Question: It appears that buying patterns have truly changed to a hybrid approach comprised of both live and digital. Are there some keys to success in planning and executing online marketing for my small business?
Answer: Yes, the internet has become an integral part of our business and personal interactions. When considering a change to a more digital approach, small business get caught in the quagmire of the costs involved, resource allocation and what kind of return can be expected. In thinking about a digital marketing strategy we need to include e-mail, a website, and e-commerce as integral to the normal day-to-day live interaction with buyers.
Creating a website: The first element in a digital strategy is to generate a website that becomes the front door of the business. According to Katherine J. Harless, President, Verizon Information Services there a number of “must-haves in developing a website”. In preparation for creating a website a thorough keyword analysis is foundational. Keywords are the words buyers would likely use when they perform an internet search for products or for solutions to issues they face. If you are going to market on the internet, your website has to:
1. Deliver what it promises. When a potential buyer enters a keyword such as “Foreign car repair near me,” the website needs to have the words “repair” in or near the first line of display text. If not, the user will jump to another site.
2. It loads quickly. A common mistake is to have a video as the first image vs. text, graphics and sound as the lead. Video takes too long to load and users will lose interest and move to another website.
3. Contact information is easy to find. It doesn’t matter where the business is located in the virtual world, so the “contact us” button needs to be front and center and easy to locate. Use a physical location because most buyers want to know that the source actually exists, and is not just a virtual business. It is reassuring to the buyer to know their purchase is coming from a real business.
4. Update the website frequently. Keeping a site refreshed is critical especially in the fluid environment in which we are living today.
5. Provide interaction with visitors. If you can provide immediate interaction the site creates a connection between your business and visitors. Send an email, fill out a form, enter a contest, an offer for a free download or just requesting information creates connectivity between the buyer and seller. Without interaction websites see little “click-throughs”. One last word on websites. You have options in developing your site. You can do it yourself, use a search engine or an online directory to design and manage the site or you can hire a web designer/developer.
Use of a web developer: First they will determine if the site should have a basic, intermediate or complex design. Basic sites normally involve about 15 pages with little high-tech work. Intermediate and complex sites cost more because they require software engineers and computer programmers.
Those complex sites often integrate systems such as back-end databases. Most web developers charge a flat fee for design and development. Developers estimate the number of hours it will take to complete the task and apply a cost per hour. If you are asking the developer to do copywriting expect $85-$235 per hour and the cost of database programming might range from $115-$250 per hour. One way to reduce the investment is to: Decide what pages you want, prepare all the copy yourself using the appropriate keywords and reduce the number of changes that are made to completed work.
Setting goals for your site: A website is the front door of the organization. When developing a website there needs to be very specific goals for presenting the brand online. What kind of return is desired? How can a website’s performance be measured? And, it doesn’t always have to be a financial return. It might be repositioning the brand or adding to the contact list. Websites fail when they: Go live too early so beta-testing is a good idea. Lack clarity so that visitors don’t really understand the offering. Have poor navigation so that visitors cannot move from page to page, subject to subject with ease. Fail to respond to “contact us” buttons.
Here is a one-minute test to see if the site is problem-free: Do the web pages load quickly? Is it immediately apparent what the company does or sell? Is the menu viewable and easy to navigate? Is the site attractive? Are colors and graphic elements consistent from page to page? Is the company’s contact information easily found? Is the site free of gimmicks and useless graphics? Does the site offer valuable information? Does the site reflect the values of the brand and commitment to quality? Would you want to engage with this organization?
Driving traffic to the site: The key to any site’s success is not just driving traffic to the site, but driving the right traffic to the site, which will get you one step closer to closing sales and building revenue by encouraging visitors to respond to your call to action. Driving traffic can be done by adding small signature files of text to every outgoing email to direct the recipients to the URL address. Successful websites collect contact information so that outgoing messages can be directed to them and encourage them to visit the site again or to receive a regular newsletter. Another way to direct traffic to your site is to include FAQ guides in newsletters and email campaigns that take them back to the website.
Marketing on the internet starts and ends with an attractive, functional and efficient website. Remember it is a living document that needs updating and upgrading regularly to stay ahead of the wave of new internet marketers.
by Marc L. Goldberg