the inbound-i blog: Inbound Marketing Information, Ideas & Intelligence

The Shortcut to Online Marketing Success: Take the Long Way Around

Posted by Ellie Becker on Thu, Dec 20, 2012 @ 18:12 PM

Online Marketing Strategy vs Tactics

As the world of marketing changes around us, it can be tempting to just take action: put up a new website, dip our toes in the waters of blogging, try out the latest social platform. In fact, that's what many companies I've consulted with have done.

The result was that they were not getting anywhere near the benefits that connecting with potential customers online can bring. Why? Because they took what they believed to be shortcuts without mapping out a destination.

Lately, I've been called in by more companies that recognize they're going in circles online. They want to understand how to chart a better course. What they're learning is that going back and adding some fundamental, strategic steps to their marketing journey is the key to planning far more successful tactical efforts.

Here are five steps that may seem like the long way around to boosting your online marketing. But guaranteed, if you stop and take them, you'll get to your objectives much faster than if you ignore them.

1. Create Buyer Personae: It's surprising how many businesses haven't analyzed their best customers to identify the qualities and motivations they share. Who among us wouldn't want to attract more of our most enjoyable and profitable customers? The process of understanding our best customers' buyer personae can be very enjoyable. Give each buyer persona a name. Then, when you're creating content, choosing social media platforms or making other marketing decisions you can do so with your buyer personae in mind. Will this messaging appeal to them? You'll be able to answer 'yes' or 'no'.

2. Analyze the Competition: Online marketing is relatively new and it's highly likely that your competitors aren't any farther ahead than you are. We're all very visible online and marketing moves that used to be private are now knowable. But most companies are unaware to what extent. Knowing the quality of your competitors' online marketing before they know yours will reveal incredible opportunities for you to leapfrog them. If you find they're ahead of you, you'll have a roadmap for improving your marketing for the competitive environment. You will also see where your products and services stand apart so that you can better position them in the competitive field. Go to www.marketinggrader.com. Grade your own company first. Just type in your website url and your email address to get a detailed assessment of your online marketing. Then repeat for each competitor. You'll be amazed at what you'll learn.

3. Identify Key Messages: Now that you know who you're speaking to, and what will attract them to your products and services compared to your competitors', write a list of messages that will appeal to them. Having a key message list will keep your communications on track and consistent.

4. Perform Keyword Research: Keywords are the words that your buyer personae use to find products and services like yours. They are often not industry buzzwords. You need to know these search terms so that you can optimize your website and content for them. They create a path to your website or blog when search engines are seeking relevant responses to queries from your buyer personae. Google has a free keyword research tool. Or perform a few Google searches on terms related to your business and at the bottom of the first results page, Google will offer a list of 'related searches'.

5. Optimize Your Website and Content: Once you have a list of the keywords actually used to search for your products or services, you can optimize your web pages and blog posts to let search engines know that your pages are relevant to their interests. You can read a series of posts, beginning here, that address various aspects of search engine optimization, SEO.

Once you've taken these five steps, you'll have a compass in place for your marketing and your best customer prospects will have a short-cut to your website and online content.

What online marketing strategies have worked for your company?

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The image is from the Flickr photo stream of Patrick Hoelsy under Creative Commons license,

Topics: Online Marketing, SEO, Online Marketing Strategy, Keyword Research, Buyer Personae

Why change your marketing? My 84-year-old mom buys shoes on Zappos. That’s why.

Posted by Ellie Becker on Tue, May 22, 2012 @ 22:05 PM

Massive Marketing Change

Don’t tell me that your audience skews too old – or young – or anything else to market to them online. It’s just not true. Today my 84-year-old mother bought shoes for a special occasion on Zappos. She did it all by herself after the bricks and mortar stores in a 20-mile radius of her home didn’t turn up anything suitable for her tiny size 5 feet.

I’ve seen too many toddlers having tantrums when their parents take back their iPhones. The little guys actually know how to use them, too. The parents are moving to mobile to research products and services, make buying decisions and complete some of their purchases. The kids are growing up downloading games and may never set foot in a retail establishment. Like my mom, they’ll buy it online and if they don’t like it or it doesn’t fit, they’ll send it back.

Making excuses for not changing your marketing to take advantage of the enormous shift in how we all shop and use technology makes you an ostrich. Sure some of the traditional ways to market still work ok for now. They don’t work as well as they once did and they’re not going to work any better over time as we continue our relentless move to the Web.

