Have you ever started a workout routine and wondered if the exercise you chose was the best one for what you were trying to accomplish? Did you ever experience that nagging uncertainty of whether another exercise might be better?
That's how a lot of companies feel out about the Internet. There are so many things they keep hearing about Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Google+, they never feel certain they are taking the right steps to actually drive business revenue.
What helps your business drive revenue is being found in search. What helps your business drive revenue is having a website that is persuasive enough to convince a visitor to fill out a form and engage with you.
If that isn't happening, your Facebook strategy is irrelevant.
Internet marketing should be attacked through a series of step-by-step priorities. There are certain tactics so pivotal to success on the Internet, they have to be done before anything else. Every company has limited resources, so it is important to work on the tactics with the highest payoff first—step by step.
Your Marketing Base
The chart in the media player at right depicts the progression of Internet marketing priorities and allows you to focus on one critical step at a time. It will apply to most companies, particularly those companies that market to a specific geography. Diluted focus yields diluted results, and many companies are dabbling in Facebook, Twitter and local search with no real focus or payoff from any of them.
Notice that first and foremost, you have to rank first on a search engine results page for the most common variations of your company name.
Most of the time when users Google your company name, they want either your phone number or address, and typically people only want those if they have a serious interest in engaging with you in some way. So if the people who have an active desire to contact you can't find you, you are losing money—period.
Next, make sure your website can convince a visitor to do business with you. The vast majority of companies don't get past this level, and every minute you spend driving visitors to your site is wasted if your site doesn't persuade those visitors to do business with you. Your site should capture interested prospects and measurably deliver those leads to you.
If you are not successful at this level, the effectiveness of every other marketing effort you make on the Internet will be diluted.
Capturing Local Business
The next level on the pyramid is mission critical for any business that draws customers from a defined geography. Winning local search terms where the user puts in a geographic indicator in the search query involves different skill sets than regular organic search. In fact, your website and its content play a small role in this effort.
Local search is the Internet marketing strategy with the most impact, however it's often ignored by most businesses. You get three chances to appear on a search engine results page when someone is looking for what you offer: organic search listings, local search listings and pay-per-click ads (PPC).
Local search listings occupy a dominate portion of the search engine results page real estate, and searchers looking for a local business focus their attention on those listings. If you are not there, chances are very high you are missing potential business from people who have a strong, immediate need for what you offer.
PPC vs. SEO
Search engine optimization (SEO) has changed substantially over the last few months, and the purpose of this article is not to add to the confusion. Instead, by following the pyramid, you can make SEO easier through Pay Per Click ads.
SEO is a little like drilling for oil. You're going to have to rank for several phrases to find out which ones produce the website visitors with the highest probability of becoming your customers. Some phrases will pay off like gushing oil wells, some will not.
Gaining a high rank through natural search is difficult, time consuming and possibly expensive.
Ranking through Pay Per Click ads is easy, fast and, if you do it right, cost efficient. In the time and effort it will take you to rank for one key non-company-name phrase, you could rank for 20 phrases through Pay Per Click ads and be actively experimenting with which ones are profitable.
Remember this: if you get the target wrong, the weapon doesn't matter. PPC allows you to identify the phrases that draw visitors with business value. Once you identify them, you can progress to the next level of the pyramid and work on ranking naturally for those phrases.
Skip this step, and you could waste a lot of time and effort trying to rank for a phrase that has nothing in its well.
Emails and Lead Nurturing
Success at the first four levels of the pyramid will not only produce sales, but also qualified leads who simply weren't ready to buy at the point of initial contact. To ignore these leads is like never putting left-overs in the refrigerator. You'd be wasting something you already paid for.
There could be any number of reasons why the prospect didn't buy, and one could simply be it wasn't the right time. You need to be in front of them when the right time comes.
A regular email program with quality content about your industry or product line keeps your business top-of-mind and exponentially increases the Return On Investment of your Internet marketing. You've already paid for the lead acquisition, any sale generated simply increases your return.
The next two steps on the pyramid are ways to increase your natural search rankings. You need to create new content on your website (most efficiently through a blog) and participate as a guest writer on other blogs relevant to your industry. In those blog posts you contribute to other websites, you can link back to related valuable content on your website.
Remember to write about the topics contained in the search phrases that you are trying to win. Step four on the pyramid should have focused the subjects you write about. Even if nobody ever reads the content in your blog on your website, take comfort that it can still bring measurable value to your business because the search engines give value to websites with updated, relevant content.
Now you can see where the pyramid finally leads to social media. The value of social media is not debatable, but to do it correctly requires a reasonable amount of time and an even a greater degree of thought. Most companies are simply flailing at social media without a plan, purpose, priority or, most importantly, profit. They are quite simply drowning in shallow water.
Once you master the lower levels of the pyramid and have progressed properly step by step, you can confidently experiment with social media knowing that prospects who heard about your company through social media can find you and will be effectively persuaded by your website to become customers.
Internet marketing becomes much easier when you simply take it step by step. When you try to jump from the bottom step to the top, you often slip and fall. It's a fast paced medium, but slow and steady still wins the race to increased customer awareness and sales.
Matt Weber is the president of ROAR! Internet Marketing, a custom web development and Internet marketing firm in Altamonte Springs, FL, and a frequent instructor in Google's "Getting America's Business Online" program. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.