The Web is Made of People
Lost in the shuffle of hyper-complex marketing strategies for the web is the fact that the net is made by and used by individuals. That simple truth needs to be the basis of your marketing efforts, otherwise you won't succeed in engaging each unique customer. Step One is Know Your Customers. A brilliant Facebook-based social platform might make sense for gardening enthusiasts, but specialist plumbers will be too busy and uninterested to bother.
Revisit (or Create) Your Basic Marketing Strategy
We've had plenty of clients come to us without any formal marketing strategy – and that's fine. Some industrial clients may not have even advertised before and need guidance in how to start. It’s important to remember this: A web site or online strategy isn't a brochure or television advertisement. A web site is a salesman who never sleeps or eats, and is always available 24-hours-a-day to promote your business.
You need to know what you want to communicate.
Our post An Introduction to Marketing (with Purple Cows) is a good place to start. If you're creating a new web site, knowing what you want to say and how you want your customers to experience your brand will be critical (and quite helpful to reducing your development time).
Usability (Because the Web is Selfish)
Research has shown that web visitors quickly scan online for what they want and make their first choice based on what seems to make sense [source]. At CartaNova, we've seen some *beautiful* web sites that weren't accessible by 50% of the incoming visitors, simply due to their choice of browser.
Here are a few ways to make your site or platform more usable:
- 5% of more of your customers may have visual problems, so make your site accessible and easy to navigate.
- Customers don't like reading books online. Keep it brief.
- The visitor should never get lost. If they can’t find what they want, they'll leave.
- Do some informal testing and ask your customers if everything is working for them.
If your online marketing isn't easy to read and understand, than all your other web efforts don’t matter much. This applies equally to an intricate technical web site and a 3-line Google Advert.
Blogging Can Help Your Business
Blogging is often a great way to create an identity for your business, showcase unique selling points, and keep in contact with your customers. A few hours set aside each month may be all you need to further engage your customers and establish your credibility in your market. [our post on small business blogging]
At CartaNova, we advise our clients to keep their blog posts personal and relevant. Web visitors are busy and self-motivated; they likely they aren't interested in reading a general press release. Instead, provide them with something they can learn or use (like this blog post).
Aside from the direct benefits, Google and other search engines value new and unique information. By adding a blog you increase your organization's visibility online.
For more info, check out The Secret of Successful Company Blogging over at Boagworld.
Another simple and cost-effective way to grow your business is through email marketing. Unlike the junk mail and spam that clogs up your in-box, email marketing is “opt-in.” This means that by law you need explicit permission to send your message to the recipient.
In most situations we recommend saving time by combining your email marketing with a blog. That way, you can update your blog and then send out the links and any additional info via an email newsletter.
Just like your blog posts, your newsletter should be personal and relevant. Accounting Firm? Send out tax tips and reminders. Solar Thermal Retailer? Send out technical tips, or, better yet, include a personal on-the-job story about an exploding washing machine. Use email marketing to ask for comments, get feedback, and create successful two-way customer relationships.
For more in-depth information on email marketing, we recommend Seth Godin's Permission Marketing.
Social Media Marketing
One of the big drivers on the net these days is social media marketing. Blogging and email marketing are forms of social media, so don't underestimate their value. Other forms of social media that you can utilize include Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr, Orkut and YouTube.
Social Media marketing makes sense for some organizations and some projects - it isn’t the solution everyone, so beware of the hype. Our clients at the Bike Train have a fantastic Facebook group as it makes sense for the demographics and goals of their organization. However, for industrial companies and other businesses the same rules of social media may not apply.
The key here is relevance. If you can locate or facilitate a community of interest that is relevant to your business and provide it with relevant tools and info, that's great. Just be careful to avoid wishful thinking.
If you are considering using social media marketing, then consider Seth Godin's discussion of 'Tribes.” Godin does a good job of outlining their applications to business and is an overall great introduction to the subject of social media.
Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the more bewildering areas of online marketing to most businesses. This is partly due to the SEO industry's well-deserved poor reputation.
At its best, Search Engine Optimization is a process of combining great site content with great programming in a networked community of interested parties. At its worst, SEO is a firm promising you the top spot in Google, horrible content-rewrites, and exploitive useless link-building. Be wary of any company that sends you unsolicited email about SEO.
At CartaNova, we believe that a good SEO comprises of 3 main factors:
- Good Content: An accessible site with relevant material and regular updates.
- Good Programming: A web site platform that is Search-Engine friendly.
- Good Links: Incoming links from a network of trusted and relevant external sites.
For a more in-depth treatment of the subject, read our article on Search Engine Optimization.
Google AD Words and Pay-Per-Click Advertising
Pay-per-click advertising involves displaying your advert on a web site that is, in most cases, next to a page of Search Engine results. How often and in what position your advert is displayed is generally determined by a bidding system.
Bids are usually placed for displaying your advert after a search term or keyword. For example, a bid for 'Pet Care' (a large market) is more competitive and costly than a bid for 'Iguana Pet Care' (a smaller market). If someone clicks the ad to your site, you then pay what you bid.
A good online advertising manager will use a combination of selective bids and keywords to optimize your campaign for the greatest efficiency. Traditionally, businesses set up a maximum monthly budget to allow them the flexibility needed to compete in the bidding market. The dominant PPC Providers are Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing, and Microsoft adCenter.
Pay-Per-Click advertising often works best for small businesses when following a 'long tail' marketing model as a way to reach potentially interested customers in a specialist market. Competing for general keywords (like 'Pet Care') can be difficult - larger organizations may try to dominate the system in order to make bidding for your small business prohibitively expensive.