In this article, we’ll give you an introduction to planning your online marketing strategy for your small business. The web provides a very effective way of marketing your new business, brand or product. For most businesses, what you do online is going to work in addition to your tool-kit of offline marketing such as direct mail, display advertising and local awareness.
We’ll explain ways of using these various online marketing tools; how they work, how to use them and how best to integrate them into your plans. We’ll describe the types of marketing activity and show you ways of using them online.
Communicate with your customers
Effectively communicating with your customers is an essential part of the steps to your business’ success; you should start by:
- Understanding your customer’s needs and requirements
- Understanding the persona of your customer (what are they interested in)
- Understanding the customer journey describes how your customer intereacts with your business at every step
Once you can answer these three questions you will have a great description of your ideal customer, their needs and how you can help solve their problems with your products and services. This will give you the opportunity to build your marketing plan.
Let’s start with a checklist that will help create your plan and ways of communicating with your customers:
Planning your online marketing strategy
The key to an effective online marketing strategy is a good plan. Make sure that you take the following points into account when designing your online marketing strategy.
Do more than just an online catalogue; make sure that you provide a real benefit to the visitor, either with information or price or features – ensure that the site is easy to find and use
Provide useful information
Provide depth of information on your site with resource centres, related information, background notes, links to other sites, answers to common questions and news – as well as your product details
Offer timely content
Keep your site up to date, preferably with a news section or some other feature that is constantly changing and ensures that the visitor will return
Get users involved
Get the visitor involved in your site, either through comments, searchable content, or by providing response forms
Optimise for search engines
Once you have made your site useful for visitors, make sure it’s effectively using SEO techniques to maximise your business in search engine results, such as Google and Bing.
Build your email list
Use email thoughtfully and you’ll find it often provides the response of any format; make sure that subscribers have opted to receive your emails and use a good email service provider that has great-looking templates along with analytics to see what works.
Use advertising tactically
In some cases, it’s worth spending money on advertising to help drive visitors to a particular offer or event or if you’re launching. Think about where your customers will be online and then use the tools on that platform, for example using Facebook is often good for reaching niche consumer groups, Google advertising is great for consumers researching a product or topic.
Connect to social media
Connecting with your customers on social media is a good way to provide customers with a communication channel and to connect directly. Setup profiles and pages on appropriate social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Ask for feedback
Encourage visitors to your site to provide feedback on your company, the service or products; use a public-facing review system such as Feefo or Trustpilot or an internal metric such as Net Promoter Score software surveys. Consider adding a pop-up chat feature to your site, for example Moneypenny’s telephone answering service also covers real people answering questions over online chat
Think global when online
Given you’re reading this (UK-based site), your main audience might be English-speaking, but the rest of the world is a big place! Make sure your information is targeted for a global audience. Consider country-specific sites or pages in different languages.
Make sure your website integrates with your email system so it’s easy to subscribe (and unsubscribe) and your social media channels
A good way to promote your company is by giving good advice for free. Participate on social media, on newsgroups with your expert knowledge and leave out the sales pitch
Press and media
Send out press releases can be a good way to get coverage and backlinks to your site and business; look at services that connect journalists with business, such as HARO
SEO (search engine optimisation)
One of the main ways a potential customer is going to find out about your company is by searching for an answer using one of the main search engines (Google or Bing). The majority of users only click on results that are displayed in the first page of the search results, a few might click through to page two or three. So the goal is to try and position your website in the first page of the search results displayed in answer to a particular relevant question that a user types in.
There are three elements to an effective SEO campaign:
- Technical SEO is all about making sure that your website is operating correctly at a technical level and nothing is impeding the results. The technical side normally refers to the speed of the website, the structure, the way the data is presented and that the site is mobile-friendly (ie can be viewed on a mobile phone as well as on a desktop).
- Content SEO is all about making sure that the content presented on your website is relevant, useful and linked appropriately internally to other pages and is genuinely helpful to a visitor.
- Backlinks is the process in which other websites link to your website; the search engines use this as one of many indicators of how useful and relevant your website is and so your position in the search results pages.
