What does an online marketing plan look like for small and medium-sized businesses (SMB)?
So you run a company, and you’d like to grow your business. You have some sales staff, and they do a good job of selling to prospects that already have an interest in your products or services. Your challenge: how does your sales staff find these prospects? Do they beat the street, cold call, call their rich uncle, or go to networking events (and talk to other salespeople…)? Surely, there has to be a better way.
Your solution is to execute a well-crafted online marketing plan. So what does an online marketing plan consist of? And what should I expect from it?
Let’s start with expectations. If you want to grow your business and you are willing to invest your hard earned dollars in marketing, you should expect to generate leads… you know, those prospects that have an interest in your products or services that your sales staff does a good job of closing.
OK, so let’s get back to the other question: What does an online marketing plan consist of? It’s a fair question. Before you engage in an online marketing plan, you should understand your options and how they can benefit your business.
First and foremost, for any marketing plan to be successful, you need to be crystal clear on your company’s brand identity. Let’s assume you’ve got that all squared away, and you are ready to dive into a well-crafted digital marketing plan.
I’ll examine each of the areas that are important to consider when designing a marketing plan for a small or mid-market business:
- Your Website As A High-Performing Marketing Asset
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Email Marketing
- Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising
- Organic (Unpaid) Social Media
- Measuring the Performance of Your Marketing
Your Website As A High-Performing Marketing Asset
Your website is the center of your digital marketing universe. It is your most important online marketing asset, and you should treat it as such. Now is a good time to ask the question: “Am I treating my website like my most important marketing asset?” I am going to go out on a limb and place the odds in favor of a “No” response to that question.
Next question: “How do I treat my website better?”
To answer this question, I will focus on the fundamentals. Addressing these fundamentals pleases both the search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo & more) and your customers.
First, you want to focus on the technical aspects of your website that need to be up to par.
- Speed – People and search engines love it when your website loads fast, on all devices.
- Mobile Friendly – Most websites, even B2B (business to business), have at least 25% of their traffic coming from mobile devices. Mobile traffic on many B2C (business to consumer) websites is over 75%. Your website should be fully responsive and provide a fantastic experience on mobile devices.
- Secure – You should have an SSL (secure socket layer) certificate installed on your website. An SSL encrypts all data transmitted between the web server and the web browser. The presence of an SSL certificate on a website is visible within the address bar of a web browser. People will feel more secure on a website with an SSL, and the absence of an SSL could have an adverse impact on SEO (your organic search rankings).
- SEO Optimized – This includes a number of technical aspects related to your website that help the search engines (and people) understand your website and your company. Here’s a helpful resource on the topic of on-site SEO.
Second, you want to focus on the creative and marketing aspects of your website that make an impact.
- Design – Looks matter. Shouldn’t prospective customers fall in love with your website immediately? Your website’s design should be directly aligned with your brand’s identity and should be carefully constructed to showcase exactly what you want to present to visitors.
- Brand Messaging – Do your website visitors know exactly what you do and who you serve within seconds of visiting your website? Additionally, prospective customers should understand what differentiates you. They should be able to quickly determine why they should choose you over your competitors.
- Additional Content – Your prospective customers want to gain a strong understanding of your company and the products or services you provide. It’s important to have a page about your company (history, culture, differentiators), and to have pages dedicated to each of your major products or services. The more customers engage with your website, the more likely they are to reach out to you with interest. Additionally, the search engines love the added content. Content helps the search engines understand your business really well.
- Contact Information – You’ve done everything else right. Now don’t blow it and hide your contact info. I strongly recommend making your phone number easily visible on all pages of your website (ideally at the top in the header). You should also have a Contact option in your menu that leads to a simple contact form. Don’t scare your prospects away with a long and complex form. Your goal is to get your prospects to reach out to you and let your wonderful salespeople take over.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – Make sure your website is found in search engines
To begin, following all the fundamental aspects mentioned above for your website will help with your SEO efforts.
