Barry Edwards, marketer, podcast host: OverFiftyStartingOver.comBarry Edwards | |

This presentation is basically “Online Marketing 101” for small to midsize business owners who have little to no knowledge of online marketing, have no intention of doing it themselves, yet acknowledge their company needs to join the 21st century to remain competitive. I will provide proper perspective on online marketing vs traditional marketing. How make money online rather than lose money (ROI). I’ll establish the basics of how this is accomplished, and how to get started… all with no “Geek Speak”.

The 5 Stages of Internet Skepticism

I’ve created online presences for dozens of companies over the years and have engaged with business owners from every state of the growth process. Here’s how I rank those states of mind chronologically:

  1. Denial: The internet is a fad and I don’t want any part of it.
  2. Apathetic: I realize I’m neglecting this new form of marketing. Some day…
  3. Fearful: I’m finally going to do it, but I don’t know how to get started and I’m afraid of wasting money.
    This stage usually results in either: smartly moving on to Stage 4, or going the cheap route resulting in unsatisfactory results which leads to Stage 5.
  4. Determined: I’m going to move forward this year, so its time to do my due diligence
  5. Course correcting: I did it, but now I need to enhance or fix it, so I’ll get leads.


Your online presence should NOT be a LIABILITY

There’s nothing I can do for the first two Stages of Skepticism above except wish them well and perhaps revisit them in a few years. The Fearful stage is a tricky and common stage. Many people move forward with skepticism feeling that a website is a necessary evil or liability, and therefore it becomes one. And social media? Well, that’s just a virtual playground.

Why invest anything into a liability? That’s insane. It would be ideal if the Fearful owners could make the shift to the next level, Determined, and commit to doing their due diligence. But the truth is, many will move forward with the cheapest price possible, which will most likely hurt their brand, their search engine rankings and certainly won’t provide a return on investment (ROI).

Your online presence should be an ASSET with positive ROI

Obviously you can sell products online with e-commerce sites, but Big Retail (Amazon, Kmart, Home Depot…) has cornered most of these markets. However, if you’re servicing customers, (examples: law firms, dentists, plastic surgeons, auto repair, landscaping, SaaS, business consulting…) a proper website will generate more customer leads for you. And your social media presence can enhance the traffic to your website.

Your web presence should be a great investment – an asset. It should provide a return within 12 months and reap rewards well into the future. For small and mid-sized businesses, your online presence can do the work of a dedicated sales person.

First, let’s get some foundation under us.

Online marketing vs traditional marketing

Traditionally we’re used to being bombarded by billboards, magazine ads, TV and radio ads, postcards, phone solicitations and even door to door sales people. All of these methods are pushing out a company’s message upon the prospects. Today we refer to this as Outbound Marketing, because we are (rather desperately) reaching out to the desired audience.

Online marketing can consist of typical Outbound marketing in the form of paid ads such as Facebook Ads and Google Adwords. But the most cost-effective way to implement an online marketing campaign is to first embrace Inbound Marketing. This is establishing a robust, search engine friendly presence that encourages your target audience to find you before you pay exorbitant amounts of money to push your message out to them.

There are two main ways that your audience will find your website online organically (non-paid):

  • Via search engine results
  • Via your social media presence

Ranking well (page one of searches) in search engines is largely determined by the quality of content you put on your website. A smart Content Marketing Campaign will repurpose this content for social media engagement and even email campaigns.

Websites vs social media channels

Social media took the world by storm around 2010 and many early adopters speculated that the basic website would fall to these Big Tech companies. But the opposite actually happened. Websites became more than online brochures, they became dynamic – meaning that they can interact with your customer. They can offer your customers valuable information in exchange for joining your tribe (more on this later). Your website is the virtual storefront of your company, harboring important information about your products and services for interested prospects to find.

