The holidays are here and the end of 2007 is quickly approaching. Already many of us are planning our 2008 marketing calendars and wondering what we can do to make the New Year our best year yet. E-marketing has become a main component of almost every marketing plan and is an area where most companies have largely expanded their budget. E-marketing, or Internet marketing, is when you use the Internet and email to sell, promote, or distribute products or services. While there are still ways that traditional marketing materials are needed, e-marketing gives business owners the best bang for their buck.
The two most common methods of e-marketing include Web sites and email campaigns. While there are several other categories that fall under this heading such as Search Engine Marketing, Banner Ads, and Pay Per Click Campaigns, it’s wise to focus on developing a good Web site and well planned email campaigns as part of your marketing plan. The first thing any business owner or company should do is evaluate their current Web site. When it comes to Web sites, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard, “I already have a Web site. It really doesn’t do anything for me”, well… I would be sitting on a beach somewhere enjoying my fortune. Just having a “Web Presence” isn’t enough. It needs to provide a quality experience for visitors.
There are many reasons why a Web site can be ineffective. Here are the ones we see the most:
• Poor visual design! Without a doubt, a poorly designed site could be hurting you without you even knowing it. When it looks and feels unprofessional, then that is the first impression your potential client/customer has about your business. It doesn’t have to be a big investment, but it should be one taken with great care and consideration.
• Bad Content can hurt you even more. The information that is on your site should be directed at letting visitors know who you are and what you can do for them. Not to say that you shouldn’t let them know that you are a knowledgeable and dedicated professional, but they first need to know what services you can provide, how you plan on delivering, and also provide them with the information and ability to continue a positive experience with your business without too much focus on your achievements. Simply, make your site a valuable resource they want to visit often and send friends and family to as well.
• Difficult Navigation can be frustrating. Of course you know how to get around your site, but does a visitor? If they can’t easily get to the information they need and back to where they came from, chances are you are going to lose them.
• Not promoting your site or leveraging it as a valuable resource for customers is also a key factor in it being ineffective. People won’t visit if they don’t know it’s there or what it can do for them. Put your Web site address on EVERYTHING! Business cards, trucks, signage, answering machine, shirts, hats, and anything else that serves as a touch point and represents or markets your business, should direct people to your site.
The Internet is supposed to make finding information quicker and easier. We have often heard, “Have you been on this site?” or “Have you checked out that site?” and our answer is often ‘No’. Why? Because as of last year the Internet reached a new milestone – 100 million Web sites with content. And that number is growing every day with about 48 million of those sites constantly updating and redesigning their sites and content so they rank well with the search engines. With so many options out there, you want to make sure they don’t look any further than you! Keep in mind that first-time visitors typically will make a decision whether or not they want to stay on your site in less than three seconds.
First impressions are so important. The most important things to remember when reviewing your site and planning for 2008 is whether it follows the four ‘Cs’ – Clean, Clear, Consistent, and Current, and what you can do to achieve them. Let’s take a quick look at each one:
1. Clean means your site should have nice visual design and layout that makes sense and is easy to read. When there is too much clutter and it doesn’t easily answer the questions of who you are, what do you do, and why should a visitor stay on your site, then they will very quickly move on to the next listing. Don’t wait until spring to clean out the clutter!
2. Clear is simple and meaningful communication. Web site visitors often scan the pages to quickly find what they want. When there is too much text they are more likely to miss the most important information. It should quickly and easily answer the ‘clean’ questions of who you are and what you do and also engage the visitor, directing them where to go and encouraging more interaction on your site. It’s great to be passionate about what you do and have a virtual conversation about your products and services, but remember that visitors will scan the information looking for what they need. Think, ‘Don’t make me think’ when it comes to your content and navigation.
3. Consistent communication means that the look and feel of your Web site and its content matches your branding initiative. I have been on corporate sites that link to other divisions of their company, but you would never know it. The sites look different and don’t convey the same message about who they are. Whether it’s your Web site, business card, or the truck you drive, it should all be easily recognizable and help create that ‘gut’ feeling about who you are and what you do.
4. Current content is one of the most underestimated elements of a great Web site and may be one of the most important. By updating your site you accomplish a few goals. When it comes to your client or customer base, you are providing them a resource for current information about your company and products, which encourages them to visit more often. This establishes and maintains a relationship with them, which keeps you top of mind when they need the products or services you offer. In addition, Search Engines love picking up new information on established sites. This is a type of organic search engine optimization that can often place a higher value on in determining where your site ranks with them for certain keywords.
All of your marketing and emarketing should follow these “C” rules, including your email campaigns. It is well worth it to invest some money (probably less than you think) in having a professional design, develop, and administer an email campaign. This way you know that your content is being effectively delivered to all your recipients, and that your reach statistics are being monitored.
So what can you send out? Anything you want! Newsletters are a personal favorite. It can be written informally, like a conversation, or it can contain helpful tips and advice about your products and services. When it comes to e-newsletters, there are still some points to keep in mind if you are doing it yourself:
1. First, a newsletter should contain actual news and information about your business and products. Be careful not to focus too much on industry events you have attended and accolades you’ve received, focus on what will be meaningful to the reader. Also, don’t focus on sales and promotion; again think ‘newsworthy’ and informational. Placing a small offer or promotion on the newsletter is great – as a secondary content or sidebar item.
2. Second, when sending out e-newsletters make sure the design and message is consistent with your business and its branding. People should quickly get a feeling about your company and the service they will receive without you having to say it.
3. Finally, include links to your site (where you have recently updated the content!) to expand on the information in the newsletter, link to product pages, or to images of your services or product. You can handle email blasts (blurbs or single subject emails about events and services) the same way.
When you are sending any email campaign, be careful of how you get your distribution list and how you send it out. Scraping email addresses from other emails or other businesses is a definite no-no. There are many states enacting anti-spam laws (think do-not-call lists) to combat the spam epidemic. Also, if servers identify you as a spammer, you can get blacklisted and your emails won’t go through. A great rule of thumb is to send to people who have given you their email address by contacting you, signing up at a booth, tradeshow, or raffle, or have given you a business card. Most traditional mailings add up to $1.00 or more per recipient by the time you add up printing, mailing, and the investment of time and resources. It costs even more if you have hired someone to write copy for you or do visual design. Email campaigns cost pennies to send out and are more trackable in terms of readership and return on investment. In addition, emails are easy to forward to friends and family so they can reach a much larger audience than you directly sent to.