What Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know About Digital Marketing

This article was originally published on Unreasonable.is

If you’ve ever started a company or worked in an entrepreneurial organization, you’ve probably experienced what I like to call the black hole of digital marketing.

In a mad rush to get the word out about an upcoming event or launch, or to announce the existence of your venture to the world, you take to every online channel and platform imaginable: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Youtube.

You spend weeks and weeks to craft and perfect your vision statement, your company values, and your beautiful logo. You pull late nights emailing your newsletter lists, friends, colleagues and anyone else who just might know someone who would be interested. Then, when the frenzy is over, you suddenly snap out of it and wonder to yourself:

“Did any of that actually do something productive for my business?”

There are few activities in the entrepreneurial world that suck up more time, energy, and money without anything to show for it than digital marketing. Why does this happen?

In my experience, the problem stems from the fact that most organizations fail to hold their marketing activities accountable with measurable results. They use vague rationales like, “We need to get our name out there,” and “We’re promoting thought leadership,” to justify spending inordinate amounts of time on social media without ever taking a minute to critically analyze the return on investment of those activities.

Here is my advice to entrepreneurs and leaders who want to leverage the full power of digital marketing to create real business results—attracting more customers who will pay you to make their lives better. 

 

1. Set a specific intention with your digital marketing... And let that goal dictate the tools and channels

The overwhelming number of tools, channels, platforms, and strategies available gives many of us the impression that digital marketing is incredibly complex; but it’s actually very simple. Here’s how it works:

  1. You have a website.
  2. You get people to come to that website.
  3. Your website (hopefully) educates visitors so that they believe you’re the right company to solve their problem—then they either contact you, come into your store, or buy from you online.

That’s all there is to it. Put into a formula, digital marketing looks like this:

Traffic x Conversion = Customers

For example, if you get 100 people to visit your website (traffic) and two percent of them decide to buy from you (conversion), you get two customers. These two pieces of digital marketing serve to create bottom-line results: getting more traffic, and converting traffic into customers. If you want to hold your digital marketing activities accountable, measure your outcomes with this framework in mind. Is your most important objective right now to generate more traffic to your website? Or are you trying to convert more of your traffic into customers? If the answer is both, be mindful that each goal requires a different approach.
 

2. Pick the Right Tools

Once you are clear on what you are trying to accomplish, you’ll be in a much better place to choose the right tools for your situation. Here is a brief overview of the most effective tools and strategies used in digital marketing today to, first, get more traffic, and, second, increase conversion.

Getting more traffic

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is the practice of improving your website’s rankings on search engines, such as Google, so that people who are searching with keywords that are relevant to your business are attracted to your website.

When you should use it:

  1. You have a product or service that people actively seek out by searching online, and keywords can be used to effectively target potential customers.
  2. You believe that improving your rankings on Google (being listed closer to page one of the search results or being at the top of page one) for a set of keywords would bring a significant number of qualified visitors to your website.
  3. You see the long-term value in consistently growing the number of people who don’t know your brand but discover you online using a search engine.

While there are many variables to play with in improving SEO, an effective and reliable approach is to consistently add things to your website that make it an increasingly useful destination for people who are searching for the keywords you want to rank for—in other words, publishing high-quality content on your website domain.

You won’t see results overnight. SEO is a long-term approach that requires consistent effort over months with a focused keyword strategy. Begin by using a tool such as Google’s Keyword Planner to get a sense of what relevant keywords get significant search volumes and how competitive they are to rank for.

Paid Advertising
This can take a number of forms, but the most commonly used and effective methods today include Google AdWords, Facebook advertising, and display ads on other websites.

When You Should Use It:

  1. You are willing to invest in a monthly budget for driving traffic to your website.
  2. Your ideal customers can be targeted by keywords (Google ads), demographics and preferences (Facebook ads), or other factors.
  3. You have access to a numbers-oriented person who can consistently monitor campaigns to optimize the performance of ads over time.

This is a short-term approach that can ramp up traffic to your website literally overnight—but it must be used with great care and planning, as each click or impression will cost you money.

Be mindful of what you’re doing with that traffic: if your website isn’t designed to intentionally convert visitors into sales or leads, all you get from paid traffic is a chart of anonymous views and clicks on your dashboard—in exchange for a big negative number on your bank statement.

Content Marketing
You can increase traffic to your site by publishing helpful content, such as blog posts, podcasts, infographics, videos, ebooks, and other resources that your target audience will find useful.

When You Should Use It:

  1. Your product or service requires some level of education for your customers to see the full value in it, or for a relationship to be developed for them to trust your solution.
  2. Your product or service can be tied to a topic that people want to learn more about.
  3. You don’t have a budget for paid ads or you want to stay in touch after the first impression and stay on top of your prospects’ minds.

