Using an Event to Get Noticed
Just three years after opening, Anthony Rausa with Preferred Insurance of La Crosse faced a problem many of us have — getting what you do noticed in new ways. He looked at marketing tools such as social media advertising, Google Ads, and SEO (search engine optimization). To make sense of which to use, he turned to La Crosse’s Ryan Aarstad, owner of SiteFire Digital Media Agency and The Client Blueprint. The freelancer gave Rausa a piece of advice -- pursue many creative ways to generate brand awareness and website traffic for your small business. One of them is events.
With his background as a search engine optimization (SEO) expert, Aarstad’s goal was to create an event-focused marketing strategy to get the new website for Preferred Insurance Agency of La Crosse to rank higher in searches.
“We did it,” said Aarstad. “The Preferred Insurance strategy shows that there are creative ways you can leverage people’s attention using events to focus attention on your brand.”
When Preferred Insurance Agency of La Crosse approached Site Fire Digital Media to enhance its marketing, Aarstad began by working with Rausa to identify the company's goals. They mirror many of the goals many of us have:
- Get Local Attention by creating something of value for the community versus a standard advertisement -- to go beyond the type of marketing where Preferred Insurance would be asking for a sale or action. It is a give now to eventually get approach.
- Create Value-Based Content that La Crosse area residents would enjoy, get attention, and be thorough.
- Help with local SEO efforts for the business. Aarstad knew that he could get Preferred Insurance’s to rise to the top of search pages through a process he’s perfected:
- by creating content,
- having compelling online properties / assets such as photos and interaction,
- getting other websites to link to Preferred Insurance’s website (aka.generating backlinks) from these properties to the business, and
- driving local traffic to these properties.
“I, personally, think SEO should be the cornerstone of local marketing efforts for probably 95 percent of small local businesses,” said the marketing guru. “I am always considering how SEO can be implemented into any marketing campaign.”
With clear-cut goals, it was time to develop the product to promote and hope the public indeed saw the value.
The marketing company owner was wanting to do some type of community outreach as marketing for a while, “Something that would get more local attention and traffic to the website.”
This freelance marketer narrowed his strategy to an existing event, “Something that would generate local hype and slingshot efforts online.”
“I wanted organic visibility and then use social media ads to fuel the momentum,” said Aarstad. “I knew Halloween was coming up, which is a holiday many people love. It’s fun. It’s exciting, and I figured I could relate the holiday to the products and services Preferred Insurance offered.”
The result — an online page with a list of best-decorated Halloween-themed houses.
“The event’s keywords of ‘Best Decorated Halloween Houses’ aligned with Preferred Insurance’s website, whose offerings include home insurance,” he said.
With the idea in hand, would he be able to find homes worthy of being called the “best” and showcasing compellingly?
A Plan Well Executed
Finding the Houses
Aarstad drove around, scouring the city for some of the most well-put-together houses he could find. He reached out in local Facebook groups for leads on where the best houses were.
Next, Aarstad used his UW-La Crosse media degree and photography experience whil ein California to take multiple, long-exposure night photographs of each house. He put great thought into each photo, “I made the images compelling by taking night photographs of the fully lit Halloween displays. I didn’t think a single distant photo of each house would do the house or the page justice, so I opted to include a quality main photo for each home."
He included multiple close-up images of elements of the display as part of the single main photograph. Aarstad knew this would make the images of the houses more dynamic for website visitors. By using multiple close-up images as part of the main photo, he reduced load time on the website by 75%, resulting in better user experience and SEO.
The web page Aarstad created includes “Get Directions” buttons to make it easy for people on mobile devices to locate each home by clicking on them and having Google Maps open for navigation.
He embedded on the page one Google Map of all the house locations. It includes descriptions and photos. “I wanted visitors to be able to also use the map to help plan and navigate to the different locations.”
As an added touch, on the comprehensive Google Map, Aarstad added fun “ghost” pin icons that visitors could use to help plan and navigate their Halloween House “tour”. Strategically, this added another SEO element to the page.
“Yes, the map would be very helpful for visitors, but it is another online property or tool I used to link back to the main page,” the SEO expert said. “It’s one that local people are actively using, which makes it that much more powerful.”
With the content complete, it was time to get the “Best Decorated Halloween Houses” page noticed and used.
He had built it, it was time to figure out how to get people to notice.
Getting Eyes on the Content
This freelance marketer took a multi-faceted approach to distribution, saying, “I wanted the most eyeballs on the content, of course, but also because I needed to see what worked.”
Aarstad weighed the pros and cons of each type of distribution.
