A Crash-Course in Developing an Online Marketing Strategy – MnSearch Event Recap

developing an online marketing strategyNow that the Search Snippet #18 event is in the books, it’s time to break off a little – actually quite large – recap, just in case you missed it or simply cannot remember what was covered.

For this event, Findlaw’s finest, Manos Kalaitzakis and Jason Stinnett, treated Minneapolis search fanatics to a crash course in developing a digital marketing strategy in both the paid and organic disciplines.

Before the MnSearch Programming Director Scott Dodge dropped a bombshell on the audience: the 2015 MnSearch Summit keynote speakers! Check out the MnSearch Summit page at MnSearch.org/summit to find out who they are!

Back to the matter at hand, Manos presented first and dropped some science on how to build out an effective organic search strategy, while Jason followed with instructions on how to harvest the low-hanging fruit from Google paid search (AdWords). You can check out the decks on Slideshare and videos of the presentations on YouTube. But first, keep reading.

Developing an Online Marketing Strategy: A Crash Course

While the tactical information in both presentations is probably beginner level, there are still important takeaways for digital marketers from any experience bracket. Continuing the theme from the last two events, Manos reminded us that you need to have business goals in mind that you can measure against; otherwise you’re just out there doing…stuff.

Doing stuff is cool, but in a universe where we have a finite amount of time to get that stuff done, prioritization is essential, and so is strategy.

Your strategic planning should answer the following questions:

  • What is the current state of my digital marketing strategy, where do I stand?
  • What are the goals of my business?
  • How will my business execute on a digital strategy that meets my business goals?

The Honest Assessment

  1. Take a hard look at your current strategy and how it’s working out for you. Dig in to your content and your analytics. See what people are looking at and what they’re bouncing from. Understand your conversion funnel and evaluate what you need to do to see more transactions form your web presence.
  2. Take care that you’re doing what you need to do for your existing customers. This is the web; never forget that you’re one shabby user experience away from alienating your existing base. Make changes with care.
  3. The major benefit of digital marketing is that ability to track return on investment. It’s in everyone’s best interest to talk candidly about this number and work to improve or sustain it through the strategic discussions to come. Whether you’re working in house or for an agency, your boss or your clients are going to want to see the almighty ROI. Give it to them.
  4. There’s really no way you can do a full assessment of your business without looking at the competition. There are enough tools out there for you to get a handle on what they’re doing that’s working.
  5. Finally, make sure you’re looking at budget allocation and personnel. Align budget with your goals in the strategy discussions, and make sure that the people you’ve tasked with executing are able to deliver.

PRO TIP: Don’t just look at the top of the SERPs for competitive analysis; there’s plenty of insight to be gained from pages 2, 4 and 37. Also, digital marketing goes beyond search results, look at what the competition is doing in paid, display, with content/native, and even their offline efforts.

Developing Strategic Goals

Unless your business model is one that directly translates visitors to dollars, increasing traffic is not a strategic business goal. Per Manos’s example, which you can check out in his deck, “strategic” goals are things like a 25% increase in gym memberships; 40% increase in personal training appointments; a 30% increase in profits.

Creating and Executing on a Digital Marketing Strategy – Manos Kalaitzakis

After you’ve gone moved through step one and used that information to build out your strategy in step two, you need to develop a framework that will allow you to execute on your strategy and build your business.

Prioritization is really important; you need to have a solid plan. Manos recommended using a roadmap, and gave an example:

  • Months 1-2: Put your goals in buckets, find gaps and adjust strategy if your goals aren’t being met.
  • Months 2-6: Focus on your key strategic priorities, recognizing that some may take longer than others.
  • Months 6-12: Focus on the medium- and low-priority items and start the process of assessing your strategy to see if goals are being met.

Of course, this is all a part of strategic planning, which generally follows some variation on “Plan-Execute-Evaluate.” The upshot is that the work involved in digital marketing strategy is not linear, it is cyclical, and should be viewed as such by your business.

Wait a Second, This Presentation Was About SEO, Right?

Developing an SEO strategy touches on a lot of things, from the technology your business uses to store information and publish to the web to setting and keeping expectations on what SEO can and can’t do.

With that in mind, let’s start with the bedrock of any SEO campaign, the site audit, which also serves as the “honest assessment” for digital marketing strategy that Manos talked about previously.

The SEO Audit

Here’s a list of the things you need to honestly assess about a website before you get into your SEO strategy discussions:

  1. MOBILE FRIENDLY: Bumped to #1 because April 21st is coming. If you don’t know what that means, click here immediately [Link to WMC post].
  2. Technical SEO: Make sure your site is accessible to people and search bots. This means:
  • Cleaning up pages that are 404ing by implementing 301 redirects.
  • Ensuring that you have a site architecture that allows for easy access to relevant pages on your site.
  • Blocking sections of the site that you don’t want to be crawled by search engines with the robots.txt file.

