Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Seven Steps to Internet Marketing Success

by Matt Lawless

I am often asked what it takes to make a successful business on the Internet. Truthfully, there is no single answer: it takes dedication, patience, and practice. However, there are some common aspects to Internet marketing that every entrepreneur should be focusing on.

Before I start however, it is worth considering how Internet Marketing is not so different from the offline businesses. Did the owners companies like BP or WalMart start out with a unique idea that took the world by storm? Not a chance. They looked at the market and said "I can build a better company".

Similarly, the chances are that your core business is probably not unique - but by doing things better than your competition, you increase your market share and your business blossoms. Providing there is enough demand for your what you offer, the possibilities for the home business owner are endless.

Step 1 - Know your Customer!

You will get absolutely nowhere without identifying who your market is made up of. Who are you trying to sell to? What readership are you trying to attract? It makes no sense to even start a business without working out who your customer is in the first place. Where would you place your marketing? What would it say? You have to know the answers to these questions before you start advertising. You need to get in the mindset of your customers - try to work out what they want to hear. If you can match your advertising to the way your customer thinks, this will dramatically increase your conversion rate.

In order to track where your visitors are coming from, you will need some form of analytics. Your system may include a complete analytics package. If not then you could do worse than Google Analytics (which is free) or one of the specialist services such as Statcounter. In either case, you would be advised to set up tracking codes that then enable you to identify the source of your traffic. Once you know how your visitors found you, by establishing what they do once they reach your site (leave, sign up to a newsletter, purchase) you can identify which source of visitors are the most valuable to you.

Step 2 - Build a List

So, you've identified your target clients. Excellent! You are already ahead of 90% of your competition! Now, no matter which form of advertising you decide upon, one of your primary goals should be to build a list of clients. This is typically achieved in the form of an opt-in email address database. Why do you think all of the most successful companies do everything they can to get you to sign up to email updates from them? They know, as you will learn, that it is approximately ten times cheaper to sell to an existing contact than to obtain new contacts.

You should use your list wisely though. No-one likes being spammed. So every contact you have with your clients should be targeted to provide as much value to the client as possible whilst retaining your primary goal to move a sale forward. Research has shown that the average customer buys/accepts your offer after seeing your message 7 times. So you are going to need to leverage this list to make sure that the client buys into your offering over time.

Online Marketeers also know the benefit of Affiliate programs. These are schemes where you agree to sell a complimentary product in return for a commission from the providing company. Now even with the greatest product, your offering won't appeal to everyone you come into contact with. This does not stop you suggesting other products or services that may be of interest. This way you get to make money off people who don't buy your primary product or service.

Step 3 - Play the Numbers Game

I've been involved in sales and marketing for over 15 years, and one of the first lessons I ever learned was a simple concept of "Don't Eat your Pipeline". You may wonder what this means, but the message is simple. Sales is a game of numbers. The more interested people you get, or leads, the more sales you will get. Basic huh? But it always amazes me how many businesses fail at this level.

Selling is a funnel process. You have to start by getting your message out to as many people as possible. If you have got your marketing message right, this will result in leads, that go in the top of the funnel - and believe me you need as many of these as you can get. Some of these leads will turn into prospects. That is, those who have an interest in what you have to offer, and the means to take advantage of it. If you have a valuable product or service, you will get sales (or conversions).

Step 4 - Free is Better than Paid

This once again seems like I am stating the obvious. Why would you buy something if you can get the same thing for free? Well the difference often is time and convenience. Most people will turn to paid advertising initially to get their message out to the world, and don't get me wrong, there is absolutely an essential mix to be had where paid advertising does indeed feature. However, the web has grown up and there are so many opportunities out there to get high quality visitors without paying for every one.

You will have heard of SEO or Search Engine Optimisation, which is the art of tailoring your online presence to be successfully pickup up by the major search engines. This can be very powerful, and should be part of your strategy, but I don't want to go into this today. SEO is the subject of countless blogs and sites in their own right to do justice in a short article.

My advice would be to take advantage of what is collectively known as Web 2.0 resources. These are sites that are specifically set up to connect people and ideas. You should look at writing and maintaining your own blog which gives you all the opportunity in the world to put your thoughts and ideas across to your clients. Social Networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter are fantastic for gathering interested clients as they are read by 100s of millions of people every day. This ranks the sites highly with the search engines, increasing your chance of getting free hits to your site. I will be posting future articles dedicated to Web 2.0 as this area is rapidly growing and will become increasingly important to your online success.

Step 5 - Test everything!

How do you know which marketing activities are proving valuable? The answer? Check! Unless you constantly are using reports to assess the effectiveness of your activities, how will you know what to reproduce and what to drop? This is where you need to introduce the concept of split-testing.

Split-testing refers to when you test two variations of something to identify which works best. This could be two similar advertising campaigns where the specific wording is slightly different, or perhaps the page you point your visitors at (landing page) to see how each affects the conversion rate.

By working out over time what is effective, you know where to spend your time and money continuing to further refining the process.

Step 6 - Have Something to Sell!!!

Sounds obvious eh? Of course you have something to sell! I am continually astounded at people who sign up to Internet Marketing schemes whose whole purpose is just to get more people involved. Where is the product? Where is the value you are providing to your client?

Without value, those leads you sweated over getting earlier will drift away as there is nothing to keep their attention. Whatever you are offering, make sure that there is always something valuable for them to buy into, and that there is an upgrade path for further sales as your relationship with your client develops.

Step 7 - Don't Stop!

Very rarely will you hit on anything that delivers huge profits without having to work for it. Even if you have a fantastic product, with amazing profits, you will sell nothing without continued marketing effort. This is imperative to a sustainable business. The more you put into the business, the more you will get out of it.

If something doesn't work and ends up costing you time and/or money what should you do? Give up? Absolutely NOT! Change what you are doing? Possibly (so long as you know what was wrong and where to start fixing it). You may find however that you are doing the right things and you just need time to convince your leads that you are in it for the long term. Remember - most customers will need 7 attempts to get them to buy from you. You can't do this if you don't allow enough time for the process to complete.

About the Author

Matt Lawless is an Internet Entrepreneur based in the UK. With 15 years sales and marketing experience, his passion is helping anyone excel online. Gor more information go to http://www.mattlawless.com . Follow him on Twitter: http://twitter.com/mattlawless