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Have you ever tried to find a good “how to” article or a good strategy overview written for professional website managers?

I did. And I could find plenty of good stuff aimed at the “I love thinking about the Internet” set or the “I love cutting edge web technology” set. But very little at the “I am running a website group at a real company” set.

Although techie articles and pie-in-the-sky articles have their place, when you need real answers for real problems they just don’t give you what you need. You want actionable answers not down-in-the-dirt details or information about macro trends on the Internet.

So I set out to make a website that provides actionable answers to the questions that website managers ask on the topics that matter. Topics like:

  • Project Management finding big problems, coming up with solutions and mobilizing the teams to get the problem solved
  • Content Management slicing and dicing through requests for new web pages, getting the pieces together and getting it live without hiring a legion of web producers
  • Internet Marketing getting the folks to the site, getting them on the list, and then getting them through the funnel to sales or a shopping cart
  • Web Development developing the technology that makes it all possible

And while those are pretty big topics, they are the topics you deal with every day when you run a big-ish website. And if you hang with me, I am going to spill the good stuff I learned from doing this stuff myself.

The next question you are thinking is… who is this guy?

8 Steps to a More Effective Internet Marketing Program

Internet Marketing is a beast. It’s complicated. There are tons of experts. Tons of blogs. Tons of hype. And tons of “answers”.

It gets worse. Your website probably has some tricky marketing stuff going on, too. It’s marketing a wide range of product from cheap to pricey. It’s marketing lots of these products, in many different product lines, for numerous internal customers. It’s supporting an e-commerce, direct and indirect sales channels.

Given all that, and the pressure that comes from the fast pace of websites work, it’s easy to see how website honchos might get a bit lost and overwhelmed. How do you get your arms around what you need to get done strategically with all this going on?

I feel your pain. In fact, once I ended up with even more tricky marketing stuff, or perhaps a better way to say it is, with a trickier internal customer. I ran the website and Internet marketing group for a marketing-intelligence, web analytics company which made everyone there a bit of know-it-all... because well, they did know it all. And I spent more time than I would like to admit behind the power curve before we managed to get our act together.

But we did get it together. From 20 campaigns a quarter to 170 campaigns per quarter. From 900 unqualified leads to 27,000 qualified leads per quarter. From no marketing database to a data warehouse of 600,000 names. In two years.

Getting to a place where Internet marketing worked for us wasn’t easy. It was all pretty new and we didn’t really know what would work and what won’t. However, figuring out what works will be easier for you. Because I am all about sharing what works. In fact, this entire website is all about sharing what works.

The first thing you need to do to get good at Internet marketing is to get your mind around a couple of good practices: make your website the centerpiece of your marketing efforts and treat email marketing and your website as a single integrated effort.

Make your website the centerpiece of your marketing efforts

Your website is the most cost effective, targeted, measurable way of marketing. If you drive folks to the site, it’s probably fairly cheap to get them there. You can target your exact market very specifically. Your website can triage their needs and point them at the right product and the right sales channel. Plus you have ways of tracking how they got to the site and if they ultimately buy. It’s like old-school direct mail all jacked up on steroids except cheaper.

But your website can only do its magic if it is the centerpiece of your marketing efforts. If you want your Internet marketing efforts to be successful, then your marketing has to focus on driving folks to the website – the end result of all of your marketing should be your website.

That means that all campaigns drive folks to the website. All advertising drives folks to the website. All email marketing drives folks to the website. Even brand building activities should drive folks to the website. The more you focus your efforts on driving folks to the website the more folks will get there and get into your sales pipeline to potentially buy.

Email marketing and your website must be integrated

There are still so many companies that still treat email marketing and website marketing as separate almost unrelated things. But really they don’t work well until they are completed integrated together.

Websites really need email marketing to keep the company/visitor conversation going when your visitors aren’t at the website. If you wait for your website users to come back by themselves you are likely to wait a long, long time. Why not have a conversation with them and get them back to the site ASAP?

Without a focused persuasive website email marketing isn’t going anywhere, either. The website has to provide a great landing spot for email campaigns and have great marketing materials to support those visitors if they start poking around on your site.

You have to have both a persuasive website and great email marketing to make Internet marketing really work. It’s as simple as that.

So now that you are on board with some good Internet marketing practices let’s talk about getting you started on building a more effective Internet Marketing program. It’s just 8 steps but each will really help focus you on what is important.

