A Full Look at the World of Online Marketing
Online marketing began in the early 1990s, when someone asked himself what he needed to do to get people come and see his website. Of course, it has evolved a lot since then, to the point of becoming a professional occupation for many people. What is still pending to do is to help those who do not work in the field to comprehend how it works, so they can either engage in it for their own projects or have someone do it for them. This article focuses on that to help you understand the topic more comfortably.
Understanding Online Marketing
The first thing you need to understand is that online marketing is a matter of web pages, and not of websites. On the Internet, each web page competes individually, and its rivals are all the other published web pages that talk about the same topic in that same language. Although focusing any marketing efforts on a domain name (Heptagrama, in my case) certainly helps, the success of promoting a domain name to help individual web pages stand out is limited. Marketing each web page separately will always bring better results.
The second thing you need to understand is that online marketing, by nature, is competitive and very time-taking. That will make it unavoidably expensive. Every website owner will need to think up to what extent it is convenient for him to undertake or delegate all the job that promoting a website requires.
In third place, you need to understand that online marketing has one main goal, and it is to have people click where you need them to click to achieve your desired results. This depends largely on what your objectives are, of course. A blogger, for example, may only want to be read, so his goal would just be to get people visit and read his articles. For the owner of an online store, the objective would be to get sales; so he needs people first to visit his product pages, then to choose how many items they want, and finally to insert their payment details to complete a purchase. For a non-profit organization, the objective may be to raise awareness about a social problem, so they may want their website not only to be read but to cause a change in people's attitude about that issue as well. Objectives vary, as you can see, but that does not change the main fact: you will not achieve anything unless people click on the correct buttons or links that lead to the desired results. Getting those clicks is the main objective of any online marketing effort.
It would be sad to reduce online marketing to a business of getting clicks, so it is important to point out it has other objectives too.
Getting Ready for Online Marketing
If you are interested in carrying out online marketing for some project, your first step should be to establish clear goals. It might be easy to say "I want to sell online!" but on second thought you should notice that a dentist does not need sales but appointments and that travel agent does not need sales but inquiries to work in greater detail later. With specific goals, you will avoid wasting time and resources, so start there.
Once the objectives are properly chosen, the next step is to learn that online marketing is a continuous process of four stages: analysis, preparation, promotion and evaluation. These four stages are usually carried out cyclically, and, among online marketers, each cycle is usually called "a campaign". Let us discuss them in greater detail:
The analysis stage is carried out in two moments: before starting any online marketing work, and at the end of each evaluation.
During a first analysis, an online marketer will typically take a look at both the market and its competitors. He will want to know, among others, if what it is going to be promoted later is susceptible to be affected by season, price or other factors. In addition, he will carry out a first search for competitors and take some time to evaluate them. Every marketing job involves keeping an eye on the market and its competitors. Online marketing is not any different.
During other analyses, an online marketer will typically try to find the positive and negative effects of each campaign, and try to find the best course of action for the following one. These analyses usually include reviewing many reports that were created during the evaluation stage, and drawing conclusions that will be tested in the next one, taking advantage of the fact that in the online marketing world many things can be measured more precisely than with other media.
Once the analysis is complete, the next step is to get everything ready for the following campaign. In an ideal world, after a first analysis, the online marketer should give instructions to the web designer on how to build the website for you; but if the website is already done and published, it is not big deal —he will just help you modify it instead. During the preparation stage, online marketers plan how and where they are going to try to promote each of your web pages to try to achieve your objectives, and try to create all the materials that are needed for that promotion. It may sound simple when you read it, but it involves many small tasks under the hood. An online marketer will often need the help of writers, web developers, graphic designers and even audio or video editors in this stage.