Social media, on the other hand, are like the roads travelled to get to different storefronts. Social media is like taking a joyride while being seduced by billboards, radio programs and advertisements. Whereas websites contain tons of archived, fairly permanent information, social media messages are short and short-lived, but if you catch your prospect’s attention in a time of need, they’ll likely click on your link to go to your website and make a quick assessment of your offerings. You have a chance at converting a customer.

Whether you convert customers or not is up to how seriously you’ve taken your website as your virtual sales person.

Basic anatomy of a lead generating online presence

A complete lead gen presence is an engine usually built of 3 main parts:

  • Website – the headquarters or storefront
  • Social media – advertising
  • Email campaign manager – prospect nurturing

No engine runs without fuel, and the fuel with inbound marketing is content (outbound is money and content… money being first). The higher quality the fuel, the more performance you’ll get from your engine.

It all begins at the website level: your online headquarters and virtual brand representative

Be super clear in your offers

Above I said your prospect would make a quick assessment of your offerings. You have 2 seconds for the viewer to decide if they’re interested enough to give you another 2 seconds. Your products and/or services must be super clear. If you win over another 2 seconds you must quickly tell them how you are more special than your competitors. Any confusion and they’ll be on the next tab looking at your competitors.

Create trust

If you’ve past the above test and the prospect is interested in your product or service, then you now need to offer trust factors (certifications, awards, guarantees, media acknowledgements, testimonials, etc.). A prospect that truly needs your product or service needs to decide that your company is a trusted investment of their hard earned money.

Build your prospect list

Your website needs Calls To Actions (CTAs) – they are quite simply offers to extend your relationship with this prospect. The most common CTA is your Contact Us form (“Contact Us for a free consultation”). Better developed lead generating websites will offer forms for more information on individual services in exchange for the prospect’s email address. This is a “list building” technique.

Building a list of qualified prospects is the most effective means of marketing online. A person that shares their email address with you is showing their readiness to engage with your brand. According to the Direct Marketing Association, email marketing on average sees a 4300% return on investment (ROI) for businesses in the USA. Note that usually the broader the range that you draw your audience from, the more important your list is to convert clients. Conversely, people that service customers on a strictly local level (dentists, auto repair shops, beauticians…) can usually do well with less focus on email… but the occasional coupon offers really help.

Improve your rankings in search engine results

Another major aspect of a lead generating website is simply being able to be FOUND via search engines. The coolest and most creative website in the world will not sell your stuff if no one can find it. The process of enhancing being found is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Many factors contribute to how well, or not, you get found, but the content on your website is #1 in importance. Having thorough, well written and easy-to-read content on your product and services Pages is extremely important. Typically, we refer to the more permanent content on your website (Homepage, About Us, Services, Contact Us…) as Pages.

The fuel for everything online is quality content

Adding to your library of content via your blog is equally important. A blog is an archive of articles. We call these articles Posts as opposed to Pages, though technically they behave the same way, except Posts are written specifically to create an archive of information related to your industry so that you’ll continue to rise above your competition in search engine rankings and entice your prospects to check out your offerings.

Most people really struggle with generating ideas of things to write or shoot video about for their blog. Your blog is organized in Categories. You make whatever Categories you want, but the one Category I teach ALL of my clients to create and populate regularly is CASE STUDIES. This is subject matter that every one of us is generating on a near daily basis. It also causes us to write about the specific things that we sell in many different ways – increasing ways for search engines to find us.

A clear Content Marketing Plan is key to efficient success

As mentioned earlier, it is important to repurpose quality content across your website, social channels and email campaigns. Creating great quality content consistently is an investment.  To do it well, the company’s brand message must be well thought out and fully understood by the content developer(s). A prior analysis of your best keyword phrases should be on hand so the content developed contributes to better search engine rankings for your desired audience.

Web development priority 1: Don’t get penalized!

Hopefully you are realizing the importance of the content on your website at this point. But, I can’t stress enough that when having it built, that it’s done so without tripping any penalty flags or algorithmic violations. Sorry for using that geeky word, but there are important differences that won’t be covered here. Just know its bad.