As we look beyond the foundational, technical SEO aspects of your website, content is arguably the most important aspect of SEO. Search engines look for content on websites (crawl the web) and pull that content into their databases (index). When people search (whether they type it in or use their voice on a smart home speaker or smart display), the search engines look in their indexes for web pages that have a strong correlation to both the words used in your search and the intent of your search (What kind of information does the searcher want? What do they want to do?). Therefore, the content on your website is incredibly important.
When it comes to content, quality matters. Many articles have been written about “quality content”. In fact, when I perform a Google search on that phrase, over 5 billion results appear. I will do my best to sum up recommendations that can help your website rank for relevant search terms.
I will group the recommendations into two categories for the sake of simplicity: Products/Services pages and Resource pages.
Products & Services Pages
Your company provides products, services or some combination of both. Your website pages focused on your products and services represent opportunities to rank well for relevant, commercial intent keywords and search terms. In other words, these pages can appear in the search results when your prospective customers perform a search base on a need to purchase your products and services. Because searches of this nature indicate an intent to buy, they are at the bottom of the decision-making or buying funnel.
Each of your company’s significant and unique products and services deserve their own page. The topic for each of these pages should be focused on that product or service. In order for any given page to be viewed as important for a given topic, the page should comprehensively cover that topic.
Time for an example: Let’s consider a company that sells commercial gas generators, and we are looking at their page focused on these products. To help prospective customers that visit this page, we want to make sure we guide them to find the generator that is best suited for their needs. So, we want to make sure we provide the following information:
- Kilowatts of standby power
- Available voltages
- Fuel type options of natural gas, diesel or propane
- Alternator types
- Engine type
- Dimensions in height, width and depth
- Financing options
- Delivery and installation services
- Geographic location of delivery and location
As you can see, this page will be comprehensive in nature. This information pleases your prospects in that it helps them find the right generator, and it pleases the search engines in that it provides plenty of signals (content that serves as data points) identifying the topical relevancy of the page. This depth of content improves the probability that this page will rank well for relevant, commercial intent searches.
As the name implies, resource pages provide helpful information for prospective customers that want to learn more as part of their process in determining how to solve their problems or address their needs. Resource pages can attract people that have a relevant need but may not be ready to buy yet. Because searches of this nature indicate an intent to learn more about potential solutions, they are at the top or middle of the decision-making funnel. Examples of resource pages are blogs, guides, white papers, and case studies.
Going back to our example of the commercial gas generator company, we have now decided to write a blog article entitled: “Why your business needs a backup generator”. The purpose of this article is to explain the benefits in a way that will resonate with business owners and facilities managers. This blog allows the company to not only prove that they are a helpful resource, but to also demonstrate their expertise on this topic. This builds trust which leads to new customers.
In this blog article, we want to emphasize and elaborate on the following benefits of a backup generator:
- Ability to continue business operations uninterrupted during outages
- Protecting your company’s reputation as a reliable supplier of products or services
- Protecting and retaining goodwill with your customers
- Avoiding loss of important data
- Cost savings when compared to revenue loss during outages
- Preventing expense of replacing electrical equipment that malfunctions during an outage
- Peace of mind knowing that your business has redundant power
Just as we provided comprehensive information on the products page, this blog will cover the topic of backup generator benefits in a deep and extensive manner, which improves the probability of ranking well for relevant searches. As such, this blog is helpful to both your prospects and search engines. The primary difference between the blog article and the product page is that the blog can rank for research-focused searches that capture prospects early in their process to identify a solution before they make their purchase decision.
Scale of SEO Aggressiveness
|At a base level, your website has addressed all of the fundamentals listed in this article. The technical aspects of your website are audited twice per year. Your website also contains comprehensive information about your company, products and services.||In being more proactive with SEO, you create resource pages (blogs, guides, case studies) on your website. At a moderate level, you add a new resource pages at least 4 times per year. Each resource page is optimized for SEO and is targeting specific search queries.||At an aggressive level of SEO, you are creating new content (i.e. resource pages) more frequently. This could be once per week or more depending on resource and investment capacity. Additionally, you are actively promoting content on social media and performing outreach efforts to obtain *inbound links.|
*Although this article is not covering inbound links, Google’s original search ranking algorithm was based on PageRank, named after Google’s co-founder Larry Page. PageRank focused on quantity and quality of inbound links.
