Episode 8: Website Marketing
Successful websites are those that have a plan. In my previous podcast episodes I talked about the process of what goes into building a website. It is a step by step and very deliberate process to make sure that the finished product meets the goals of the client. Well, website marketing is very similar. Once your website launches you need to have a plan for how you are going to drive traffic to your website. Now some of these efforts may be built in to the website itself in the form of blogs and RSS feeds. However there are many other options available to you as a website owner and today I am going to touch on a number of those options.
Free things everyone should be doing
Let’s start with some obvious things if for no other reason than they are not obvious to everyone. Make sure your website address is listed on all business collateral (letterhead, invoices, fax cover sheets, envelopes, business cards - everywhere!) Similarly include your website address in any print ads, television ads or radio spots. I worked with a client recently who spent big money for radio spots and nowhere in them was their website mentioned. That is a missed opportunity. Build an email list of your clients and customers. On your website offer a coupon or a free download of something of value in exchange for an email address. Use your domain email in all business correspondence (not email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). Use your email signature as a marketing tool. Mention upcoming events or special offers rather than just your phone number. Make posts on blogs and forums in your field and be sure your website address is listed in your post’s signature. Search engines value inbound links to your website and this is an easy way to accomplish this. And finally, don’t let your website become an afterthought. If you do any marketing efforts will see diminished returns.
Search engine optimization
Search engine optimization (or SEO as it is commonly referred to) is the most common thing my clients ask me about. What I stress to them and what I want to stress to you is that SEO work is not the be all and end all in website marketing. It is a worthwhile option to explore but it should not be the only option you explore. And that is a common mistake many website owners make. I suspect this is the case because folks believe that SEO is a simple equation. However, contrary to what you may have been told (from some less than reputable folks), there is no magic formula for getting your website placed above your competitor (unless you want to pay for placement which will talk about shortly). High search engine rankings are the results of three major factors:
- Keywords in the content of your website
- Where those keywords are placed in your content
- Inbound links to your website
Search engine optimization work generally involves identifying keywords that are worth targeting with your website, revising (or adding to) your content to include these keywords in prominent areas search engines pay closer attention to and building inbound links to your website. The results of these efforts should be tracked regularly to see if your website ranks higher than it did before your efforts and adjustments should be made on a regular basis. What I don’t want to convey (and in fact want to dispel) is the idea that SEO is a quick fix. This is simply not true.
It is also worth noting that how a website is coded plays a significant role in search engine optimization efforts. A website built with web standards will rank higher than an comparable website built without standards. Why is that? Because web standards mandate that content and design must be separated and when they are separated search engines are fed only the content of a website as opposed to the design elements that are included in a non-standard website. Your keywords then have a higher keyword density because there are far less lines of code when content and design are separated.
Pay per click advertising
Now if you don’t have the patience for organic or non-paid search engine optimization to take effect, pay per click advertising is an alternative worth considering. It is much more of a quick fix, but at a cost. With pay per click advertising you bid on certain keywords to show up in the results when somebody enters those keywords in a search engine. Costs associated with pay per click advertising will vary depending on how far up the list you want to appear and the competitiveness of the keywords you want to show up for (for example the keyword cars will be far more competitive than pontiac trans-am cars). I often recommend pay per click advertising to clients who are building a brand new website because it will take some time for a new website to show up well in organic, non-paid search results.
A word of caution, however. Unless you have deep pockets you don’t want to become overly dependent on pay per click advertising. A better approach is to think of pay per click advertising as a supplement to organic, non-paid search engine optimization. I frequently recommend to clients using pay per click advertising to also work on improving their organic, non-paid search engine results with SEO at the same time. The idea is that you become less dependent on the paid ads over time and reduce your costs over the long term.
Google Adwords is the most popular pay per click advertising program today. Other search engines also have their own pay per click programs and even some social media websites (Facebook for one) offers their own version.
I am a big fan of email marketing. It is a great low cost alternative to traditional print marketing. Remember a few minutes ago when I mentioned building an email list for your business as one of the free things everyone should be doing? This is why. Emails can be sent to your customers and clients (as well as prospective customers and clients) for very little cost. For clients I work with I generally develop an HTML email template that can then be reused with each campaign they send. The results from any email campaign will largely hinge on the quality of the mailing list you are sending to. Do not buy spam lists from less than reputable outfits but instead focus on building a quality list by asking for an email address on your website and collecting it from any contacts or orders you receive.
When it comes to sending your email campaign you have a number of options but they generally fall into two categories. The first is sending the message from software running on your own server (usually using a script or a content management system that has this feature built in). The second is to use a third party service (Campaign Monitor, Constant Contact, etc.) to send it for you. The latter will be a little more expensive but it alleviates the headaches of potentially getting your server blacklisted (rightly or wrongly) as a spammer. Unless your list is very small I generally recommend a third party service to my clients.
Blogging and the RSS feed
As I mentioned in the opening your website itself should be part of the marketing equation. Your website should be updated regularly with new content to keep people coming back. Blogs are a great way to accomplish this. It is also worth noting that blogging has a very positive effect on organic, non-paid search engine results. Associated with blogs are something known as an RSS feed. Basically this is a way to syndicate your content so that anyone who wants to can subscribe to your RSS feed and get updated when you post something new in your blog. The Tunnel 7 website actually has two separate RSS feeds (one for the blog and one for the podcast). It’s yet another way to get the word out about your website.
Social media websites
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about social media websites. Social media websites exploded in the last half of 2008. I can’t read any website related article or listen to any website related podcast right now without hearing folks talk about Twitter, Facebook and the like. All of these websites allow you to build relationships with people you would not otherwise know (as well as people you do know). There is an entire industry rising around folks who exclusively do social media marketing for their clients. While it is very popular right now and I will say that I have received leads and work as a direct result of my presence on these websites, I will caution you from getting too caught up and relying on social media for strictly marketing purposes. Is it valuable? Absolutely. But be careful what information you post. You don’t want to turn people away. People will quickly see through you if you are using social media for marketing only. Social media websites were created primarily so people could be social and interact with each other. The marketing angle, while all the rage right now, should really be secondary. Think of it as going to any social event. Do you want to be the person trying to convince your fellow party goers that Amway is a good idea for them?
Social media websites definitely have a role in your website marketing efforts but use them wisely and encourage social interaction first. Keep the marketing angle secondary.
Regardless of the method or methods you employ in you website marketing efforts tracking the results of your efforts will be critical. Website analytics will be your ally in figuring out what is working, what is not working and where you need to adjust your efforts. In last month’s podcast I talked about website analytics in great detail so I won’t go into it here again. Just know that you must track results of any website marketing efforts to determine effectiveness.
Building a website is not enough today. The idea of build it and they will come unfortunately doesn’t translate well on the internet. While your website should be built with certain features that will help with your marketing efforts you will still need to get the word out about your website through other avenues as well. Following the advice and guidelines mentioned in this episode will make you aware of your options and get you headed in the right direction with your website marketing efforts.