Brad Poller, right, founding partner at Princeton Internet Marketing at 295 Princeton-Hightstown Road, has been knee-deep in marketing and advertising since early in his college career. But the coursework for his double major in marketing and advertising at the University of Hartford (Class of 1992) was only part of it. Nearly from the get-go his sales and marketing experience was hands on — although not entirely by choice.

As a freshman, he got a hefty speeding ticket for going 81 miles an hour in a 55 mph zone — and at $10 per mile above the speed limit, he owed $260. But because Poller was working his way through college, he did not have the extra bucks to cover the ticket.

As he contemplated how to deal with his new financial burden, a friend showed him a beaded necklace he had made. Poller decided to make one for himself. When a girl admired his creative work and wanted to know where she could buy one, he sold it to her. That’s when the realization hit: “She bought it for $15, and there was a dollar’s worth of material. Wow, I can make money for the speeding ticket by selling necklaces.”

Since then Poller has gained additional experience in marketing technology. About three years ago he and a partner started Princeton Internet Marketing in Poller’s house. Poller’s partner, who has moved on to other ventures, had worked for a large advertising agency in Manhattan. When they joined forces Princeton Internet Marketing became the digital arm for that agency.

Today the company serves as the silent advertising arm for five ad agencies, but Poller declines to give their names because his company “white labels” its services to them. “They use us to do all their digital work: building websites; doing search-engine optimization; doing social media marketing; and placing advertisements online — pay-per-click advertising on Google or Yahoo or Facebook,” he says.

The company works with companies of all sizes, from Bowden’s Fireside in Mercerville to national franchises like ShelfGenie. “We handle SEO for the national franchise as well as each of the franchisees,” Poller says. For its services, PIM charges anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 a month.

A little more than a year ago PIM signed Bowden’s (www.bowdensfireside.com), which was then getting about 20 to 25 visitors a day on its website. One year later Bowden’s site receives close to 250 clicks each day due to the search engine optimization (SEO) by Princeton Internet Marketing. If you search “fireplaces Trenton” on Google, Bowden’s comes up first.

PIM’s first rule is to avoid keywords for which there is a lot of competition. “If you are trying to rank for a word with 17 million competing pages, it is very difficult, and it takes months, maybe years, to get on the first page,” says Poller.

Poller explains the thought process behind keyword selection, using one of his customers, Eclipse Awnings, as an example. Eclipse could not expect to rank highly for the keyword “awnings” alone — for that keyword Google offers more than 19 million results, so “awning” is too competitive a term. By narrowing the keyword to “retractable awnings,” results are a little more than a million, which still doesn’t work. But with the addition of “NJ,” a client would see only 260,000 results, and Eclipse’s local dealer, a division of Bowden’s Fireside, appears at or near the top of the list.

And narrowing it to “retractable awnings Princeton NJ” targets the right kind of seeker. “People have already made a buying decision when they type this phrase, so the conversion rate is much higher,” says Poller.

The content of a website — what the viewer sees and what is hidden in the computer code that creates the site — must reflect the keywords a client wants to be “found” for. Poller estimates that about 6 percent of a page’s content should use this keyword. A freelance writer for U.S.1 newspaper, he suggests, might want to incorporate the keyword “business writer” on his or her own website.

“For our SEO clients, we have shifted a number of our resources away from article writing and more towards SEO via social media engagement,” Poller says. “Basically, we’re listening in on and engaging in conversations on behalf of our clients and their products.”

Take Bowden’s as an example. “If someone blogs about needing a new awning over their patio, our bloggers will step into the conversation with some resources to help them along with their decision, highlighting our client as a good possible solution.”

To create buzz online, PIM also tweets about its customers; creates Facebook pages; writes blogs both for the client’s website and to be posted on other blogs relevant to the client’s industry; and produces videos that it posts on YouTube and 20 other video-hosting sites.

One critical element in Poller’s search engine optimization strategy is his use of affiliate marketers. Affiliate marketers put up websites that consist entirely of links, whose purpose is to drive traffic to other websites. If a sale results, then the affiliate marketer will be paid a commission.

Poller notes that affiliate marketers were among the first to understand how to use search engine optimization to get their affiliate sites to come up first — even before the companies for which it was selling products.

Poller also builds websites and monitors social media for his clients. “We ‘listen’ to 130 million blogs,” he says. “If someone mentions anything that has to do with anything related to that company or a competitor’s product, we can tell whether it is positive or negative, and then we can engage in the conversations that are taking place.” Suppose, for example, that someone online talks about “investigating a franchise” or “looking at franchise.” Poller can then step in and say, ‘Hey, have you ever considered blah, blah, blah as a franchise option?’”

Finally, PIM offers a service called reputation management. If, for example, a client is subject to cyber-bullying, where an angry customer has been pouring negative comments onto the web, Poller can reach out to the business’s clients to collect testimonials of positive contributions it has made. “The negative comments can be ‘stuffed’ to page 10 in Google, because there are 10 pages of positive comments.”

Poller says that Princeton Internet Marketing has been growing rapidly. Over the last six months, its customer base has moved from five advertising agencies to more than 100 companies, among them, a couple of franchises.

The company has nine salaried employees and four consultants, plus another 20 consultants he uses on a project-by-project basis. PIM’s gross revenue is about a million dollars, and has grown fivefold over the last six months.

Poller grew up in Englewood Cliffs, where his father was a corporate attorney and his mother a real estate agent for multimillion-dollar houses. “My mother was great at sales and my father has a great head for legal,” he says. “Between the two of them, I guess I got that handed down to me.”

After graduating from college Poller sold advertising space on the backs of cash register receipts for a marketing company. After earning enough money to buy a 1977 brown Chevy van, he drove across country, stopping at spring break locations to sell more necklaces.

After short stints with a radio station and an insurance investigations company he became an information technology headhunter for Finders Inc. in Manhattan. “It was in the mid-1990s, at the beginning of the IT bubble, and I was able to ride that wave for a number of years while IT exploded,” he says.

Then 9/11 happened. Poller lost many close friends, but what hit him especially hard was that his company had placed someone in the towers that Monday who died the next day. Poller stayed for two more years, but weaned himself out of the job.

He had accumulated a lot of cash and he put all his extra bucks into real estate — right before the bubble. And although he had figured on leaving the industry, Poller had people calling him and offering him money to put people in their organizations. So, while he flipped real estate, he used contacts in Internet technology he had developed at Finders and ran a consulting business.

About six or seven years ago he found that more and more people were looking for experts in Internet marketing. “I would be the go-between for website creation,” he says. This gave him an idea to combine his knowledge of Internet marketing and his familiarity with commercial real estate.

The idea eventually evolved into the one for PIM, which, despite how cutting edge it might be, still has to keep up with the constantly changing world of search engine optimization.

“We have to change our strategy whenever Google changes the algorithm, which they do monthly or bimonthly,” says Poller. When this happens, his clients’ rankings will change, and he has to figure out quickly why other sites made it to page 1 instead, then duplicate and improve on the strategies they used.

Looking to the future, Poller says the Internet will be even more social-based than it is now. And where the Internet will go, the search engines will inevitably follow.

“Over the next few years the Internet will become a lot more like a hive mind, where a bunch of brains work as one to one positive end,” says Poller. “Individual people’s opinions are going to matter more and more and that will determine whether a business is successful.”

#b#Princeton Internet Marketing#/b#, 295 Princeton-Hightstown Road, Suite 181, West Windsor 08550; 609-789-0500. Brad Poller, partner. www.princetoninternetmarketing.com

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