Strategy•Feb 15, 2013
Part 5: Building a Comprehensive Online Marketing & Digital Strategy – Combining Three Pillars
At its heart, digital marketing is all about getting in front of the largest amount of people with the least amount of spend. When considering what to do and how to do it, there is one thing that you have to ask yourself, and it is not “do I feel lucky?” Rather, it is “How can I work smarter (and spend less) not harder (and spend more)?” Given the ever-changing nature of the space, there are a number ways to maximize your ROI by taking an intelligent and thoughtful approach that uses dollars only when necessary and puts those dollars to their highest and best use.
Let’s review the three pillars of digital marketing:
Defined simply, Search Engine Optimization is integrating user voice with your technology to rank higher in search results when your potential customers are searching for your product. As with any development, this has some technology costs (soft or hard) associated with it, as the best SEO combines the best content with the best website design and smart coding. Moreover, SEO will not always produce an immediate lift. And it never comes to an abrupt halt—it is an ongoing effort, which can make the results harder to track. But it can help you grow a larger search engine audience for people who are already looking for your product or services, and organic (i.e., non-paid) search results are always more highly trusted than paid results.
Search Engine Marketing, otherwise known as the art of paying to rank highly in search results (and hopefully driving higher site traffic and sales) can bring traffic to your site almost as easily as an on and off switch. Assuming you have taken the appropriate steps to analyze your site’s traffic conversion and applied your findings to a cycle or two of SEM spend, you can potentially turn sales on or off with your marketing spend. However, the sales uptick is not always in line with the money expended to produce it. And while SEM can immediately put you in front of people who are already looking for your product or service just like any entourage, these people will immediately leave the party once your money is spent. This audience is also more likely to convert than SEO traffic, but it is also a much smaller segment of the overall search market.
Social Media Optimization is the implementation of processes to create and grow a community that has the ability to put your content in front of a wide audience of users through the utilization of trusted source recommendations rather than search engine listings. SMO has its own list of pros and cons. While it is relatively easy and cost-effective to get started, SMO usually has one of the slowest growth rates of any of the three tactics. It will take you longer to see significant audience size and your staff my encounter a steep learning curve implementing SMO, at is a relatively new and fast-moving medium. However, the benefits are substantial. If you have a successful message (whether through brilliance or dumb luck), that message could go viral, and you could wake up and find yourself with an audience of millions of new users. It will also put you in front of users who are not looking for your business, and you got in front of those users because you were referred from their trusted friends.
Building the Strategy – putting the Three Pillars together:
Social Media will be the foundation of any digital strategy that aims to maximize its ROI. If you want to build the largest tower, you will need the widest and most durable foundation, and social media provides just that. Once established, your social networks are not prone to harm from changes in search engine algorithms or a change in the user voice culture. Social media is a foundation that can always expand, allowing you to build everything bigger on top of it. Additionally, a presence in social media is never complete, and can take a while to grow, so you will want to implement it early throughout your project or company’s growth. This will allow you to build a core group or close-knit network of followers who have an early adopter benefit to following your message. Finally, social media is a continuous effort and needs to be maintained regularly, so having an early start with this media will also allow your brand to find its footing in this newer form of marketing before exposing it to higher-traffic audiences via SEO and SEM.
On this recent article from LinkedIn, a top recommendation to make your website more compelling was to make it more social. “Many prospects will want to do more research about you and your agency before taking the next step. Providing links to different social platforms where the agency has a presence gives your potential new customer another glimpse into your agency. And hopefully you have included some testimonials from satisfied customers,” said Steve Anderson, a leading authority on insurance agency technology.
What is more, social media is a two-way street! It gives your audience a chance to learn about you, and you a way to interact with your audience base. In generating posts that prompt users for feedback, you can learn a lot about how they see your business, and perhaps more importantly hone in on how they talk. Thus, SMO is another way to access the user voice used that is needed to successfully execute the SEO and SEM.
If you’re still not sure about how to start out into the social sphere, Richard Branson, founder of Virgin fill-in-the-blank has a great blog post in which he states, “Above all, remember to be authentic and organic, answering questions in a straightforward manner — there’s no need to check with your PR team first. You know your products and services, and people will see through any effort to parrot slogans or broadcast a marketing message. Like everything, if you’re having fun rather than just doing a job, you’re more likely to find success.”
Search engine optimization should be implemented sometime after you have started your SMO efforts. If you have the resources, many techniques of SEO could be developed as your SMO campaign builds. This parallel processing can have some benefits, as you won’t see SEO traffic for at least a month, so you can get a small base up with SMO and then add to that when your SEO starts trickling in. When SEO traffic does start to pick up, since you have SMO already in place, you have a higher likelihood of converting some of those, say, 98% of users who would have moved through your site and left without a sale into fans of your brand because you have ALREADY MADE the social media implementations on your site.
SEO will continually generate new visitors to your site off of a smaller investment than SEM, and the traffic generated from SMO and SEO should drive the site conversion tests that will lead to optimizing your site for sales. When you are confident that you have a cascading flow of pages that lead to the highest amount of sales possible, then and only then are you really ready to start putting your money into SEM and expect to get your dollars true worth.
This tactic will be implemented at a more mature stage in your digital strategy, and it will be the last of the three pillars that get put into place. You will want to make sure that your conversion is well ironed out before dumping too much money into this bucket, or you will be settling for less ROI than you could be generating, or even coming out at a loss. This bucket’s cost can also be offset by the fact that it ads to your site’s SEO value. With well-tuned SMO already in place, the additional traffic boost provided by SEM could be converting the 96% of paid clicks that don’t convert to a sale into followers of your brand and potentially future customers (without paying for them a second time).
SMO will also amplify your ROI from SEO and SEM by adding to followers as you generate traffic through these two methods. As you generate more traffic, you may not make a sale, but you may be able to convert these eyeballs into fans or followers. Growing your social audience will lead to more brand/product referrals in the future, which can, in turn, lead to exponentially more followers and greater sales.
Lastly, keep in mind that SEM is paying for ad placement within search results, and the lines between “search” and “social” are starting to blur. While it is not a pure search play (and some would say that it is not much of a search at all), Facebook has a search tool and ad placement that is best-in-class when it comes to market segmentation. You can make sure you are only paying for ads that hit just about any combination of requirements that users input on their profile, so do not forget about this hybrid opportunity when allocating your marketing spend.
SMO is the base of any digital marketing strategy, as it provides you the broadest foundation that can expand the most easily, and at the least cost. Moreover, it is less exposed to outside forces that can diminish it once established. SEO is a great tool to provide a lot of natural traffic for users ALREADY looking for your product with minimal hard costs to your business. SEM is the most direct way to drive sales, but it comes at the highest price (in terms of hard dollars), so it should be used sparingly and only once you are certain that it can provide you the most overall ROI through social expansion, additional search exposure, and optimal sales conversions.
I hope you have enjoyed this series. While most of it is just touching the tip of the iceberg on all of these subjects, it is good to get an overall perspective on various aspects of online marketing when forming your complete digital strategy. The rabbit hole goes much deeper for each of these buckets, and if you need assistance optimizing any one of these, or coming up with an overall strategy tailored for your business, Credera has many talented minds to execute on these needs.