7B. Internet Marketing Strategy
Internet marketing strategy is so important because the vast majority of potential buyers looking for a product or service to meet their needs begin by using a search engine like Google or Yahoo. This is especially true when your potential customer is someone working in an office with a personal computer on his or her desktop. Got a need? Just launch that browser, type in what you’re looking for, and bam! There’s the list of potential suppliers.
So what happens when potential customers for your business, type in what they are looking for? Does your website show up on the first page of Google or Yahoo results? If not, you are dead meat. Your business will not even be considered in these customers’ searches, representing thousands if not millions of dollars in lost sales. This is why Internet marketing strategy, especially search engine marketing or search engine optimization, is really, really important today.
We could generate hundreds of pages about Internet marketing strategy. It is so vast and ever-changing, anything written today may be obsolete tomorrow. Here we will attempt to give a broad overview, especially for those who have not studied this new form of strategy in any detail so far.
Does every business need a website?
Most do, but perhaps not all. My barber does not have a website and does not want one because he has a solid list of regular customers and gets others by referral. A website is a marketing tool, and if you have all the business you can handle and aren’t worried about needing more, you might not need a website. However, even then, my barber could have a website that shows his hours, phone number, and location as a convenience for customers. Some larger hair salons and day spas certainly have elaborate websites to promote their image and services.
Except for really small businesses that have all the volume they can handle, a website is highly recommended and even expected in today’s business (and nonprofit) world. Consider these important advantages that websites offer:
- Very inexpensive to sustain – under $100 a year unless you have e-commerce (selling products or services online)
- Able to be seen by anyone in the entire world who has an Internet connection, and you don’t have to pay “per person” like you do with many forms of advertising
- Practically no limit on content. The price doesn’t increase if you have 100 pages versus 1. Many other media increase significantly in cost as the number of pages expand.
- You can explain all your products and services, saving you and the customer time, compared with orally trying to explain all that over the phone or in a meeting
- The customer is in charge – the very essence of the marketing orientation – free to view as much or as little on your website as she wants
- Provides a 1-2 punch paired with other forms of marketing; for example you can run a small ad in the newspaper directing people to your website for all the details
- Best of all, when properly configured and managed, your website can bring you an endless supply of customers, generating all the cash flow you need for your business and lifestyle. Becoming proficient in Internet marketing was the best business decision I have ever made, because my website brings me a steady stream of new clients week after week – and at least 95 percent of it is free, even though I do use Google Adwords (“pay per click”).
- No other medium of communication can bring the huge return on investment that Internet marketing can bring.
So now let’s talk about how you develop an effective Internet marketing strategy for your business or organization. Let’s assume you’ve already gone through the steps of identifying your target market segments, your benefits and features, and hopefully some market research as well to find out what customers want and need. How do you convert that knowledge and focus into effective Internet marketing strategy?
As I was explaining to a new client recently, you realize that your first “customer” is the search engines, especially the big 3 – Google, Yahoo and Bing – which together provide the vast majority of search traffic on the Internet. No, they will not buy from you, but they will direct all online buyers to your website – or not, depending on how your site is constructed and promoted.
Odds are you have had the experience of using one of these search tools to find some information. You go to the search engine’s page – or the top of your Internet browser if you’re using one of the newest versions – and type in a few words that represent what you are looking for. Those words in Internet marketing language are called “keywords.” And when it comes to Internet marketing strategy, keywords are the key to success.
I started my website back in 1998, a long time ago in Internet years, and rarely got any business from it. It was a “brochure” website – a bunch of pages explaining what we do, with some custom graphics and a few photos. I remember getting an inquiry from a Chinese merchant living in Canada who wanted help marketing imported lace. Inquiries like this rarely generated any income because, all other things being equal, people prefer to work with local marketing firms.
Then a few years ago I began learning about search engine marketing. I totally recreated my website to include lots of keywords that I knew people were searching for. I got my site listed on lots of directories worldwide. I included a link to my website on other websites our firm created for clients. But the real turning point was when I learned, through using a free online tool, that hundreds of people were searching for a “Charlotte marketing firm.” Wow. My company has always been located in Charlotte, North Carolina, but I had never created a web page that prominently used the keywords “Charlotte marketing firm.” As I write these words – and it could change any time because it is competitive – my website, LCIWEB.com, is No. 1 on Google for the term “Charlotte marketing firm,” as well as "benefits of public relations" and many more. There are other keyword phrases that generate new business for me as well, but this was the big golden goose, delivering me new clients on a regular basis.
Now, type in some keywords that represent the product or service your potential customer or client would be searching for if they did not know the name of your company. Does your website come up on the first page of the search results? If not, your site is not what we call “search engine optimized.” And this is the key to Internet marketing success.
In regular “offline” marketing, we strategize to dominate a niche that can be expressed in terms of a market segment, a customer need, physical location, demographics, industry category or other segmentation-identifier. In online marketing, we strategize to dominate a niche that can be expressed in keywords. Got it?
So, here are some vital questions concerning Internet marketing strategy:
- Are potential customers for your business using the Internet to search for products and services like those you provide?
- What keywords are your potential customers using with the search engines?
- Does your website have pages that are optimized for these keywords?
- How much competition is there for those keywords?
- Are they searching for you on the web?
