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Building an Internet Marketing Plan for Your Small Business - Part II

Posted 8:00 PM by

Last month I discussed the critical components you should consider when developing your internet marketing strategy and plan, as well as the best places to start: your website, search engine optimization, and analytics.  Today I'll cover a few success factors that cross all the components of your plan, regardless of which elements you focus on first.  Keeping these basic principles or success factors in mind throughout your planning and implementation won't guarantee success, but they can improve you odds.

Content is King

Regardless of whether you are emailing prospects, writing a blog, posting on Facebook, Tweeting, or adding a new page to your website, the quality of your content is the most important factor in your marketing success. The reason is simple.  You can have the most technically advanced website or marketing software, but if your audience doesn't care about your message, none of that will matter.  So start with your content strategy, thinking through why you audience will want to read or listen to what your company has to say, and ask yourself two basic questions.

  1. What content will position us as a credible company and as an expert in our field?
  2. What can we give our customers and/or prospects that is valuable to them?  (unique information they can't get elsewhere, promotions, etc.)

Content and Calls to Action - the King & Queen of Website SuccessAs you develop your content plan, also determine who can create important content for your organization and how you can hold them accountable.  Then begin developing an ongoing content calendar that applies to both traditional and online marketing.  Finally, think through how you can share and reuse content across your various initiatives.  Blog posts, for example, can be re-used for email articles   or in print newsletters and can be tweeted.

Calls to Action (are Queen?)

As you are considering your content strategy, you'll also want to think through what you want your audience to do when they are reading your email, blog or tweet or searching through your website.  This may seem obvious, but many business websites, for example, can look nice, yet have very few calls to action.  So your marketing doesn't fall into this trap, ask yourself this simple question.  In a perfect world, what would I want my audience to do after interacting (reading, viewing, listening) with my content? Buy, call us, register, click through to another area, fill out a form, provide information?  Once you know what you'd like your audience to do, start to think through how you can in influence them to interact with your company.  Think back to your content strategy and what you can do to add value for your audience.  Put yourself in your audience's shoes and consider whether this type of call to action would convince you to act.  Remember, you must give your audience something they believe is valuable enough to make them want to interact with you.  What value can you give them?

Measure & Measure Some More!

Regardless of where you start with your interactive plan, you must start measuring your results from the beginning.  It is amazing how many small businesses have websites or Facebook pages, but have no idea whether those initiatives are actually adding value to the bottom line.  It is possible that your Facebook page (or other initiative) is actually hurting your business because it gives people a poor impression of your company or brand.  Let's hope not, but it is possible.  Just doing something (pick any marketing activity) to cross it off your list is not a great strategy.  Instead, think what results you hope to achieve and begin measuring from the start.

The good news is that almost all internet marketing activities are easier to measure than traditional marketing.  So measure from the start, whether you are measuring sales or softer metrics like leads, registrations, page views, or click-throughs.  Then make changes to your marketing and measure again, learning and improving along the way.

Don't Forget Business Processes

Remember from the start that technology is Not a silver bullet. It can be used to enhance a process or to better measure the process or process results, but it is Not a substitute for good business processes.  Whether we're talking about updating your website, writing an online press release, or tweeting an announcement, you still need to think through how the process will work in your company.  As you develop your internet marketing plan, always think through and define new processes and how current processes will change (improve).  Remember that a good process is defined, has an owner, and is measurable.  If you don't consider these things, technology with will just make a bad process faster!        

Keep it Simple (Ease of Use that is)

My final success factor for your internet plan relates to all the other factors mentioned above and to the various systems and technologies your small business with use for all your internet marketing.  Because most small businesses are limited in both technical and marketing resources, it is critical that their systems are easy to use and intuitive.  Whether you are looking for an easy to use web content management system or a simple email marketing tool, make sure you participate in a live product demo, so that you can see for yourself whether the toolset is really user friendly. If the system is not easy to use for non-technical people, it simply won't be used, regardless of how much functionality the system might have.  So look for easy to use marketing solutions; tools that allow you to effortlessly update content and calls to action, painlessly connect to your processes and clearly measure your results!


 

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Building an Internet Marketing Plan for Your Small Business - Part I

Posted 7:00 PM by

Last month I discussed various questions a small business should consider, prior to developing their internet marketing strategy and plan.  At this point you should already know the basics such as your brand positioning, target customers, high level goals, etc.  Now it is time to develop your action plan. 