8 Steps to Improve your Internet Marketing Program

1. Model your funnel – In the off line sales world, savvy sales folks know all about their sales funnel. They know how many folks they need to talk to, present to, create a proposal for and ultimately close to meet their quota. But do you know how many new visitors you need to hit your sales goal? Or how many new names you need on your list? How many prospects do you need to get qualified and off to sales as leads? Or close via e-commerce? You need good answers to these questions or it’s like you are flying a supersonic jet in the mountains with your eyes closed. You need to start managing your website just like the off line sales pros do - with a sales funnel.

2. Attract and engage using deliverables – Because you are a sharp marketer it’s likely you can target and attract the right folks and get them visit your site. But most visitors are going to bail quick if you can’t convince them that your firm and its products are the right choice to fulfill their needs.

You could convince them by offering competitive prices or slugging it out with your competitors on a feature-by-feature comparison basis. And provided you have a good position, it’s likely you will get this sale. But you want more than that. You want these folks to keep coming back to the site to buy again and again. To get those repeat visitors and sales you need to implant your firm as the thought leader about the problem your visitors need to solve. That way your visitors will be very likely to return over the long haul to get more of the thought leader knowledge that only you can give them. And return to buy as well.

The best way to achieve thought leadership is to attract visitors by offering the prospect information (a deliverable) that positions your company as the experts about the products you sell and the problems they solve. By using these deliverables and mixing how your traffic your deliverable offers out (co-branded email, SEM or adwords, etc.) you are going to fill up your funnel with the right folks. And these folks are very likely to stay in your sales funnel until they buy.

3. Tune your content - When folks show up at your website they are at different spots in the buying process. Some are just learning that they have a problem while others are ready to buy today. If your content is only for buyers or for learners, then someone isn’t going to get what they need. To make sure they get the info they need, identify what types of content is needed for each stage in your buying process. Then make sure you have content that fits the need. It’s the only way to keep your visitors engaged and your funnel full.

4. Optimize your landing pages – Landing page optimization is a cottage industry these days. Rightfully so, considering landing pages have an enormous impact on the effectiveness of your online campaigns. The good news is that landing page optimization should not be a huge battle over creative issues. Getting the right metrics and analysis process in place is half the battle. Getting good at trafficking marketing campaigns and tuning your landing pages is the other half. The creative part of landing pages tends to take care of itself if you use the metrics from your landing pages to guide your actions.

5. Close the deal using offers – We see it all the time. 3 for the price of 1. Sale today only. Offers come at us left and right all day for one simple reason. They work. And if you want to get your prospects off their duff and have a reason to buy now, you need to get offers in front of these folks pronto. To make that happen, you need the capability of delivering an offer to a prospect via an email or on your website. Then use that capability as much as possible without annoying the folks you are trying to close. Without offers you are leaving money on the table.

6. Qualification, qualification, qualification – In the real estate business it’s all about location, location, location. With sales leads it’s all about qualification, qualification, qualification. If you aren’t collecting important qualification questions like time until purchase, opportunity size, and “which product do they need?” questions, then you are spamming your sales folks with leads. Leads that aren’t ready to work with a sales person yet or might not even need any product you sell. And not only are you spamming your sales folks, if you don’t properly qualify leads, you are annoying the hecky-darn out of the prospects in your pipeline too. Qualification is, without a doubt, the most important part of the sales lead process.

7. Does your website work? – To get the critical insight to your websites’ effectiveness, you need to answer to questions like:
  • Is my website up or down for site visitors?
  • Can users find what they are looking for/searching for?
  • Why are users coming to my website?
And now that we are talking about good questions, how do you know how well your landing pages are working, how well your offers are working or how full your sales funnel is? Simple, old-fashioned log file based website analytics isn’t going to answer all these questions. To answer these critical questions you need a comprehensive data collection and analysis process that gives you complete, actionable answers. Without these answers it’s pretty darn hard to end up with an effective website.

8. You can’t start a fire with a hammer – You need the right tools to start your online marketing fire. And a hammer, or in this case a couple of HTML pages, just isn’t going to cut it. That’s why your website better have a robust SQL database back end. Your email setup needs to support email list management and sending out tons of email. Campaign management including an automated way of creating customized landing pages is key to trafficking your outbound activities. Oh, and while you are at it you need a robust analytics and reporting capability tied into your marketing data warehouse, which includes sales, customer and contact data. Not small things but important tools if you want to get Internet marketing working in a way that is effective and measurable.

So now you have the basics you need to improve your Internet marketing program. Make your website the centerpiece of your marketing efforts. Get your website and email marketing efforts working together. Then get these 8 steps underway. Not simple stuff but these are the steps that I seen make Internet marketing really work. Why not give it a try and let me know how it goes?