Since it was established in 2009 – Charles Darwin’s 200th anniversary - Dorset-based Darwin Ecology has forged a strong regional reputation as an ecological consultancy. The business’s ethos is to assist in halting biodiversity loss in Great Britain, and it provides a comprehensive set of high-quality services, including ecological appraisals, surveys, habitat and species mitigation, and habitat creation and management. Its clients range from developers and planning consultants to Local Authorities, architects, educational facilities, environmental consultancies and private customers.
As Director and Senior Ecologist Mike Cummings explains, the business operates at full speed during the summer, when demand for its consultancy and services is at its peak and the team is working flat out in the field.
While it is vital for the company to maximise its web presence and operate a proactive digital marketing strategy – a year-round priority – in order to grow its customer base and win big new contracts, the reality is that this has to fit around seasonal business peaks.
By 2013, Darwin Ecology had a good website, which was attracting a reasonable volume of hits, but Mike says he knew that the company’s use of optimisation tools and analytics to boost traffic and conversion rates was very limited – and the time available to address this was restricted by the business’s own success.
When Mike took a call offering the Superfast Business advice service, he was initially suspicious and inclined to dismiss it as the equivalent of junk mail. However, after further investigation which reassured him that the scheme is fully funded, with backing from the European Union, he reversed his scepticism and set up a meeting with a Superfast Business adviser.
“At that first meeting, our adviser took a good look at what we needed and came up with a plan to address our restricted use of digital marketing tools,” says Mike. “To begin with, we were really just looking for a bit of support to sort out our website optimisation so that we could generate a round of more viable hits. But it soon became clear that there was a lot we could do to develop a more productive digital strategy.”
As well as making better use of analytics and other tools, the adviser explained how a clear strategy including e-newsletters, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and social media would help Darwin Ecology to target key customer groups such as architects and developers more effectively. A support plan was drawn up, with the rest of the time allocated to two meetings with a specialist support provider.
“We were already running Google Adwords campaigns which have delivered some business leads,” says Mike “And of course we had our website, but it wasn’t optimised and we didn’t know how to structure it to exploit Google search opportunities. Basically, we knew we weren’t doing great but we didn’t know how well we could do with just a few small changes.”
The specialist support sessions revealed how Adwords could be set up more effectively so that digital advertising campaigns could focus on target groups, which could be steered towards specific landing pages.
“We had originally capped our Adwords spend at £25 but as a result of this advice, we have raised it to £50-80 and it has been very worthwhile because the quality of business leads has risen demonstrably,” says Mike.
“Our specialist adviser suggested a lot of ways for us to raise our digital marketing game. In fact, he thought our website was pretty good in most respects. But just making our landing pages more relevant to searches had an immediate effect in decreasing the bounce rate.
“And the way the pages were structured had made it difficult for people to find the content they wanted. For example, if they were searching for information about our bat survey service, they had to scroll way down the page to find the relevant content. As we have implemented the advice we were given, that has changed and their search now takes them directly to a separate, relevant page where they will immediately find prices.”
Apart from SEO and breaking the survey page into a number of individual, specific pages, the expert advice also included suggestions for incorporating digital newsletters and news feeds into the company’s marketing strategy so that clients are kept up-to-date with the latest developments – recommendations that are currently on the ‘to-do’ list.
“The seasonal emphasis of the business means that we have had very little time to implement a lot of this advice,” says Mike. “Our workload is huge in the summer and we are really looking to the winter when we will have more time to put some of these changes into effect, working out how we can operate a more effective strategy and tweaking things as these tools and analytics evolve.”
One of the major benefits of the Superfast Business advice programme has been the opportunity to receive genuinely independent advice.
“It’s been fantastic,” says Mike. “The adviser and specialist give you a completely objective opinion about your website and how it isn’t working so efficiently behind the scenes. Having access to that independent technical knowledge is invaluable, and fills a big gap in our in-house capability. We will definitely be going back to our specialist to get more advice, once we have done everything he recommended the first time round.”
While it is still early days to put a specific value on the impact of the advice and consultancy, Mike estimates that simply by adjusting its Adwords campaigns, the company is receiving up to 50% more enquiries – and 20% are converting into sales. We have been able to recruit a new temporary member of staff on the back of the extra workload.
“Each bid contract we win could be worth £10,000 to the business – so the more hits we get, the greater the possibility of winning more valuable contracts,” he says. “As it is, within the first two weeks of implementing our new Adwords strategy, we won new business worth £4,000 just from leads generated online.
“We’re getting a lot more random leads, although it is difficult to know precisely where those contacts are coming from at the moment – a lot of our business comes from word-of-mouth recommendations. As we brush up our use of Google Analytics, we’ll get more of an idea of where people are clicking through from.
“We’ve also started to get random enquiries from further afield – sometimes further than we are able to service – and as we refine our Google strategy, we will be able to reduce these using negative keywords.”
While Darwin Ecology must wait for the relatively quiet winter months to focus on implementing much of the advice that has emerged from the Superfast Business advice service, Mike is confident that it will continue to pay dividends in terms of increased sales and revenues.