Effective Online Planning Drives Business Growth

Jasmine Sandler
June 9, 2010 — 1,564 views  
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Online planning is, first and foremost, essential to reaching your online goals, whether they are to drive gains in market share, brand awareness, lead acquisition or to develop a community of advocates around your mission. Planning requires not only a thorough analysis of your direct competitors online and where your industry is winning in using the web as a marketing tool; but also real time mining of the behaviors of your online audience.

There are several online tools, both free and paid that can help you glean important planning information. Examples include:

www.Quantcast.com – Site demographics and hits information

www.Alexa.com - Internet Ranking information

www.Compete.com – Competitive links and sites information

www.websitegrader.com - Grades sites from an SEO perspective

http://www.quarkbase.com – Overview information of popularity of a site

http://www.keywordspy.com/ - Targeted keyword competitive information

If your current clients are willing to take a survey, you should certainly use their feedback to help shape your future online marketing direction. Asking your clients questions about what they want from your
site, how easy is it to get around on your site, what they think you should improve on, what features they would like added and so on will give you effective marketing insight with which to craft your targeted messages.. You should learn information that you can act on from every question. Make sure surveys are quick and easy to take. Remember, you are asking for their time, so don’t take advantage of it. For example. multiple choice questions are generally better than long answer. If you do not have a direct relationship with your  customers a great way to ensure you will get people to participate is to offer a raffle or sweepstakes where they will receive something for participating. After your initial planning and research, you will need to assess your online marketing channels (Search, Social Media, Online
Advertising General, Affiliate Marketing, E-Mail, and Online PR) for which types and budgets are the most effective for your specific business. Through your research, you will get an initial understanding of channel effectiveness. However nothing is as important as trial testing. In general, if you are new to web marketing, you will need to test Paid Search for at least 90 days and run an SEO program for 6 months. Any paid media must be carefully assessed for effectiveness. In general, paid media works best for near term or immediate buys (products/events/tickets).

A major key to success in online marketing is to continually develop and distribute engaging content. This content includes and is not limited to:

1. Web Copy
2. Online articles
3. Web Casts/ Webinar Content
4. Online multi-media press releases
5. Tips and Tricks content
6. Editorial Opinions
7. Blogging/Commenting
8. Company updates
9. Creative – Banners, widgets, etc
10.Video content – humorous, promotional and educational

After assessing your competition, looking at the reviews of your site (from websites and your customer surveys) and knowing which channels work best for you, you can now start to introduce real change to your website and to your marketing campaign. After seeing what your competition does well, define your market position. You can implement the changes requested by your consumers/users and dictated by websites. And by knowing the channels that work best for you, you can tailor some of your content to fit the demographics of the users of those channels.

While this article may make it seem like this change is easy, it isn’t. Which is why many managers face the dilemma of deciding to outsource or do marketing internally. Making any online tactic such as Search Engine Optimization, Paid Search, Affiliate Marketing, etc work takes both expertise and constant effective management. If you have both the resources in terms of people, money and time to educate
internal staff on how to develop, execute and manage campaigns and programs, then it is worthwhile to invest in areas such as Individual Google Certification, Web Design personnel, etc. If you do not and
cannot afford to outsource these functions to a big consultant or online agency, then it is appropriate to spend carefully by hiring people to fix only your biggest holes or to do jobs you know you can not do.
Remember, marketing is a tough job, but one that when done well, can pay huge dividends.

Let’s look at 2 examples of some small businesses that have followed this methodology:

First, let’s look at VFitness, a personal training and boxing service in New York City with a website at www.vfitnessonline.com. They are most likely the smallest of any in-home personal training service as well as any boxing studio/gym in NYC. Their competition is heavy. They first required a review of the competition online in terms of value, market share and marketing activities. They then surveyed their current clients to understand what was important to them. What was found is that their clients wanted low cost, frequent, fun boxing and conditioning classes. They also wanted all their gear to come at a discount from VFitness. They also found that they had a clear opportunity to offer a low-cost high value intro to boxing service and boot camp. This then quickly became their position.

With that position, they re-designed a poorly designed site to a more compelling user experience to support their lead in the group boxing and boot camp fitness market.

They then chose Paid Search and Search Engine Optimization as their primary vehicles for driving awareness and customer acquisition. They had a limited budget for Paid Search and had run some keyword estimates on their industry to know how to budget and what keywords to bid on and for how long to run their campaigns. They hired an agency consultant to develop effective ads and a plan. In SEO, they brought on some people to help them reach out and drive content distribution with relevant and qualified links (to boxing and personal training). In only one week’s time in Paid Search, they were raking #1 for intro boxing classes NYC, group boxing classes NYC, boot camp conditioning classes NYC and received over 22 calls for business. In natural search, they received in 90 days time, top ranking for searching on similar terms.

They are also now launching an e-commerce store of discount boxing products from new partners Modell’s and Title Boxing. With a small, targeted approach and budget they now know what works. Because of new clients, they now have some funding to re-invest in online  marketing and are moving on to the creation of content and PR work. An example of the beginnings of this work is a recent article posted by an industry insider, http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-29543-NY-Fitness-Trends-Examiner~y2010m6d8-Trainlike-a-Million-Dollar-Baby-Boxing-Boot-Camp-with-VFitness.

Next, Get Your House In Order, a personal home organization business in NYC, with a website at http://www.organizemyhouse.com/. They knew that online marketing could serve their lead generation needs, but had a limited budget and resources. A client survey of GHYIO clients  showed that most clients called the service company for help before/during moves, before/during baby room planning. The survey
also showed that they wanted to speak with Maeve Richmond, owner of the company, on a more frequent basis, when they were in “clutter crisis.” The online marketplace showed a real proliferation of home organizers in the NYC marketplace being visible on advice sites, such as http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/. Further, it revealed  specialization in this area on specific occasions (move, kids growth, etc.) The current web site was expanded to include specific landing pages by occasion – Kids rooms, move, baby, home office, etc. Copy was created to engage those specific targets by page. A blog was created to brand Miss Maeve Richmond “Clutter Girl” as “Inside The Organized Brain”. The blog was developed so that clients could get more frequent tips and help from her. The company provided advice to
http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/. Further, the company utilized Paid Search to develop, with an expert, and run effective ads by occasion and interest. The ROI for Paid Search over a month’s time was
over 300% , resulting in 4 new clients, who continue to work with the company today.

Currently, Maeve Richmond, is busy completing her own e-book and book in print on Clutter Therapy. Online PR will follow.

To conclude, you can use the web effectively to drive business. To do so takes careful planning and at least partial help from experts in content creation and in the management of online campaigns. Testing
channels over a recommended time period is an excellent way to assess what will/won’t work in online marketing.

Jasmine Sandler