Use the Internet to Effectively Market Your Business
Nearly every business will benefit from having an internet presence. However, before rushing to throw any old content onto the web, take time to create an internet strategy that dovetails into and helps drive your larger marketing and business plans.
Reaching customers—and potential customers—using online marketing is more a matter of commitment and strategy than it is a financial expenditure. It does not need to be expensive to reach online customers effectively. Using a market-led approach to Internet marketing, you can build an effective website and attract customers through various Internet-based marketing tactics.
Internet marketing involves the use of digital media to inform the market of your business and to entice people to purchase your products and services. The internet (and, by extension, mobile) is merely a vehicle to provide greater reach for your advertising, promotional and public relations efforts. Internet marketing must be part of your integrated marketing approach. Internet marketing strategies should be included within your company's overall marketing plan.
Businesses that want to boost the results of traditional advertising need to dovetail their advertising strategies with Internet strategies rather than viewing them as independent channels. A good Internet site, for example, improves the effectiveness of other advertising because many customers who see your company's advertising will evaluate your company's products and services online. Integrating Internet marketing tactics with other advertising ensures that your company provides a consistent brand experience.
You need to consider the following topics when you develop your overall Internet marketing strategy:
- your company's website
- search engine marketing
- search engine optimization
- online advertising
- email marketing
Your Website Should Serve as Centerpiece of Internet Strategy
The centerpiece of your internet marketing efforts is likely to be your company's website. Although many experts are pointing the upsurge in social media as a central touch point between businesses and customers (and potential customers) every business must have an effective website. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, at the close of 2010, 77 percent of Americans now use the Internet on a regular basis. Of these internet users, 78 percent report looking for information online about a product or service that they were thinking of buying; 66 percent stated that had bought a product online.
The number of individuals who are accessing the internet via their smart phones is skyrocketing. As of May 2011, 35 percent of Americans report using their smart phones to access they internet. This means you need to consider
how your website looks on a smart phone and
how you can leverage general social media (Facebook, Twitter) and location-based social networking (Groupon, Foursquare) to reach customers when they are actively seeking information regarding goods or services.
While it is important to understand and monitor Internet usage patterns, it is also necessary to identify the online activities of your target markets. You can use the demographic and behavioral trends you've gathered through primary research and secondary research to identify the categories of use among your target markets. For example, prior to implementing an e-commerce solution, you must identify the online shopping patterns and preferences of your target markets. By identifying the expectations and needs of your target markets before you begin marketing on the Internet, you can build the foundation of an effective, market-led website.
Websites Serve Many Purposes
Your website will serve as a natural consumer destination. Customers who visit your website are looking for meaningful information to distinguish your company's products and services from your competitors. Use the website to highlight distinct features offered by your company. Provide side-by-side comparisons of products. Customers spend less time thinking about your products, services and industry than you do. Provide them with the information they need to know about your industry, your products and your services in order to make an informed buying decision. Your website is an outstanding way to educate customers online—even when you are selling to them offline.
Build Your Website To Attract and Engage Visitors
Step back and take a "macro" view of your customers and
the Internet experience as you develop your website. The most effective
websites combine the benefits of mass marketing with those of customer
relationship marketing (CRM) to provide each visitor to your site with a
personal brand experience.
Mass marketing's goal is to constantly acquire new customers by
differentiating your company, and its products, from competitors. This
results in a strong brand identity, but it does not always adapt well to
Internet marketing because visitors to your site are often seeking
targeted information, rather than more general mass market messages. The
goal of CRM, by contrast, is to continually increase the volume of
business with existing customers by offering a range of personalized
services and products. While this can result in good customer service,
but does not adequately differentiate your organization from its
competitors among potential customers. Luckily, a well-designed website
can blend these approaches together.
needs to guide target markets from discovery, through exploration and
interaction, toward action. The first 10 seconds your target markets
spend on your company's website are among the most crucial. Site visitors determine whether they will become site users.