But where should you begin and what components should you include in your plan?   This is where things get a bit tricky and overwhelming.  As the web has become more and more critical for businesses and people in general, it has also gotten more complex.  To start with, let's list the basic components of internet marketing that should be considered.  This certainly isn't all inclusive, but it covers the basics and is a good start for a small business.

  • Internet Marketing Strategy Components Website
  • Analytics
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
    • On-site (optimizing your own website)
    • Off-site (link building, social media, etc.)
  • Email Marketing
  • Blogging
  • Online Advertising
    • Pay-Per-Click (PPC) or Paid Search
    • Onsite (banners, etc.)
    • Affiliate Advertising
  • Social Media/Marketing
    • Twitter
    • Facebook
    • LinkedIn
    • Other
  • Public Relations (PR)
  • eCommerce
  • Mobile Marketing
  • Video Marketing

Hopefully your business is already involved with some of these web marketing components already.  But if your business has just recently launched or has been around awhile, but relied exclusively on traditional sales or marketing tactics, you may not know where to start. 

So here is my suggestion.  First of all, plan on starting with the basics and adding new components (initiatives) only after your understand and see value in what you have already bitten off.  I've seen a number of organizations that can say they are doing lots of things like social media or online PR for instance, but in many cases, they really don't know if those initiatives are adding any value to their business.  Also keep in mind that most small businesses are not utilizing all the components I listed above.  Some components are better suited than others for the type of organization you're in and the make-up of your company. 

With that said, I suggest you start with the first three components I have listed above, which are all closely related: your website, search engine optimization, and analytics.  Starting with your website is a no brainer.  In today's day and age, your website is the face of your company.  Whether you send a prospect there for information or they find it on their own, they will form an opinion of your company based on what they see.  If you want credibility, you must have an informative, professional looking website.  Your site will also become the center point for all your future online initiatives.  If you look at the list above, almost all the other elements drive people to your site (SEO, email, blogs, advertising, PR) or leverage your site to increase participation in their activity (social media, email, blog registration).  So spend the time and money to create a professionally designed website and have a plan to manage it. Think through both your human resource requirements (internal and/or external) and how you can leverage a web content management solution that simplifies your online marketing and allows you to keep fresh content in front of your target customers.

Search Engine Optimization or SEO is the next component you should start with and it should be part of your basic website planning.  SEO can be very complex, but I am only suggesting you start with the easiest component of SEO, what I call on site SEO or onsite optimization.  On site SEO is simply the process of optimizing your website, based on your specific business and services, so that people (prospects, customers) can easily find your site via search on the various search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.  Optimizing a website requires the website designer or developer to understand two things:

  1. Your business and how people choose to find it on the web  -and-
  2. The components that need to be included on your site, which search engines utilize in their search (page rank) algorithms. 

Some of these components are URLs, title tags, Meta descriptions, page titles and relevant content.  Off-Site SEO, which refers to search engine optimization techniques that are not performed on your own website (linking strategies), should be considered later, but start by getting your site optimized first. To learn more about SEO, check out Google's SEO Starter Guide.

The last element you should start with is an analytics tool, so that you that you can understand the results of your internet marketing initiatives.  Measure from the beginning so that you have a baseline and understand the value your site brings to your business.  Set some basic goals and adjust them as needed.  Many small businesses have some sort of analytics in place, but it is amazing how many of them never look at the results.  Basic information such as the number of visitors you get or the pages they visit can help you understand what people are using your site for and how certain content can change the results.  Start with the basics and try to add more valuable metrics over time such as registrations, leads or sales.  Google Analytics is free and provides better data than most small businesses know what to do with, but there are lots of great analytics vendors if you need something with greater functionality.    

If you don't start out on the right foot with your website, on-site SEO, and analytics, it will be more difficult to be successful with any of the other marketing elements listed about, so get these right first.  Next week I'll follow-up with my success factors that cross all the components of your internet marketing plan.

 

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Seven Questions to Ask Before Developing Your Internet Marketing Strategy

Posted 12:00 AM by

The importance and complexity of the internet continues to grow every day, making a company's internet marketing strategy an even more critical part of a business's overall plan.  The web's complexity can make things especially difficult for a small business, with limited marketing and technology resources. 