Promoting Web Pages
It is during the promotion stage when an online marketer turns all his plans and preparations into actions. This stage is broad, so let us begin by making it easy to understand. There are six ways for a person to get to a web page, and each of them creates a sphere of activity in the world of online marketing. The six ways are the following:
+ The user knows (or bookmarked) its address (or URL)
+ He found it among the set of results a search engine offered him
+ He clicked on an advertisement
+ He clicked on a link on another web page
+ He got curious about something that someone placed online and clicked to see it; and,
+ He is a subscriber of that website, and he received a message that motivated his visit
Ideally, an online marketing work should take care of those six ways at the same time; yet only few online marketers know how to cover all of them by themselves. Most website owners start small, working only on one or two areas, as their time and resources allow, to expand as they grow. Likewise, most online marketers specialise. There are many subtasks in each of the six ways, so it is not easy to master them all.
Let us take a look at them in greater detail, so you will understand them better:
How to Help them Learn your Website Address
To help people learn your website address, you usually carry out campaigns away from the web. You can start, for example, by placing a link to your website in your e-mail signature and adding a clear mention of your URL to your flyers or other advertisements. Going beyond the obvious methods requires being creative and doing unusual things that catch people's attention and entice them to visit it.
How to Help them Find you on Search Engines
To help people find you on a search engine, marketers engage in search engine optimization (or SEO, for short). Marketers who help you be found online are usually called SEO specialists.
Search engine optimization is a really broad area in the world of online marketing, so let us explain it in its most simple terms: Search engines do not have any favourites. They want to provide the user with a list of the best options for his query. Should you want to be included among the best options for the user, then you need to be among the few who offers that best answer.
It may sound simple, but it is not. There are mainly two requirements to achieve being considered among the best options for a query: One is to have a technically correct web page; that is, in short, to publish web pages that look good and load fast in a visitor's web browser. The other is to have the best recommendations for that web page. Why recommendations? Because search engines play a numbers game. Instead of having humans read and create a ranking of web pages based on their opinion about them, they "trust the community" that task. They count the recommendations each web page receives as mentions (less importantly) or as links (more importantly) on the rest of the web —considering both their quantity and their quality— and use that information, among dozens of other factors, to choose what web page should go first in the set of results they show to a user.
For example, let us say that two web pages compete for the first position on a search engine. One of them has two thousand recommendations and the other one just four; but the page that has four is receiving direct recommendations of the most renown leaders of their market. Which of them should go first in a search results page?, the one that has more recommendations or the one that has more relevant recommendations? There is not a definitive answer. It will depend on how each search engine calculates its results. That makes SEO even more complex (and interesting).
How can someone succeed in search engines, then? Sticking to the very basic: to have a technically correct web page and to get relevant recommendations to your web pages. That is SEO, in a nutshell.
Advertising is the fastest way to promote a web page, but at a cost. It can bring results fast, but it requires a few words of warning.
Basically, there are five ways to buy advertising online. You can pay for your advertising by time, per view, per click, per action or giving a commission on the sale. Each of those methods has advantages and disadvantages, so let us keep it short. The best way to buy advertising online is by speaking to the owner of the website you want to advertise on, and reaching a time-based agreement with him —for example, one month of advertising for 100 bills. Why is this the best way? Because it saves you from troubles. All the other methods are, unfortunately, prone to fraud. If you buy advertising by impression or clicks, someone may fake impressions or clicks to drain your advertising budget faster than it should. Actions and sales can be faked too, so paying per action or per sale is not much safer. Buying advertising by time is, by far, the safest way to advertise.
Now, it is obvious that negotiating individually with many different web owners may become troublesome, so what most people do is to advertise in a cost-per-click basis instead. It is not bad to choose that way. Just make sure, if you do, to ask your online marketer to optimise your campaigns as much as he can to prevent wasting money because of a lousy targeting or, worse, click fraud. As a matter of fact, a good specialist in online advertising checks his campaigns many times a day, and makes as many adjustments as necessary to control their expenditure as wisely as possible.
By the way, those who manage online advertising are usually known as media sellers, media buyers or search engine marketers (SEM).