They perceive the value of your site. They form first impressions about
your company and predict the likelihood of finding useful information
on your website. Many visitors will leave your website immediately
because the site seems unrelated to their search. Others will explore
The chart below illustrates how consumers interact with the Internet.
The first challenge is to get consumers to discover your website. Once
they're on the site, they need a reason to explore. Typically only 60
percent of visitors will stay on your site long enough to skim or read
some of the content. Approximately 15 percent of your visitors will
interact with the tools to help them make a purchase decision, and 2
percent will act on that decision.
Consumer Interaction with the Internet
All visitors to your website are seeking information. During the
exploration phase, each page of content has less than a minute to
communicate with a site visitor. The amount of time visitors spend
exploring your website, and their perception of value of the time being
spent, varies based on their ability to progress toward the desired
Site visitors interact anonymously with your
website. Through these various interactions, they form lasting
impressions about your company, its products, and its level of service.
This includes comparing the information that you provide with
information they have received from other sources. Getting customers
involved through interactive elements, such as a self-assessment, can be
an effective method for cultivating strong customer relationships and
gathering additional customer insights.
Successful websites typically include the ability for customers to
act online—to call, purchase a product, find a local distributor or
retail location, or request a proposal. All websites should include the
ability to follow-up offline, by telephone, since some customers prefer
speaking with someone to submitting an order or other information
online. Be sure to include these elements when planning your company
Steps in Developing a Website for Your Business
The development plan for your company's website can be broken into multiple phases:
- Define the scope of the project.
- Identify your objectives and strategies.
- Create a content plan.
- Determine who will design and implement the plan.
- Design. Design look-and-feel (user interface) of the site
defining the features, functionality and content to be implemented on
the website. Deliverables during this phase include design concepts and a
proposed site map. Each concept must include a summary of any related
- Implementation. Create the website, on time and on
budget. You must manage the scope of the project and identify the
timeline/budget implications of any changes requested by others.
Stakeholders in your company may need an opportunity to review all site
content once or twice during implementation.
- Testing. Ensure error-free implementation of the site.
- Distribution. Publish the new site and register it with search engines, as appropriate.
- Monitor, evaluate and update. There is no such a "final" website. You must be prepared to refresh the web site's functionality and user interface on at least an annual basis.
What Are Your Objectives for Your Website?
What do you want to accomplish via your website? What do you want
customers to learn about your business? How do you want them to perceive
your business? What actions to you want them to take on your website,
or as a result of your website? The answers to these questions will help
you identify how to use the Internet to support or achieve some of the
specific communication goals and marketing efforts.
Your objectives for your website should be based on your overall
communication, marketing and sales goals. And, it is critical that these
objectives are measurable. Equally important is the ability to
effectively measure whether objectives are met. Such objectives might
- Subscribe to your e-newsletter. You want visitors to
subscribe to your e-newsletter or to your mailing list. To measure
success, you should tally the number/percentage of site visitors that
- Request additional information. Ideally, your website
will contain a significant amount of readily accessible content.
However, customers may have specific questions or need additional
information. Tracking the number/percentage of site visitors that
request additional information is one way to determine if the website is
meeting this objective.
- Online customer service. The use of the internet for
real-time resolution of customer services issues is increasing
constantly. If one of your objectives is to provide online service, then
you will want to track the number of customers who successfully resolve
customer service needs online. In addition, you will also want to keep
records of the turn-around time for the answers. You should be aware of
customer service benchmarks in your industry and evaluate your results
- E-commerce. If you want to allow customers to purchase
directly from your website, then you will want to track the volume of
products and services sold online—both in units and in revenue
received. You'll also want to track the number of transactions originating
from Internet visits. This metric should be periodically evaluated for
success in relation to other sales channels.
- Visitors to your site. At a bare minimum you will want to
track the number of new monthly visitors and repeat monthly visitors to
your website. Ideally, you should capture how they got to your site.
