To compete successfully online, today's firms must maximize their web presence. This means leveraging your Web site, integrating online and offline marketing efforts, and communicating effectively online. In a few simple steps, we'll unravel the mysteries of effective online marketing and help you get the best returns from your Web site investment.
Mystery #1: There is no mystery.
Online marketing is marketing. Like all successful marketing efforts, you must develop a clearly defined goal for your Web site and must have an understanding of your online target market. What do you hope your Web site will accomplish?
Will it . . .
- Replace your sales and marketing kit?
- Close sales deals?
- Create a secondary revenue stream?
- Serve as your virtual storefront?
- Support other marketing activities by providing a professional online presence?
Once you've decided that, next ask yourself if you can accomplish your online objectives with your existing target market? For example, if you run a senior care facility and want your Web site to replace mailed materials, you may never accomplish your goal. Though growing, seniors still make up only a small percentage of Internet users. Many seniors will still call you to send them information. So perhaps your Web site needs to target the children of the seniors and answer their questions.
Keys To Success
Be clear about what you want your site to accomplish. Clarify your objectives and measurements so you can know if your investment brings you the expected return. For example, if you want to replace your sales and marketing kit, identify the cost of creating and mailing each kit. Then determine how many you send out each month. Set a goal that your Web site will reduce the number of kits you mail by 80 percent and tie a dollar figure to that. After your site's been up several months, you can measure its success.
Mystery #2: What's more important, design or content?
The answer is both. When visitors arrive at your site, the overall look and feel determines whether they stay or move on. Your site needs to reflect your brand and be consistent with your other marketing pieces. Also, your site needs to be easy to use and navigate. So design is important.
Remember, however, that content is king. Once a visitor's decided to stay, your copy needs to grab them. It must be relevant to visitors and answer their questions effectively. Though the Internet allows people to control where they go and what they see next, your content should logically and thoughtfully lead them to important points and entice them with calls to action throughout the site.
Keys To Success
Speak to your target market-use language they use, anticipate the questions they'll have, address problems they have that your company solves, and speak to them so they feel like you "get it."
Effective Web copy involves your visitors and sets the tone for your company. For the best copy, consider the following:
- Use "we" instead of "I" if you want to be perceived as a larger company.
- Keep content fresh and updated so visitors want to return.
- Keep copy brief and to the point.
- Include clear call to actions. Phrases such as "Call us," "Mark this page as your browser home page," "Sign up for our newsletter" and "Complete our survey" will prompt visitors to take action.
- Make it "sticky"-figure out how you can keep people on your site. Use a one-question survey that provides immediate results, direct them to helpful information and encourage them to browse your online store. What? You don't have one. Think of setting one up to offer your customers another way to get their hands on your products.
- Offer tips and advice. While some entrepreneurs are concerned about giving away their value for nothing, offering tips and ideas reinforces your expertise to your audience and inspires them to work with you. The more value you offer on your site, the more often people will come back.
- It's not about you. Make it about the reader. Sounds simple but look at your home page. Is it all about you and how great your business is and all the wonderful things you do? Then it's time to change that. Your home page must address the problems and challenges that your customers have-and tell them how you can solve them. Visitors should look at your home page and think, "They get it."
Mystery #3: I built it. When will they come?
Did you hope that once you had your Web site up and running your sales would explode? You're not alone. Unfortunately, just building a Web site isn't enough. The keys to getting the most out of your investment can be summed up in three words: Leverage, integrate and monitor.
Keys To Success
Handle your Web site's launch just as you would any new initiative. Distribute a press release. Create an inexpensive postcard with a picture of your site, and send it to everyone in your database-be sure to include an offer that inspires people to log on. The offer could be to visit the site for a coupon for 10 percent off or a Top 10 list. The better the offer, the more likely you'll get traffic.
Remember to include a "What's New" section on your site and keep it updated. Add any new clients, events you speak at, articles you've written, and any other news of interest to your customers. When someone expresses interest in your company, encourage them to visit your Web site.
Link your site everywhere it makes sense-to professional organizations, local business publications, doing business in (your city) sites, industry publications, What's New sites. If you have colleagues you like to refer business to, offer to put them on your site and ask for a reciprocal link. The more relevant sites that link to yours, the higher you'll rank in search engines.
Once you build your site, tell the world about it. Put your Web site's URL on every printed marketing piece you produce-business cards, brochures, direct mail postcards, Yellow Pages ads, invoices, coupons, articles you write. In addition, put everything on your site-if you run an ad, put a copy on your site and say "As seen in..." Include your Web address in your e-mail signature and your voicemail greeting: "For more information, visit our Web site at..." If you have a storefront, hang a banner that includes your Web address. Think about it this way: Wherever you put your phone number, put your Web address there, too.
When you invest money in something, you need to know if it was worth it. Statistics help you learn your return on investment. Most hosting companies offer stats as part of their package, and your Web developer can help you interpret them. Be sure to review site statistics quarterly and look for trends. Do visitors look at a few pages, get to the "Services" page, then drop off? Think about what that means-maybe they come to your site thinking you do one thing, then get to Services and find out you don't offer what they want. Perhaps your Services page doesn't provide enough information. Look for trends and adjust your site accordingly. Then keep track of your adjustments and look at the results the next quarter.
Today's businesses can't afford to operate without a Web site. But before you invest in one, create a plan for how the site fits into your overall business objective and marketing goals. Then leverage, integrate and monitor.
Susan LaPlante-Dube is president of Precision Marketing Group in Upton, Massachusetts, where she focuses on creating customized marketing solutions that deliver solid business results for organizations ranging from solo practitioners to Fortune 500 companies. To sign up for Susan's "Matters of Marketing" newsletter, or to learn more, visit www.precisionmarketinggroup.com.