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Before proceeding with reading this post, just take a look at your email inbox. How many emails can you find there, promoting some product or a service? How many of them are actually relevant for you?

I’m sure if you are an average Sri Lankan who uses emails regularly, you will find a couple of dozens of Viagra promotions, another dozen of emails promoting Replica watches and quite a few from local email marketing agencies promoting one or more of their clients.

However, how many emails are there actually you opted in to receive? For sure, that is the least number of promotional emails you will see in your inbox.

I’m trying to get at the problem we are facing in using email as an effective marketing tool. Just as in any other form of media, there are “spoilers” who ruin the effectiveness of email marketing with their shortsighted activities on the cyberspace. Just having a technical understanding of ‘how to send a bulk email to 100,000 email addresses’ will not make you an eMail marketer, or give you the due qualification to start an email marketing agency. Sending out the email is just a one component of email marketing, but before getting there, you have to consider a lot more things to make your email marketing efforts effectiveness.

Email Marketing Defined

I define email marketing as “using email as a medium of communication to convey interactive messages to a highly relevant target audience who are willing to receive such messages from us”. Once I put forward this definition, I categorically label anything else as “Spam”.

My definition of eMail marketing contains three important basics you have to follow when carrying out email marketing.

  1. Relevant target audience
  2. Permission
  3. Interactive content

Relevant Audience

First you have to pick your target audience right. This is called prospect targeting. There are many strategies and tactics you can use when finding the right prospects to receive your email marketing. One commonly used tactic is to make your website visitors to sign-up for your mailing list. Someone visits your website, because they are interested in the content you publish on your website. That is an indication of relevancy of what you sell (product, service or idea) to the person who is about to sign up for your email list. You can directly promote your mailing list and give a voluntary sign up option on the website. Or else, you can give some ‘relevant bait’ like a free ebook, to encourage visitor to sign up for your mailing list. We use direct sign up method on www.petadivisor.org for signing up people for our ‘Pet Advisor Monthly – Pet Care Newsletter”. With this signup option, we make sure that people who receive our emails are actually pet owners and animal lovers.

Another method for making the audience relevant is by sponsoring related concepts. For example, a company in the travel industry can sponsor a “Travel Quiz” on a third party website, to collect prospects. There are prospect-targeting specialists who are specialized in conducting such contests, to collect prospective customers to your mailing list.

Permission

This is the least respected attribute of good email marketing practices. Getting the permission of the receiver is very important for increasing the effectiveness of your email marketing. Anyone who does not respect ‘permission’ are in reality, spamming the receivers even though they will find hundred and one excuses to justify their rudeness.

Permission consists of three elements.

  1. Opt in
  2. Double opt in
  3. Freedom to opt out

Out of these three elements, ‘double opt in’ is not a must have feature. However, ‘opt in’ and ‘freedom to opt out’ are two most essential elements in getting the receivers permission.

‘Opt in’ refers to making the receiver actively giving their consent to receive emails from us. This can happen with a sign up process as described in the “Pet Advisor Newsletter”, or by asking the customer to tick “I like to receive emails from you” option, at the check out stage of an eCommerce transaction. In whatever the way you are “opting in” the customer; they got to know that they are going to receive promotional emails from you in the future.

Double opt in works for confirming the customers’ decision to receive emails from you. This works in a way as verifying the validity of the email as well. Customer is expected to click on a ‘verification email’ sent to the email address he/she used for opting in. This is a highly effective thing to do, make your mailing list free of hard bouncing emails.

After a customer opts in to your mailing list, they should have the freedom of opting out from the list anytime they want. This is a legal requirement in many countries there are separate laws to govern email and direct marketing. If you don’t give a working opt out link in your emails, there’s a huge possibility that spam detectors will trigger and your mail will be marked as spam.

Can I Spam?

However, most email markets do away with the “opt in” part very easily, and stick only to the “opt out” option, and justify this with the excuse ‘law doesn’t made it mandatory to send emails only to opt in customers, and it specifically mention having an opt-out option is enough’.

If you look at this justification, you should be able to violation of the basic principles of marketing. Marketing keeps customer always in the forefront, and advocates not doing anything, which makes the customers unhappy. However, if someone advocates you to send unsolicited emails, just because the law does not specifically prohibit you doing so; be wary about such advices. Because, even though the law allows you to ‘spam’ people, in the long run that will kill your brand. Sticking to do the right things always will help you achieve success in the long run, rather than hitting short cuts for quick success.