Questions a Small Business Should Ask Before Developing Your Internet Marketing StrategyOver the next few weeks, I plan to write about the key components of an internet marketing strategy and various issues that should be considered when developing a small business internet marketing plan. But before you start thinking about specific strategies or tactics, you should first ask yourself (and answer) a few basic questions.

  1. How will your on-line marketing plan work with your off-line or traditional marketing?
    Sounds like a simple question, but it really depends upon your business and objectives.  Will there be synergy between on-line and off-line working together or are there completely different objectives and targets you are trying to reach?  This leads to the next question.

  2. Who are your target markets and customers?
    Are you targeting the same customers that you target off-line or different ones?  Is your ideal internet customer the same as your ideal off-line customer?  These questions depend greatly on your product and branding plans, but should be thought out prior to implementing specific tactics.

  3. How will you find your customers and/or how will they find you on-line?
    This question gets to the heart of your online strategy and plan and will also help determine where your emphasis is and how will you drive traffic to your website.  Depending on your resources and business model, you may choose to prioritize an "Outbound Marketing" vehicle such as email, relying on internal or external sources (list, database, etc.) for prospect data or you may focus more on permission-based or "Inbound Marketing" techniques such as blogs, webinars, social media, twitter, and search engine optimization.  Your plan should include a combination of inbound and outbound vehicles, but where you begin and focus will depend on various factors specific to your business.

    If you or your company are novices to online or web marketing, you will also want to familiarize yourself with search engine optimization (SEO).  Understanding key words and SEO will help to determine how your company will be found online and how prospects think about your services or products.  If your company sells commercial kitchen products, for instance, it will help to know that 18,100 searches per month are made for the keyword phrase "commercial kitchen equipment," while the phrases "restaurant equipment" and "catering equipment" receive  165,000 and 135,000 searches per month respectively.  If you understand how people think about and search for your services, you can then develop a plan to better target those prospects. Google Adwords is a great place to start, as they offer a free tool that will provide you with key word search data for any term or website.
  4. How will you support your Brand Positioning online?
    This is a very important consideration, so that you don't de-value your brand or confuse your audience for short-term gain.  For instance, if your brand is known as a high end, luxury product, you probably don't want your internet initiatives to focus mostly on price.  Or if your brand is known for providing the best service and customer support, your internet strategy should also be focused on providing innovative on-line service that out shines the competition.  Many companies have made the mistake in thinking that the internet is only about price and have damaged their long-term brand and/or company perception by completely changing their value proposition.
  5. What resources do you need to succeed?
    Who will be responsible and accountable for implementing your company's on-line plan?  Your website, email marketing, and social media initiatives won't manage themselves.  So think through both the marketing and technical skills sets you need and whether your plan will be implemented by internal staff, outside support, or a combination of both.  And realize you can take very different approaches, in regard to insourcing or outsourcing, that can both be successful.  For example, you could outsource your website to an agency that handles every little detail or you could utilize a web content management system that allows your company to update and manage the site yourself, without any technical skill set necessary.  Both choices can be effective, depending on your personnel, budgets and long-term objectives.
  6. How will you measure success?
    It is never too early to think about metrics.  Before you begin planning, try and prioritize some high level objectives.  That way, you can always go back to those goals as you are developing your plan.  Are you focusing on sales?   On leads?  Are you trying to drive business to a brick and mortar location? In regard to your website, email or social media initiatives, always think about what interactions you are trying to drive and what you want customers/visitors to do when they get to your website - buy, register, contact you, etc?
  7. What is your competition doing online?
    Regardless of the situation, it is always wise to know what your competitors are doing.  Check out their websites, sign up for their email newsletters and social media, and figure out how your company can differentiate yourselves or one up the competition.  Time spent researching on the front-end will add much greater value when your plan is implemented.

    These are only a few of the questions you should ask yourself before starting on your plan.  Some may be obvious and others quite simple, but considering them now, rather than later, will minimize your headaches along the way.
     

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    C&T Design selects Marketpath for Content Management and Web Design

    Posted by

    We are excited this morning to announce the launch of C&T Design and Equipment Company's new website (www.c-tdesign.com), which was designed by Marketpath and utilizes our easy to use web content management system.

