Blog: Ryan Anderson

Ryan Anderson is a web and software consultant and founder of BuyMichiganProducts.com - a site that connects Michigan businesses with consumers looking to buy locally made products. He has been working on websites since 1997, when he created one for Fuxa, a Michigan space rock band, that he played bass for at the time. Ryan was also the publisher of Masstransfer, an independent music magazine that ran from 1997-2004.

Since creating BuyMichiganProducts.com in 2004, while working at Ford Motor Co., the site has grown by leaps and bounds. Specifically, in the past six months, traffic to the site has skyrocketed. As a result, Ryan organized the Buy Michigan Expo in May 2009 at Laurel Park Mall in Livonia to showcase the many Michigan companies listed on the website. This was the third event organized of this type (two were previously held in Lansing), and there are plans for more Expos in the future.

In addition to developing websites and buying local products, Ryan has a passion for indie rock and enjoys cooking - especially barbecue.


Ryan Anderson - Most Recent Posts:

Ryan Anderson - Post 2: Small Business Web Presence Management

In running the BuyMichiganProducts website, I work with companies who are looking for cost-effective ways to get their message out to the public in order to generate leads and sales.  Most of these companies are so focused on producing their goods and services that they feel overwhelmed with trying to manage their websites and overall web presence.  Web presence management consists of three primary facets: how people get to your website, how people use your website once they find it, and how you manage it.

In my experience, a majority of website traffic comes from search engines - people typing in phrases to find what they're looking for.  There are a few names for this:  SEO (search engine optimization), SEM (search engine marketing) and SEV (search engine visibility). They all accomplish the same thing: channeling web searchers to your website.  

I won't go into the details of SEO here, but know that it's probably the most important web presence service you can utilize, and that it's an on-going process - not a one-shot deal.  As part of your website management strategy, you will need to review web server logs and/or your favorite analytics package to determine how effectively your search tactics are working, and fine-tune as you go along.  If you are serious about search engine marketing, it's best to consult with a professional first to understand the fundamentals, then create a plan to be able to do a lot of the optimization work yourself.  It takes a lot to get started, but fine-tuning gets easier as you proceed.  There is a lot of information out on the web for do-it-yourself SEO.

Next, once people find your website, you need to maximize their visit.  Strong calls to action draw users into your site, and your business.  Here is where your site goals come to the forefront - what are you, the business owner, trying to get out of your website.  Is it on-line sales, streamlined customer service, generating sales leads, or just basic company information?  When you've determined your goals, go through the site yourself, or better yet, have someone unfamiliar with your site try it out and get their feedback.  

The primary user goals for our website, BuyMichiganProducts.com, are: become a Member, get your company listed, contact us, comment on an article or product, or suggest a product.  Your goals will be different, but you need to be aware of what both you and your visitors are getting out of the site itself.

Finally, and what will be your biggest task, is general management of the website itself, including: site design, content management, back-end programming, database maintenance, analytics and inquiry follow-up.  Jobs such as site design, back-end programming and database maintenance are good candidates for contracting out.  Do your research because pricing and quality fluctuate wildly and changes in these fields are a constant.  Your best bet is to talk with business colleagues to determine who has the right mix of pricing and quality to match your budget.  A good web presence consulting firm will be able to set you up with tools, such as content management and analytics, to get you going on managing your website effectively.

Managing your web presence shouldn't mean pulling your hair out in frustration on a daily basis, or not knowing how well your website is performing.  The key is to know which tasks you can do yourself, and which ones require outside help.  This will allow you to put your focus where it belongs - in developing your product or service.


Ryan Anderson - Post 1: Why Buy Michigan Products?

In 2004, while working at Ford Motor Company, it became clear that the decline of the American automobile industry wasn't just temporary, and was in fact accelerating.  Michigan had never really recovered from the 2001 recession, which led some of my coworkers and I to discuss things that would help the state's economy - and the consensus was that if more people were aware of and bought Michigan-made products, we could keep more money here in the state.  

Being a web developer and database programmer, I came up with the idea for BuyMichiganProducts.com in February 2004, and launched the site in October 2004. The purpose of the site was to help consumers research and find Michigan-made products in their area to help boost local businesses.  The initial response was good, including some publicity in the Free Press, but traffic stagnated without a consistent source of visitors.

In June 2005, I resigned from Ford to work on the site full-time, in addition to doing free-lance development work.  During this time, I focused on optimizing the site for search engines and developing an email newsletter.  In order to forge a better relationship with our site visitors and listed companies, I decided to organize a one-day Buy Michigan Expo for November 2005.

This event was held at a hotel conference center in Lansing, and although turnout was rather light (due to an MSU football game and the opening of firearm deer hunting season) we did benefit from new connections made at the event, as well as increased traffic to the website.

One of the connections that we made at the Expo was with Matthew Birbeck, from the Product Center at MSU.  With its help, we planned a modified event for May 2006 called the Made In Michigan Festival.  As opposed to the previous indoor event, the two-day Festival was held outside in Old Town Lansing.  We also tied in with the state's Department of Humanities, Arts and Libraries, curator of the annual Michigan Week held in the third week of May.  This Festival was much more successful, bringing in roughly 1,800 people over the two-day event.  However, the logistics of organizing the outdoor Festival was difficult, and we lost a lot of money.  Not long after the event, my wife and I separated and later divorced, forcing me to put the website and future events on hold until that was sorted out.

In late 2008, traffic to the BuyMichiganProducts.com website saw a marked increase in visitors, up from about 5,000 monthly visits to around 8,000.  It was clear that the idea of buy local products was catching on as Michiganders realized how bad the economy was getting.  

I revisited the idea of the Expo, and made some modifications to the format.  As opposed to the previous incarnations, where people had to come specifically to our event, I decided to hold the next Expo inside a mall where consumers were already shopping.  We chose the Laurel Park Mall in Livonia primarily due to the proximity to the relatively affluent western Wayne County suburbs, with its date corresponding with the beginning of Michigan Week.  This turned out to be a great success for over 30 Michigan companies who participated, with an estimated crowd of 800 for the one-day Expo.  There are now plans to double the number of vendors for our next show, with dates forthcoming.

BuyMichiganProducts.com is currently experiencing a healthy level of interest, and I hope that providing this information to Michigan consumers can help stabilize and improve our state's economy in the next few years.

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