E-Marketing Strategy: Avoid a Major Mistake in Online Marketing
Over the past 12 years, I've built websites and Web strategies for countless companies, organizations, books, authors and publishers. During that time, I've seen hundreds of Web marketing tools come and go. Some of these tools remain impressive and helpful—others are entirely worthless. All of them, I've learned, are temporary. Today's hot, new Web marketing tools are tomorrow's geeky jokes.
This column will not dazzle you with summaries of the latest tips and tricks of Web marketing wizards. Instead, it will teach you time-tested steps required to build a solid Web marketing foundation that will serve you, your organization and your Web projects well—now and in the future.
The Goals of Web Marketing
Any marketing effort's goal is to sell more stuff. Marketing on the Web is no different. However, unlike the traditional one-way marketing channels of television, print and radio, where an advertisement is sent into the throngs of millions, the Web is interactive. The rise of social media has given customers a voice and changed the expectations of the Web user for good. Your Web marketing efforts must be designed not only to sell to the throngs of millions, but to listen to them as well.
Your Own Site
Too often, when launching new Web marketing adventures, organizations rush to create accounts on every social media site imaginable, or buy up expensive pay-per-click advertising, only to find themselves stumped a few weeks down the road, saying "It didn't really work."
There are a few things wrong with this "guns-blazing" method, but I'd like to address the first—and most common—mistake by asking: Would you throw a giant dinner party without first cleaning your house, or better yet, having dinner planned?
Your own website is the most important piece of your Web marketing effort. For example, if you find yourself basking in the glow of success on Twitter—and it has tripled your Web traffic—your website must be as effective as possible at giving these new potential customers exactly what they need. If you're directing this new stream of folks to an out-of-date, cobbled-together, or loosely thought-out website, you're wasting time and money.
Luckily, this misstep is easily avoidable: Get your own house in order before you send out invitations.
STEP 1: Define Your Site's Goals
The first step in any site overhaul (or even site tinkering) is to define the goals of your site. Without clear objectives, an effective redesign is impossible. What would you like your website to do? Create a list of the top three goals you have for the site.
Here's an example:
1. Sell our books.
2. Promote our books to other sellers.
3. Provide book sales materials to bookstores, media outlets, distributors and readers.
STEP 2: Define Your Ideal Audience
Now that you have defined what you would like the site to do, you should decide what types of folks will most effectively help you reach those goals. Who are your ideal customers? Who would you like to attract through your Web marketing efforts? I'll cover how to find those folks in a future column, but for now, put together a list of your site's most important audiences, ordered from most desirable to least.
Here's an example:
1. Individual book buyers (rough demographics: women ranging in age from 30 to 55)
2. Wholesale buyers (bookstores, distributors, national chain stores)
3. Media outlets (book reviewers, interviewers, bloggers)
STEP 3: Define Content
A site is only as good as the content it provides. People do not visit websites seeking jazzy logos or design that "pops." They come for content. Plan the Web content you will provide to the audiences you've defined. Keep in mind that the content you would like your audience to lust after—your latest commercial, your press releases, your company news—is seldom the content that they find interesting. Your content must provide value in order for it to capture an audience. Step into the shoes of your visitors. Ask yourself, "What do they want?"—not, "What do I want them to see?"
Now that everything online is sharable, your Web content has the ability to travel beyond your site and out into your ideal audiences online. Make sure your content is valuable enough that people will want to share it with other like-minded folks. Providing valuable content is a targeted sales pitch.
STEP 4: Prioritize Content and Define Audience Tracks
Prioritizing your content can sound daunting, but it is actually rather straightforward. You've already defined your goals, audience and content. In this step, you simply decide where to place your content so that it will lead your audience toward your site goals.
Your site's home page requires special care and should provide some content for each of your audiences. The placement and space devoted to each piece of content should be determined by the priority of the audience. The goal of your home page is to filter your audiences into the tracks of your site that have been designed for them: the bookstore track for individuals; the sales materials track for booksellers; and so on. Each audience should have a clear track to easily access what they want.
On the remaining site pages, the visitor's next step toward the track's site goal should always be obvious and easy to follow.
STEP 5: The Tracking Tools
The final step is installing the tools that will—months down the road—let you know if all this work is performing as it should. I recommend two tools to start. Google Analytics will give you the long view of your Web traffic—it updates every 24 hours and provides an exhaustive amount of valuable information about your site visitors. And, to watch folks poke around your website in real-time, check out ChartBeat.
I'll cover how to use these tools in a future column. The important step for now is simply to install these tools so that they can begin their tracking. BB
J. S. McDougall is co-owner of Catalyst Webworks (CatalystWebworks.com), a web design and marketing firm specializing in the book industry. He is the author of six books about conducting business online, including "Start Your Own Blogging Business." He lives in Vermont.