Capturing Site Visitor Information Is Essential for Success
As noted above, having a robust and steady stream of visitors to your
website should be one of your internet marketing objectives. Capturing
as much information as you can about each visitor is extremely important. Each
time visitors access your site, information about their visits can be
saved. This information can be used to generate "web statistics" that
characterize your site's overall use.
In most cases, you will use a web hosting
service that will provide you with both an internet domain name and
server space. Most of these services will provide some level of web
site analytics for a very small additional fee. You can compare various
hosting companies by going to Hosting Review or Top 10 Best Website Hosting.com
It is worth your time and effort to evaluate a number of companies to find the best match for your business.
There are a number of technical information that can be collected
about each visitor to your website. This information falls into several
- Who are the visitors? (Is this their first time on the site? Are they using a computer or a mobile device?)
- How did they get to your site? (Did they use a search
engine and, if so, what search terms? Did they link from another
- What did they do while on your site? (What pages did they
visit? What links did they follow? What information did they view? Did
they buy anything? Did they subscribe to anything? What page were they
viewing when they left the site?
The information can also be aggregated to give you an overall picture
of how your site is used (e.g., how many visitors/day, peak usage
times, what pages are most popular, what path do most people take
through your site.) Many hosting services provide some measure of
analytics. In addition, there are numerous companies that offer low-cost
or free analytics services.
Web statistics are a useful tool for measuring site usage. For
example, using web statistics, you can calculate a number of useful
- Penetration = [unique visitors to home page] / [unique visitors]. Penetration reflects the percentage of site visitors that go beyond your organization's home page.
- Conversion = [unique visitors taking desired action] / [unique visitors].
Conversion reflects the percentage of site visitors that take a desired
action. You can measure the conversion for several actions
simultaneously. For example, the percentage of site visitors that
purchase online and the percentage of site visitors that subscribe to
your organization's electronic newsletter.
- Connection = [referral click-thrus] / [desired page views]. Connection refers to the number of site visitors to your site from an external location, such as another website or online advertisement, that view desired content. Online promotions with a high connection rate are more effective.
- Migration = [visits to content area] / [site exits from the content area].
Migration refers to the number of site visitors that leave your site
from a specific content area. Content areas with the highest migration
are typically less effective than areas with lower migration.
- Clicks to action = [average number of clicks from home page to desired action].
CTA reflects the number of clicks it takes from the home page to reach a
desired action. For example, reducing the CTA to complete an order
should result in a measurable increase of customer conversion for online
- Intro skip factor = [number of visitors to Intro page] / [visitors that bypass intro].
This indicator reflects the number of visitors that view your site's
intro page, if applicable. If a large percentage of site visitors bypass
the intro, it can indicate an ineffective intro, or a high percentage
of return visitors.
By establishing objectives prior to setting website strategies, it
may also be possible to integrate objective specific reporting features.
In the same way site visits collect information for web statistics,
information can be collected for measuring objectives.
Establish Your Website Strategy Before Designing Your Website
Before you begin to design the actual website, you need to develop a
strategy that is likely to achieve the objectives that you hope to
achieve with your website. As with all marketing strategy, this requires
an examination of your target market, available technology, and the
rationale for the proposed strategy as it relates to alternatives, cost
and support requirements.
Make Sure Your Target Market Uses the Internet Regularly
For any strategy to be effective, your target market segments must
contain a sufficient number of Internet users. The most effective
Internet strategies will fail if the intended target markets are not
online. Granted, with seventy-seven percent of Americans online, this is
not likely to be an issue for most market segments. However, not all
market segments are equally represented. For example, internet usage is
closely correlated with income and education—the higher the income and
education, the higher the percentage of individuals using the internet.
In addition, non-English speaking individuals are considerably less
likely to use the internet that English-speakers. (Note that demographic
differences are markedly less for teenagers than for adults: regardless
of education, income or language, teens use the internet.)
