Before I jump into the details of Online Marketing and its steps, let me first explain what it actually is.
What is Online Marketing?
Online marketing is leveraging different web-based channels to create awareness about your products and services to its potential customers. The methods used for online marketing include email marketing, social media marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), and search engine marketing (SEM), Pay-per-click advertising (PPC), content marketing, and affiliate marketing. The objective is to reach prospects through the channels where they spend most of their time reading, searching, shopping, or socializing online.
Why Online Marketing and not Traditional Marketing?
The Internet has revolutionized sales and marketing techniques and has become an indispensable tool for reaching customers for many companies. But business owners aren’t exploiting the full potential of the Internet to increase sales. Many small businesses don’t even have a website and the ones that do have it, don’t use it effectively, which means poor returns on investment and frustration for busy, results-oriented business owners.
Just because you don’t sell stuff online does not mean your business is OK without internet presence. Your potential customers may still look for your website or social media pages to learn about your business and that’s where Online Marketing plays a vital role.
4 Steps of Online Marketing
There are 4 steps to develop and implement a successful online marketing strategy:
Step 1 – Create a basic online presence for your business by building a website, social media accounts, and any e-commerce tools for your business.
Step 2 – Drive potential customers to your online properties.
Step 3 – Measure the results of your online efforts through reports and analytics.
Step 4 – Analyze the results, learn from them, and improve your efforts for better results.
Let’s dive a little deeper into each step, so you have all the knowledge and tools to build your online marketing plan.
Step 1: Create an online presence
Before you jump into building the online presence of your business, think about why you want online presence and what you want from it. Do you want to sell products through your website? Do you want to generate leads / prospects? Do you want to build your business credibility and brand? Do you want to share detailed information about your products with your visitors?
Then identify the target market / ideal customer you would like to reach with your online efforts and what kind of content will get him interested.
A website and social media pages are your business’s storefront on the Internet, promoting your business 24 hours a day. Even if you don’t sell online, prospects will visit to learn about your products or services. If they find it confusing or unappealing, or not there at all; they may go to your competitor, instead of contacting you.
To setup your website, you can purchase a domain (for e.g. www.telkoware.com) from GoDaddy, Tucows, or BlueHost, that represents your business name and your brand. Then you have to purchase a hosting account, where your website and emails will be stored for easy access through internet. Then you can install WordPress, which is a free website building platform to build your web pages. It is a simple, user-friendly platform, which does not require any technical knowledge.
Social media pages also allows you to promote your business no upfront costs or technical skills.
If you have some budget, you can also hire a website designer to create a professional, visually appealing website. Either way, the key is to get started. At this stage, you need a web platform that presents your company in an attractive and professional way, gives you basic functions and allows you to add features as you learn and progress.
Despite the importance of an online presence, many businesses have a website and social media pages that are unattractive, tricky to navigate or ineffective at converting visitors into customers. If you suspect this is your problem, it may be time for a makeover.
It’s vital these days for businesses to consider having not only a website, but also a presence on social media platforms, like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Social media is where customers increasingly look for information about businesses.
Creating and maintaining social media pages is a great way for companies to foster an online community of current and potential clients, who can become your advocates and help you get noticed online.
But entrepreneurs shouldn’t underestimate how challenging it is to consistently generate appealing content regularly to keep your audience engaged.
E-commerce has revolutionized the way we do buying and selling, but many businesses are missing out.
The good news is that getting started in e-commerce has never been simpler. No longer do businesses need to invest huge sums in an e-commerce website.
You can create a sales-ready pre-built e-commerce website through Shopify, or by installing woo-commerce plugin on a WordPress website. These services allow you to create a basic website that includes an online store with a shopping cart and ability to accept payment via credit cards, PayPal, or other methods. It also allows the functionality to offer an online product catalogue, options for customer reviews and feedback, and data on your sales to help you track performance.
Be sure that your online store or portal has a professional look, attractive product images, clear descriptions and an easily navigable layout so visitors can quickly find what they’re looking for. Make sure it’s simple for customers to create an account, search your catalogue and place an order.
Finally, don’t neglect order fulfillment. Before you launch your site, make sure your company has the infrastructure to handle orders, shipping and returns.
The convenience of online ordering can help you attract more customers. It can also streamline order processing and fulfillment, thus reducing costs and errors.
Step 2: Drive potential customers to your online properties
Now, your website and social media pages are up. So how do you get potential customers to visit? Even more importantly, how do you get them to buy your products and, ideally, spread the word about you to others?
A beautiful website is not much useful, if it is not getting any attention. It’s like a beautiful store stuck in the middle of a desert.
Marketing on the Internet is different from other forms of advertising. Traditional hard-sell marketing is often a turn-off for Internet users.
Instead, adopt a soft-sell approach, especially in your social media messages. Share interesting, fun and educational content blended occasionally with direct marketing messages.
Some may consider it old-school, but it is still one of the most effective forms of marketing and generates a lot of response. The idea is to collect email addresses of existing and potential customers and regularly send them a newsletter with interesting content, useful links, promotions or other high-value content.
Build your list of contacts by inviting web visitors to sign up for your mailing list in a call to action button or pop-up. You can also collect email addresses when people enter contests on your social media pages and through a sign-up form in-store.
The objective of content marketing is to product content that is interesting, engaging, and full of valuable knowledge and insights. The most common form of Content Marketing is blogging, in which you regularly post a blog on your website on a topic that is relevant to your business and to your brand. There are many other forms of content, including ebooks, white papers, infographics, videos, case studies, forum posts, photos, podcasts, press releases, webinars, etc. Make sure you use the right form on the right platform. An e-book of 10,000 words may not be suitable for a blog post. A video may be more suitable to explain a new product, instead of writing an article explaining about it. Content Marketing helps your SEO efforts, so it gives you additional benefits and becomes more effective in getting new prospects.
