2018 is just around the corner and there has never been a better time to enjoy the benefits of a coherent approach to digital marketing. So spend a few minutes with us as we outline the steps needed to create an effective digital marketing strategy.
What do you want to do?
Good strategy is simply a plan for moving from one point to another. Objectives must be the first place to start but if you’re going to head for a destination, you need to know where you are now. Helpful in this process and one of the joys of digital is the amount of data available for analysis.
- Google Analytics (GA) is possibly the greatest free resource available in the digital world and will tell you all kinds of useful things about your website.How important is mobile? How fast do your pages load? What is the most popular content? How do your site users find their way to and around your site? Of course, GA tells you the ‘what?’ not the ‘why?’ but it is an invaluable resource.
- Many social platforms also provide their own analytics and if you’ve been using a social management platform like Hootsuite or Sprout Social, you’ll also be able to run reports helping to make sense of what’s going on.
- If you use eCRM or you’ve run any paid campaigns in 2017, you’ll have another slew of data to consider.
- How do you perform in search? What terms do you want to rank for and why?
- Avoid vanity metrics. Doubling your Instagram followers is a vanity metric, doubling your revenue from your Instagram followers is not.
Obtain sales and customer service data and speak to people in other important business areas. If, for instance, you plan to include a promotion of some kind in your marketing, you’ll need to know that sales are happy with the promotion’s structure and that you won’t run out of the product if the promotion drives a significant sales increase.
Spend some time reviewing the data and look for correlations which might provide insight into your audiences’ behaviour. Correlation is not causality but it will give you hypotheses to test. Is seasonality important? If so, what could you do to lessen its effects without reducing profits? Are there assumptions your entire sector makes that you could challenge?
Set goals which align with your overall business objectives and develop a reporting structure to measure ROI using key performance indicators (KPIs). Digital requires investment and you’ll want to be able to justify the investment to the people signing off .
What tools will you use?
The opportunities you have to reach your audiences and the ways you can engage with them have been dramatically influenced by the emergence of digital media but Marketing is still very much about ‘the right message, to the right person at the right time’.
There’s a ‘shiny new object’ syndrome in digital which leads organisations to jump on new platforms and sign up for new tools when there is little justification for doing so. OK, create a small fund for vital experimentation but what we want to do here is improve business outcomes using digital. Unless you can prove good numbers of your priority audiences are using a new platform and credible data is available from the platform, it should not consume much of your precious marketing resource. Buy a Snapchat filter and see what happens but don’t make it a pillar of your planning unless Snapchat is genuinely where your audience spends its time.
Choose the places your priority audience is or is most likely to be. Sometimes a good hunch will deliver a prize you might be denied if you wait for cast iron data. Marketing is a balance of art and science.
To succeed, your strategy will need a combination of these tools:
SEO: Possibly the single most important factor in digital marketing success is understanding and managing search. Image recognition is improving visual search and digital assistants like Alexa are raising the profile of voice search but, for the time being, text search is dominant. The creation and deployment of a good keyword list will pay huge dividends in search.
GA can tell you some of the terms people used to search before arriving on your site and if you have previously used Google Adwords you’ll have access to the Keyword Planner tool. If you haven’t, sign up for the free 1-month trial with Keyword Tool, which is excellent for keyword research.
Your website: If there’s one website priority you MUST tackle, it is making your site mobile-friendly. This is not just because mobile web access has overtaken desktop but because Google’s ranking algorithm rates mobile optimisation very highly. Some people will think that because they’ve chosen a responsive design in WordPress, this is mobile optimisation sorted. In fact, default options WordPress selects, like ‘hamburger’ menus, are often poor mobile UX and should be avoided. When planning a site, you should budget for some mobile customisation and it would be worth your dev people checking out this excellent guide to challenging mobile UX myths.
