Online marketing has become a critical part of the business development function for most organizations. In the early days of the Internet, having a web presence was a “nice to have” – it’s now a business imperative. Businesses that don’t take this fact seriously will find themselves at a huge competitive disadvantage.
Today, the question isn’t “should I invest in an online strategy”, but “how do I make sure I get it right”.
Before we explain the core elements of a winning online strategy, it’s important to dispel some myths and misconceptions:
- Online Marketing Equals a Web Site: An effective online marketing strategy entails more than just putting up a web site.
- Build It And They Will Come: This couldn’t be further from the truth. An effective online marketing strategy must include tactics that ensure prospects find you online.
- A Web Site is an Electronic Brochure: Most first and second generation web sites are nothing more than electronic brochures. You can be assured this is no longer enough – prospects/searchers have become much more sophisticated and demanding.
- It’s About YOU: If you believe your online presence is about you, then you’ve got it wrong. It’s about YOUR PROSPECT. Your entire online marketing strategy must be developed from an outside in perspective.
- Online Marketing is a “One Time Thing”: Your target market, your competitors and technology don’t stand still. Therefore, your online marketing strategy must continually evolve to reflect changing conditions.
- My Web Developer is Taking Care of it: Online marketing is not something you wash your hands of because you’ve hired a web developer. You are the one responsible for clearly defining the overall business objectives and determining how online marketing will support your business development efforts.
There are more myths and misconceptions, but I’m sure you get the idea. We’ve had many people tell us their investment in a web site hasn’t produced results or an acceptable return. To make certain this doesn’t happen to your business, you must address the four core elements of an online marketing strategy: 1) Getting Found, 2) Content, 3) Conversion, and 4) Analytics.
1. Getting Found
If searchers can’t find you, you don’t have an online presence. You must have a well thought out strategy for getting found. A few considerations:
Use all available and applicable on-line and off-line vehicles (advertising, direct marketing, networking, etc.) to make sure prospects find your web site.
“Organic” search (being found by the search engines) is not just about key words and phrases. Search engines consider a number of other factors such as links to your site, search engine compatibility and overall relevant content to the topic being searched.
“Paid” search programs are offered by companies like Google and Microsoft. These programs allow you to pay for placement on search result pages based on specific criteria such as key words/phrases and geographical location. This is an option you should at least look into.
A word of warning. There are many so-called experts who will promise you quick first page organic results. Unfortunately, some of them go about this by simply trying to “fool” search engines. This is a short sighted approach that can result in your site being penalized and removed from search engine results altogether.
Make sure you work with credible marketing or web development organizations who understand this issue before you invest in search tactics.
Powerful web site content must precisely reflect what searchers are looking for, and assist them in making an informed buying decision. Content must be developed through the eyes of the prospect – what information are they seeking, how do they want it presented, how will they evaluate you versus competition, etc. If you don’t know the answers to these questions, your content won’t hit the mark.
Content must be also be organized in such a way that it doesn’t take the prospect more than two clicks to find what they’re looking for. If navigating your site is difficult, your prospect is “out of there”. And guess where they’ll go next? That’s right – to a competitor’s site.
What do you want to happen when someone finds your site? Remember, prospects that land on your site are now in your world, so you can exert influence over what they do.
You need to think in terms of conversion, or moving prospects to the next step in your sales process. As an example, if you operate an e-commerce site, you obviously want prospects to buy something. How do you ensure your site will optimize the conversion rate from visitor to buyer?
If you don’t sell anything on your site, then conversion can mean securing prospect contact information so you can initiate a permission based dialogue. You accomplish this by offering something of value – a white paper, access to article archives, a seminar, a percentage off a future purchase, a subscription to an e-newsletter, the ability to book a consultation, etc.
Developing a permission based dialogue allows you to consistently and pro-actively communicate with prospects. The good news is that there are many online tools available that make on-going communications simple and cost effective.
You must define precisely what you want prospects to do when they land on your site if you want to optimize conversion and your return on online marketing investment.
Tracking and analyzing the results of online marketing efforts is extremely important. You must assess whether your “getting found”, “content” and “conversion” tactics are working. There are a number of key metrics, including:
- Number of new, unique visitors versus returning visitors
- How searchers found your site
- Which pages searchers visit the most
- How long searchers stay on your site
- Which pages they “bounce out” (leave the site) from
- Which keywords/phrases are used to find your site through search engines
- How visitors navigate through your site
Online marketing will only get more influential as time goes on, so businesses of all sizes must develop and executed a well thought out online strategy.
We encourage you to use this framework as a starting point.