By Brian Bluff
Over the past 18 months we have audited the online marketing efforts of over 175 distributors and manufacturers. For the most part, these companies are in the same boat – digital marketing has become more difficult than a single person or skill set can handle and the company doesn’t have a plan. The aim of this article is to describe our approach to creating a winning digital marketing plan.
We all know, or should know, that a good online marketing program today requires technical SEO, participation in search and social advertising, engagement with your customers and prospects through social media, creation of quality content, promotion of your content through social media and lead nurturing (aka smart email marketing); but, without a plan these are simply disparate tactics. You need a vision, a strategy and a plan.
So as we put a bow on 2015, and plan for 2016, let’s make a difference, let’s generate great leads through online marketing and let’s start now!
Here’s the approach we developed over the past 13 years.
Establish an Online Marketing Performance Baseline
Never ever start changing things until you know how your online marketing programs are performing now. This has to be the single most important thing you can do and the phrase “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” definitely applies.
I can’t tell you the number of times, we’ve seen companies tear down seemingly underperforming websites only later to find out that their old ugly and outdated website was ranking for some really important keyword or that people visiting the website, while not filling out a form, did frequently pick up the phone and call the company. Tear down the old site without knowledge of what’s working and a plan to salvage the best parts, and your underperforming program just got worse.
Use Google Analytics to document form conversion rates and the number of search engine visitors landing on important pages. Google Search Console, formally known as Google Webmaster Tools, is a good way to understand how many of your website pages Google has in its index, and to identify any problems Google has found on your site. We also use a program called BrightLocal to assess the condition of local search programs.
All of this takes more than an obligatory 30 minute glance at an automated report. It requires taking the time to understand how your programs are performing and a willingness to dive deep into the data and audit the important aspects of your digital marketing program.
Assess the Competition
Hands down the best tool for assessing your online competition is SEMrush. We’ve got the paid version, but you can do a lot with the free version too. Below you’ll see data I pulled from SEMrush on five forklift dealers serving the Chicago area.
I set up the domain verse domain report to list all of the keywords these sites rank for in a top 20 Google position. In total I pulled about 475 keywords. With a little manipulation in Excel I can see that URLs 1, 4 and 5 are the strongest sites in terms of Google ranking.
The reality is that only the listings in the top four Google positions are visible enough to generate any significant traffic, but it’s those rankings below four that represent the greatest opportunity for improvement.
URLs 1, 4, and 5 are poised to expand their search engine dominance. Again, it comes down to having a plan, but with a plan and a bit of work you could raise those position five to ten listings into the top four, and the second page listings to page one.
So, if I were the owner of URL 1, 4, or 5, I’d get to work before my competitors beat me to the punch. Starting now would give me a huge advantage and result in significant increases in traffic. Assuming my website was built to convert visitors into leads, these sites would fill my sales pipeline with new opportunities.
If I were the owner of websites 2 or 3, I’d study websites 1, 4 and 5 to understand what they were doing right and build on their success.
How do I know this works? Seeing is believing. Check out this case study – Improving B2B Search Engine Traffic – http://bit.ly/site-seeker.
I highly recommend running reports on your competition. If you need more information, give me a call and I’ll walk you through it.
Plan for Success
With the audit complete and a handle on the relative strengths and weaknesses of your competition, it’s time to put together a plan. We like to focus on a three-year period and identify short-term fixes and longer-term goals.
For most companies, the long-term vision revolves around establishing yourself as an expert in the field, and the tried and true way to do that is to create and promote really great content that helps consumers solve their problems.
The thing to keep in mind is that becoming good at content marketing does not happen overnight. It is hard work and it takes time, but in the end, it is so worth it.
Like all plans your digital marketing plan should sequence activity so that maximum efficiency can be achieved. Most efforts require the development of a new website and since this is a big task, the path toward launching a new site is laid down first and other activity fit in around it.
Knowing Your Audience – Buyer Personas
Knowing your audience is crucial. Gaining this understanding may be the most important step of all. It dictates how you will market to your target audience and is accomplished through the development of buyer personas.
The website development process should be preceded by the development of buyer personas. A buyer persona is a fictitious archetype representing the most common characteristics, goals and information requirements of the people most often involved in purchasing your products or services.
For an industrial truck dealer typical personas would be built around an operations manager, purchasing agent, equipment operator as well as other important decision makers.
Each persona includes a detailed description identifying goals, information needs, and preferred methods of receiving and consuming information.
The outcome of the buyer persona development process is a well-documented understanding of who you are trying to reach. Formalizing this understanding in a single document, allows the building of consensus among your team and the alignment of your marketing efforts.
Websites and the Information Architecture Process
Next, turn your attention to the website. We have learned that careful planning throughout the website design and development process produces better results and therefore, we have adopted an information architecture approach to layout the sites we build.