Content and social: These two elements of your strategy are inextricably linked. There is no point creating good content if you don’t have an audience to see it and you’ll be unable to build and engage that audience unless you have valuable content for them. There are two sources of valuable content, content produced in-house, based on text and imagery but with as much video as possible, and content produced by others which is valuable to your audiences.
Unique + interesting + relevant = valuable.
Valuable content is read, shared, linked to, followed and followed up. Straight sales messages are not valuable content. You should be aiming to identify the major pain points your audiences experience and creating content to help them out. A content plan is an essential tool if you’re going to succeed in content and social. It will ensure you always have something valuable to say.
Paid activity: As more digital platforms become public companies and need to monetise, organic reach is falling and ‘pay-to-play’ is becoming the norm. Even a small amount of paid activity on any of the main platforms will massively boost reach and give you access to data that non-paying users will not see. Paid search will inevitably benefit your organic search activity and help refine your keyword list. Paid display activity on Google Display Network (GDN) will send more traffic to your site and help search visibility.
Its usually a good idea to create a separate landing page (not your home page) with a unique url to capture your campaign traffic. If the url can only be reached by someone clicking on an ad, this traffic can only have been generated by the campaign.
One of 2017’s big talking points in the Paid sector has been the transparency and accountability of what’s known as ‘programmatic’. Programmatic is unsold ad inventory pooled by site owners and sold by third-party brokers. The benefit to marketers is targeted audiences at lower cost but the risks include your ads appearing next to unsuitable content and an opaque logistical chain with several snouts in the trough. Only contemplate programmatic if you’re really confident you know what you’re doing.
How will you know if its working?
Dashboards: Some people rely on spreadsheets but there are a number of dashboard tools available which will pull the headline figures into an easily readable display. These will update automatically and as often as you set them to. Our instinct is towards transparency and sharing the dashboard as widely as possible with key people in your organisation. However, you’ll need to exercise some judgement as you don’t want to spend your time explaining day-to-day variations which may not be meaningful longer term.
The people given access to the dashboard will need to understand that some activities will not work as well as others and part of the point of the dashboard is to identify these as quickly as possible. This does not mean any mistakes have been made, simply that fast learning is an integral part of digital execution.
Data flows: Unlike traditional media, you will start receiving data within minutes of beginning your activity. Don’t make any decisions using this data for at least two weeks. Even algorithms need time to ‘learn’ and the data will not be reliable in the first few days. Content and social will normally take longer to generate results than Paid but the investment is well worth it. Once you commit to a content and social strategy, this should be your base line activity and Paid should be overlaid as and when required. If you’re focused on helping someone solve a problem, your content will get shared and the results will come.
A/B Testing: Also unlike traditional media, you can upload ad variations to GDN and Facebook (known as A/B testing) and the platform will automatically up-weight the one which is performing the best, based on the goals you’ve set for the campaign. If you’re using Paid Search, you will also be offered alternative versions of your headline/body text and the opportunity to add up to four additional links to your ad. You will soon be able to see which variation works best and what links searchers are clicking.
KPIs: It is unlikely you will have business goals that do not involve sending people to your website, so GA will be a significant source of your data. GA can be integrated with paid search and GDN to ensure seamless data reporting but reporting from other platforms is not as well-integrated. However, under the ‘social’ or ‘referall’ tabs in traffic sources in GA, you will normally be able to find everything you need. Traffic will not be the eventual objective but no goal can be reached without it.
Reporting: Establish a regular reporting regime in addition to your dashboard which has a deeper analysis including learning and how this is influencing strategy. Monthly seems a good interval in most circumstances. Its long enough for data to be meaningful but short enough to respond quickly to market movements.
Most of all, enjoy the journey!
You may think you’re behind the curve with digital and there’s some great digital party going on somewhere you’re just not part of but this simply is not the case. Most organisations are still in the foothills of what’s possible in digital and experimentation is widespread. So set yourself some challenging objectives, work out KPIs that will actually deliver on them, get to work with the tools and refine your approach as the data rolls in. 2018 will be your best digital year so far!