The following is a guide that addresses the fundamental truths of online marketing as well as offering some guidance as to how to get started with your own online marketing strategy.

There can be no overstating the importance of understanding how online marketing works as it offers an unparalleled opportunity for business owners to advertise and promote their services or products and enhance brand visibility at the press of a button. The costs associated with beginning an online strategy can be relatively small and so it is within reach of almost all small businesses. The internet is ever-growing in importance as the place for the most efficient marketing strategy and doubtless it is only a matter of time before it even usurps prime time television in terms of where to allocate the biggest of advertising budgets. It is also true that an effective digital marketing strategy is a very fluid beast and so what works today might very well need tweaking tomorrow. That is not to say, however, that there aren’t a whole host of vital universal truths that must be learnt before leaping in – which is precisely where this guide comes in. Our aim is to endow you with the perfect foundation to set you off on a journey of discovery in an ever-changing world.

Who is this guide aimed at?

There is little point in preaching to the converted, but we believe that there is a very real need to provide some essential guidance for those small and medium sized businesses, entrepreneurs and marketing managers who are recently established or might have got away without much of an online marketing strategy in the past, but are realising that this is no longer possible. In addition this guide will be of great benefit to any newly qualified individuals starting out on a career in online marketing.

Why is online marketing more important than ever

We’ve already touched upon the growth of the internet in terms of market share as a marketing medium, but in addition the growth of mobile and advancements in mobile technology has meant a whole new terrain has come into view and tied in with this of course are the plethora of apps conducive to internet marketing that are flooding the market on a daily basis. Perhaps, however, even more significantly two fundamental shifts have taken place.

  1. Consumer expectations have radically changed. It is now 100% taken for granted that customers can look up your company, find peer reviews and ratings and a healthy, vibrant website that doesn’t take anything for granted.
  2. Your competition has adapted to this, which by necessity means you must too.

When you factor in the reality that all of this is becoming more important year on year then it is high time to take online marketing very seriously indeed.

Customer Focus

The first thing you must consider before doing anything with your online marketing is whether you know your customer profile on a near molecular level! If you don’t fully understand who you are targeting and what their habits, questions, needs and demands are then your campaign will be akin to firing off signals into space hoping that an alien spacecraft intercepts your message. How do you get to know more about your customers, you might ask? Well, you can begin by asking your current customers a whole host of questions including:

How did you find out about our company?

Why did you choose to buy from our company?

Why do you remain loyal to our company?

What do we do better than our competitors?

Such information is a great start. You can also use IP tracking software such as that provided by the likes of Lead Forensics to identify sales leads, reveal information about searches and by proxy add a little flesh to the bones of your customer persona. You will soon be able to map out a great deal of information such as demographic, psychographic, behavioural aspects, age range, job role, location and gender that will all help you to put the finishing touches to your target profile.

Develop a brand strategy

There is no greater tool to aid in the development of brand strategy than the internet and online marketing. You have at your very fingertips a veritable feast of audience engagement and peer to peer viral advertising potential. But how do we tap into this with the greatest success?

The first port of call is arguably ensuring that you have an established blog that is consistently updated with articles that read well, inform your customers, solve problems and further your brand message. Alongside this you should manage at least 1 or 2 social media pages with the aim of consistently hammering home your point of difference and the unique aspects of your business and brand, in an original fashion. And don’t forget to make your content easy to share. Have those Facebook and Twitter buttons on each page so that new articles can be shared and retweeted.

Don’t forget to harness the power of video. Audio visual media is becoming bigger every year and it is a great way to capture your brand and your company’s point of difference. In addition you must ensure that your site is mobile ready and it is even worth considering an app (for more established companies) as that is the way things are going in the mobile sector.
A final tip for getting started in developing brand strategy is to ensure you forge symbiotic relationships with other companies. Inbound and outbound links can be incredibly effective, so forge those relationships and make those connections.
Hot tip: Find your ‘voice’ and project it!

Content marketing or blogging

I know content has already been mentioned but it is such an important weapon in the online marketer’s arsenal that it would be a travesty not to expand further. Gone are the dark days of content stuffed full of key words to trick Google’s algorithms into higher rankings. Today’s content is all about the consumer. Content remains king, but the end user is the emperor as Google have drastically overhauled the way they rank web pages, shifting the emphasis firmly in the direction of readability, relevance, the ability to address real-world problems and other user-led factors. In order to keep up with the time-consuming demands of producing content that does your company (or as a webpage manager, your client’s company) justice then you really should look at finding a reliable and talented copywriter.
Hot tip: Ensure that Google does not index all pages of your blog. Some pages like ‘author pages’ or tags may be very sparsely populated with content and would be seen as ‘thin content’ by Google.

Email marketing

Although the days of cold calling are hopefully numbered, email marketing remains a valuable method that is definitely underused. There are plenty of clever techniques that can be adopted and implemented on your website or through social media that involve collecting email addresses of potential leads in order to build a database for a monthly newsletter. On your website you can have a Call To Action (CTA) button that will reveal exclusive content but requires the entry of a valid email address to continue, while you can run social media-based competitions that are entered by providing an email address.