So what is affiliate marketing? It is simply a referral fees or a commission that you get for referring a product or service to someone and he buys it. For e.g. you know a great shawarma place and go there often and have become friends with the owner. When you mention this shawarma place to another friend and he goes there to eat, he mentions your name to the owner. The owner records it and gives you $5 for referring his business to your friend.
In the online world, how Affiliate Marketing works is that you get your own personalized link of every product that you want to promote. If someone clicks on that link and buys that product, the commission or referral fees of that sale is deposited in your account.
You can setup Affiliate Marketing for your business, so that if anyone brings a customer and that customer ends up buying your product, he / she gets a referral fees for it.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO):
If people can’t easily find your business on the web, you may be missing important opportunities.
Sites that appear on the first page of Google search results attract 90% of web search traffic. Sites on the second page attract just 14% of web traffic.
The art of improving your search rankings is called search engine optimization (SEO). The objective is to optimize your website and its content, so that Google shows it on the top for a particular search keyword or phrase. There is white-hat SEO, black-hat SEO, on-page SEO, off-page SEO and local SEO. As you can see, it’s a whole different world, which I will cover in detail in my next post.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM):
SEM is the paid version of SEO. Instead of optimizing your website and content to come on top, you simply buy your way to the top. SEO is a long-term strategy, as it takes months of effort to improve the ranking, while SEM is a short-term strategy, where you pay and be on top within an hour. Buying online ads for your company can be a cost-effective way to gain more Internet traffic for your web properties and boost sales.
Social Media Marketing (SMM):
When used properly, social media can help propel a business to an increased level of visibility. It is huge and businesses leveraging its popularity are making big bucks using it. The key to getting attention and building traffic on your social media pages is to regularly post engaging content that builds a loyal following, generates interaction and gets shared.
It’s generally a good idea for your business to have an account on every major social media site to reserve your place and protect your brand. Some of the most popular ones are Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Youtube.
Step 3: Measure the results of your online efforts
This is the best part of online marketing. With traditional marketing methods, you cannot accurately measure results to see if those advertising expenses are really paying off. But with online marketing, you can easily calculate to see if you are getting return on your investment of website redesign or facebook posts.
Many businesses that have trouble getting results from their online efforts are simply failing to measure the impact of their efforts and act on this critical feedback.
Free tools such as Google Analytics allow you to measure your website’s traffic volume, how long visitors stay, where they’re coming from and what kind of device they’re using.
Information is also available on the link that visitors follow to buy something through your website or take some other action. All of this information allows you to continuously tweak your site design, content and marketing campaigns, based on what’s working best.
You can get similar data on your social media efforts by using free analytics tools available on most social networking and blogging sites.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t just measure basic data, such as the number of social media fans. It’s even more important to track the volume and quality of interactions on your sites—comments, likes, retweets and so on. This kind of data tells you if your site is attracting the right kind of visitors that are engaged and have a good chance of being converted into a paying customer.
Step 4: Learn and adjust
The Internet offers unprecedented data on your marketing efforts, but if you don’t use this intelligence to optimize your web efforts and social media efforts, you’re wasting your time and resources. Many companies create a basic website and social media properties but then put little effort into optimizing them and wind up frustrated with poor results.
There are 4 stages in this step:
Stage 1: Review your website and social media pages to make sure they are meeting your basic requirements. They should be user-friendly for visitors, so that it is easy to navigate, with clear calls to action on all web pages and prominently featured contact information. Also, it should present your company in an attractive, professional way that is consistent with your branding and overall business strategy.
Stage 2: Based on the setup of online tracking tools explained in Step 3, look for information on what is working best on your website— and what you need to improve or replace. Experiment to see which tweaks improve your results. For example, does a bigger font, different positioning or a new call to action increase the number of people signing up for your online newsletter? Gauge the reaction to value-added content. If you post a new photo on your website, do visitors look at it more or less often than they looked at the previous one? How many photos are ideal on various webpages? Is a video better? Which social media posts get shared most? Which generate the most comments?
Work to improve your findability in search engine results and on social media. See which keywords have less competition and are searched frequently and are relevant to your business.
Focus on ways to improve the conversion of visitors into paying customers. This can pay off more than efforts to get more traffic to your site. For example, make sure forms are simple and easy to fill out. Also, align calls to action with content on different pages. Visitors are more likely to subscribe to a newsletter if the subscribe button is beside a useful how-to article.
Stage 3: Once you’ve mastered stage two, you’re ready for the next level of sophistication. Here’s where you optimize your online presence in creative ways to enhance your brand still more. Optimization at this advanced level can even involve revising your business model.
Stage 4: Create an omni-channel customer experience, by coordinating your online efforts with all your other activities to offer a seamless and satisfying customer experience.
If you’re a retailer, this means coordinating your online and in-store efforts to make sure sales reps are aware of your online and other campaigns. They should be ready to honour coupons and update a client’s loyalty card if needed.
Sales reps answering the phone should be aware of your online campaigns and other web efforts.
Look for creative ways to give customers and other online visitors an enhanced role. For example, you could hold photo and video contests, run guest posts, and publish customer testimonials. Some companies even use crowdsourcing (input from their online audience) to enhance products.
Offer more in-depth material to solidify your place as an industry leader and build your email list. This includes eBooks, white papers and blog posts about developments in your field.
Integrate your e-commerce or other web efforts with your back-office tools, such as accounting, inventory, order processing and returns.
Did you like this post? If I have missed any online marketing tools or techniques, please post it in the comments below for other readers!