Elements of a Successful Email Campaign

Subject Line

Objective of your subject line is to compel the user to open the mail. The subject line of your email should be short, and contain specific keywords appealing to the customers. Make it longer, you will lose the chance of opening it. Research say, having the reciever’s first name and/or ‘You’ in the subject line improves the open rate of an email. This is psychology, as most of us are quickly responding to anything addressed to our first name, or anything that specifically delivered to ‘me’. (Is this the reason why some Sinhala language radio DJs overusing the word “Oya” in their shows?)

Message Body

Get to the main point quickly. It is not the job of your receivers to read the flowery language in your email. So cut any unnecessary build up stories and get to the main point as soon as possible. Include call to actions in the mail body, to make it interactive. If you refer to any web page or a website, never forget to add the hyperlinks. It is annoying to cut and paste URLs from email.

Reply Path

Avoid do-not-reply@yourdomain.com email address to send emails. Make sure each and every email marketing message you send out carries a working reply path, which will be checked by a human being.

Choosing Your Email Marketing Agency

According to my knowledge, there is no single email marketing agency based in Sri Lanka, who practice the industry best practices. If apply industry standards, all the email marketing agencies in Sri Lanka are spammers. They use unethical tactics to collect emails (like forward chain emails promising free stuff) and their lists contain loads of unsolicited email addresses.

I recommend, you to build your own mailing list and use a web based solution like MailChimp or Awebar. This is bit costly compared to the easier route of going through one of the email marketing agencies, but if you apply the damage you are making to your brand by associating your brand with such spammers; you are much more better off in spending that money.

Summary

This is just a basic introduction for email marketing, which cannot be fully explained in a short article like this. If you are interested in learning more about email marketing best practices, you are always welcome to contact me via Twitter (@Amisampath) or by visiting my website at www.amisampath.com

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Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising on Search Engines

My last article on Digit Magazine about Search Engine Optimization received an overwhelming acceptance among some of the readers, and I thank everyone who contacts me via Twitter and email. In fact, SEO is becoming a widely discussed topic in Sri Lanka, and many local businesses are using Search Engine Optimization with a great level of expertise, which is a good trend in Sri Lanka. I hope I solved most of your SEO problems to the maximum I’m capable of.

From Search Engine Optimization; this issue we move onto another form of search engine marketing. This time we will discuss in detail about ‘Pay Per Click Advertising’ or PPC as we commonly refer.

When we say Pay Per Click advertising on search engines, we actually talk about the ‘Sponsored Links” appearing on your search engine result page.

PPC becomes handy, when it is highly competitive for you to reach the top ranks in organic results. For example, if you want your site to appear on top 5 organic results for the keyword “Cricket World Cup” you will have to compete with over 57,100,000 web pages, which requires an enormous SEO efforts. But, if you have a budget to spend; you can easily buy spot for you in the ‘sponsored links’ section of the SERP quite easily.

PPC advertising is by far the most widespread form of pay-for-performance search marketing. As it’s the most effective way for a search engine to make money, PPC is offered by almost every SE on Earth. However, the two most prominent providers of PPC advertising are Google and Yahoo.

Google AdWords

Google AdWords is the world leader in pay-per-click advertising. Currently it has more than 150,000 advertisers. The ads show up not only with Google search results, but also with Google partners such as AOL search, About.com and thousands of other websites that publish AdWords ads. Google has an interesting ad ranking system. It ranks ads not by the bid (the amount their owners are ready to pay for one click), but by the combination of the bid and the click-through ratio. This way, Google maximizes its revenue stream (since Revenue to Google = Bid x CTR x Views) and gives small advertisers an opportunity to effectively compete with big companies. A small advertiser cannot compete on the cost-per-click basis, but can successfully overcome any big company in terms of the click-through ratio.

AdWords ads can only contain 95 characters: 25 for the headline, then two 35-character-long description lines, and a visible URL field.

AdWords gives advertisers several options to target keywords: broad matching, exact matching, phrase matching, and negative keywords. The matching options define how close the search string entered by a user should be to a keyword selected by an advertiser. If the advertiser has chosen [cricket bats] as their keyword (square brackets mean exact match), their ad will be shown only if a user enters tennis ball into the search box. If the advertiser has chosen “cricket bats” (quotes mean phrase match), the ad shows up if a user searches for heavy cricket bats or used cricket bats or simply cricket bat.

Yahoo Search Marketing (YSM)

Yahoo! Search Marketing Solutions http://searchmarketing.yahoo.com (formerly Overture) is the second top player after Google in the field of PPC advertising. Overture (originally called GoTo) was the first company to offer PPC advertising and was later acquired by Yahoo. Yahoo ranks ad listings exclusively based on the bid amount; furthermore, if you get a top-3 listing with Yahoo, your ad will be prominently placed with MSN, Altavista, CNN, and other search and news portals.