The basics of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)

Keywords and meta tags

Having warned against jamming a whole host of keywords into articles earlier it is important to clarify that SEO is still a fundamental part of online marketing – it is just that the rules of engagement have shifted somewhat. Keywords remain important and should be used sparingly but effectively. Establish which keywords make sense in every single article that you write or commission for your blog. In terms of the technical aspects behind your articles – meta tags (snippets of text that describe the content of a page, appearing only in the page’s code) – especially title tags – are extremely important and secondary to those but still key are description tags. Keyword tags are no longer used. In order to implement meta tags and reap the rewards it may be beneficial to take a short course in HTML as that is all you will need.
In short…

Title Tags alone can affect your search engine rankings.

Descriptive tags can encourage more visitors.

Meta descriptions (the text displayed underneath links on Google) can be used as ‘organic ad text.’

How is your site performing?

Before you adopt a strategy to overhaul your existing webpage it would be foolish not to get an accurate idea of just how it is currently performing. A great place to start is Google Analytics, which enables you to get a handle on overall organic traffic over time. You can set a baseline condition before any changes are made and measure the impact your SEO efforts are making on your visitor figures. Google Analytics will also let you segment your traffic by landing page, which is invaluable in finding out just what led people to visit your site. In addition to this, Google Search Console is an exceptional facility, which offers the potential to hook up to Google Analytics and unlock a whole host of illuminating keyword data. The idea is to be able to see impressions for specific keywords, clicks and click through rates for Google searches. At present the information is not entirely reliable, but it is improving all the time and it will pay dividends to be on the ship when it starts sailing perfectly!

Hot tip: Remember that Google Analytics shows only a small percentage of key phrases entered into Google searches to find your website, but Google Search Console offers you more specific data as to the phrases that have led people to your site.

Internal linking

Making sure that you can smoothly navigate your webpage via internal linking on your site as well as links from blogs to your main site and social media pages is of great importance and can vastly reduce bounce rate when deployed successfully. In short, efficient internal linking leads to:

  • enhanced website navigation
  • a strongly defined architecture and hierarchy of your website
  • the distribution of page authority and ranking power across the site

Hot tip: User anchor text as opposed to linked images and avoid linking to top level pages like your home page or contact us page as these will already be well connected. The best links are more embedded in the depths of your site.

Paid Advertising

The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ rarely rings truer than it does for paid and especially PPC – Pay Per Click advertising. There are various options on the market, but Google Ads as you might expect is the dominant force and for good reason. That said, it may be less expensive than you imagined and is an incredibly effective service. It works like this:

  • Visitors enter keywords (or search terms) when searching for your specific products and services
  • If the keywords that you have chosen are in line with what people search for, then your paid ad will sit next to or above organic Google search results. It really is that simple, but of course you must consider your choice of search terms and keywords very carefully
  • The idea is that people will click on your ad and providing your landing page matches expectations then visitors may become customers

So, that’s how it works, but what are the main benefits of Google Ads? Firstly, the results are easily monitored and so you can monetise your returns on investment quite easily as the number of clicks, impressions, the click through rate (CTR), number of conversions, rate of conversion, cost per click (CPC) and cost per acquisition (CPA) are all easily verified. As you are only paying for clicks, you can guarantee that you are getting something for your money, which is not always the case in advertising.
Despite Google Ads dominance there are viable alternatives. Bing ads are less costly but there is no getting away from the fact that they will not yield such impressive results. Meanwhile, those running e-commerce enterprises should seriously consider the services of Google shopping, which offers great product listing ads across all platforms.

Hot tip: Do not be tempted to enter keywords and search terms that you think would be more popular just to get more clicks even though they are less relevant to your business. You’ll end up paying more for your advertising with no greater return.

Social Media Basics

Social media is MASSIVE. Everyone should be aware of that by now. But increasingly social media is playing a huge role in online marketing and in a whole host of weird and wonderful ways. It is, in the first instance, a great way to get across your company ethos and brand message. You must find a genuine and likeable voice and even inject a keen sense of humour to be able to react to the increasingly important role played by social media responses to current events (often funny) in gaining followers and good will.

In terms of how social media plays a direct role in online marketing, I would like to direct your attention to the Buyersphere Report of 2012. In this report they made some key points about how the different social media giants played distinct roles. They split purchasers up into three key phases.

  1. The identification of need (awareness)
  2. The identification of suppliers (consideration)
  3. Choice of supplier (conversion)

They found that blogs and Facebook relate to phase 1, LinkedIn and blogs (again) are relevant to the second phase and Twitter and Facebook in the conversion stage. It is worth bearing this in mind when developing a social strategy. In addition to external social media sites you must dedicate space on your own site to customer feedback and success stories (which can also be shared on / linked to social media sites). This is vital as so many of our decisions on which products and services to buy are now led by peer reviews.
Hot tip: To make your life easier and your social media campaign function like clockwork there are a range of social media-specific marketing tools to help schedule your posts (Buffer), monitor your activity and engagement levels and keep up to date with what’s hot in your sphere (Feedly).

So, here ends the beginner’s guide to online marketing. This article has been all about making you aware of the possibilities that are out there, narrowing them down to the most logical and helpful options and giving you a nudge in the right direction. The rest is down to you.