About 10 years ago, it seemed everyone was rushing to launch a website. "I don't know what it'll do, but everybody's doing it!" That was a very common theme in naive conference rooms, marketing meetings, seminars, etc. Then suddenly there was a collective exhaling after the flurry of activity and the excitement had passed. Very quietly, if you listened closely, you'd hear a different comment, "um, so now what?" That's the question that many companies are still asking, today.
There are many reasons for that line of questioning, but often it comes down to a simple fact: Companies didn't really set the right expectations for this tool, nor did they really know what business objectives they needed it to accomplish. Because they didn't define and communicate their specific goals, many didn't know which metric to measure. Unfortunately, that left many marketing departments in a situation where they barely received enough funding to get the site up, initially, and now they're struggling to prove ROI and to secure additional funds. Remember, the search engines constantly change and tweak the way they evaluate and rank websites. Effective search engine marketing (SEM) is a journey, not a destination.
With that in mind, what are some steps you could take to give your Internet marketing efforts a realistic chance of success? Let's dive into a few basic ones for now.
First, consider where your company is in it's life-cycle. Are you a new business which really needs to establish brand awareness (i.e. exposure), or have you been around for a while? The needs may seem similar ("we need sales"), but actually those situations are different. When you're just starting out, the fear we discuss with clients is the fact that they may have invested in buildings, inventory, people, and all the other things, but when the site goes live, people still don't know you actually exist (does the sound of crickets chirping come to mind?). The key with a new venture is to make sure you've taken other steps to increase your online visibility, while your website is still in development. Here are some examples: start a blog, claim your local listings, establish a social media presence and create some buzz about the launch of your new company and/or website, submit press releases to local business journals.
Take time to prime the pump so people actually know you're out there. You may actually pick up a few sales along the way thanks to those efforts. Once the site launches, it still has to be found and indexed by Google and the other search engines. This doesn't happen over night. So take those interim steps to increase awareness. Key metrics to consider: How's your online traffic building? Are you receiving inquiries? Are you building trust in the market? Remember, people may not initially need your product, but when they finally do, will they remember you? Sales, actually, may not be the proper metric to evaluate the initial success of this site (scratching your head yet?).
Second, don't try to be all things to all people. If I have cancer, I don't want a general practitioner, I want an oncologist. If I'm serious about running, am I going to buy shoes at Wal-Mart, or would I be better off going to a specialty store? Full disclosure, I'm thankful that neither are issues in my life. The point is, people want to deal with a specialist. Before you start typing pages and pages of content, think about your company's products and services. Which areas of the law yield the highest fees and which are simply ancillary lines or services? Which enable you to enter the market with the least competition? The thing to remember is that you need to get "granular." You'll have better results if you build content around your most profitable or strategically important services -- at least early in the game. Google is looking for relevant content. Consider building good content pages around a central theme and leave the secondary and tertiary items on the table. By building this "silo" you'll have a better chance of showing up for Internet searches. Later, you can (and should) add pages about the additional topics. Doing this will actually work well with Google because it indicates that the site is being maintained over time. Your site's like a potted plant. It's looks great when you first bring it home, but to really make it thrive, you've got to water it from time to time. Key action to consider: Focus on your higher margin products and services and build a silo of content for the sake of relevancy. Focus on critical items.
Third, if you're doing this in-house, or if you're working with an outside consultant, discuss the above 2 points with your development team. By dealing with the current situation and effectively communicating your needs, you'll be able to set more realistic expectations. Better yet, you'll have an increased chance of actually achieving them. If you do it right, your Internet presence (website, social media, blogs, etc.) will become a coordinated campaign, rather than just an initiative. Either way, make sure you're also asking for feedback. Review your website's performance, but remember to look for trends. Anecdotal evidence may feel good ("Hey, we got an order from the web!"), but if you'll monitor the overall performance, the trends will indicate additional opportunities for content that people are actually interested in reading. When it comes to website content, "build it and they will come" is a bigger risk than building it where they already are.
We've worked with many clients in various stages of their business life-cycles. There are plenty of great reasons to implement an online marketing strategy. Setting the right expectations early -- and monitoring them frequently -- will help you to better understand how the strategy is impacting your business. That information can lead to some very exciting opportunities. If you'd like to discuss your goals, and how we could coach you along the way, let's have coffee. This year's going to be more competitive than last. Is your website ready for it?