In addition to simply using the internet, you want your target market
to be using the internet in a way that aligns with your business
objectives for your website. For example, 80 percent of those in Gen X
(33-44 years old) make online purchases. In contrast, in 2011, only 56
percent of 64 to 72 year olds use e-commerce. Thus, if you are marketing
products or services aimed at older customers, you may not need an
e-commerce solution on your website; rather, you may need to invest in a
toll-free number with extended customer service hours.
Be Aware of Technology and Infrastructure Costs
Potentially effective Internet strategies are often delayed or quickly become cost-prohibitive because the technology and infrastructure
required to implement the strategy are not present within the
organization. For example, it may be desirable for a company to sell its
products/services online. However, doing so requires the ability to
update product information and process incoming orders. In addition,
once implemented, Internet strategies may require ongoing support or
third-party maintenance that needs to be considered.
Explore Non-internet Options To Achieve Your Objectives
Examine the objectives that you came up with when you were
considering why you want to engage in online/internet marketing. Bump
them up to a more generic statement. What do you really want to achieve?
Increased sales? Increased brand awareness? Increased customer loyalty?
Now, consider all the alternative methods of achieving the desired
objectives: this includes non-Internet strategies that could achieve the
If your objective is to increase the number
of subscribers for a newsletter, you may consider several strategies.
You might promote the newsletter through free distribution in stores or
libraries. Or you might change the content of the newsletter or its
method/frequency of distribution so that it has a wider appeal to your
target market. Although many strategies may address a desired objective,
your business will need to distinguish the best strategy for a given
set of circumstances.
After identifying the considerations for each proposed strategy,
summarize the benefits of this strategy in comparison with others. Why
is the proposed Internet strategy the best strategy for addressing the
desired objective? How will it achieve the desired goal? What are the
cost, technology and infrastructure advantages of this strategy as
compared to alternatives?
Devising Your Website Content Plan
A content plan is a blueprint for your website that translates your
objectives and strategies into concrete plans that can be implemented. A
content plan collects the decisions you made within your marketing plan
that will influence the design, structure and information included on
your website. It provides individuals working on the website (who may
not have been involved in creating your marketing plan) with the
information they need to define the scope of the project.
Content plans typically include the following:
- Purpose. A description of website goals and strategies.
The purpose statement is provided within the context of overall
communication, marketing and sales goals developed during as part of the
- Audience. An overview of customers and how needs of customers then will be addressed by the website.
- Content summary. A detailed list of content that will be
added to the site, where existing content can be found, and what content
needs to be created from scratch.
- Sitemap. The sitemap is a description of how content will
be grouped, organized and linked. Sometimes this is done graphically
with boxes representing web pages and lines indicating hyperlinks that
exist between pages.
- Feature list. A list of things your website will do. For
example, the information you want to collect, if possible, from site
visitors. Basically, anything that requires programming.
When creating a content plan, make sure to include what information
you will need from the website and what information you will need to
update. For example, if you anticipate adding weekly news, then the
functional inventory should include a means of easily
adding/modifying/deleting news from the site without requiring ongoing
assistance from a web programmer or vendor.
The content plan provides the basis for creating an implementation
plan if you're building the website yourself—or the basis for drafting a
Request For Proposal if you'll be selecting a vendor to create the
Be Thorough When Creating the Website Implementation Plan
The website implementation plan takes your content plan to the next
step and provides detailed specifications regarding scope, timeline and
budget. The blueprint and construction specifications analogies are
excellent ones to keep in mind. If you are building a house, you need to
decide in advance if the house will have a basement or be on a slab,
how many bedrooms and bathrooms there will be, and what type of exterior
facade you want. If you change any of these key decisions once the
house is nearly complete, the entire project will be derailed. You may
need be able to get the changes you want, but, even if you can, the
costs and delays will be prohibitive. The same applies to website
design. If you don't take the time to get the requirements exactly
right, you will face significant cost overruns and delays.
Your implementation should contain the following sections—specified in exacting detail:
- Overview. This includes the purpose and audience
information from the content plan. It also provides a condensed
description of the project and its general scope.