Other PPC Engines

A PPC model is an excellent source of income for any search engine. Therefore, almost every search engine offers PPC advertising opportunities. Among the more prominent PPC Engines are:

I personally suggest anyone who is interested in PPC marketing, to start with Google Adwords. It’s easy to understand, and comes with a user friendly interface and a campaign structure.

Some key indices that you have to pay attention when doing PPC marketing are,

  • Max CPC Bid – Amount we are willing to pay maximum per click
  • CPC – Cost Per Click: Amount we actually spent per click
  • Average Position (Rank): The average rank at which our ad is displayed on Google sponsored listings
  • Impressions – No of times our ad delivered
  • Clicks – No of clicks we got
  • CTR – Clicks as a % of impressions
  • C/R – Transactions as a % of clicks
  • EPC – Earning Per Click: How much did you earn per click?
  • Cost Per Transaction

I believe, this article covered some basic introduction into what PPC advertising is, and how you can start campaigning on Google Adwords. In the next issue, I intend to focus on ‘Email Marketing’

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Search Engine Optimization

If you do a Google search for the keyword “world cup knockout table” you will find a page from my personal website (www.amisampath.com) ranked among the top 5 results of first search engine result page, out of 1,320,000 competing web pages indexed by Google for this keyword. During this first few days of FIFA world cup’s knock out stage, I am getting more than 2,000 visitors to this web page from around the world.

Is this accidental? No. This page is part of one of my experiments about Search Engine Optimization. I purposely picked the keyword “world cup knockout table” and created page targeted for people who will potentially search for this keyword when the knockout round of the world cup starts. Then I applied some general SEO tactics, and few of my own experiments to see what would be the outcome. The result had been phenomenal, as you can see from the Google Analytics screenshot below.

This is only a simple demonstration about the power of SEO, when driving free of charge traffic to your website. As I mentioned earlier, the above example is from an experiment I did for getting “quick results” in SEO. I will now consider practically implementing the tactics I used here, to achieve serious commercial objectives for my employer.SEO is an essential element in your online marketing strategy. Reason is, without having a good strategy for SEO, you cannot gain a proper visibility for your website on the internet.

SEO is aimed at increasing the rank of your website so it shows up in the top ten of a search engine results page (SERP). Since these top positions are the mostly clicked on in a search, it will incredibly increase traffic to your site. Getting to the #1 position is most difficult, but if you get there, that will earn you huge amount of website traffic. SEO is one of the most effective ways to drive traffic to your website.

But the question that most people don’t have an answer, and most businesses are spending millions of dollars every year to find an answer is “how can I get to one of these top ten positions?”.

It works like this, if I explained in the simplest language. Search engines look through a directory of websites and find the website that seems to best match the search term used by the user. If you are searching for “Cricket World Cup 2011“, the engine will look through its directory for websites with those terms. When it finds the terms, it weights those terms based on several factors. For example, where these keywords are placed (domain name, metatags, title page, headers, links, body paragraphs, etc. Headers and titles take precedence over body paragraph instances); How close the terms are together (if there are multiple terms, such as “World Cup” =2 search terms: “World” “Cup”). It then adds up all the weighted scores from that website and ranks the websites accordingly based on how well they fit the bill. It then displays the results, with the top-ranking sites getting the first page, and the other sites allocated to the dumps, where hardly anyone ventures. This is how search engines rank the sites.

If search engines are ranking web pages according to a pre-defined algorithm (which includes certain qualification criteria), then we can possibly make our web pages to match that algorithm, and get our pages ranked top on search engine’s organic results. This is SEO in basic language. But, it isn’t as easy as that. There are certain pitfalls to avoid and best practices to follow. Above all, there is no one on this earth, who knows exactly the all criteria included in Google’s algorithm. It’s all guesswork, based on some hints passed by top influential people at Google.

There are some fundamental truths in SEO and it is fair to say that search engines today consider the following when ranking a given web page:

  • The content of the page – what it’s about, what words are used prominently.
  • What words are used in the title of the page?
  • What words are used in the URL of the page?
  • What words are highlighted on the page?
  • What internal links (links from other pages on the same site) point to it?
  • How many external links point to it and more importantly, whether those pages are relevant to the page’s subject matter?
  • The text used to form the internal and external links.
  • Even the age of the domain name plays a role in its ranking!

There is a lot more involved of course and that list could have gone on for a while. Factors such as keywords, the use of images and Flash animations, and the design of the site itself also play a role in a page’s ranking.

As I mentioned at the outset, SEO is not an easy topic to be comprehended in a one article like this. If you are interested in getting information on how to learn more about SEO, and specially to know some of the unpublished strategies used for optimizing your website, you can always drop me an email at amitha [ at ] amisampath [ dot ] com. I will direct you to more informative sources for you to learn SEO and use it for your practical purposes.