Where your company falls on the scale of SEO aggressiveness depends on your growth goals, availability of resources to perform these efforts, and availability of funding and willingness to invest in these efforts. SEO results do not occur immediately. You may start to see results within 3 months. It may take 6 months to 1 year to see significant results. Companies that consistently execute high-quality SEO can experience incredible long-term value.
We must not forget about the value of email. We are not talking about unwanted spam. We are focusing on adding value and being helpful as we proactively communicate with our customers and prospects.
First things first: your email list and system for sending.
All companies have an email list. It’s either organized or not. I recommend that all companies organize their customer and prospect contact information (this includes email addresses) in a CRM (customer relationship management) system. CRM systems should enable you to send a batch or bulk email to a list of contacts at one time. CRM functionality typically exists within ERP software or software focused solely on CRM. Examples include BUSINESS, Zoho, Netsuite, and Salesforce. If you don’t have ERP or CRM software, you can use software focused on email marketing, like MailChimp or Constant Contact.
In addition to bulk or batch-based email, some CRM and email marketing systems include email automation, which may be referred to as drip campaigns or email workflows. As an example, a simple email workflow could send a series of 3 automated emails at a specified number of days after a prospect was entered into the CRM system. Automated email campaigns can be much more sophisticated based on various triggers, such as an action the prospect took on your website, order status update, or expiration date of a contract. The level of sophistication will depend on 1) your software’s functionality and 2) the level of automation where the benefits outweigh the cost of setup and ongoing maintenance.
Remember, quality over quantity
As you all know, our inboxes are inundated with numerous emails vying for our attention. We are not looking to waste our customers’ and prospects’ time with low-quality emails. This will only result in a high rate of unsubscribes (yes, you should provide options for unsubscribing to marketing emails) or getting your email flagged as spam.
Your goals for sending marketing emails should include:
- Provide helpful information
- Links to blog articles, guides or white papers
- Notification of a change in relevant products, services or technologies that impact your customers
- Recommendations for timely events, such as holidays or inclement weather
- Offer something of value
- Discounted product or service
- Initial service call or consultation for free
- Invitation to a webinar or seminar
- Reinforce the strength of your brand
- This can be achieved through presence of your company logo and slogan in your signature.
- You also reinforce the strength of your company by sending helpful and valuable emails
Ideally, you have something helpful and valuable to send once per month. Otherwise, your email frequency depends on what you are communicating and how often your customers and prospects have a need for that content.
Timing plays a major role in the response to your emails, specifically in responses that lead to revenue. By sending high-quality emails consistently to your contact list, the probability of reaching someone when the timing is right increases substantially.
Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising
Advertising works. Well, it can and should if you take the right approach to advertising online. To put it right out there, it is very easy to waste money advertising in a pay-per-click format. Of course, the same could be said of many other forms of pre-internet or traditional forms of advertising.
To make smart advertising decisions, you need to consider the following:
- Type of advertising you want to engage in
- The advertising platform(s) for your ad campaigns
- How you plan to target your audience
- The creative: messaging and design of ads and landing pages
Must-haves for pay-per-click advertising that transcend advertising type or platform. Ignore these at your peril.
- Your ads must appear in front of a relevant audience. Irrelevancy will kill your ad campaign and waste your money.
- There must be consistency between the message and branding on the ad and the message and branding on the page they land on after clicking on the ad (i.e. the landing page). A strong correlation between ad and landing pages will drive more conversions.
- Your ads and landing pages must contain a call to action (CTA) to invoke a response. The CTA on your landing page should provide an easy method to contact you.
- You must understand the cost per lead from your advertising. You can then calculate the cost per customer based on the close ratio for these leads. Compare cost per customer to the average value of your customer (average annual revenue generated per customer or average lifetime value). This will provide your return on advertising dollars and justify, or nullify its value.
With the must-haves out of the way, I will now provide more insight on the types of PPC advertising listed below.
Summed up, you are bidding on keywords for your text ad to display on page 1 of the search results. As you may have guessed, Google is the main player with Bing (includes Yahoo and AOL) as another option.