    C&T Design selects Marketpath for web design and web content management The site features impactful photography and show cases C&T Design projects from various industries around the globe, while promoting the food service equipment and services they offer.

    The site also includes a new "resource center" that will position C&T as an industy leader in the food service solutions space.  The resource center contains a project gallery for design concepts, a "green" solutions area with information and articles on eco-friendly and energy efficient products, services and design ideas, new "buyers guide" and "cooking guide" sections, as well as C&T Design's first blog.  The website has also been optimized for search (SEO), so that C&T's products and services can be easily found by the numerous industry segments that C&T targets.

    If you are in the market for food service equipment, design or consulting, we strongly recommend checking out C&T Design and Equipment.  They're a great company and a pleasure to work with.

    More more information about C&T Design and their new site, check out the attached press release.

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    Web Content Management for Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer!

    Posted by
    It has been a long time in the making but Marketpath CMS is now fully cross-browser with all the major web browsers. Building a standalone website that is cross-browser is very easy. But building a tool with as rich a user interface as Marketpath CMS is quite an undertaking!

    When we began development on Marketpath CMS in early 2006 Internet Explorer had a 57% market share (even higher if you count only corporate users) so we built our tool with that in mind. We recognized, though, that we would eventually need to mold Marketpath CMS into a fully cross-browser compatible tool and that's just what we did.

    Supporting alll the major browsers provides even more convenience and simplicity for our customers. Managing website content should be easy and Marketpath CMS makes it so!

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    Internet Marketing Fundamentals

    Posted 1:39 PM by

    Focusing on the fundamentalsWith Internet marketing, just like in your personal life, you have to focus on fundamentals. Here is a picture of my son Ethan.  This is his first fish. That day, we focused on one of life's fundamental pleasures - a boy and his dad going fishing. The excitement of catching the fish was quickly trumped by the terror of the fish flipping around on the line which almost led to Ethan falling into the pond. That was immediately followed by nearly unstoppable laughing and giggling by us both. Excitement - Fright - Laughing. What emotions!

    When you put together your online marketing initiatives, what sort of fundamental emotions will your visitors experience when they see and read your material? Getting search engine visibility is a wonderful thing but always remember that search engines are not reading your content, real people are. Real people with happy memories and sad memories, stressful memories and comforting memories. Learning how to engage these visitors with stories that touch their fundamental emotions is key to winning more customers and long term relationships.

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    InPrivateBlocking in Internet Explorer 8 - Few Worries

    Posted 1:52 PM by

    Microsoft Internet Explorer is getting a face lift and tummy tuck with Internet Explorer 8 (IE8).  IE8 is currently in beta form and available to average users. A formal release date has yet to be set. One of the biggest new features receiving a lot of hoopla right now is InPrivateBlocking. 

    InPrivateBlocking allows users to turn off browsing history, as well as the saving of temporary files and cookies. Browsing history and temporary files mostly affect just the user, however,not saving cookies affects the user and any company or organization tracking and recording information on their visitors. This has potentially big ramifications on organizations who rely on web-based advertising because there is a lot of tracking involved with web-based ads. It also affects companies who track and remember their visitors and display items based on their interests.

    So, organizations are worried their ad revenues will dry up because of this end to tracking. I'm not worried, though. First of all, the ability to block cookies is built into the major browsers right now.  It's just a little harder to find. Second, I'm sure there are a good number of people that don't want to be tracked at all - the 'big brother is watching us' mentality. But how many people truly think that way? 

    When I visit Amazon.com, I love the fact that it says 'Hello, Matt.  We have some recommendations for you.' And the recommendations are really things I'd be interested in. Or perhaps when I go to log into an email account, bank account or some other account that remembers who I am. The website doesn't store my password (unless you're silly enough to let your browser do that for you).  It just has my username - which I often forget because it varies from site to site if the traditional 'mzentz' is not available. It is really nice that these sites remember who I am and what my preferences and interests are.

    My point is that I wouldn't worry too much about user's turning off their cookies because most don't do it now. What I would worry about is why people are turning off their browsing history and temporary Internet files, because if they work for you, how will you know what websites they are really viewing while on your dime.

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    Is Web Design Dead?