Most books about marketing are going to assume that your potential customers are using the Internet to search for what you offer, because this is true the vast majority of the time. Both consumers and business decision-makers, especially those who work in offices much of the day, are highly likely to spin around to their computers, go to Google, Bing or Yahoo, and type in what they are looking for – FIRST – before using any other kind of search. Even the yellow pages have suffered because people prefer the convenience of the “non-alphabetized” Internet to flipping through the alphabetized yellow pages, wondering sometimes what category to look under.
I admit, if I’m looking for a plumber to come fix a leak right away, I will use the yellow pages first, and plumbers must know that because they spend a fortune on yellow page ads. If I’m looking for a barber I’m going to ask people I know, especially those that have decent haircuts. If I’m looking for a suit, I’m heading for a few favorite stores at the mall. I might buy a shirt online, but a suit is a big purchase and I want to try it on first. So realistically, there are still some types of products and services that the Internet doesn’t work well for. If you have one of those few businesses, you probably aren’t going to get much business from the Internet.
But odds are, if you haven’t gotten new customers from your website, it’s not because they aren’t searching – it’s because they can’t find you online! Unless potential customers know the name of your business, they won’t find your site unless it is search engine optimized!
The vast majority, I mean the VAST majority, of businesses can profit handsomely from an effective Internet marketing strategy that is well implemented. Likewise for most government and nonprofit organizations, a website is essential to provide public information and enhance relationships with donors. As someone said not long ago, “If I can’t find you on the Internet, you don’t exist.” That expresses the attitude of most business and consumer buyers today.
internet marketing strategy toolsFortunately there are some really useful free tools (and lots of ones you have to pay for) that will help you or your marketing agency determine what keywords to use in an effective Internet marketing strategy. You can explore them yourself, although unless you are willing to devote a tremendous amount of time studying the rapidly changing Internet marketing field, you are probably still going to need professional help to convert this information into a new-business-generating website.
The first free tool is called the Google external keyword tool. As of this writing, the Google keyword suggestion tool can be found at this link.
You simply type in a short phrase or two, enter the characters you see to verify you are human, and click on the button that says "Get keyword ideas." In a few seconds you get results like this search for the keyword phrase “marketing strategy ” - keywords with the number of monthly searches beside each one:
Keyword Searches (Broad)
marketing strategy 14795
marketing strategies 8088
strategic marketing 4438
internet marketing strategy 1627
market strategy 2433
internet marketing strategies 595
strategic marketing plan 325
online marketing strategies 325
online marketing strategy 398
business marketing strategy 595
strategic marketing planning 325
business marketing strategies 266
web marketing strategy 266
email marketing strategy 95
marketing communication strategy 145
web site marketing strategy 118
(etc. for about 2 pages)
The numbers represent an estimate of the number of times each keyword phrase was searched on the worldwide web during the last month.
The fact that about 15,000 people a month are searching for the term “marketing strategy ” tells us that the competition is strong. Google tends to favor “authority” sites, and the first result under “marketing strategy ” is Wikipedia - an authority site for all kinds of subject matter.
So the point is, the Google keyword tool will tell you if there are too many, too few, or just the right number of people searching for the keywords that identify your products or services.
The tool will also show you what other search terms people are using closely related to whatever keywords you used to explore usage counts.
Remember, as we said earlier, keywords are the way you define your Internet marketing strategy – not demographics, geography, annual income etc. (Although if you use Google Adwords to promote your site, you can restrict the display of your ad geographically in case your target market is, say, a 100 mile radius of where your business is located.)
Once you determine the keywords you want to focus on, the next question is, how much competition is there for these keywords? One way to find out is to enter the keywords or phrase into Google or Yahoo “in quotes” for a count of how many websites or pages are currently using those words. Using quotes restricts the search to that exact phrase. For example “automobile paint” will produce a count of only those pages which have both words on them as a pair. Without the quotation marks, you will get a count of all pages that contain both the word “automobile” and the word “paint,” many of which will be irrelevant to your business focus.
One other vital tool to sharpen your Internet marketing strategy is Google Adwords. Especially if it is difficult to get a high “natural” or “organic” ranking for your website using preferred keywords, as shown on the left-hand side of the Google search results page, you can purchase small Google ads that will show up on the right-hand side of the page immediately, whenever someone types in your keywords. You or your webmaster/marketing agency can set up a Google Adwords account in minutes, and have your ad showing online in a matter of hours! The cost is as low as $50 a month, one of the best marketing investments you can make.
How does online advertising help sharpen your marketing strategy? Google Adwords provides a complete set of “analytics” that show how many visitors are coming to your site, what pages they visit, what sources brought them here, what keywords are yielding clicks and which are not, and much more. Your web design or marketing firm will need to place a small piece of invisible code near the bottom of each web page to enable this. But by checking your Adwords analytics on a regular basis, you can constantly refine keyword effectiveness.
Most website hosting packages also include a free statistics program which will provide even more detailed data on keyword searches which are bringing traffic to your site. Check with your web host to learn how to access your statistics or “stats page” if you don’t already know how.
Actually constructing web pages which are search-engine-optimized for keywords that will drive new customers to your site is beyond the scope of this article. There’s a lot of information online if you want to take the time to learn how to do this. If this is not your primary focus or expertise, you should consider hiring a marketing firm (like Lawrimore Inc.) that is skilled in search engine optimization. This can be one of the best marketing decisions you’ve ever made in terms of return on investment.
This concludes our series on Marketing Strategy. Please leave your comments below or email your ideas and suggestions to Buck (at) Lciweb.com. Or.... come back often to this space for more interesting information about marketing, strategy and related topics.