I’m sure we all know Google is the largest search engine used in the world. Therefore experienced web and content developers find playing by the rules to be of the utmost importance.

The truth is, we don’t know most of their rules, because if we did, we’d find ways to manipulate them. Google always tells developers, “Simply write great content in a professional manner, and you’ll rise in rankings”. But, we also know their robots are snooping our sites and grading them according to how clean the code and structure is. They also seem to assess the quality of grammar and how well text is formatted.

However, Google will tell us what the ultimate no-nos are. When Google finds patterns that people are using to exploit their system, they create drop their rankings and may flag the domain with a penalty.

The most common problem I’ve encountered with poorly ranked sites is scraped copy or plagiarism. Its very tempting for DIYers and pseudo professionals to copy/paste content from competitors they’d like to emulate. Its also a hard lesson to learn. Recovering from demoted search engine rankings is serious business.

For these reasons, I advise not having lowest cost be your determining factor when selecting a website/content developer.

What website platform should I use and why?

By platform I’m referring to the underlying framework that it will be built with. You may have heard of SquareSpace, GoDaddy’s Website Builder and/or WordPress. I highly recommend WordPress. Here’s why:

  • Over 43% of websites on the internet are currently WP – it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
  • Major BIG brands prefer WP, such as Sony, Disney, The New Yorker, BBC America, Variety, MTV, Time
  • It has the best CMS (Content Management System) and you’ll want as few obstacles as possible when feeding your website great content.
  • Mostly, it is infinitely upgradeable to suit your needs through plugins. This is important for skilled online marketers to turn your website into a lead generator.

And finally, it’s free. You only pay for the level of web hosting that you need. That can range from $60/year for a small business site on a shared server. Around $600/year for a Virtually Private Server (VPS) for better performance. And roughly $1300/year for a dedicated server – providing the highest performance and security.

Being the Top Dog of internet platforms can also assure you that Google makes sure their algorithms and robots know how to play nicely with WordPress as well. And the same can be said for web and content developers .

A Brief look at Online Marketing 102

We’ve had a solid overview of all the basics that make up a lead generating online presence consisting of your website, social media presence and list building (email campaigns).

The more competitive your industry, the more sophisticated you may need to get with your methods. For this reason, I’ll give brief mention to sales funnels and reputation management.

Sales Funnels

A lot of people make the sales funnel game sound really complicated. Sales funnels can get very complicated, but understanding the premise is incredibly simple.

It’s simply upselling.

Yep, it’s the process of getting you in the door by giving you something cheap or for free (top of the funnel), then offering incrementally more valuable products or services as trust and value is established. So, at face value, it may seem like a manipulative sales tactic, but in the online world, that’s not nearly as likely as marketing used to be in a much less transparent world. Note that I stressed that trust and value are essential to establish in order to move your customers down your funnel. Cheating customers online will be met with bad reviews and can sink your aspirations very quickly.

Bad reviews and Reputation Management

The process of acquiring good reviews is very important as is managing the (hopefully) occasional bad review. This aspect of marketing is called Reputation Management and there are different levels of software and services – from free to thousands of dollars per month – to assist marketers.

Companies that rely heavily on online reviews to make or break their credibility will know that turning a bad review into a positive is an incredibly important skill. This is done by replying to bad reviews in ways such as, “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Your experience is very important to us and we are going to take measures to assure that this never happens again”.

Additionally, one bad review will change your status from 5 stars to 4 stars if you only have 5 reviews. So, its important to encourage satisfied customers to leave good reviews to offset the occasional bad one.

Backlinks: An essential element for higher rankings in search engines

Remember the Yellow Pages – that giant book that we trusted to find anyone? The actual yellow section was where most of us went to find a business or service that was needed. As business owners it was very important to be listed in here as clearly as possible.

Well, the internet has dozens of these directories that are really important. Thousands that aren’t as important. The more of these that list your business – consistently and accurately – the more street cred you earn with search engines such as Google. These are called “backlinks” (also referred to as “inbound links”).