Information architecture is a formal process used to organize and label websites (and other shared information environments) with the goal of increasing information find-ability and usability – that’s paraphrased from Wikipedia. It encompasses the creation of the sitemap, wireframes, and global and local navigation approaches; and sets the stage for the creation of the requirements document.
The requirements document identifies how each section of the website will function and when used in conjunction with the sitemap and wireframes, is the basis from which your developer can estimate the cost and timeline of the project. Further, it acts as a blueprint against which the site is built.
What Can You Do While Your New Website Is Being Built?
The process of developing a new website typically takes between four to six months, with some projects running beyond the one year point. Why? There’s a lot to do between designing and gaining approval on all levels of the site, writing content, selecting or creating images, gathering and formatting data, not to mention the actual coding of the website.
In laying out a plan, we look at beginning some, if not all, of the below activities while the website is being built.
Tweak Your Existing Website
Depending on your individual situation, we will often recommend looking for ways to generate leads (value) before launching your new website. Sometimes tweaking the existing website can improve search engine ranking. And in almost all cases, creating persona specific landing pages, improving forms and running a targeted search engine pay per click program will generate leads.
Start Generating Expert Content
If your existing website has a blog or news section, this interim period is good time to start writing, or repurposing great content. The good news is that all of your blog content can be brought over to the new site so no effort is wasted. Once the content is written, you can use this information to feed your lead nurturing and social media programs.
Local Search Properties
Today more paid ads and local results (those listings that appear next to those little map pins on a search engine results page) appear higher than the pure organic results; and therefore even if you do rank well organically, you will miss most of the traffic unless you also appear locally or run a pay per click program. Having a regional search engine presence is so important for MHEDA members and therefore it is imperative to pay attention to your local listings.
Since local listings are separate from your website, there is no need to wait for the launch of the website to start correcting deficiencies and soliciting positive reviews from happy customers. Doing so will improve your ranking in the local results and having higher ratings will provide search engine users confidence in your ability to meet their needs. In turn more people will click through to both your website and local profile pages.
Set Up Your Analytics Programs
Often during the audit process we find that Google Analytics is not properly setup or that goals are not being properly tracked. Furthermore, in most cases Google Search Console accounts have not been established. These issues need to be corrected now or we won’t have the data to make a good before versus after comparison.
Lead Nurturing/Email Marketing
Lead nurturing software allows you to establish automated email marketing campaigns that are triggered when an individual takes a predefined action. For example, if you send out a monthly email blast to all of the operations managers on your list, and one of them clicks on the link and lands on a webpage containing information about a new piece of equipment, you could automatically have them added to a campaign wherein they would receive a series of emails over a defined period. These emails could help to educate him, describe related products or services, and ultimately encourage him to pick up the phone and call or fill out a form.
Lead nurturing software also allows you to track individuals through your website over time. If an individual comes back to your website six times over a one-year period, you would be able to see exactly which webpages they’ve visited and gain an appreciation for their areas of interest.
When creating a lead nurturing campaign, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. If you can think of a logical response to a prospect’s activity as they navigate your email or website content, then a campaign can be created to accomplish it.
We’ve investigated most of the available marketing automation tools (also known as lead nurturing tools or software) and each has its advantages. In the end though, we partnered with a company (software package) called SharpSpring. Not only does this tool have the right mix of functionality, its pricing makes it a good choice for most B2B companies. While many of the more popular tools cost in excess of $10K per year, SharpSpring runs less than $2K.
Starting a social media campaign in conjunction with beginning your blogging or content generation efforts is a good idea. The first steps are to build out your platforms and grow your audience. We’ve surveyed enough B2B companies to know that LinkedIn should be your primary focus, followed by Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Sticking with LinkedIn, the best way to grow your audience is to train your outward facing staff to connect with all of the people they deal with in the performance of their jobs. Uploading their email contacts to LinkedIn greatly simplifies this process.
I recommend checking out the activity of some of the more socially active MHEDA member companies to get a feel for their approach to engaging with their target audience.
In addition to engagement, distributing blogs and other content through social media is a must. On LinkedIn this involves starting a discussion in an appropriate group and encouraging your outward facing folks to post updates with links to your content.
After The Launch of Your New Website
Once your new website is live, and hopefully a lot of the setup work is complete, it’s time to start executing and refining your programs. While I won’t go into detail here your program should include:
• Search engine optimization,
• Paid search and social advertising,
• Content marketing,
• Lead nurturing (email marketing),
• Local review generation,
• Social media,
• Continuous website development, and
• Data analysis.
From an organizational standpoint, there needs to be unwavering faith that the program will work and a corresponding allocation of time and money to see the plan implemented. In my experience, implementing a good program takes leadership and the ability to change the culture of your organization.
A good digital marketing program today is a big deal and they generate a very big return. However, unlike ten years ago there is no simple fix to high search engine ranking or generating more leads. It’s tough, requires multiple skill sets and is constantly changing, but for those that crack that nut, the reward is amazing. You are the expert in your industry, create great content, post it and let become known!
Best of luck!