- Scope. This will be the longest and most detailed section
of the plan. In the Scope section, you provide a complete description
your project. This includes the tasks to be completed, the proposed
technical approach for dynamic elements, and any limitation/process
parameters inherent to the project. The content summary and feature list
from the content plan should be integrated into the scope of the
- Timeline. The timelines for rolling out websites vary
depending on the size of the site and the scope of the project. A
typical timeline includes planning, design, production, and testing milestones. Timelines often need to be adjusted to reflect the workload of staff, the selected vendor, and related project dependencies.
- Budget. While creating the implementation plan, staff
will provide estimates for time, outside suppliers, and required
resources for completing the project. These costs are then combined to
create an overall budget to implement the project.
The production time needed for building your company website
only reflects a portion of the overall cost, typically half of the
budget. Costs associated with planning, design, and testing also need to
be included for an accurate budget.
Determining Who Will Build Your Website
Before you can develop the budget for your project, you will need to conduct research on the feasibility of different website construction
options. The choices run the gamut from a complete "do-it-yourself"
project to contracting for the complete installation.
The DIY option is more feasible if you (or your employees) are
familiar and comfortable with technology and your functionality and
customization requirements are relatively basic. Most hosting services
have a wide selection of semi-customized templates that you can use to
build and launch a website in a matter of hours without having to know
any web programming languages.
The downside of the do-it-yourself approach is not so much in the
actual building of a basic website as it is in understanding what makes
an effective website. While internet usability is not the proverbial
"rocket science," there are rules and best practices that you may not
want to devote time to learning. If you want to make sure that your
website pays for itself in increased sales and revenue, then you may
want to consider having some level of professional assistance. This
could range from design consultation through the complete build of the
More Complex Projects May Require a Request for Proposal
If you have many specialized requirements (for example, international
transactions or live 24/7 customer service) then you should consider
going through the Request for Proposal process with several different
vendors. A Request for Proposal (RFP) provides the basis for selecting
the website developer who will implement your company's website. An RFP
is a version of an implementation plan that includes information
requested from vendors to aid in selection.
Selecting a vendor is a three-stage process.
- The first stage is to conduct some preliminary research on vendors and
develop a short list of companies for consideration. These are companies
that will be asked to respond with proposals to your RFP.
- The second stage is to prepare an RFP for those selected vendors.
Based on the RFP, vendors will provide proposals for implementing your
- The final stage is to select a vendor. This requires a face-to-face
meeting with final candidates to resolve questions about the RFP, vendor
proposals and final project implementation.
Your RFP should request the following information from each company on your short list.
- Company background. This includes corporate information
including financial details. How long has the company been in business?
How many employees does the company have? Of its employees, how many are
dedicated to implementing Internet media?
- Capabilities. In addition to capabilities associated with
the RFP, what other services does the vendor provide? Can the vendor
provide representative samples of related work?
- Company qualifications. How experienced/qualified is the
company for the project? Have they completed similar projects? Can they
provide a list of previous clients with contact information and relevant
- Staffing. What is the proposed team that will be working
on the project? What are their individual qualifications? Can a resume
be provided for key members of the proposed team?
- Process. What is the development process used by the
vendor? What are the project stages and milestones? What are their
processes for quality assurance and testing? How will the completed
project be delivered or implemented? What documents are included as
deliverables in the processes used by the vendor?
- Proposed solution. How does the vendor recommend
implementing the project? What is their proposed technical approach?
What changes to the project scope would they recommend? Is their
proposed solution scalable? Will it work in cross-platform environments?
- Timeline. What is their proposed schedule for completing
the project? What dependencies are included in the timeline that may
influence the anticipated deliver date?
- Budget. What is the anticipated cost for the project?
What variables exist in the budget and what is their process for
identifying changes in cost? How do they accept payment? What portion of
the payment will be paid to outside suppliers? How are tasks completed
by outside suppliers billed? What ongoing maintenance costs does the vendor anticipate after the project is completed?