So consider this tough love. We’re in a global economy with competition you haven’t even thought about yet. We hate to change. Sorry. We have to change. The sooner we do it, the more successful we’ll be. There’s no time to waste. We still have a competitive advantage if we’re willing to change now. But it won’t last forever – or for very long.

Oh, did I tell you that my mother now reads the New York Times online? It’s something she said would never happen one short year ago. Now she feels great about not throwing out all that paper every week. And when I do guest stints on the LinkedIn Lady Show on Internet radio, mom streams it live.

Please don’t tell me that you don’t have time to write a blog and create other content, or to learn how to find and interact with your communities on social media. We’re evolving and you don’t have to do it all at once. But if you don’t have time to at least begin marketing in the ways that are successful today, then you don’t have time to be in business.

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The Massive Change image is from the Flickr photostream of Maria Reyes-McDavis under Creative Commons license.

Topics: Inbound Marketing, the inbound-i blog, Online Marketing Strategy

How to Think Like an Inbound Marketing Consultant

Posted by Ellie Becker on Sun, May 13, 2012 @ 10:05 AM

Inbound Marketing Consultant Ellie BeckerWhen companies come to us for advice, "put up a Facebook business page" is not the first thing we tell them. In fact, we may not recommend a Facebook presence at all. As an inbound marketing consultant, I'd like to share with you what we do consider and why the inbound approach has so many benefits for our clients.

  1. What are your objectives for the business? What revenue growth do you want/need to achieve in what timeframe? What's the longterm value of a customer? How many new customers do you need to reach revenue goals? How many existing clients do you need to retain and what will keep them happy and loyal? It's surprising how many companies can't answer these questions. Strategic planning comes before marketing
  2. Who is your customer? How can we find them online (where they're already looking for products and services like yours) and keep them happy if we can't define them? We work with our clients to boil down their understanding of their customers into Buyer Personae. This helps us speak the right language and deliver the right information and messages in marketing.
  3. How much of your revenue growth do you hope to achieve from leads from online sources?
  4. Once we have the information from points 1. 2. and 3., we can determine how much traffic we have to drive to your website, what percentage of that traffic we have to convert to leads and how many leads have to convert to customers to reach your business goals.
  5. Now we can put together a plan to get you there. Here's where we start considering which tactics and tools are mission critical. Does your website need an update or a do-over to take advantage of today's online opportunities? How are we going to get you found by search engines and your important audiences? We determine what keywords they're using to find companies like yours and optimize your web site for those search terms. Since consistent blogging is critical to driving traffic, who will blog for you? We'll help you connect with your brand personae on the social media platforms where they gather. We'll create a plan to convert leads through calls to actions, landing page and content marketing and then nurture them with more content and email campaigns.
  6. We measure it all. This is the most important thing about inbound marketing. It can be measured! We'll know what's working best and what needs re-thinking. We can adjust on the fly to make the most of client and agency resources. Closed loop analytics let us measure business closed online against budgets and objectives to determine inbound marketing ROI.

An inbound marketing consultant has his or her eye on outcomes that contribute to business growth. If that's the number of 'likes' on Facebook, terrific. But that may not be true for your business. Inbound Marketing is powerful and it is the path to successful marketing in an age when people shop and buy online. How are you using - or could you use - the inbound process to take advantage of the web for your company.

 

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Topics: Inbound Marketing, SEO, Online Marketing Strategy, Inbound Marketing Consultant

SEO Tips: It’s Easy to be on Google Page 1 With Zero Competition

Posted by Ellie Becker on Sat, Mar 31, 2012 @ 10:03 AM

This post diverts from the announced progression of my SEO series to lay out a cautionary tale about search and what to look for when you’re hiring SEO help. File it under ‘SEO Tips.’Zero Competition Gets You on Google Page 1

A friend and business colleague of mine called to ask for some advice. She’s starting a new venture on a shoestring budget and looking to put up a cost-effective website. Members of her circle were touting an outfit that creates inexpensive templated websites that look ‘pretty good’ but are ‘great for SEO’. Users, she said, were coming up on page one. She asked me to check them out.

When I reviewed this company’s client portfolio, I found that the age-old adage, “You get what you pay for,” still holds true. The template designs looked out-of-date and did not appear to provide the ability for customers to manage the sites after the fact, but required a maintenance package. Not where things are going these days.

What disturbed me more was the search engine optimization -- SEO -- claim. When I checked out the title tags for these sites, it did appear that someone was paying attention to SEO. Type the search terms into a Google search field and – bingo! The companies came up on Page 1 of search results for those terms.