Fundamentally, it was a battle of driving people to the website through organic distribution / coming up in searches or to a Facebook event page.
Organic reach is people searching for and finding the “Best Decorated Halloween Houses.” Since this is a brand-new page, it might take some time to rank in search results. Aarstad was not sure of the amount of traffic possible for the search phrase “Best Decorated Halloween Houses”. He hence ruled out organic search engine traffic as a distribution source.
Social Media Distribution
“I shared the page to Facebook groups to generate some organic reach on Facebook,” said Aarstad. “This proved to be helpful in getting numerous eyes on the content as well as shares.”
While this was very successful for the campaign, it's possible that it may not receive much visibility since it is completely dependent on the Facebook algorithm. Also, the attention could dwindle very fast as often does on social media.
“From the start, I knew Facebook ads would be a large part of the campaign strategy because I thought I could reach people with this content with paid ads,” the freelancer said. “Even in a worst-case scenario, I knew I would still be driving local traffic for SEO efforts.
Aarstad considered creating a Facebook Group for best decorated Halloween homes, but it was a bit too niche, saying, “It would take longer to get people into the group and start interacting with each other. Plus, you really only reach people interested in Halloween decorating instead of the public who may be interested in Halloween events and activities.
Aarstad considered creating a Facebook Event, “Granted, my ‘event’ is not traditional, being more of an offline event, but we’re thinking now more in terms of the marketing strategy.”
He knew the benefits of having a Facebook Event that drives people to Preferred Insurance of La Crosse’s website:
- It provides a permanent online page listed within the Facebook platform that people could easily share.
- Facebook does some heavy lifting by showing the event to all the people searching for Halloween events in the La Crosse area
- Provides the ability to run Facebook ads for the event. “If one of my ad campaigns wasn’t necessarily performing,” Aarstad said, “I could be confident that event ads I would create could perform well.”
- Everyone who expressed “interested” or “going” to the event would receive additional touches in the form of reminders of their upcoming Facebook’s event -- which means Preferred Insurance of La Crosse’s brand would once again be in front of people.
- Every interaction would elevate the event to the top of all Facebook events pages.
Still, marketers know that Facebook’s algorithms change and perform unexpectedly. Would this work?
Once SiteFire Digital Media Agency finished the website, the company posted the “Best Decorated Halloween Houses” link to multiple La Crosse-focused local Facebook groups. The page started getting traffic and shares right away.
Aarstad needed to keep momentum going, debating how. “It was at this point where I was debating whether to implement a Facebook Group strategy, or a Facebook Event Strategy, or any other strategy for that matter that would help me with my campaign objectives.”
He decided to create a “Facebook Event” page. He shared to Preferred Insurance of La Crosse’s Facebook page, then invited his friends to the event.
“At the same time, I created a Facebook ad for, telling it that I wanted ‘event responses’ as the objective of the ad,” Aarstad said. “My thought was that Facebook would deliver the ad to a new audience based on its algorithm. This is different from the brand-awareness ad I was already running.”
Aarstad would compare the cost of these ad types to help gauge how each of the campaigns were doing. He hoped the Facebook algorithm would work in his favor as people engaged with the event. He wanted Facebook to see this event as “quality” and show the event to more people organically versus through his paid efforts.
That is precisely what happened.
“The event ad responses that drove people to the Facebook event (paid event) cost me half as much as the brand-awareness ads that drove people to Preferred Insurance’s website (organic),” Aarstad explained. “For every paid event response, I was getting approximately one organic event response.”
Interestingly, that actually equates to a 1:4 ratio of touches. “In organic marketing, they would visit the “Best Halloween Houses” page once,” explained Aarstad. “If people responded to the Facebook event, the platform would show them the event on the events page, remind them of the event, and the event was searchable on the Facebook platform.
Knowing how the algorithms work is complex. “This gives people a peek under the hood” of a successful event marketing campaign to help stimulate your imagination as to how you could use some of these strategies to help accomplish your local business marketing goals,” Aarstad said.
Four days before Halloween, the ads reached 9,365 with nearly 21,000 impressions and 400 link clicks. The organic reach resulted in 250 likes and shares, more than 7500 people using the map and 2200 website visitors.
Total ad dollars spent: $400.
Beyond the numbers, this is also a story of creating a campaign that goes beyond accomplishing Preferred Insurance of La Crosse’s goals. The company gave back to the community and built a relationship.
Potentially thousands of people may remember Preferred Insurance as providing a great tool and activity with which to celebrate Halloween. It starts with being brave enough to be creative — and having fun while doing it.