We all know the importance of websites and online marketing, but it can be hard to make sense of the myriad different tools and tactics that the Internet offers. The path to success is not readily apparent when you begin to consider search engine optimization, blogging, banner advertising, A/B testing, email marketing and more.

In this 3-part series, I will outline the key “must-have” elements for your online marketing program. These tips will help increase traffic to your website and optimize your site for conversions—all to drive more sales and revenue from your online store or get more inquiries for your business.

I like to approach online marketing using a wide angle. I separate every campaign into three distinct segments: pre-visit, on-site and post-visit (see image). For each of these purchasing phases, you should have distinct programs setup that address the customer’s particular needs at that time. In addition, you’ll need to define the metrics that you will use to evaluate the performance of your efforts. Knowing how you will measure the campaign will help you to develop better and more efficient promotions.

This post deals with the pre-visit purchasing phase.  You can find the articles detailing the on-site phase and post-visit phase here and here.

Pre-visit

Your goal here is twofold: get more visitors to your website and create awareness within your target audience. The more traffic you get to your site, the better chance you have at converting them to purchase. However, part of this process involves balancing quality and quantity. Sales generation is certainly a numbers game, but it is also about precision. The metrics you’ll use to fine-tune your campaigns are the number of visitors, purchases, bounces and email registrations. Also keep in mind the metrics that indicate the level of engagement visitors have with your site like time spent on site, video plays, downloads, etc. As you ramp up the traffic some of the numbers will certainly slide downward because you’ll be sending less qualified traffic. And that’s where you’ll need to watch the stats and find the sweet spot where you are most efficient.

The overarching principal of this methodology is to take an integrated approach. One vehicle working alone will never be as effective as a few pieces working together. The key is to create a mix of different marketing vehicles that work best for you. Let’s discuss some of the tools you can use to drive traffic to your site.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

61% of global Internet users research products and services online.(1) The easiest and most popular way to get found and generate traffic to your website is to buy keywords that are associated with your product or service. SEM is an attractive tool because you only pay for clicks; impressions are free. This means you get a lot more exposure to your target than you pay for. So maybe when they come across your blog post, they’ll be more familiar with your brand and then decide to visit your website. We want the SEM campaign to generate clicks, but we also want those clicks to convert!

A great way to refine your SEM campaign is to select not only the straightforward keywords, but also some keyword phrases. You’ll want to segment your keywords by the level of engagement of the customer. Are they researching products? Are they comparison-shopping? Or are they ready for purchase? Essentially, the more specific the keyword phrase, the more likely a customer is certain about purchasing the item. By developing keywords and campaigns that cater to their mindset you can more accurately write ads that are relevant to the customer and deliver them to the information on your site that they are interested in. Another key aspect is the landing page that you will be sending them to, but we’ll cover that in Part II.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is the practice of modifying your website to improve the search engine page rankings of your site. This is accomplished by optimizing the code and content of your site for the automated spiders that troll the Internet cataloging pages. Google represents nearly 2/3rds of all web searches, so we mostly care about them, but the other search engines can be useful to gain a competitive advantage.(2)

Some tips to improve your SEO are using the keywords in your page titles and URL. In addition, you should increase the number of times you use keywords on your site and even consider the font size of those keywords. One of the most important aspects of SEO is the number of inbound links you have to your site. So you’ll want to register your site in directories and search engines, post in forums and get blogs to write about you– all to get links back to your site.

Social Media

Another popular tool to get exposure for your brand is to develop a profile page on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. While this initiative can be very time consuming, the number of people on social media sites is staggering – 93% of US adult Internet users are on Facebook.(3) Make your profile page more interesting by running contests and special offers, conducting polls and posting comments that reinforce your core values and positioning. Not everything you talk about on your page needs to be directly related to your products or service. You can also post about things that inspire you or impact you locally or globally. The majority of people can be found on the popular social sites, but also consider sites that cater to niche audiences.  For example, sites like allrecipes.com, glutenfreefaces.com and nibbledish.com appeal to the specialty and gourmet food audiences and have strong social media elements.

Banner Advertising

Spending money on banner advertising should be done in a thoughtful, focused way. Your media selections are crucial, so choose just a handful of websites that perfectly align with your brand’s direction. You should consider geographically focused sites and social media sites that focus on specific industries and hobbies, as well as smaller blogs that carry a lower cost.  Always have your media partners include other value-added elements like newsletters, product reviews, blog mentions and social media posts to really leverage your efforts. Think of this endeavor as the beginning of a long relationship and invest in the audience.

In terms of the messaging on your banner ads, focus on education and creating interest in what your brand stands for. Resist the temptation to have the ad focus on buying or a discount offer. The audience will be more likely to buy your products a year from now when they have become more familiar with your brand. If you think of banners as a direct response mechanism, you will probably be disappointed. Typical click-thru rates are .02% or less across the Internet, but that doesn’t mean banners do not provide value. They help you get exposure to your audience and they will help drive visitors to your website. People might not click on a banner directly, but they will type the brand name into a search engine to get to the site. Use banners to begin the conversation, to get visibility, not as a tool to get a purchase.  That’s the job your website needs to do, which leads us to Part II.

Certainly you might not be able to implement all of these tactics right away, but it is important that you begin to initiate some of them to keep your brand growing. Find your base line numbers by using Google Analytics and then start testing some of the tactics listed here and watch how the numbers change. I am sure you’ll be excited about the results.

Footnotes:

(1) Hubspot, 2012

(2) Experian Hitwise, April 2012

(3) Ignite Social Media, April 2011