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Understanding Search Engine Marketing

After the first few lessons covering the basics of internet marketing, now we are ready for the next level of understanding internet marketing. We now move on the most discussed area of “Search Engine Marketing”.

Search engine marketing mainly involves “Search Engine Optimization (SEO)”, and Pay Per Click advertising (PPC). The objective of search engine marketing is to make sure a link to your website is placed in the first search engine result page (SERP) of major search engines, for queries (keywords) related to your business. For example imagine that you own a small budget hotel in Colombo. When someone search for “budget hotels in Colombo” on Google, if your website is not shown up in the first page of the SERP, you will lose a whole lot of potential customers.

In order for you to place a link to your website on Google’s SERP, you can choose two options.

  1. Sign up with Google Adwords and place sponsored links (PPC)
  2. Optimize your website to Google’s search algorithm, and make sure your link appear on the organic results section of the SERP (SEO).

Search engines are the most popular method for target customers to find you. As such,

SEs are the most vital avenue for letting customers find you.

Currently, search engines around the world together receive around 400,000,000 searches per day. The searches are done with the help of keywords: as a rule, people type a short phrase consisting of two to five keywords to find what they are looking for. It may be information, products, or services.

In response to this query, a search engine will pick from its huge database of Web pages those results it considers relevant for the Web surfer’s terms, and display the list of these results to the surfer. The list may be very long and include several million results (remember that nowadays the number of pages on the Web reaches 2.1 trillion, i.e. 2,100,000,000,000); so the results are displayed in order of their relevancy and broken into many pages (most commonly 10 results per page). Most Web surfers rarely go further than the third page of results, unless they are considerably interested in a wide range of materials (e.g. for a scientific research). One reason for this is that they commonly find what they look for on those first pages without the needing to dive in any deeper.

That’s why a position among the first 30 results (or “top-30 listing”) is a coveted goal.

There used to be a great variety of search engines, but now after major reshuffles and partnerships there are just several giant search monopolies that are most popular among Web surfers and which need to be targeted by optimizers.

There are – and the search engines are aware of this – more popular searches and less popular searches. For instance, a search on the word “myrmecology” is conducted on the Web much more rarely than a search for “Web hosting”. Search engines make money by offering special high positions (most often called “sponsored results”) for popular terms, ensuring that a site will appear to Web surfers when they search for this term, and that it will have the best visibility. The more popular the term, the more you will have to pay for such a listing.

The term “search engine” (SE) is often misused to describe both directories and pure search engines. In fact, they are not the same; the difference lies in how result listings are generated.

  • crawler-based (traditional, common) search engines;
  • directories (mostly human-edited catalogs);
  • hybrid engines (META engines and those using other engines’ results);
  • pay-per-performance and paid inclusion engines.

Crawler-based SEs, also referred to as spiders or Web crawlers, use special software to automatically and regularly visit websites to create and supplement their giant Web page repositories. Human-edited directories are different. The pages that are stored in their repository are added solely through manual submission. The directories, for the most part, require manual submission and use certain mechanisms (particularly, CAPTCHA images) to prevent pages from being submitted automatically. After completing the submission procedure, your URL will be queued for review by an editor, who is, luckily, a human. Then, what are hybrid engines? Some engines also have an integrated directory linking to them. They contain websites which have already been discussed or evaluated. When sending a search query to a hybrid engine, the sites already evaluated are usually not scanned for matches; the user has to explicitly select them. Whether a site is added to an engine’s directory generally depends on a mixture of luck and content quality. Sometimes you may “apply” for a discussion of your website, but there’s no guarantee that it will be done.

SEO (search engine optimization) is the solution for making your page more search-engine friendly. The optimization is mostly oriented towards crawler-based engines, which are the most-popular on the Internet.

PPC is most often used, when businesses find it time consuming and tedious task for optimizing their website for search engines. Rather than taking that “difficult route”, companies advertise their links on PPC channels such as Google Adwords, Yahoo Search Marketing or Bing AdCenter.

(Image URL: http://lh3.ggpht.com/_Ty0HUPmsLIA/S_FlwSAkbDI/AAAAAAAAAwc/UQscESra_MM/s912/SERP.JPG)

 

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Designing a Website for Your Business

Up to last article of this series, we learned what is eMarketing and how can you strategize the eMarketing efforts for your business with the DEMO Model.

In this issue, I will talk about one of the fundamental requirements you should satisfy for being effective with eMarketing. That is to having a compelling website for your business.