That’s as far as most people go. They get all excited about seeing themselves on Page 1 of Google search. But here’s the kicker and an important SEO Tip: Run the term through the Google keyword tool and see if it actually gets any search. When I ran the Page 1 search terms this company optimized pages for through the tool, invariably they received no search.

It’s easy to be on Page 1 when there’s zero competition for a search term. But what does it get you in new traffic and potential leads – the objective of SEO? Zero.

 

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Image is from the Flickr photostream of Tim Green aka atouch under Creative Commons license.

Topics: SEO, Lead Generation, Online Marketing Strategy

Inbound Marketing Advice: Improve SEO for Competitive Advantage

Posted by Ellie Becker on Mon, Mar 12, 2012 @ 18:03 PM

Lately we’ve taken on some client engagements that underscore an important fact: If you want to use your online presence to improve your competitive advantage, then improve SEO! In my opinion, developing a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy is one of the easiest ways today to leapfrog your competitors. Improve SEO for Competitive Advantage

In each of these client projects we’ve found that they have:

  • Spent considerable time and budget on their branding and on their websites.
  • Created the compelling products or services needed to compete well and are – or can be – industry leaders.
  • Not optimized their web pages for search engines.

The bad news? Their websites are not coming up in search engine results pages (SERPs) for many of their important keywords.

The good news? Neither are their competitors’ sites!!

There are a number of elements to successfully ranking high in search results. The first place to start is right on your website with on-page SEO. We’ll discuss other elements of successful SEO in later blog posts.

When we work with clients to improve their SEO, we look at competitors’ sites to learn what keywords they may be using and how well they rank in search engine results for important industry search terms. We have seen time and again that within entire industry top tiers, few, if any, are optimizing. Or they’re not up to speed on the latest best practices.

Here’s a quick test to see if you have an opportunity to leapfrog your main competitor using SEO.

Open up your website to the home page and look at your title bar. That’s the bar all the way at the top of your web browser. If it says: Your Company Name – Home, you have SEO work to do.

Now open your top competitor’s home page and see what’s at the top. If it has Their Company Name – Home, or just Home in the title bar, you have a huge opportunity to leapfrog this competitor in search results. If the competitor’s title bar begins with an industry key word or two, maybe their town or state next, and their company name last, you’ll have to implement SEO to catch up before you can play leapfrog.

Even if you’ve optimized your site in the past, the rules keep changing as search engines improve their search processes – called algorithms – to improve results for users. So spiffing up your SEO is an ongoing inbound marketing activity.

In future posts we’ll explore other elements of SEO including:

  • Keyword Research
  • Link Building
  • Usability, Visitor Experience and Content

 

In the meantime, to learn more about Inbound Marketing, including why you should consider a Content Management System like HubSpot, download your free fact sheet:

20 Reasons You Should Take Control of Your Website Using HubSpot.

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The image is from the Flickr photostream of Danard Vincente under Creative Commons license.

 

Topics: Inbound Marketing, E.R. Becker Company, SEO, the inbound-i blog, Online Marketing Strategy, Google+

Pinterest: Social Media Crazy Quilt

Posted by Ellie Becker on Mon, Feb 20, 2012 @ 15:02 PM

Pinterest New Social Media Site

I’m watching Pinterest with interest. Pinterest is the ‘hot’ new social media site that’s generating a lot of current buzz. It’s billed as a ‘pinboard’ where users can share, i.e. ‘pin’, images of items that interest them. Visually, it’s a crazy quilt. According to a February 11th article on TechCrunch, Pinterest currently has 10.4 million users – 97% of them women. (Does that give you a clue, marketers?)

Currently – and similar to early Google+ -- participation is by invitation. While I’m waiting for my invitation to arrive, I’ve been poking around and learning about Pinterest.

You can organize, categorize and share pictures of items you find online, ‘pinning’ them onto virtual ‘boards’. The images retain a link to the original source (unless you merely ‘Like’ a pin) once you post it. As a highly visual medium, Pinterest is perfect if you like scrolling endlessly through images -- many of them very engaging -- to find ones of specific interest to you. Engaging Images on Pinterest

If you don’t want to peruse ‘Everything’ at once, you can narrow things down by searching in one of 31 lifestyle-related topics – plus ‘Other’ for those items that don’t seem to fit into one of the pre-assigned categories. Or, using the search field (which I understand disappeared for awhile and is now back by popular demand) you can search for specific pins, boards or people.