With search-based advertising, you should expect to generate qualified leads interested in purchasing your products or services. In order for that to occur, your target market and the decision-makers or influencers within those companies must be performing commercial intent searches for your products and services. If they are, then you have the opportunity to bid on the most relevant search phrases so that your ad appears at the top of the search results.
- You can appear at the top of the search results for relevant, high-intent search phrases.
- You can drive traffic to your website immediately.
- You can see the search phrases people used when they clicked on your ad. This is valuable information and you can refine how you target or exclude keywords and phrases.
- You can generate leads.
- Your ads may appear for irrelevant search terms (if you are not staying on top of this) and you can waste significant money.
- Expense. Based on the competitive nature of the terms you are bidding on, the cost may be high in comparison to the average value of your customer.
Most companies can benefit from a well-designed search-based advertising campaign. It must be proactively managed with an intent to optimize performance (maximize leads and minimize cost per lead).
When you think of display advertising, think banner ads on websites that you visit, like Forbes. These ads are typically graphical in nature, contain a concise message, and when clicked on, bring the prospect to a page on your website. No surprise here… Google is one of the major players with over 2 million websites in their display network. Many other display advertising networks are available as options.
One scenario to consider display advertising is when decision makers you are targeting are not performing high intent searches for your products and services. Display ads provide an opportunity to expose your brand to a relevant audience, even if those people that may not be ready to buy your products and services just yet. With display advertising, you can also target previous visitors of your website. This is commonly called remarketing, and this can be a very effective form of advertising for many businesses.
- You can drive traffic to your website immediately.
- Your ads can appear in front of your target audience that may not be performing high intent searches for your products and services.
- Your ads can appear in front of prospects that already visited your website. This helps reinforce your brand and can lead to conversions.
- Many challenges exist in accurately targeting an audience based on demographic and psychographic criteria. Challenges will continue to mount with increased focus on privacy (i.e. GDPR).
- High probability of driving irrelevant traffic to your website can result in wasted ad spend.
- Opposition to obtrusive advertisements on websites has led to increased use of ad-blocking software.
I recommend that companies engage in remarketing to test its effectiveness for lead generation. I suggest proceeding with caution for display advertising outside of remarketing. It can work, but you need to test carefully with a set budget.
Social Media Advertising
Although several social media platforms offer advertising options, we will focus on Facebook since they are the major player in social media advertising. The Facebook advertising platform also includes Instagram as an option.
When you advertise on Facebook, your ads will typically appear as a post within the news feed. Because the vast majority of Facebook traffic is from mobile devices, you should expect that your ads will primarily be seen by mobile users.
Similar to display advertising, Facebook enables you to reach people that may not be actively searching for your products or services. The goal is to get your ads in front of a relevant audience utilizing demographic and psychographic targeting criteria available within the Facebook advertising platform. Additionally, you can target previous visitors of your website through remarketing.
- You can drive traffic to your website immediately.
- Facebook and Instagram provide a fairly captive audience that will see advertisements as they scroll through their newsfeed.
- Can work well for companies that have products and services that are visual in nature and/or resonate well in a social platform.
- Facebook offers remarketing, so your ads can appear in front of prospects that already visited your website. This helps reinforce your brand and can lead to conversions.
- Facebook will continue to face scrutiny pertaining to the privacy of consumer information. This will decrease the availability and accuracy of demographic and psychographic targeting criteria.
- Not as effective for B2B companies.
Similar to other forms of advertising, you will need to test Facebook advertising to see if it’s right for your business. It has the potential to work extremely well for products and services focused on consumers. It is more challenging to drive qualified leads for products and services focused on businesses, yet a creative approach may yield effective results.
Social Media (the organic kind that you don’t pay for)
When it comes to social media, many companies feel like they need to be active in social media, yet they are not sure what to do.
Should your company be active on social media?
Like many other marketing initiatives, the answer to this question really depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Let’s consider the following as potential objectives for your social media efforts:
- Building a highly engaged audience of followers
- Generating leads/increasing transactions/driving more customers to your retail business
- Demonstrating expertise in relevant topics for your company
- Demonstrating expertise of individual(s) within your company. Positioning those individuals as subject matter experts.