Having a website for your business is a very fundamental requirement, before you go online with your business. The website is the base camp for your business, on the internet. You drive potential customers to the website, and then convince them to buy from you. What happen if your website fails to satisfy the visitors coming in search for a solution from your company? This is why it is very important for to have the website right from the outset, in order to get better results from your online marketing activities.

 

Who Owns the Website of Your Company?

A question so regularly asked and even more regularly answered incorrectly is “who should make the decisions about your company’s website?” A common trend in Sri Lanka is to passing the responsibility of the website to the most “techy guy” in the entire company (if it’s a small company), or to the Network/IT division if it is a larger company. The idea behind this is “website is a techy thing, and someone with an IT background should handle it”. A vast majority of websites fail to deliver sound business results, simply because of this blatant blunder committed by most well established companies in this country. On the other hand, most web design firms in Sri Lanka, started as freelance businesses by someone with the technical knowledge of setting up a website, or as joint ventures of few such people. These web design firms largely lacked the “business sense” when designing the structure of the website. Websites created by such firms for many clients in business sector, failed to deliver any tangible business results for the companies who used their services. This created a massive frustration among the business community in Sri Lanka, about the whole concept of having a website for their business. I have talked to many such Sri Lankan businessmen, who still believe having a website for their business is a mere waste of money; as a result of such bad experiences with low quality web design firms.

Web design firms alone cannot be blamed about this sad situation. Even the business community has done it wrong, when they first started setting up a website for their company. A friend of mine working for a well established web design company in Colombo told me, “90% of the time when we go for a client meeting, we are welcomed and hosted by the head of IT department and his team. Very rarely we are allowed to talk to the business and marketing people”. If you look at the websites of some of the biggest companies in Sri Lanka, you will see the information on those sites have not been updated for last 5 years. They simply followed the “trend” and put up a website, as yet another “IT department job”, and let it stagnating there forever. When they don’t see the expected “business results” from the website, they blame the internet as “a waste of time” and the web design people as “scammers”.

If you need business results from your website, let the business people handle the website. Your company’s website must be owned and managed by the marketing division, or (if you don’t have a marketing division) by the people who are most close to your customers. Every decision regarding the user interface of the website needs to be made by the marketing division. The role of IT is only to decide, what back-end systems to be used when creating the website. The rest; including the content, color theme, layouts, interface elements, are totally business decisions and must be made with the customer in forefront.

As I mentioned earlier, your website is a tool of communication with the customers. If it doesn’t integrate well with rest of your customer communications, or if it doesn’t contain the latest customer communications, then you will see your website is failing to communicate with the customers. When you run a new advertising campaign on TV, you should synchronize it with your website to reflect more relevant information about the new campaign. Because, your customers come online to search for more information on what you advertise. If you fail to give what they want; what you are doing is possibly turning back thousands of potential customers.

 

Importance of Usability

Usability; or the ease of navigating through the site to complete a desired action by a visitor is the most important factor you have to keep in mind when designing a website. It is known that up to 20% of all Internet users have some form of disability and 10% of males are colorblind. These factors need to be kept in mind when designing the interface of your website.

A website with poor usability is more likely to be abandoned quickly by its visitors. By improving some of the basic usability issues, a website can cut the bounce rate (percentage of visitors who view only a one page of the website) dramatically.

Before launching the website for your actual customers, you must test the site for usability among a sample of your target audience. If this is not possible, you should at least consult someone with both the knowledge of marketing and website usability to evaluate the site and make suggestions for improvements.

 

Selecting the Color Combinations

Research says that the visual appeal of a website is assessed within 50 milliseconds. Therefore it is really important to have an appealing look & feel for your website, for being convincing enough for your visitors. It should not look like a black & white document in Times New Roman font on an A4 sheet. On the other extreme, it should not look like the exterior of an up market Casino in Las Vegas. You should strike a balance in between these two extremes, and pick an ideal color scheme for your website.

The ideal color scheme should contain maximum 2 main colors, and a maximum of 5 to 6 variations of those two colors in total. Remember in mind that using as many as colors is not going to make your website appealing to the customers more.


Eg: The Facebook color theme contains a set of simple color variations.

The color scheme of your website should ideally match the corporate colors of your company, but it is not always a must. If you are choosing a different color platter, make sure you have at least one main color to resemble your corporate identity.

Once you select your color platter, then decide which exact color is to be used for different elements of your website like, for filling text boxes, colors of buttons, colors of headings, links etc. After deciding on these things, strictly adhere to the standards. For example, if you assign a particular lighter green for the buttons of your website; don’t use a blue color button in a deep linked page of your website. If you cannot decide alone the perfect color platter for your website, get the help from a professional designer or someone who is knowledgeable about colors and design elements.

