The Internet Marketing Process
by Jonathan Hochman
Having a web site isn't enough
You may have invested a considerable amount building a professional looking web site, but that investment won't pay off unless you use the Internet to effectively market your business. Building a web site and doing Internet marketing are two completely different things. You've probably visited a few web sites that were completely useless. Maybe they looked good, but you couldn't find the information you needed, or worse you had trouble finding the site in the first place. Don't let this happen to your web site!
We're about to show you how to use the Internet to effectively market your business. What does the process look like? Some elements are the same no matter what kind of business you have. We've extracted the common themes from more than 30 successful Internet marketing campaigns to develop this six step process for Internet marketing.
1. Create an Internet marketing plan
What results do you want and how much can you invest to get those results? If you want to acquire customers, consider how much a customer is worth to your business, and what you can pay to get a new customer (or keep an existing customer). What do you want visitors to do when they come to your web site? To turn visitors into customers, you need to know your target audience and give them reasons to work with you instead of the competition. We're amazed by how many web sites have been designed and built without having a clear understanding of these fundamental questions.
2. Evaluate your web site and fix the real problems
Make sure your web site renders properly and quickly on your visitors' computers. Whatever you do, don't tell the visitor what kind of software to use. "This site optimized for Internet Explorer" is a virtual slap in the face to anyone using Firefox or a Macintosh.
When thinking about how to improve their web sites, businesses often make the mistake of blowing their entire budget on design. You don't want to spend $30,000 to build a site that gets fewer than ten visitors per day. In reality, "look and feel " isn't holding back most sites. Sure, good design adds value, but only when everything else is working right. Sloppy implementation and rotten coding often does much more damage than "retro" design.
Visitors want current information, and new business opportunities will require new web pages. A content management system can let you make web site additions or changes yourself, or you can contract with a web developer. Either way, you need a web site maintenance process, and you need to build your site to facilitate changes and additions. If your code is a mess and edits take more time than they should, fix the problems now. You'll save money in the long run.
3. Use web analytics to learn from your visitors
If you've made the investment to build a site, you want to promote it, and you can't make smart decisions about how to promote your site unless you have reliable information about visitor behavior. Every business needs to know:
That's just the beginning of what you can learn with web analytics. Depending upon the specific nature of your business, may need to know: the geographic distribution of your visitors, how many customers you lose at each step in your checkout process, or the pages that cause visitors to leave your site.
4. Promote your web site via Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising and any other methods that work
We began by considering what a customer is worth to your business. Every customer represents a value, so why not buy low and sell high? If the search engines can "sell" you customers for less than what customers are worth, that's a good deal. Sure, you can get traffic from search engine optimization (SEO), but search advertising is a faster, more certain way to rank. SEO takes time and money, and the results are never guaranteed.
PPC advertising is also a way to simultaneously test hundreds or thousands of different keywords with visitors to your site. A certain fraction of visitors become customers. That's the "conversion rate." PPC advertising can tell you the conversion rate for each keyword. Once you know the keywords that have the highest conversion rate, what we call the "golden keywords," you can optimize your site by creating content to specifically address these topics.
What other methods can you use to promote a web site? Any promotion that increases your visibility can drive traffic to your web site, including banner ads, public relations, T-shirts, bumper stickers, billboards and old-fashioned "dead tree" media. If you run test campaigns, you can measure the effectiveness using web analytics. Once you learn what types of promotion are cost effective, you can make smart decisions about how to spend your marketing budget.
5. Search Engine Optimization: Get free search engine referrals
Your web analytics will tell you what information your visitors seek, and how they found your site. Use this information to continuously improve the content of your web site, and increase the value per visit. That's the essence of search engine optimization. You are not trying to trick the search engines into listing your site higher. You are making your site better so the search engines choose you over all the others.
PPC advertising statistics and web analytics can reveal what percentage of visitors coming to your site for each keyword take the action you desire. Use your conversion statistics to "tune" your web site to the keywords that are most effective. If you are using different words than your prospective customers, the search engines may not send you the right referrals, and your visitors may not understand your message. By fine tuning your content to use the same terminology as your audience, you can get more traffic, better traffic and higher conversion rates.
Search engine optimization involves many tactics that may depend upon your particular industry, audience and competitive environment. The best rule of thumb is to test things and see what works. Some tactics work very well in many situations. For example, if you create helpful articles, relevant to your audience, the people who visit your site will be more likely to create links from their site to yours. Search engines interpret links as votes, so those additional links will tend to improve your search rankings.
6. Maintain the quality of your site, and rebuild when maintenance no longer works
If a visitor comes to your site and sees old information, they are going to lose faith and go elsewhere. You need to make sure the information most frequently requested by customers and prospects appears on your site. Web site changes and additions take time, and you need to have qualified web site editors. We've seen situations where uninformed web site editors have severely disrupted the effectiveness of a web site by making poorly planned changes.
Sites tend to accumulate additional content and features that don't quite fit the original design. Maintenance helps prevent "bit rot," but even with the best editing skills, your site may lose effectiveness over time. At that point you need to rebuild. You may not need to redo everything because you can usually recycle some of your written copy and graphics. Your rebuild project should create a "home" for all your content, and streamline your navigation so visitors can find what they want in just a few clicks. While rebuilding your site, you should consider an upgrade to the latest coding standards. You may even want to program your site to work on mobile phones, and to print nicely.
Success through consistency and persistence
You shouldn't expect results overnight. Like real world marketing, Internet marketing requires an investment. People may need to interact with your site and see your product several times before they consider taking the next step. You'll experience a learning curve, so you have to be prepared to make mistakes and adjust your plan. Be sure you have realistic expectations so you'll stick with the program long enough to achieve success.
The six step process has worked well for companies in a wide variety of industries. We've seen businesses go from borderline insolvency to solid profitability after launching an Internet marketing campaign. One startup tripled revenues two years in a row. We've seen established companies double their growth rate. You can do the same, given the necessary time, budget and knowledge.
The Internet has been around since 1969. Businesses started paying attention in 1994. A few years later, the Internet Bubble created and destroyed fortunes. Today, the Internet has become the first place people go for information. You have an easy choice: Use the Internet for effective marketing, or watch as savvy competitors take your customers away, one click at a time.
About the Author
After graduating from Yale with two degrees in Computer Science, Jonathan Hochman set up his own consulting company in 1990. He has been an Internet marketer since 1994.