Online tactics for a soft economy

Now’s the time to act on those e-marketing plans. CRAIG REARDON

Craig Reardon

By Craig Reardon

This blog first appeared 15 October 2008

Remember the boomtime? Lots of business, targets met relatively easily, holidays being planned…

For some those times are still with us, but for the majority not much is scarier than watching on helplessly as the markets take a chunk out of your investments and superannuation.

On the relatively bright side, if you have a sizable stake in your own business at least you can have some say in its value as you take action to optimise sales and reduce expenditure.

The truth is, we all get complacent in times of plenty, falling back on the tried and true and putting off the scary new activities that are increasingly capturing our markets.

But when it comes to evaluating your marketing ROI, for many there is now nothing more cost effective and accountable than the internet.

Where else can you communicate with thousands of people simultaneously for no more than the cost of preparing a good communication piece (email marketing). Or produce a new campaign that can be out to your markets within minutes (pay per click advertising). Or open up markets you’d previously only dreamed about (website and search engine optimisation).

Chances are, while you were putting off that e-marketing strategy, previously unknown competitors stole your thunder and started to make their presence felt in the now critical online space.

If you want proof, bite the bullet and do a realistic Google search on your biggest selling lines or services. If your business or its product aren’t prominent, you are missing valuable business.

So now we know you have to take action, where do you start to find budget and prioritise when it comes to embracing the online world.

Every single business is different, however here’s some of the more common ideas you can consider.

1. Capture your customer data at every opportunity, online or off

This is still the most common of the lost opportunities – customers or prospects that ride off into the sunset with no means of contacting them for future promotion.

This now has to be the most heinous of marketing crimes. We all know the 80/20 rule of repeat business, so why do we continue to watch future business walk out the door?

At your next staff meeting, sit down and brainstorm how to ensure you can entice customers and prospects to happily provide you with their contact details. But get the basics right first – like asking them! But give them at least one very good reason why they should.

2. Ensure you’re up in Google rankings

You’re probably sick of hearing it, but you’re also probably sick of losing business to those who do it better than you do.

It’s now a simple rule. Get your website optimised to appear in search results as best you possibly can. In the meantime, use “pay per click” advertising to give you a presence till you’ve achieved that, and even afterwards.

At least you know exactly how many are seeing your presence and how many are acting on it – allowing you to refine and improve over time.

3. Improve your presence in your niches

It becomes very expensive to “own” big categories online – and you could be fighting a losing battle. But there is lots of business in the niches.

Make sure you are emphasising your niche products and services on your website. For example, instead of sending web traffic to the more general front page of your website, send it to “landing pages” dealing with a more specific product or group of products. That way your chances of attracting both paid and unpaid search engine referrals increase because the content dealing with that niche is more heavily concentrated than on the front page – which search engines love.

So if you are in a competitive market like gardening, focus on some of your more profitable lines such as specific tools, replacement parts or accessories.

While larger organisations have larger budgets to provide them with a presence across the board, they can often take longer to spot and react to a pocket of competitive activity.

4. Review your print directory expenditure

If you advertise in print directories, you may well have become accustomed to increasing your expenditure when the rep comes a knocking every year. But have you had a close look at the results? Is it still performing as well as it did in the past?

If you’re a business-to-business marketer, the answer will undoubtedly be no. Because computers and the internet are now critical business tools, rich supplier information as sourced via Google etc is literally always at their fingertips.

And consumers are not far behind. I wonder how many people under 25 have actually ever picked up a printed directory.

If this sounds familiar, then it’s time to spend less on print directories and more on online search.

5. Look at ways of getting more content on your website

There’s a very simple equation when it comes to search engines. The more “optimised” content you have, the more chances you have for search engines to find it and in turn promote your business and up their rankings.

Taking the previous example; in all of your promotion of a product like gardening gloves, you may have left out the word “tough”. But a recent customer may have reviewed the product and endorsed its toughness. By including a customer review emphasising the word tough on that product page, suddenly there is a new phrase that Google etc can find and index. So when a prospect is looking for “tough gloves” your product now is more likely to come up in the search result.

It’s nearly impossible for your site to contain content on all the search terms a user may enter. But the more content you have, the more likely you are to do so. Don’t forget that content is not just text but images, links, PDFs and other media.

6. Mine your client database

Again, use the 80/20 rule to your advantage. Your past customers already know you and not only are more likely to respond to a communication from you, but will cost next to nothing to contact them.

Given you have already satisfied their needs (at least presumably), there is every chance that they may need another one, or an accessory, or one for a friend. And if your database is working the way it should, it should be a simple matter to identify previous buyers and give them a reason to buy another or at least something related to it.

Get in touch with your customers, ask them how they’re going with the previous purchase and give them reasons to consider purchasing something else from you.

All of these tactics will save you money and increase sales – just when you need them most.

But there are lots more. Feel free to contribute your ideas below.

 

Craig Reardon is a leading eBusiness educator and founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which provide the gamut of ‘pre-built’ website solutions, technologies and services to SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. www.theeteam.com.au

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