss of an eye, and they usually crave information and support. Through the website and their blog, Paul and Jenny have made a substantial contribution to an emerging global community of interest. The information and stories provide support, and access to a network for those new to (or already living with) eye loss.
Eyes on the future
Paul and Jenny Geelen have used the power of the Internet to transform a 50 year old Ocularist practice – which focused on the WA market and had changed little since its beginning — to a business that utilises practical online marketing approaches to reach a highly targeted, global audience.
The rapid success of their online approach has sparked a flurry of ideas for further developing the business and website.
One area Paul is exploring is the promotion of related books and resources on the website. Paul envisions making the site a one-stop place for information on sight-related matters.
Additionally Paul and Jenny are discussing the idea of publishing eBooks through the website. With client permission, Paul is considering publishing short stories about their client’s eye loss and artificial eye experiences. He’d like to group the stories by client interest or age groups – such as sports people or children who’ve lost an eye.
Paul and Jenny have also discussed selling selected and relevant sight-related books and publications through the website. This would entail development of an eCommerce component to the site to enable secure online orders and payment.
From their work with PublicityShip, Paul and Jenny have learnt a lot about marketing, generating publicity and harnessing the power of the Internet to cost effectively develop their business.
And there is another important lesson they’ve learnt – they recognise they are astute business people operating in a new, global business environment, as well as the same passionate, highly skilled and knowledgeable ocularists they’ve always been.
OM4 assists small businesses with online marketing services, including keyword research, content marketing (with business blogging), search marketing, email marketing and affiliate marketing.
Australian based OM4 operates online with clients in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia.