Just before Christmas I had the honour of being best man to one of my life long friends. Of course with that honour came an equal measure of paralysing fear as I considered how I would deliver a best mans speech to remember; fear that was compounded further by an earlier showing as best man a few years ago where I still to this day cringe at just how much I fluffed it.
You’ll be happy to hear, however, that this time around I absolutely stormed it (if I can be so bold to say!). And you know what made the difference? Well, it really came down to one factor; preparation. A few years back, as a younger man (with a slight air of arrogance about me), I felt I could deliver a knock out speech with little planning and even less practice. As an older, and hopefully wiser man, I realised that research, planning and practice were essential components to a successful speech.
Where am I going with this? Well, preparation is equally important to the success of your digital marketing efforts. However, time and time again companies throw money and resource online with very little research or planning. It seems many of the basic principles that people apply to offline marketing campaigns are too easily forgotten when it comes to the implementation of online strategies. Instead, there is often a misguided notion that by throwing enough money at Google Adwords, sticking a keyword or two into a title tag or setting up a Twitter profile, a pot of gold will be waiting at the end of the rainbow.
It’s just not that easy I’m afraid. With increasing competition online and growing sophistication in how search engines display their results, research and planning is absolutely paramount to a successful online strategy. The introduction of blended search, personalised search, social search and real-time search demand a much more holistic approach to search engine optimisation (SEO); an approach that combines traditional activities, such as keyword selection and link building, with more contemporary tactics in social media and content marketing.
But a more holistic and sophisticated approach to SEO in turn demands a greater focus on research and planning. Research is essential in providing insight, focus and direction for your digital marketing strategy. Planning ensures your digital strategy is aligned with your objectives, internal time and resource, offline marketing and budget.
So with this in mind, what do we suggest you look at as part of a detailed research and planning phase? Well, here’s an insight into a few of the things we focus on during the first few weeks of a new project, and review at regular intervals thereafter:
For any new project, we ask a client who they consider to be the their key competitors. We then analyse the online marketing activity of these competitors, including SEO efforts, Paid Search campaigns, content and social media. By carrying out analysis of your competitors it provides insight, focus and direction for your own online efforts. Have you ever heard the saying, ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer?’ That’s why you need to analyse the competitive space and know exactly what you’re up against before you get started.
Prospects and customers
A number of sophisticated tools allow you to discover where your prospects and customers spend their time online, what they talk about and how they interact with one another, as well as who influences their purchasing decisions. This research allows you to create a community map; a visual representation of the websites, blogs, forums and social networks where your target audience is most active. In turn, this map dictates where you need to be pushing content along with the social media tools, such as Twitter, that you need to use to engage with your prospects, customers and those people who influence them.
It’s also well worth scouring the web for published research, reports and studies on the audience you are targeting. For example, if you’re market is 17-25 year olds there is bound to be some freely available research that provides insight their use of the Internet, such as the social networks they frequent most regularly. If not, you may even consider commissioning your own research!
The research that goes into creating a community map will highlight the problems, issues and concerns faced by your target audience. Analysing a number of your key competitors will also highlight where you can gain an advantage by creating content they may not have considered or by bettering what they are already doing. It is therefore important to audit the content you already have (digital assets) and then brainstorm new content ideas that may include additional resources on your website, articles, press releases, blog posts, images, video and audio. Creating and marketing content on an ongoing basis is essential in making your website a stronger resource, building authority and in entering social spaces with something of real value to the target audience.
Site architecture planning
One of the most important elements of creating a great website is information architecture. A site that is well organised and intuitive will set the foundations for search engine rankings, as well as benefiting visitors to your website with a clear and intuitive path to the point of conversion.
In researching new content ideas it is important to plan how this content will be integrated into your website. During the research and planning stage it is therefore a good idea to map out your existing website and then, on the basis of continually adding new content, also map out where you expect the site to be in say, 3, 6 and 12 months time. This helps to provide direction and a clear goal of what you are working towards, therefore forming the basis of a content schedule.
In-bound links to your website from other sites of relevance and quality is a crucial factor in determining how well your website ranks on the major search engines, as well as driving traffic and increasing online awareness of your business.
Activity in content marketing and social media will yield links to your website but it’s a good idea to spend time researching specific websites, such as directories, organisations and industry bodies that you would ideally like a link from. Once you have your list you can then figure out the best way of gaining a link, be it a direct request, the offer of content, product trials or dare we say it, hard cash!
Benchmarking and setting up of reporting/tracking solutions
Traffic driven to your website from search engines, social media activity and content marketing should be measured by its impact on revenue. Search engine rankings and traffic alone are not appropriate measures of success for your digital marketing efforts; instead focus on conversions to calculate ROI and therefore the impact on your bottom line. At the research and planning stage consider the tools you need to use to measure ROI before setting realistic benchmarks and targets based on the research you have carried out above.
In summary, what I am trying to demonstrate is that when it comes to implementing a successful digital marketing strategy you can’t just jump straight in. Research and careful planning will allow you to maximise your reach, targeted traffic, online conversion rates, levels of customer retention, as well as the number of brand advocates. In an increasingly complex and competitive online space, meeting these objectives doesn’t just happen. Don’t abandon the thinking and methods you would usually adopt when investing your budget offline because although many so called SEO agencies and ‘consultants’ will fall over themselves to tell you so, there are no magic formulas when it comes to achieving long term, sustained success online.