Negotiate Recommendations Smartly
As it was mentioned above, getting recommendations to a website is crucial to get it in front of more people's eyes. You have already seen how this works. You start reading a web page, and then you see a link to another web page that offers a reference or more information about something. You click on the link and get to this other web page to continue your reading. Well, these recommendations are worth a lot in online marketing, so you need to be wise about searching and acquiring them.
There are two important ingredients in the cocktail of getting good recommendations. The most important one is that your web page deserves to be linked to. If not, why would anyone bother? The second one is to be convincing. Most website owners receive link requests quite often, so yours should not be yet another of them. Who makes an effort to stand out usually gets better results.
As for what to offer, there are usually two paths: money or a contribution. The first one is easier but slightly unethical from the search-engine-optimization point of view. If a search engine detects you are buying links, it may punish you by lowering your position in their rankings. To avoid that, paid links are usually marked with a "nofollow" tag, which means "I placed this link but I do not vouch for its content". A "nofollowed" link gives you less value for your SEO efforts, but they may sometimes be useful, so do not despise them.
The other way is to offer a contribution. It may be as simple as submitting a correction to an error you found on a web page you were reading (as long as the webmaster credits you for the correction) or offering a full article to help the owner of your target website as a guest contributor. There are many ways to contribute, to be honest. It is a matter, again, of negotiating your recommendations smartly.
In the online marketing world, those who help you get links on other web pages are usually known as link builders (yet it is an important part of SEO specialists' work as well).
Steal Traffic with Wit
The name may not sound very nice, but it is crucial for any online marketing efforts. "Stealing" traffic means that you make intentional efforts to distract a person from what he is doing and entice him to go visit your website instead. For example, a user may be asking in a forum if anyone knows how or where he can get something he needs. You can add a reply in the forum stating that "this web page" (one of yours, of course) appears to solve his problem. The user will see the link in the future, click to your web and, hopefully, become your next conversion. Other popular places to steal traffic are social media websites. People do not log in to their social media accounts to interact with companies; but, with an intelligent update, you can entice their curiosity and have them stop what they are doing to go visit your web pages.
When you try to steal traffic, you need to be careful about one thing: not spamming. People like a distraction now and then but everybody hates spam —and you know it. You already know how spammers behave, so just do not become one of them. The key, again, is to steal traffic with wit.
Keep Your Subscriptions Alive
As time goes by, you will notice that some of your visitors will want to know about you now and then. They are your subscribers. Specialists who work with subscribers are usually known as e-mail marketers. This is because e-mails are, by far, the most useful kind of subscription.
The goal with your subscribers is to entice them to visit your site now and then. They already trust you. That is why you have their e-mail address. Send them useful messages now and then to keep their interest alive. Staying away from the temptation of spamming them, you should grow an audience who to market to straight from your e-mail account.
I will close this section by explaining an important difference among web page visitors. Some will come to your website and leave; while others will in addition do some extra actions before going on with their lives. In the beginning you will want to get some traffic, but you will eventually need to focus on getting your objectives to achieve your desired results.
Some time after you have carried out your campaign actions, you will want to see if your plans got you good results. There are mainly two things you want to assess during this stage: traffic and conversions. In other words, you want to know how many people visited your web pages (your traffic) and how many of those people did the action you expected them to do (your conversions). The ideal is to get a high percentage of conversions compared to your website's traffic. If you are getting this, then smile and see if you can find a way to improve the percentage even more. If you are not, then it is time to take a look to try to find out what is wrong. Could it be that the design is too slow and people leave before they should? Could it be that the web page is not using the best words for the goal? With some analysis, you should be able to find out how to improve.
Evaluation, as you can see, is the beginning of a new cycle in your online marketing efforts, the analysis of a new campaign. Once the evaluation is over, there will be a new preparation, a new promotion and a new evaluation that, in turn, will start a new cycle. Online marketing never stops.