 

How Search Engine Friendly is Your Site?

When designing your website, you must adhere to the basic guidelines of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), in order to be able to easily found by main search engines like Google and Yahoo. There are number of “on site factors” that you have to keep in mind when designing your website. You must have a basic knowledge in Search Engine Optimization, or you should consult someone with the skill of SEO, before you make a final decision of your website’s design. These basic factors that you have to pay attention includes (but not limit to) the factors such as..

  • Validating your HTML code so it is “spider” compliant
  • Making sure you use the correct file names (URLs) for your web pages (Dynamic Vs Static pages)
    The Title Tag should be compelling and focused
  • Your description tag needs to work hand-in-hand with the title to get the searcher to “click” on the listing.
  • Every page should have a unique title & description
  • JavaScript should be referenced as an external file
  • CSS should be referenced as an external file
  • Main graphics uare tagged with proper ALT tags

 

Conversion Funnel

A business website should have a business objective in focus, even if the objective is not an eCommerce conversion. It might be a sales lead for your offline business, or sign up to your newsletter. You should have a clear picture in mind, how your visitors will navigate through to the objective of your website. This expected navigation path towards the ultimate goal, is known as the “conversion funnel” of your website. When designing the website, you should make sure the content on your website does not disturb this expected conversion funnel, and at the same time you have to make sure your site contains enough resources and tools for the user to navigate easily through to the ultimate goal. Failing to have the supporting content and tools may result in the visitor abandoning your site at some point, before completing the goal.

 

Summary

We learned that, the design of the website can either make your business or break your business, depending on the effort you put towards planning your website. We further learned that the website of a business firm, should always be managed by the marketing department, and not by the IT department. When designing a website, you must focus on its usability, color theme, ease of navigation, the search engine friendliness, and the conversion funnel towards the business goal.

 

In the Next Issue

Up to now, in the four articles so far in this series, what we have discussed is mainly about how to strategizing your emarketing efforts. Now with the strategy is properly in place, from next issue onwards we will focus on the execution part of your eMarketing strategy. In the next issue, I will cover the Search Engine Marketing in general, and later on I will take each of the Search Engine Marketing tools in details.

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Developing and Executing a Strategy for Your eMarketing Efforts

 

Welcome to the third article in this series on eMarketing and Digital Media. In the first article, we defined strategy as “knowing where you want to go and figuring out how to go there”. When developing a strategy for your eMarketing efforts, first thing that you have to figure out is “where do you want your business to be?”. Only if you know where your business to reach in a specified future point of time; you can decide on what eMarketing strategies and tactics to adapt for helping your business reach the target.

I invented the DEMO Model as an effective way of managing your eMarketing planning efforts. When I say “I invented”, this simply means I put this into an understandable model. What is in this model are not originally invented by me; but rather are generic application in any kind of a planning process.

The DEMO Model of eMarketing Planning

 

 

1) Design Your eMarketing Strategy

This is the critical first step of your eMarketing planning process. In this stage, you have to follow six sub steps.

    • Define Product/Service

Having a clear understanding about what is your product/service, and what it can/cannot do to your customers is important. Trying to communicate too many benefits to your customers will result in confusion in the customer’s mind. Therefore, strategically selecting a package of benefits offered by your brand, as compared to the competitors is very important. In this process, you may have to sacrifice some of the fancy features that you want to add to your product or service.

    • Profile the Target Customers

You may not be expecting to sell your product or service to everybody out there in the market. Identify who are your customers and who are not your customers. Make a clear definition of “who are not my customers?”. This becomes very important when it comes to solving customer problems down the way. If a person who is not within your definition of a “customer” raises a problem, you can ignore that to save much of your resources and effort. But be mindful that not only those who are willing to buy from you are your customers. Anybody who can influence your potential buyers in a big way, are your customer. Once you get a clear definition of your target customer, and then know where they are usually hanging around in the internet.

    • Define Your eMarketing Goals

To begin with, first think critically if you are still going to need any eMarketing. What are you going to achieve with eMarketing? How would they link to the broader business goals? Some examples of eMarketing goals are creating brand awareness, generating sales leads, improving search engine process, generating ecommerce sales revenue etc. Are these goals adding value to your business? In some companies, people start eMarketing with the objective of building brand awareness. But when they don’t get enough sales from their eMarketing efforts, they abandon entire eMarketing plans, citing low ROI. In reality, if you define your eMarketing goal as building brand awareness, direct ROI is not the best measure of verifying whether you achieved your goal or not.

    • Define Your eMarketing Message

To achieve your eMarketing goals in the selected target market, what message you are going to communicate to them? Your message should be consistent with your broader integrated marketing communication messages. It should not position your brand, differently to your preferred brand positioning communicated through other marketing channels.