You can manage the SEO element of your website yourself or use an external SEO agency to manage this for you.
There’s huge potential online for direct marketeers as customers can be targeted precisely by sending them an email or displaying relevant advertising (all after gaining their permission, of course). These custom marketing messages can be delivered effectively, quickly and directly to the user and allow you to test and track what works and how to optimize your message.
It’s not as easy as launching a million-piece email-shot, as you need to be very aware of all the regulations and data protections that users have to their privacy. There are horror stories of heavy-handed companies sending out millions of unsolicited messages to promote their products. These schemes almost always backfire and result in thousands of flame or hate mail messages coming back on your company. Your business is likely to be blocked from sending email again: users do not like unsolicited trash or ‘spam’ mail being delivered into their mailboxes.
Plus: great way of reaching a targeted audience with instant, free delivery of your message to their desktop
Minus: go about it the wrong way and you will damage your company’s reputation in an instant
Requirements: email software, your opted-in mailing list
Cost: very low, just the cost of renting the list
All journalists have an email address, so it takes little effort to realise that you could, potentially, deliver your press releases to key journalists instantly using email. In fact, may journalists prefer receiving releases by email because it’s up-to-date and convenient – they can look at it in their time rather than spend time on the telephone. Read our guide to writing a press release or use a specialist agency (that charges a modest fee) you can use their email list of bureaux and reporters that are interested in your subject area.
Sending a press release is just one possibility; an alternative is to help journalists by answering their questions – using a service such as HARO (help a reporter out) to help any reporter doing research. Similarly, some of the larger press sites, such as prnewswire.com provide private forums that allow reporters to request information – they might be doing a feature about a product or need a case study. By subscribing to these services (as well as monitoring newsgroups, see later) you can make sure that you do not miss any chance to help the press and media and make their job as easy as possible – and so improve your chances of being mentioned in a feature or report.
Plus: helps work better with reporters and delivers your message directly to their desktop
Minus: make sure you target the right type of journalist for your release
Requirements: email software, agency fees for delivery
Cost: minimal costs for agency
Using advertising can make a lot of sense, if you plan why you are advertising, what you want from the campaign and measure and track carefully to optimize your message and spend. You can either advertise on a specific site (assuming it accepts third-party advertising), or you can advertise on a search site such as Google or Bing, or advertise on a social site such as Facebook or LinkedIn. Each has its own advantages and for the best results you need to understand your customer’s persona, where they are likely to spend time and how to reach them with an effective message.
Plus: exposure to your likely audience, from niche to general public
Minus: costs and follow-through response often lower than direct (such as email)
Requirements: effective message, ad image, and persona profile
Analytics are essential
Analytics is a way of measuring how users interact with your site, advertisement or marketing. Without analytics, you will be guessing about which campaign works best. By using analytics, you can test a range of different messages, wording, images and offers to different audiences and see which works best.
The most popular, and free, analytics tool is Google Analytics – it can link in to Google advertising campaigns and other platforms such as Facebook include their own analytics tools to help you optimize your campaigns.
Make sure you setup your analytics account to start understanding how your visitors and potential customers interact with your site and marketing.
Gather feedback from focus groups
In addition to your website and marketing efforts, the web offers a range of effective groups and forums that allow you to understand how users react to topics, questions and marketing.
There are groups on social media (eg Facebook groups or LinkedIn groups) that discuss particular topics, themes or products and provide a great way to gain feedback and understand how your users think about your brand. In addition, there are discussion groups ranging from those on a single platform (such as Twitter, Digg, Reddit) through to distributed newsgroups.
Lastly, there are many Q+A sites that have hundreds of millions of visits every year and provide a great way to interact with the potential customers. These range from the very popular Quora.com through to Google answers.
When you interact with any of these groups, make sure you don’t turn your postings into an advertising message, instead rely on your profile and the quality of your information to do its work.
We have covered a range of opportunities that you can use to promote your company, products, brand or expertise. Your strategy will, naturally, depend on your aims and a key first step is to understand the requirements of your customers, how you can serve these and the customer journey as they interact with your marketing and company.