Steven Lowell of Realtime Casting just wrote an excellent blog piece on "Why Voice Actors Should Use Google Analytics," (http://tinyurl.com/kx2wusm) and it really got me thinking about VO and websites in general. For roughly the last 10 years, everyone who has marketed voice talent, including myself, has advocated that voice talent put together personal websites. Our reasoning was/is much as Steven describes; to create a "storefront" to complement our agent/manager’s own websites. Today the majority of top-tier talents have websites and they range from excellent to bare bones. In the past, I would have advocated those with a spare site to upgrade and everyone else without one to get up to speed ASAP. Now, I have second thoughts. Why? Google analytics. As always, I need to first provide some backstory. In 2005, I began my prior management company, Flatirons Creative, and one of my first tasks was to create a company website as well as individual sites for my clients. My philosophy was to create "storefronts" for all of us and, in the end, I spent considerable money... somewhere around $6,000 total, and the aesthetic results were excellent. I thought the design was superb, the feel was elegant and I even may have had the first voice site to feature video demos in addition to audio. Best of all, I had great content as my clients' body of work ranged from very good to great. So… what were the financial results of my state of art websites? At best, the returns were middling.
Now here is where hindsight is 20/20. My philosophy at the time was sound. If I was going to compete in my market, I knew the web was where commerce was turning. I saw my competitors-Jason Marks, Paul Wintner and Debbie Cope-and they all had excellent sites themselves. So if was going to compete, I'd have to do something similar or better. Finally, I recognized if someone was searching for "voice-overs", I needed some search optimization and my designer had experience driving searches.
So what went wrong? Several things, but the gist of my thinking was based on Internet 1.0 and market forces were moving to 2.0. For instance, I wasn't remotely prepared for social media nor was there anyway to look constructively at the analytics of who or how often our site was used. Another variable was the rise of the PTP sites. I was incredibly fortunate to be working within the upper echelon of the voice business as I started Flatirons but I wasn’t remotely aware of how the PTP services would “flatten” the talent market. In fact, the PTP sites by creating a massive indexing system for talent blew away the search optimization for my site (as well as all other talent agencies and managers). By 2006, any savvy web searcher would be under the impression that Voice123 was significantly more important in voice-overs than ICM in Los Angeles when, in fact, ICM/LA was the largest grossing voice department in the world. That was how dominant the PTP sites were within search engines.
So that gets us back to individual sites and here is the very unpopular truth… there is virtually no traffic to individual sites. Google analytics as well as other popular analytical tools prove it. In fact, it’s even a greater rarity if a buyer is on a site. I’m going out on a limb but I would guess that the best (and I mean the 99% and above) individual sites do not drive buyers to their sites more that a couple of times a month. That needs to be coupled that with the idea that it’s even more rare for individual sites to appear in web searches. In a nutshell, imagine buying real estate to set up a storefront and finding out that not only is your location terrible but there are almost no maps on how to get there.
So after this incredibly pessimistic view of websites… how do you market talent if a website isn’t really effective? The answer has to be social but what platform is best is a serious debate. I know ACM’s focus has been on LinkedIn but there too, we have seen very uneven results. Why? I think it’s because LinkedIn isn’t really social. Facebook has some great features but Facebook is also incredibly casual and while they keep improving the interface, I just don’t think it is appropriate for business. That leaves Twitter and Instagram (unless Google+ or another site creates a better platform) and we have seen some very good marketing for voice-overs specifically on Twitter.
Finally, if social is the future, there still has to be data and analytics to support any marketing efforts. Twitter already has analytics and it is fairly robust but I have a feeling the analytics answer will likely arise from a third party. Regardless, the concept of everyone just opening a store front and hoping people will stop by should be buried and gone and instead, careful and tactical marketing efforts need to replace the status quo.