    Posted 4:22 PM by

    Grim Reaper of Web DesignThis morning I met with the president of annother web technology company who specializes in SEO.  He informed me that in the last year they began turning down all web design work.  I see this all the time.  One week a web design shop, the next they've specialized in one specific area and refuse design work.  In other cases I'll hear 'We're trying to get away from web design.  It's still our bread-and-butter but we really would like to focus on...'

    What's a guy supposed to do with this info?  We've got a designer on staff, but we focus primarily on CMS.  Should we outsource all our design and focus solely on content management?  Is design something we should be 'getting away from.'  All the success stories I hear are about so-and-so who gave up web design to focus on such-and-such and now has hundreds of high value clients.

    I think this trend is excellent.  It elimiates competition for web design and allows us to focus on our highest value offering.  There will always be design shops who can handle the lower budget projects that are sure to be out there, but the specialists can keep their margins high and focus on innovation.  Some days it may seem like we're splitting the web into a million pieces, but in the end new technologies will be developed, price points will become competitive, and our clients will be that much more effective in the marketplace.

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    Webdesign 2.0 a myth?

    Posted 1:08 PM by

    I had an interesting conversation with a designer friend of mine this weekend.  I started the talk with a few comments about Marketpath's shiny new website.  I was promoting all the interesting content and features the site had to offer as well as the sleek new Web 2.0 design.  'Web 2.0 design?' he said.  'Web 2.0 doesn't refer to a design style!'

    spider web 2.0I was shocked!  Not a design style?  Are you kidding me?  I'm supposed to be telling people about all the new and amazing ways that the web can enhance their lives, but I'm supposed to deny that the way the web 'looks' won't be affected?  I can't do it.  I won't do it!  The web is changing.  The look is changing.  Barriers are being broken down on a daily basis. 

    So, what is a web 2.0 design?  It's new, fresh, and draws the user in.  It's not rocket science.  If it looks good and is user friendly it's web 2.0.  If it's got a blog and an RSS feed it's web 2.0.  Okay maybe I'm not the top expert in this field, but you've got to admit that the sites that are popping up out there today are way more bitchin than the ones from even a few years back.

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    Does your Internet marketing have good legs?

    Posted 11:09 AM by

    Higgly Town Heroes have no legsLegs are important to most people, animals, and tables.  Legs are not important to the Higgly Town Heroes.  I have asked my four year old son repeatedly, 'How do they get places?'  He doesn't understand the question.  He says they just do.  Good enough, I suppose, for an animation and a four year old. 

    Internet marketing legsBut what about your wine?  Does your wine have good legs?  Many people think legs are a great indicator of a great wine.

    What about your Internet marketing initiatives.  Do they have good legs?  Here's another way to ask the same question.  Does your Internet marketing program have a solid foundation with which you can measure, analyze, and make adjustments as necessary?  Can you measure website ROI?  If you said 'no,' then you are like most businesses that are trying to leverage the web as a marketing tool. 

    A good place to start is with a marketing firm that will help you plan and establish baseline goals.  Most website development or design firms are not marketing firms.  Sure, they can build a killer website, but when it comes to getting a true return on investment, you need to have a strategy, a game plan, or..... good legs.  Be sure to select a partner that can help you build a strong foundation so you can measure true ROI. 

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    Internet Marketing Stagnation

    Posted 2:35 AM by

    Recently one of our prospects chose another firm to handle their website redesign.  Not only was our offer less expensive, we also included our content management solution so they could easily update their site and add new pages as needed.  Knowing we were up against a friend of the owner we offered to work together with them.  They would do the redesign and we would provide the CMS.  They decided to just redesign their site.
     
    Their response for not choosing CMS was:  "If we didn't update our site before then I doubt we'll update it in the future". 
     
    This was one of my "I don't get it" moments.  The company chose to pay a lot more for only a redesign and no means to keep the website fresh, updated and inline with their other marketing initiatives.  To me, this is the equivalent of having your company truck painted with your logo and website address then keeping it parked in a garage so no one can drive it or see it.  Why waste your money?

    Using a content management solution would have given them the tools to edit site content, measure its effect, adjust as necessary, measure again, adjust..... and on and on.  They could have created landing pages for offline marketing initiatives and measured the direct impact those initiatives had.  They could have created microsites to target a particular niche.  The benefits are virtually endless.  Instead, they chose a road that leads to stagnation.
     
    I guess the good news is that now we have a little more time to help another company that understands the bigger picture.
     
     
     

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