    • Identify Online Channels Options

Once you define your target customer, you can know where they are hanging around while surfing the internet and how frequently they are using the internet. Based on this information, now you can select from different options of online channels (Facebook, Youtube, Google etc) and eMarketing options (SEO, PPC, Community, Viral Marketing etc) to target them.

    • Design Specific Action Plans

At this stage, you need to plan the specific action plans and activities to be carried out in each of the selected channels, in order for you to communicate your eMarketing messages to the target audience. Now you need to get into a little tactical level and think of specific promotions you are going to do on Twitter, specific link building tactics you are going to adapt if pursuing on SEO etc.

 

2) Execute Your Strategy

As you are going through the next three steps in the DEMO model, you will realize that the toughest part is the first one. That is to define your strategy. Once you take enough time to lay down a sound plan in the “Design” stage, the execution becomes much easier.

When planning the execution, think of time involved in implementing each action plan you drafted, resources required, who is going to do what etc. Properly laying down time plans and resource allocations will give you an idea on what difficulties to expect when implementing the plan.

 

3) Measure the Results

After executing your new eMarketing strategy, how do you know whether you have achieved anything out of it or not? When you set your eMarketing goals, you should set specific measurement criteria to check whether you are achieving the goals. For example, if you set an eMarketing goal of building brand awareness, you should measure the number of brand mentions in online forum discussions, number of sales leads received by an online ad you place. There are various tools available out there, that you can use in tracking your results. If you run a website, it is very important to have an analytics tool (Eg: Google Analytics) to measure your results. You can use Google blog alerts, news alerts etc to track your brand mentioning on internet. You can use some free SEO tools (Webmaster Central) to measure the effectiveness of your SEO efforts. With these type of tools and methods, you should be able to measure your eMarketing performance on a continuous basis. The objective of “measurement” is to justify the resources and effort you put into eMarketing.

 

4) Optimize your eMarketing

Measuring your results will trigger an array of insights on different areas where you can fine-tune your eMarketing efforts. Take inputs from these insights, and go back to the designing process. See where you lose money, or on which channels you put lot of efforts without really gaining any valuable outcome. Continuously keep fine-tuning the eMarketing campaigns based on the goals and actual outcomes.

 

I hope the DEMO model will be very useful as a framework for initiating the very first eMarketing plan for a small business or a start-up. In the beginning, you will realize that design stage is the most important and toughest. Later when you go alone, you will start to realize that optimization is the most important area to focus. In the longer run, you will reach a point at which small incremental optimizations seize delivering attractive results. This is the point at which you may have to consider the option of a creative destruction. You may want to abandon the entire existing process, and start it all over from the design stage.

 

In the Next Issue

In the next issue of Digit Magazine, I will discuss about the importance of business web design. I will argue the point that a company’s website is not the job of their technical staff, but rather the job of the marketing department.

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Let me start the second article of this series, by thanking all of you who contacted me through email and Twitter after reading my first article. Your feedback and suggestions are warmly welcomed and I appreciate the encouragement you extended to me.
In the last issue we discussed the importance of having a basic understanding about principles of marketing, before someone endeavor with any sort of eMarketing initiative. We defined the concept of marketing, and went into describing the value creation process of marketing. Then we discussed that eMarketing is essentially a tactical element in a broader strategic level marketing plan for a company or a small business. Today we will narrow down our discussion into the topic of eMarketing and its scope.

 

Defining eMarketing

eMarketing; a shorten use of “electronic marketing” can simply be defined as the electronic version of marketing. Dave Chaffey defines eMarketing (or digital marketing) as “Achieving marketing objectives through applying digital technologies” (Book: Internet Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice). Why I like this definition the most is, it’s focus on “achieving marketing objectives”. If your strategic marketing objectives are not achieved at the end of the day after spending millions on digital technologies; you are merely engaged in technology management, but not eMarketing management. This re-emphasize the point I made in my last article that, eMarketing essentially is a business concept; not a technology concept.

 

Different Channels of eMarketing

What do actually eMarketers do? When performing a job in eMarketing, you will have to be thorough on some of these eMarketing channels. You can either become a specialist in an identified channel (SEO specialist, Adwords guru) or become a jack of all trades. Even if you decide to focus your expertise in a selected area, you will still need to have an understanding on the other areas.

 

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In the next few issues of Digit Magazine, I will take each of these channels and discuss in depth with tips on practical application of each channel.

