Your website is an important channel for new business enquiries, and Google searches are an important channel for getting new people to your website. That’s why so many companies obsess over search engine optimisation. Being top of the Google results for “blue widgets” can be worth a small fortune.
However, it’s a frustratingly unpredictable process. You can throw lots of money at SEO and get nowhere. Or you can get great results by a fluke. And as marketers, we don’t (or at least we shouldn’t) like unpredictability. So what other methods are there of getting people to your website? Are you giving them all serious consideration?
I’m not a fan of “offline marketing” as a way of getting people to your website. I see very little evidence of surges in website traffic following exhibitions, magazine adverts, direct mail, etc. I’m not saying these things aren’t good marketing initiatives. They often are. But they’re not great at driving website traffic; they’re better at facilitating conversations, emails and telephone calls. For some reason, people just don’t seem to switch easily from seeing something in the real world and turning to their computer to find out more. And almost nobody seems to type in URLs, which is why in the B2C world, some companies now just say “to find out more, search for blue widgets online”. However, if you do want to use events or the printed word to get website traffic, at least try to set up ways of measuring how it’s working.
Emails, on the other hand, are tremendously effective at generating website visits. Anybody who started a proper mailing list for their company a few years ago should be sitting on a really valuable asset now. Although it’s never too late to start, it must be hard for new businesses to catch up. The key to growing your lists and getting good response is then down to the content.
You can of course “buy in” lists, but it seems like a terrible idea to me. I still occasionally hear of companies talking about “renting lists for email blasts”, like it’s 1999. Who’s on these lists? If the lists are above board, it should only be people who’ve specifically agreed to receive any emails from anyone who the list owner chooses. What sort of person would do that?
If you don’t have your own email list, or you want to reach a different set of people, the best bet is probably to advertise in email newsletters run by third parties. But again, make sure any links are properly tagged so you can identify them.
With web links, you drive traffic to your site directly from other sites, and it should be readily identifiable. Of course, Google search falls under this category, but we’re trying to look at alternative techniques here.
Writing articles for other websites is a good place to start, and should be part of every marketer’s planning. Don’t just think of your sector’s trade magazine sites (although they’re good) – consider sites like those belonging to industry bodies too. Be creative in your targets as well as in your content.
Finally, we come to buying space on third-party sites, i.e. advertising. This can be on conventional websites or on search engines, but the main consideration should be the way you pay for it. With many sites (such as Google, with AdWords), advertising is “pay per click”. You’re quite simply buying visitors. There’s no catch, and no risk. With other sites, there’s sometimes the option to pay per thousand views, but more likely, there’s just an option to pay to have your advert there for a specific period.
You have to consider here that if these sites could make more money by charging by the clickthrough, they would do so. The fact that they don’t offer this suggests to me that they have no confidence in your advert being seen, or getting clicks. But they know that by investing in good salespeople, they can convince enough people to part with money regardless.
And it works. Companies in every sector – perhaps even yours – regularly spend hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds to put banner ads on websites which offer no guarantee of success.
Perhaps these ads work, and the advertisers count the clickthroughs and even the business generated, and repeat their orders based on previous success. From the figures I see, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Most website advertising is bought on a hunch, just like magazine advertising. To me, with guaranteed results available as an alternative, that makes little sense.
Have you got a strategy for each of the three channels above? You should have, and it should be the basis of your online marketing planning for 2015.