I have been spending a lot of time researching and learning about marketing online. It is really interesting to review how people are postulating on the subject. I have read an article that attempts to restructure the famous 4 P’s of marketing, and other articles that try to define the so-called “rules of the road”.
My latest read is a book entitled “The New Rules of Marketing & P.R.” and authored by David Meerman Scott. I am only about 1/3 of the way through the book; but, already I can tell it is worth the investment of my time. I am going to try and convince David to do an Expert Interview for the Strengthening Brand America community. Wish me luck, or better yet leave a comment indicating you would like David to participate. I can take all the comments and send them to him in a not so subtle attempt to convince David that the interview is in demand.
If you’ve read my past posts on social media, you know I believe – 1) an online presence is now a “must have” communication tactic for communities, 2) just like any other communication channel every online effort needs to be underpinned by a solid strategy that ties tactical choices to measurable results, and 3) either resource your online effort adequately or don’t bother to create one. I know that all sounds simple, but I continue to be amazed by how many community websites are poorly designed and not maintained. The economic development organizations appear to subscribe to the “build it and they will come” school of marketing which has been proven time and time again to not work.
I thought it might be helpful to share some of the tips from experts that I have read while researching the subject; and, of course, to share my thoughts as well.
TIPS FOR BUILDING AN EFFECTIVE ONLINE PRESENCE
- Take pride in your work product. I was positively surprised to find this as a tip because it reinforces my belief that if you are not going to resource the development of an online presence adequately, you shouldn’t waste money on creating one. When I review websites and see outdated information, or a difficult to navigate design it always makes me wonder about the professionalism of the person (people) managing the site. Probably not a good impression to create for a visitor.
- 75% of your strategic target will likely use a search engine to find you. Accept it. No other tactical investment will come close to results produced by a first page ranking for a relevant phrase. This tip reminded me of the power of prioritization. It is hard to do many things when you have a limited budget and a small staff. Consequently, you need to concentrate on doing the most impactful things first. I can’t find a reliable reference for the 75% claim, but it does indicate that some activities are more important than others and concentrating on earning your search engine ranking is one of those.
- Don’t count on just one marketing tactic. Build a comprehensive internet marketing strategy. Consider including paid search, organic search, e-mail and online PR. My counsel is to always ensure every online tactic you invest in is synergistic. The easiest way to do this is to include a call-to-action in every tactic that takes the reader to your website for a deeper learning experience. In my opinion, your website needs to be at the center of your online ecosystem; and you should be measuring the performance of each tactic in creating visits. If a tactic isn’t delivering visitors then diagnose the problem and fix it (including dropping the tactic if you conclude it won’t work). Generally I have found that some tactical choices simply don’t make sense or will require too much time and resources to make them effective. Be brutally objective in your assessment.
- Understand what is being said about your community. Like it or not, people are talking. One of the loudest voices is the online press. Typically the news slants negative. What are you doing to counterbalance that bias? What kind of impression gets created when you do a browser search on your community? Do you like what you see?
- Pretty is great. Easy is better. People visit your website to become educated. If the user experience is poor, they won’t stay long and you lose the opportunity to provide them valuable information. Poor website navigation design can be a barrier to your success. Use of tools that are not widely compatible with different access devices (phones, pads, computers) are another barrier. I don’t know about you, but I find it frustrating to get messages that tell me I have to load a different viewer or reconfigure something just to get access to a piece of information I am interested in. I typically move on rather than go through the bother. I bet most of your visitors are more like me than not.
- You’re not the customer. I find that many economic development websites are designed with Management or a Board of Directors in mind. BIG MISTAKE! You need to ensure the visitor is able to easily get the information they are seeking from your website. The more enjoyable you can make the experience, the better. You will be far more successful getting high marks from your visitors than from you Management. This is an area where you need to lead and remind Management that it is all about the customer.
- A web site is not the same as an online marketing strategy. Just because you have a website, it doesn’t mean you will be successful. Like any other marketing choice, your online presence takes care and feeding. You need a comprehensive ecosystem and the discipline to measure and adapt based on results (or lack thereof). I am a big believer every economic development organization needs to appoint a single point of accountability for their online marketing effort. This person needs to have a holistic view and be responsible for all strategic and tactical choices. This is the only way to ensure an integrated and synergistic effort.
Love to hear your tips on how to create a successful online presence for your community. If you are attending the IEDC Conference in Houston, I will be participating in a panel discussion on the use of online media and would love to have you attend it.
Also, if you would like David Meerman Scott to do an Expert Interview, please leave a comment to that effect. I will literally consolidate all the comments and send them to him as an enticement for participation. Thanks in advance!
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