The most important directory to be listed in is Google itself. You do this by opening a Google Business Profile account and submitting your information. There are many other free directories that you can be listed in. It’s a frustrating and time consuming process as many of these make it difficult to register unless you pay. A few of the most important ones (often referred to as mega directories) only list companies submitted through premium citation builders such as Ahrefs, SEMrush, Moz or BrightLocal.

How to get started without making expensive mistakes

Beware of scams and “being held hostage”

Naturally when we’re not well versed in something that feels complicated we become wary of getting scammed… and rightfully so. The most common scam that comes to mind for me is the spam email “Get ranked first on Google”. These are always from overseas companies that have no risk of getting sued for false advertising. Common sense should tell you that if there are only 10 rankings on page one of Google search results and this company is promising this to you and your (possibly) hundreds of competitors, the math doesn’t equal credible.

Another slow burn of online marketing dollars comes in the form of “being held hostage”. This is the result of being lulled into free or cheap websites, hosting or marketing solutions only to find out that you either don’t actually own them or have full access to them …and they disappears when you stop feeding them money leaving you broke with nothing to show for it.

I always advise clients to make sure they own their own stuff. I prefer to set up their accounts for them, on their credit cards, and make sure they have a copy of my “notes” that I make for each client with their access information to all of their products such as website, Google Business Profile, social media accounts and other premium products that I set up for them. Transparency is trust. Make sure you can walk away when you need to. Nothing lasts forever.

Measuring effectiveness to assure ROI

Start with assessing how much money per month you could potentially make with a successful online marketing build out. For example, a realistic goal for a dentist may be four new leads per month after Phase 1 (explained below). First, estimate how much each new client acquisition brings on average for the year (new customer valuation). The local dentist’s new customer valuation may average $500/year, or $2000/month (four new leads/month). An auto repair shop may be roughly equivalent. If these businesses invested roughly $10k over 4 months to attain this, they would likely be in the black within another 5 months and reaping a great ROI thereafter.

A new patient for a plastic surgeon, on the other hand, may be worth an average of $4k/patient per year. And this is why the competition is so high online amongst plastic surgeons. Generally, the higher the valuation of new clients, the more you’ll have to work to get them.

Work in phases to build trust

I usually start my clients with a 2-3 phase proposal, so I have to earn the approval of each subsequent phase therefore reducing their risk. Usually Phase 1 begins with a website redesign in order to introduce lead generation-friendly content structure. At least basic SEO needs to be shored up as well. With many industries, they will notice a return on investment (ROI) shortly after launching in the form of a new client conversion or two… or three. The improvements are measured through key statistics in Google Analytics such as traffic increase. But, ultimately online inquiries (leads via forms on the website and phone calls) are the bottom line statistic.

Phase 2 is usually implementation of a Content Marketing Plan to further increase rankings and traffic. It will push content from the website, through social media and email campaigns. Again, Google Analytics plays a key role in measuring success as does the increase in leads. But I also measure keyword phrases for which we want to rank higher, as this is the starting point for any prospect.

Phase 3 usually consists of paid advertising such as Facebook Ads and/or Google Adwords. These are most effective for organizations with high new customer valuations such as engineers, law firms, medical industry and so on.  ***But, I always recommend that you’ve given your best effort in building your best brand (Phase 1) BEFORE spending the big monthly bucks on paid ads, so you convert as many as possible.

The bottom line:

If you’re going to invest in your web presence, don’t be Penny Wise, Dollar Foolish. Realize it’s an investment in your virtual brand and expect a very positive ROI from its lead generation. As your due diligence allows you to feel more comfortable with what you can realistically expect, build a 3 phase marketing plan to hedge your bets. And make sure your marketing people are building a solid foundation from the ground up.

Ultimately, the percentage of increase in average leads per month generated from online forms and phone calls from your online presence is the most important measurement.

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For more of this kind of content subscribe to or see my podcast at Over Fifty Starting Over for a mixed bag.

logo, Edwards Communications - Internet marketing, Cleveland, Ohio

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