- Promoting your company’s culture and values along with strength of brand that can appeal to both prospective employees and prospective customers
Once you have identified your objective(s), you should then focus on:
- Selection of social media platforms
- Subject matter of the communications
Understand that your company does not need to be on all of the major social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. In taking a strategic approach to social media, you should align your objective(s) with the social media platform, understanding that each platform has its strengths and weaknesses. You may have a different objective for each platform you select.
One of the golden rules of social media is that you need to have something to say in order for anyone to care about it. This rule should feed your strategy in selecting the combination of objectives and platforms. You should feel confident that your company will have something worthy of saying to accomplish your objectives through social media communications.
Let’s consider the following examples of objectives and social media platform alignment.
- Promote the expertise of our company on the topic of IT security on LinkedIn
- Promote our company culture and community involvement on Facebook and Instagram
Now that you have identified your objectives and platforms, you can create a social media content calendar that establishes topics and dates for communications. Consider the following as you create your social media calendar throughout a given time frame.
- Timely events throughout the year. Depending on your business, this may pertain to holidays, weather, annual events, or trade shows.
- Significant initiatives or events for your company, such as the fundraising efforts of your charity event or establishing an exclusive partnership with a supplier
- Anticipation of achieving goals or other accomplishments, such as opening a new office or launching a new product line
Of course, you need to plan for the unplanned. As relevant news and events occur throughout the year, you should be proactive in posting on those topics.
As with all marketing initiatives, your company should add value in all of its social media communications. Consider whether your posts are helpful, informative or entertaining. When your company is proactive in creating assets, such as blogs, whitepapers, infographics and videos, your company has something to say. This makes it much easier to effectively communicate and get response on social media.
Measuring Performance of Your Company’s Digital Marketing Plan
You may have heard of the saying, “What gets measured gets done.” One of the major benefits of an online marketing plan is that everything can be measured. This enables your company to understand how each of your marketing tactics is performing, and how the performance compares to your goals. With this knowledge, you are in a position to make smart decisions about investment of resources and marketing budget. Think of an investment portfolio. If 50% of your investments are providing 80% of your return, you will want to allocate more money to the top performing assets.
Your marketing plan is similar to your investment portfolio in that some tactics will perform better than others. With accurate performance data, you can allocate resources and marketing budget to the best performing tactics.
Below is an example of performance data to review on a monthly basis.
- Volume of traffic to your website by source: organic, social, email, paid (by advertising platform)
- Engagement metrics by source. This will identify whether the visitors from those sources are engaged by your website and should reflect the relevancy of each source’s audience. These metrics include how long are visitors staying on your website (session duration) and how many pages they visit (pages per visit).
- Number of conversions by source. A conversion is typically a prospect contacting your company with interest in your products or services or an online transaction. This could be form submissions or phone calls if you are tracking those from your website.
A tremendous amount of data can be tracked and measured. Ultimately, small to medium-size companies need to understand how many leads or transactions they are generating and the cost per lead or transaction. Your company should understand these numbers by source of traffic or marketing tactic. The goal of your digital marketing plan is to maximize the number of leads and minimize the cost per lead. Knowing the close rate for these leads, you can calculate cost per customer and compare that with the average value (annual or lifetime) of your customer. With this information, you now understand the effectiveness of your marketing plan.
Making a Worthy Investment in Your Online Marketing Plan
Investing in marketing should be viewed the same as other investments in your business. You should expect to get a return. You should expect to create assets that appreciate in value over time. Your investment in a well-crafted online marketing plan should help you achieve important business goals.
When your marketing plan is achieving a cost per customer in line with profitable growth, you have the option of scaling your digital marketing efforts to achieve more aggressive growth goals. Marketing has now become a very strategic part of your business.
It’s time to get those qualified leads flowing in, and get your sales staff off the street and into a highly productive sales process that brings in new business in a predictable and consistent manner.
Contact us if you’d like help implementing a well-crafted online marketing plan.