81% of Marketing Managers intend to increase digital initiatives this year while scaling back spending on traditional items such as radio, television, and print advertising according to an Ipsos-Reid survey. The digital initiatives receiving the most attention are digital infrastructure, search engine optimization, and social media integration. Contrary to this, many organizations are still spending their budgets on traditional forms of promotion and think having an internet marketing strategy is simply creating a blog and Facebook page. Unfortunately even these efforts, once set-up, often get little ongoing attention and go stale faster than an open box of donuts.
The good news is that effectively extending your marketing strategy to the web is actually not that difficult. Granted, you need to have the time and resources to ensure the online channel is receiving the attention it deserves. An easy way to do this is to stop doing the traditional stuff which isn’t working anyway. An anecdote about marketing I’ve always thought was funny-but-true is that about half of all marketing efforts actually work but you never know which half. So, by focussing efforts on initiatives that can be tracked you can drastically increase your effectiveness.
Fortunately, Internet marketing enables tracking more so than any other type. So given the trend towards an increase in digital marketing initiatives and the fact they can be tracked easily, below are five pillars that should form the structure of your Internet strategy to ensure your marketing plan is applied effectively to the digital channel:
Identifying who your audience is, knowing where they are in the decision making process, understanding their online behaviors and then setting objectives are crucial first steps that will help you identify the appropriate strategy and associated tactics that will have the most impact. Once you know these things all other pieces of the puzzle will fall much more easily into place. For instance, if you want to decide the appropriate features to have as part of your online strategy (I.e blogs, videos, social network integration, feedback systems, registration forms, etc.) then it is beneficial to know which of these features are most appropriate for your audience depending on whether they tend to be spectators, joiners or contributors of online content. If you are targeting seniors, then you will want to make sure you have easy to read content in a simple layout as opposed to encouraging them to enter a YouTube video contest. On the other hand, if your audience is 18-24 year olds, you will definitely want to integrate social media networks and lots of video content.
All websites are not created equally. The best websites display certain characteristics such as communicating their purpose clearly, are positioned in regards to the audience’s needs, have well written content, make use of multi-media, are professionally designed, have clear calls to action, and are regularly updated. In addition, they’re constructed in accordance to industry standards (W3C) and are optimized to ensure search engines can find them easily. Speaking of, search engine optimization (SEO) is something companies are devoting a lot of resources towards and for good reason considering 70% of all web activity starts with a search.
There is no silver bullet for getting on the first page of search results – It takes an ongoing effort and can be quite technical. No amount of search engine trickery and technical workarounds will work as good as simply having a well built website with keyword rich relevant content targeted towards your audience. When developing or redesigning your website consider devoting a third of the budget towards good content and website performance. For a complete list of recommendations regarding website optimization check out my previous post regarding Ten Tips for Building a Rock Solid Website.
Once you have optimized your digital presence you need to generate traffic and be easily found by search engines. To do so, you need to ensure you’re appearing in as many relevant places as possible and providing valuable resources your audience is seeking. The primary activity on the web is conducting research so marketers need to become good publishers of information that encourage their audience to interact with them in various spaces.
A common way to achieve this is by utilizing a “hub and spoke” model for your website strategy. In a nutshell, this entails having one authoritative domain (website) and hanging a bunch of related digital properties off of it that feed into one another. Social media tools and endeavors are excellent to include in this regard since they help to drive traffic, encourage sharing, are effective for increasing search engine visibility, and help reach your audience in the various social networks where they are spending most their time. For a specific example regarding how to implement a hub and spoke website strategy check out the marketing case study for Lexis Developments. It details how a traditional home builder utilized a well constructed website and social media to increase awareness of their brand and out maneuver their much larger well established competitors by focussing marketing efforts online.
There are also other initiatives to pursue such as pay-per-click advertising on Google, hosting online seminars (webinars), aggressively spreading your intellectual knowledge through frequent blog posts and syndicating articles for use by other websites (article marketing), and contributing valuable content to online industry forums or industry groups on LinkedIn. It can be a bit daunting to determine which traffic building initiatives are the best to pursue and how much to spend your time on each one. I generally advocate that you pick a few key areas that best correlate to your audience as opposed to trying to have some presence across a wide range of spaces. I developed a basic traffic building game plan by utilizing social media that you can use as a template to get started - Social Media Marketing Game Plan: Winning Tactics
Analytics and Metrics
Internet marketing initiatives are probably the most easily tracked of any type of advertising. There is no need to rely on expensive media studies from large research firms whose data is probably unreliable anyway. Instead, integrate Google Analytics (It’s free!) or any other website analytics package that allows you to track where your traffic is coming from, how long they’re staying on your website, what pages are most popular, and allow for real-time comparisons regarding the effectiveness of different initiatives. If something can’t be measured it can’t be fairly evaluated and Internet marketing endeavors comply with this more so than any other.
There is still much debate regarding the return on investment of social media marketing and you should consider your time allotted to these things carefully. The direct measurement of social media efforts can be a bit nebulous but there are tools available to help you with executing and tracking campaigns. Regardless of the arguments surrounding the ROI of social media I would still contend it’s even more difficult to measure the effectiveness of a billboard or magazine advertisement yet many marketers still hold strong to these mediums without argument. It’s baffling don’t you think? Anyway, check out this cool video that showcases many examples of companies that have seen tremendous returns on their efforts in social media marketing.
People are talking about you and it’s increasingly being done online. Word of mouth, peer recommendations, water cooler gossip, whatever the behavior it is now easier than ever to spread positive or negative information across the web about somebody or something. You need to be part of the conversation or at the very least know what conversations are happening. If you have a contentious product or service you may just choose to listen and then use the data to craft public relations campaigns to spread facts and dispel any misinformation. If you market professional services to businesses then it would be beneficial to track reviews and mentions of your brand so that you can actively contribute to the conversation and possibly also turn it into a customer service initiative.
There are a number of tools on the market to aid with monitoring your reputation and I mentioned a few in a previous post regarding the essential toolkit for internet marketing. For the sake of convenience here are a few free services to help you identify what’s being said about you online - Google Alerts, SocialMention, BackType, Twitrratr, and Addictomatic.
Now that you have a framework to follow, the extension of your marketing plan into the digital space should hopefully be a bit more easier to execute. It does take time and resources to ensure your efforts will be fruitful and if you don’t have the technical savvy or desire then I encourage you to consider employing an agency or consultant specializing in digital marketing that can help you manage things (shameless plug :-). Alternatively, strengthen your personal capacity by attending a conference or workshop on the subject since there are more and more popping up all the time.