Manos also went super search nerd on log file analysis, but for a crash course in SEO, we can probably stay out of that den of geekdom.

  1. On-page SEO: Make sure your title tags, H1 headers, and meta descriptions are optimized with keywords and relevant topical information. Do the same with the copy on each page. Use canonical meta tags to make sure the right page is being delivered by search engines, and use tools like Siteliner to make sure you’re not generating a ton of dupes.

Don’t overuse or overoptimize internal links. Emphasis here, as overoptimized SEO elements can be off-putting for search engines, and no real person likes to read copy that is spammed with keywords.

  1. Off-page SEO: Check your back links and authority with tools like Open Site Explorer from Moz, Majestic.com, or Ahrefs. Look for inconsistencies, including keyword rich anchor text from sites that are not topically relevant to your own site.

Link velocity, the rate at which your site gains back links, is important: check to make sure you’re not seeing big spikes in the number of links added, that is something that looks unnatural and could come back to bite you.

PRO TIP: If you’ve ever had “a guy/gal” who you paid to “do SEO” for you in the past, take special care with the off-page analysis; things have changed a lot and you need to know what exactly s/he did in terms of building links.

TL;DR: SEO and digital marketing strategy start the same way: evaluate what you have honestly and use that as a starting point for discussions on where to go next. Know the goals of the business you’re trying to optimize for and act accordingly. Strategy without a plan for execution is just words, and like the man said, words are wind.

Auditing AdWords to Meet Your Goals – Jason Stinnett

Since we already went through the overview of how to evaluate your digital strategy and identify your business goals with Manos about 1000 words ago, let’s just dive right in to how to identify and then rectify shortcomings in your PPC strategy.

Here’s how Jason breaks it down:

  • First, make sure your account aligns with your business goals; don’t target garbage that’s not going to hit the number you’ve promised.
  • Second, dump whatever’s not working.
  • Finally, take what’s left and identify the biggest opportunities for optimization.

In other words, take what works and expand on it to create more conversion opportunities.

There are some common issues that afflict paid search campaigns, and knowing tactically how to address these is important, so let’s  take a look at Jason’s pitfalls and pothole fillers:

  1. Keyword choices are too broad

Sure, that armada of keywords may be bringing you more clicks than you can shake a stick at, but as we discussed, is that really what drives the bottom line? I’m guessing no, so rather than focus on those terms, identify converting keywords and focus budget and effort on those.

If you have ad groups that are full of non-clicked keywords, pause those out. Same with any keywords that aren’t relevant to your campaign. Focus on your goals.

  1. Evaluate low click keywords

Are you missing an opportunity in your niche? Make sure that if you’re seeing conversions from an ad group, you’re giving those keywords the right level of budgeting and optimization. Low click through can be a symptom of both low impression share and insufficient budget.

If you look at your AdWords stats and you’re missing out on impressions due to limited budget on a keyword that’s going to convert, then look for areas that you can cut back on so you’re able to spend adequately to drive those buyers to your site. Cut the fat, says Jason.

  1. Don’t blow budget when your quality score can be improved

If you have ads with low quality scores on high volume terms, the first thing you’ll want to do is address the issues that Google has with the ad; check out the AdWords QS guidelines and revise until you see improvement. [link to the guidelines or a MnSearch post on QS optimization]

  1. Make sure you’re not lacking focus in your campaign settings

Jason mentioned specifically that you may need to adjust the time of day your ads or running or the geo targeting if you’re seeing a lot of unqualified clicks or clicks with a very low conversion rate. Make sure you use these targeting features to get the most bang for the budget.

TL;DR: Here’s a roadmap to PPC bliss:

  1. Align your keyword targeting with your business goals.
  2. Cut the fat; unrelated, underperforming keywords should be the first things to go.
  3. Focus your efforts on the stuff that works and look to optimize further.
  4. Work to gain more market share by investing your budget in those keywords by combining #2 and #3 above.
  5. Audit your campaigns regularly, and remember that just like SEO, this is cyclical, not linear.

Assess, Strategize, Focus and Prioritize

The overall takeaway from these two great presentations is that when you’re developing digital marketing strategy, you need to create a framework for success:

  • Honestly assess your current state, what’s working and what’s not.
  • Develop a strategy that utilizes appropriate tactics for your business goals.
  • Remain focused on those goals and the overall strategy.
  • Prioritize your strategic thinking in order to drive conversions.

In Closing

Are you still with us? Good. Now take what you’ve learned and go make the interwebs a better place for your clients and their customers. BIG shout-out to Jason and Manos for sharing their knowledge and experience during this great event.

Don’t forget to register for April’s marquee event “Attracting More Local Customers Even When Your Wheels are Spinning” with Phil Rozek, owner of LocalVisibilitySystem.com.

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