The key to content marketing is quality and consistency. Your content has to be valuable enough for people to spend time consuming (not to be underestimated), and you have to stay on top of your customers’ minds long enough for them to believe in your credibility and become ready to make a purchase.

You can publish content on your own website, or you can build relationships with editors of other websites and blogs to get in front of their audiences and attract them to your site. Start by asking yourself: what do my ideal customers want to learn more about that I can add a unique perspective on?

Social Media
Building an audience on social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram can help to drive more traffic to your site—but know that getting someone to “like” your page does not necessarily translate to higher website traffic or increased sales.

When You Should Use It:

  1. Your ideal customers are active on social media.
  2. You have a strategy for converting your followers to customers—whether by making offers, running ads, or driving clicks to your website.

If your intention is to use social media for bottom-line results, make sure the person managing your channels is aware of this. Social media is most often used for less tangible outcomes such as building brand awareness and growing a following (for no apparent reason); it’s up to you to co-create a strategy with your social media manager to make sure there is a clear ROI in their time invested.

Improving Conversion

The process of converting online traffic into customers varies significantly by business—it can be as simple as a visitor clicking the “Buy now” button on an e-commerce site, or it could require months of back and forth with your sales rep.

In any case, here are the most common tools available to an digital marketer for improving conversion:

Website Copy, Design, and Functionality
Your website is the centerpiece of your conversion strategy. It’s generally the first place people go when they hear your name, and it’s often the only chance you have to persuade potential customers that your company is a good fit to solve their problem.

Understand that in order to create a website that consistently produces bottom-line results, you need a completely different mindset than with a standard website. A typical website designer or developer will tell you how to style and structure a site based on their professional training—which is grounded in principles of aesthetics and design, or programming—NOT based on what helps people make a buying decision. Don’t expect them to tell you how to create a website that sells.

The good news is that creating a website that sells effectively is no mystery. Many smart people have crunched the data on what works and what doesn’t, and there are clear best practices that are proven to work, whether for writing copy, designing a layout, or deciding what functionality to include. Reevaluating your website with an intention to optimize conversion, together with someone who knows these best practices is typically the best place to start for a business to improve its results online.

Email Marketing
As a conversion strategy, email marketing works together with your website as a one-two punch.

Even with a perfectly optimized website, out of every 100 people that visit, only a handful will be ready to buy at that instant—so what about the rest?

Just because they’re not ready to buy right then doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be a happy customer of yours 30, 60, or 180 days from now; but you’ll never know if you don’t extend an offer to start building a relationship. Unfortunately, engagement with email marketing have continued to plunge in recent years. If you’re wondering why, look no further than your own clogged inbox.

That’s why it’s critical to have a sharp copywriter on deck to craft your emails. A well-crafted headline, compelling language, and a strong call to action can make the difference between someone clicking the “unsubscribe” link and clicking “learn more.”

Of course, you also need to convince people to give you their contact info in the first place. A great strategy to do so is to offer an incentive: a free download or helpful resource that visitors would find useful, in exchange for their permission to follow up with them.

Direct Sales
You might think this strange coming from a guy who makes a living as an digital marketer, but here’s the truth: websites, emails, and social media simply aren’t enough for most businesses to make a sale. No amount of emails, tweets, or blog posts are going to change the fact that people need to feel that they can trust you before making a buying decision.
 

If you sell a product or service that costs more than a few hundred dollars or involves high risk for the buyer (ex. asset management, recruiting, legal services), your clients are going to want to talk to someone before they sign a deal. In cases like these, conversion is achieved by turning a visitor into an inquiry for your sales rep to follow up with.

Even if it’s not responsible for closing deals, digital marketing can still serve to make a great first impression; educate visitors on what makes your company the best choice; qualify good leads from bad leads; and equip your sales team with helpful data about each prospect before they get on the phone with them.

A solid website, a few well-crafted follow-up emails, and perhaps a helpful sales rep are often all a business needs to reach respectable numbers for conversion. Sure, there are plenty of other advanced techniques to play with: retargeting, webinars, sales videos, automated nurturing emails, and so on. But remember, there is no need to overcomplicate things. Digital marketing is simply a tool—it should serve you, not the other way around.

Digital marketing doesn’t have to be a black hole of time and energy. If approached correctly, it can be a results-driving engine in your business that allows you to reach your ideal customers and help them to understand the value you can bring to their lives. Each time you want to improve your results, start by setting a specific intention. Know your desired outcomes in measurable terms. Consider the strategies and tools available to you, and follow best practices.