Like playing a game of poker, tackling new disciplines in online marketing takes time and skill. Get a jump start now for next year.
In January 2011, I itemized the strategies you can use to improve your "luck" in online marketing. Fundamentals change slowly, and adding these cards to your hand should work in 2012 as well.
Putting More Cards in Your Hand
In classic five-card draw poker, each player gets five cards. After looking at their cards, they get to discard up to three of their cards and ask the dealer to replace them. Then, the best hand -- one pair, two pair, three of a kind, etc. -- wins. The odds for each player are about the same.
In classic Internet marketing, you aren't limited to just five cards. You get as many as you want, but you have to earn them.
Imagine that each time a visitor comes to your site, you are dealt a hand of cards. If your hand is better than your competitor's, you win the visitor and the revenue they generate. If someone else has a better hand, they take the winnings.
Competitors include businesses that have an online presence and battle for the same customers you do. Competitors also include those sites vying for your visitors' attention, regardless of whether or not their products compete with yours.
In this scenario, having more cards in your hand is a significant advantage. The more cards you hold, the more likely you are to get a winning hand.
One Card: Table Stakes
Your first card is the knowledge of setting up a Web site. You get this card when you know how to set up a domain, install a content management system (CMS), and ask a designer to make it look pretty for you. This card alone doesn't give you very good odds of winning at the Internet table.
Two Cards: SEO Can Give You a Pair
You get your second card by telling the search engine what your Web site is all about. The SEO (define) card may start generating more traffic, but most of it will bounce like a bad check.
There are best practices that are usually easy to put in place. Finding the keyword phrases that generate qualified traffic is a longer process. Generating back-links from quality sites is a slow process as well.
Search traffic develops over time, and will take most of 2010 to become a factor in your marketing.
Three Cards: Content Gives You More Ways to Win
You get your third card when you get good at telling your visitors how your site helps them. Do they find navigation, headlines, and copy that make them want to stick around? How do you categorize your products? Are your descriptions enticing? Are you offering educational content to help visitors make a decision? Have you started a blog?
The content card can slip away without diligent content development efforts. However, good content lets you add more cards to your hand, as you shall see. Use 2010 to get your editorial calendar in shape and put resources in place to generate engaging content.
With three cards in your hand, the best you can hope for is three of a kind. It's a great hand, but very rare with so few cards.
Four Cards: Take the Money
Your fourth card is transaction processing. Do you have the basic ability to collect a visitor's information? Does your shopping cart make it easy for them to buy? If so, you get another card in your hand and the ability to win with four of a kind or two pair.
If you have to bite the bullet and switch to a shopping cart that lets you reduce abandonment rates, 2010 is the year to do it.
Five Cards: Conversion Gives You a Winning Hand
Your fifth card is conversion. This is the set of best practices that entice your visitors to take action. Conversion encompasses the copy, offers, landing pages, and purchasing experiences that turn visitors into customers. Every audience is different, and on-page testing is a great way to find out what your audience wants. Launch your first tests in 2010 so that the advertising you do in 2011 delivers a maximum return.
Your fifth card means you can be dealt any standard poker hand, all the way up to a royal flush.
Six Cards: Buy Your Way Onto Page One
Your sixth card is search advertising. If you can generate qualified traffic to your site through the search engines at a cost that gives you a profit, you gain a significant advantage over your five-card competitors. It means more pairs, more "boats," and more flushes.
Search advertising has become the fifth card for many businesses that have skipped the conversion step. These marketers could be paying more for pay-per-click or pay-per-action advertising and generating more qualified traffic, if only their conversion rates were better.
Seven Cards: Display Your Prowess
Your seventh card is display advertising. Can you generate qualified traffic to your site through online banner ads? If so, you can play at the "seven card" tables.
Display advertising is difficult to measure. It will increase traffic to your site, but much of it will not be through clicks on your ads. Work with an ad network that can give you "view-through" analytics to see how much of your search traffic saw one of your display ads.
Eight Cards: Target the Winners
You get eight cards when you integrate behavioral targeting into your display advertising. Will you spend 2010 learning the combination of behaviors that uniquely identify your most qualified prospects? Can you retarget your ads to those who've visited your site and left?
The options for behavioral targeting in the marketplace are many, and it'll take time to find the vendors and select the prospect behaviors that deliver cost-effective results.
Nine Cards: Swap Cards
Your ninth card is "dynamic creative" or "intelligent display." Adding the ability to change your ad depending on who is viewing it holds out the promise to deliver "search-like returns" with greater reach than search. The challenge with dynamic creative is that different versions of your ads must be created for each target segment. Several vendors offer technology that automates ad assembly.
Ten Cards: Keep Them on the Hook
Your 10th card is a house list e-mail strategy. Your ability to develop an e-mail list and remain "in-box worthy" over time will determine your success during prospects' consideration phase. While e-mail is considered by some to be your father's online marketing, e-mail marketing is actually in its infancy.
Think of e-mail as the biggest social network on the planet. Like social marketing, you can't just shove promotional messages out. You have to educate and entertain. If e-mail isn't working for you, you probably haven't figured it out yet.
Playing with 10 cards is like playing with two hands.
Eleven Cards: Talk Smack
Some poker players use table banter to give them a psychological edge. In similar fashion, social media marketing provides a psychological edge in the Internet marketplace. There is something that happens when prospects hear about you from other people, especially if they trust them.
It takes time and content to build a social graph and usually requires more than one social networking platform. 2010 may be the time to invest in social networking.
Making It Look Like You're Just Lucky
Have you ever watched someone play a game of chance and just win and win and win? You want to be that business at the online marketing table in 2011. Imagine playing poker with 11 cards. Think about how many hands you'll win when your competitors hold only five or six.
All of these disciplines -- your "cards" -- take time to develop. In general, you've got to start trying and testing them to find out what works in your marketplace. The cards, as presented here, generally build on one another. It's hard to have an effective ad campaign without the conversion card in hand. Good house list e-mail and social marketing require a strong content card. The cards you get dealt in 2011 will depend on what you learn in 2010. Which cards will you add to your hand this year?
This column was originally published January 6, 2010 on ClickZ.
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With 15 years of online marketing experience, Brian has designed the digital strategy and marketing infrastructure for a number of businesses, including his own technology consulting company, Conversion Sciences. He built his company to transform the Internet from a giant digital-brochure stand to a place where people find the answers they seek. His clients use online strategies to engage their visitors and grow their businesses. Brian has created a series of Web strategy workshops and authors the Conversion Scientist blog. Brian works from Austin, Texas, a place where life and the Internet are hopelessly intertwined.
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