It May Feel Like 1999, But It’s More Like 1889

If you can’t see it from your current “look out,” let me be the first to tell you: we are in the midst of a major Internet boom cycle. Headlines are not that far from: “Google to Add 6,000 Jobs,” “Facebook Worth a Gazillion Dollars,” and “VC Money Is Flowing Like a River That Just Found a New Valley to Flood.” The recession helped the online marketing industry in having traditional ad budgets slashed and replaced with more measurable, accountable, and, most importantly, profitable marketing channels of search, e-mail, and even online ad display. The inevitable shift is happening, but instead of taking five more years, it took 18 months.

Now, as a marketing or digital marketing professional, the question is, what does this mean for you? It means time to roll up the sleeves and get to work. Work like the late 1800s when settlers rushed West to claim their lot. Not the gold rush, but the rush to open land, where those that settled first, and for the long hauls, saw immeasurable benefits and wealth for generations to come. To that, I have recommendations to ensure you and your brand make the most of this unique period of time:

  1. Claim your land. This means, go out and establish your website as a place to be. For many, the first step is simply building a user-friendly site, applying all that we know to be true about what your visitor wants and ensuring you give it to them. Think not of conversion but customer experience. Then think of SEO. Now that you’ve built a nice habited place for folks to spend time, let them find you in the wild West of the Web (searching on Google) so they can see you are a good place to settle when they have that product/service need. If you’re a good site and found by search engines, you’ll be ahead of the massive rush of all those coming across the rockies to do the same, but with half the money it will take to set up a new spot and all the spoils of being the first. Here are two simple action items to get the ball rolling:
    • Do a usability test and ask five customers to go to your site and record what they say and think when asking them to perform 10 tasks (e.g., find a flat screen TV for your living room or download a white paper on XYZ); you’ll be amazed at the little things you’ll learn and it will give you a much greater impetus to get budget and resources for either more testing or Web development to rework the site.
    • SEO audit. Have your search firm (if you don’t have one, shame on you ) do two things: a) audit your site for SEO best practices and identify the biggest issues that are easy to fix; b) audit your keyword phrase rankings and compare them to your top three competitors and see how you stack up. Here you’ll get some quick wins and good ideas on where to focus more time for the long haul.
  2. Mine for gold vigorously. This means analytics and testing. You have to get some good analytics reports and determine what’s working and what’s not and improve. This is where you transition from user experience to how to convert the user and make money (you must serve the user first, then yourself). Ask whoever is in charge of your analytics for reports on:
    • What are the top three conversion paths on our site?
    • How are we segmenting users into various customer types to identify optimal paths? For example, what’s the optimal path for existing customers looking for support vs. new customers looking for a quote?
    • When did we last test any of our landing pages for our PPC and e-mail campaigns and what were the results?

    The last question is meant to remind you that Google testing tools are free and should be used again and again. The first two are to get you beyond the basics of analytics and really looking hard at how to determine real success vs. theoretical. Theoretical would be something to the effect of “Hey Boss, our site has an average visit length of 2.3 minutes, so folks must love us.” You have no idea if that is true. And in the majority of cases, that actually is false, as most users want to find information in as short a time as possible and move on. Moreover, are these customers looking for an owner’s manual or someone wanting to buy something? One may need to have five minutes to read the manual, and five seconds to find the product and purchase.

  3. Fertilize and plant the seeds. Here’s where social media comes to play. If you want to build a township vs. just a small plot of land with a house, you need to really cultivate the land. Blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter…these endeavors are long-term projects and ROI will not, nor should it be, seen in the first year. Rather, it should be seen in years two, three, and beyond, where you become more of a go-to resource for good content rather than just another static website with a sales pitch about how great your offering has become. Think long-term and additive when thinking social media and not the quick-hit silver bullet, and life will become so much more enjoyable.

In summary, build a site for the user that gets found on Google (usability and SEO). Think hard about measuring and testing (analytics and conversion). Then plant the long-term seeds of social media to reap rewards for years to come. And, most importantly, in that order.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.