Business | Digital Marketing
Newspapers, radio stations, and other media outlets are seeing advertising revenues dwindle, and where those dollars are headed is clear: the Internet. As more and more people obtain their news and other services through electronic devices like smartphones, the web has taken over as marketing’s new frontier. Most businesses have reacted accordingly, shifting their marketing budgets from print, radio, and television ads to websites and social media strategies. As we outlined in the first part of this series, the change is impacting everyone—and it’s moving fast! In fact, Twitter reported more than 22 million tweets during Super Bowl 2013!
Today’s leaders are asking themselves what this paradigm shift means for their organizations and how they will keep up. Few businesses can afford to employ a team of full-time graphic designers, social media experts, and programmers to maximize Internet marketing potential. Adding to the difficulty, contracting with the wrong web company can be extremely frustrating and expensive in terms of lost time and wasted cash. Thus, it is important that businesses pursue their online marketing plans very carefully. The following are some tips for developing a strong web marketing campaign.
Begin with the end in mind: This valuable advice from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People applies well to Internet marketing. Start off by thinking about what you want your website and social media efforts to accomplish. In some cases, a business just needs a well-functioning website to establish a professional image. The primary goal for some companies is to be listed before competitors in Google search results. Businesses that sell products through their websites may need shopping carts and extra security measures, while others may require database services, and so on. Each business has different marketing objectives.
For most organizations, strong websites paired with social media outreach will attract new customers and increase profits. The websites of our four companies generate new business in varying degrees, from 10% (Columbia Conference Center) to 75% (DuBose Web Group). Of course, a strong web marketing campaign doesn’t necessarily guarantee a substantial revenue increase, but research strongly suggests that having a quality website and social media presence yields significant benefits, including: creating a professional, credible image; serving as a relatively inexpensive 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week marketing tool; allowing customers to conveniently preview your services and find information about you online; and giving clients a medium through which to contact you, order merchandise, or refer business to you.
Gather input from people of different ages, technological experience levels, and departments within your organization about how they envision your website and social media programs functioning. Build on others’ work by listing what you like and dislike about competitors’ or other websites, and put yourself in your customers’ shoes: if you were a potential client, what would you want the site to look like? Simple content, engaging call-to-actions, and easily accessible contact information can help draw customers in.
The better you define and communicate the qualities you desire from an online marketing campaign, the more accurately web companies can determine what skills and costs will be necessary to create it. Some businesses wait until their Internet solutions are being developed to throw new ideas into the project, which slows production and increases costs. Therefore, every organization should have a plan in place before contacting web solution specialists.
Choose the right service provider: In almost every circumstance, businesses need professional online marketing assistance. Though a staff member with basic web design skills could create a website from a canned template or basic software, customers will notice the quality difference between it and a professionally crafted site. Thus, after defining your objectives, finding the right Internet marketing provider is the next big step.
Go to Google.com and type in a search using keywords like “Columbia, SC Web Design Companies” (or use the closest metropolitan area to you). Generally, the first ten companies that appear (not including sponsored links, which are paid advertising) are your best bet—after all, if they rank highly, their staff is skilled in programming websites for that purpose and can do the same for you. Google’s sophisticated ranking parameters have judged that these websites load quickly, are programmed with appropriate keywords, are updated frequently, and feature links to relevant websites.
Of course, the top ten selections are not all guaranteed to be competent, ethical, and professional, but for the aforementioned reasons, they are usually a good start. Review each and observe how quickly their websites open. Carefully note their appearance, graphics, simplicity, color, movement, user-friendliness, and understandability. Next, examine the company’s history and staff credentials. Seek companies with competent, college-educated team members who have solid backgrounds and education in graphic design, art, programming, coding, marketing, technical writing, and database management. Examine the companies’ web design portfolios and contact some of their clients to assess customer satisfaction levels. Search deeply—this is an important decision!
Establish your budget: You may venture into the process already knowing how much you want to spend, or you may need Internet professionals to estimate how much it will cost based on your needs. Select a quality company that quotes reasonable prices for the services you want. Website and social media solutions can be expensive, but they are an investment worth their future benefits. If your desired company is above your price range, rather than go cheap, ask if the job can be developed in stages if you agree to make payments over time.
Narrow your search: Meet with two or three finalists to describe your desired services in detail. Ideally, you should visit the companies’ offices and note their work environments, which can tell you a lot about their reliability and professionalism. Take key employees with you to contribute to the dialogue. Staff from ethical, competent Internet companies will guide you into the specific solutions you need, rather than trying to sell you costly, unnecessary services.
Seek documentation: Ask your finalists for written service proposals and the associated costs. Bids should clearly define upfront and ongoing charges, development processes, deliverables, timelines, payment schedules, product ownership, customer and web designer responsibilities, hosting details, and stages of customer review. Read sample contracts very carefully!
After the website is up and running correctly, move on to setting up business Facebook and Twitter accounts and establishing a plan to increase the audience for your new web presence. Look for another article from us on social media later this year.
The bottom line: Like it or not, the Internet is now the most powerful marketing force in the world. Don’t get left behind! Used correctly, technology can make the difference between thriving and dying!