The formula and the etiquette are much like on Twitter:

  • You ‘follow’ other users, or specific ones of their boards, and they can follow you back – or not.
  • You may decide to ‘unfollow’ someone or something, and they’ll never be the wiser.
  • You may comment on people’s pins.
  • You may also Re-Pin (think Re-Tweet) someone’s pin, in which case the image and its link to the original source of the material remain intact.
  • If you simply ‘Like’ a pin, you’re giving a ‘thumbs up’ without giving the goods. The link doesn’t come with the ‘like’.
  • To reply to a particular user, you add an @ symbol in front of their user name. Hmmm. Sound familiar? Oh, well. No sense completely re-inventing the wheel when people are already familiar with @replies.
  • A request to ‘Be Nice’ is designed to promote a positive approach to community building.
  • You can add Pinterest ‘follow’ buttons on your website.

How are people using Pinterest?

  • For organizing projects, like home decorating.
  • For organizing items they’d like to add to their wardrobes.
  • For planning weddings and other special events and sharing possible choices with family and friends.
  • For saving and sharing cute images, books, music and other interests
  • For organizing, saving and sharing recipes.
  • For cataloguing inspiring/useful ideas and information.
  • Etc.

What can businesses do on Pinterest? Although Pinterest admonishes against being ‘overly commercial’ or ‘self promotional’, you can use the site to connect with your customers and prospects in a number of ways.

Companies are flocking to Pinterest, mostly to connect with its population of women/mom users. There are a few male-oriented categories like Cars & Motorcycles, Men’s Apparel and Sports. There’s no category for ‘business’ or ‘advertising/marketing’. There is a ‘Products’ category and you can put a price in your Pin caption.

Companies can:

  • Display products (with prices and links to an ecommerce site) in specific categories, Weddings & Events or Women’s Apparel, for example.
  • Post your presentations and other visual content. For example, HubSpot just put up a page with images and links to its infographics, ebooks, white papers and other content.
  • Recruit. Not sure yet how they’re using Pinterest specifically, but a recruiting firm is one of the early power users.
  • Explore other creative ways to make it pay off. (Although it’s not yet paying off for Pinterest, as they haven’t yet evolved their business model. Right now they’re building with about $25 million in venture funding.)

As a young and evolving social media site, Pinterest has a few glitches and bugs popping up that management is still working to resolve. As all sites have in the past, it will also likely incorporate cultural and tactical features that are user-created or driven. (Like the hashtag on Twitter.)

Anyone who has read my blog over time knows that, as an inbound marketing consultant, I’m not the earliest adopter of new social media tools and techniques. I take a bit of a wait and see approach, then learn and experiment on my own business before I recommend new tools to clients. Everyone has too little time to invest in unproven tools and there’s still plenty of time to benefit once they’ve taken hold and yielded measurable results.

I’ll update you once I begin posting on Pinterest and seeing how – or if -- it can help you grow your business.

In the face of new social media sites, many companies are still trying to put the old ones to work for them. If your company falls into this category, then download our Social Media White Paper to learn about using Facebook and Twitter effectively.

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Topics: Inbound Marketing, Social Media, Online Marketing Strategy, Pinterest

Online Marketing Strategy: “Why To” vs “How To”

Posted by Ellie Becker on Mon, Feb 06, 2012 @ 21:02 PM

Each day I read through a couple of dozen blogs and marketing newsletters to keep up on what’s happening in online/inbound marketing. Most of those articles are ‘How To’s’ about any number of digital tools and techniques. They’re important because when we decide to use a tool for solving a problem it’s good to know what to do.Strategy (Why To) vs Tactics (How To)

Where my eyes, ears and brain cells perk up more, though, is when I read something that explains ‘Why’ I or my clients should consider doing something in Inbound marketing.

The roadblocks that emerge when I speak to clients and potential clients about Inbound Marketing is that they get stuck on the ‘How To’. I will venture to speculate that the preoccupation with ‘How To’ is a way to avoid focusing on ‘Why’ doing it is or is not a good idea.

It’s the battle between Tactics (How To) and Strategy (Why To).

If there’s a great reason, ‘Why’, we can figure out, ‘How’.

It doesn’t work so well the other way around. You can eat, sleep and breathe the ‘How To’. But if there’s no reason ‘Why To’, the efforts are a complete waste of time and dollars.

Hire a strategist first. They’re a lot harder to find. Once you know what you want to do and ‘Why’ you should do it, there’s no end of tacticians who can show you ‘How To.’

 Learn much more about Inbound Marketing Strategy and Tactics. Download your Free eBook.

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Graphic is from the Flickr photostream of docbaty under Creative Commons license.

Topics: Inbound Marketing, Online Marketing, Ellie Becker, Inbound Marketing Strategy, E.R. Becker Company, the inbound-i blog, Online Marketing Strategy

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