 

eMarketing as a Process

The process of eMarketing contains three sequential steps and a one underpinning step

 

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At the stage of acquisition, eMarketers are responsible of attracting new customers to the business through various eMarketing activities. This is where the eMarketing channels we discussed above become important. Using these channels, an eMarketer can promote a product/service or a business to a potential customer base. By targeting these customers, the eMarketer first builds and awareness about product, and then creating a willingness among these customers to visit a website for more information on your deal. For example an eMarketer working for a tourist hotel in Colombo can place a PPC ad on Google for the keyword “hotels in Colombo” and get the attention of people who are actively searching for hotels. After getting the attention, the customer will click on the ad and land on the official website of the hotel to read more information. This completes a successful “customer acquisition” or “sales lead generation” for the tourist hotel. Among the three main steps, this is the easiest part. Most eMarketing agencies and experts will help you performing this step only and charge you a huge bill. But always keep in mind that the challenging part is to convert these leads into actual customers.

During the conversion stage the eMarketer is responsible of generating revenue from the acquired traffic. Some people argue that this is not the job of an eMarketer. I tend to disagree with this argument. Because; as soon as you remove “conversion” from the responsibility of eMarketers you will start to get truckloads of unqualified traffic to your website wasting all your marketing dollars. If the eMarketer is held responsible of conversion of the traffic, he or she will focus more on the quality of the traffic in order to improve the conversion rates. On the other hand, having first hand experience in the link between traffic sourcing and sales converting will compliment each other well; creating synergistic value in the entire eMarketing efforts.

Retention stage of the process is the most important part. It is widely known that cost of acquiring a new customer is as high as five time the cost of retaining and existing customers. Therefore companies are now increasingly paying attention on retaining their online customers with customer relationship management (CRM) tools and online loyalty programs.

 

Different Levels of Getting Onboard with eMarketing at Your Company

A question bothering most marketing professionals is “how deep should be integrate our marketing efforts with eMarketing?”. The levels of getting onboard with eMarketing can range from simply listing your business in an online directory (yellow pages or similar) to setting up a fully pledged eCommerce website to carry out complex business activities online.

 

1. Listing in Online Directories

The most elementary level at which a company can have a web presence is a listing in one or more online business directories or portals. Think of this as an online business card or a web-based Yellow Pages entry. This is fast and inexpensive to do and does not require a website or even an email address. The directory simply lists your company name, specialization, physical address and contact details.

 

2. The online brochure

When most businesses, even large corporations, put together their first website, it is nothing more than a basic brochure. Small businesses are product-centric, and ‘our website’ is nearly always ‘all about us’. Large corporations follow the same focus; their first sites are often no more than an abbreviated annual report. None of this is remotely interesting to online consumers, whose primary interest lies in solving their own problems. If someone is looking for a little black dress for the company cocktail party, do they really care about your share price or who your chairman is? If they want to find the

best plasma television for their budget, how useful is a list of the brands you stock in stores with no model numbers, technical specifications, prices or reviews?

 

3. The lead generator

Instead of being ‘all about us’, the site is modified to encourage visitors to provide their contact details, to contact the company, or to enquire about its products or services. In some instances, visitors may even be encouraged to make a purchase, although there is no ecommerce payment processing system in place. It is at this stage that many companies start to run into trouble. Usually, the site uses a simple web form that the visitor fills in and submits, its content going into a database or spreadsheet, or to an email.

 

4. The ecommerce site

Ecommerce lets your site visitors transact in real time, instead of having to undertake the turn based communication of stage-three sites. You simply need to provide secure ecommerce transaction abilities if you wish to take payments online. If you cannot take payments online, you can never be competitive as an online seller.

No matter at which stage of these levels your company is in, you need to engage in online promotions to attract customers to your company. In my opinion, most Sri Lankan companies are stuck at the stage 2. Most Sri Lankan business managers believes that having a website will do magic for their business, and stops at the point of creating a website. Web development companies abuse this thinking, and they charge huge bill just to create a static website which no one is benefited. To see how true my argument; simply browse some of the websites fro Sri Lankan blue-chip companies. Try to contact them through the emails listed under “contact us” section and you will hardly get a reply. To improve the effectiveness of their eMarketing efforts, the Sri Lankan companies need to quickly move up this ladder to at least generating leads and following up with them.

 

In the Next Article

In the next article of this series, I will discuss on the initial steps of developing a strategy for your eMarketing activities. The article will cover areas of identifying your business goals and selecting the best eMarketing tactics and channels to achieve them.

 

References:

Internet Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice by Dave Chaffey
Doing Business Digitally by Godfrey Parkin,

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Welcome to the first of this series of articles on eMarketing and Online Advertising on the Digit Magazine. Throughout the next few issues, I will walk you through the basics of eMarketing and show you several practical tips to do effective marketing for your brand/website on the worldwide web.

One fundamental mistake most self-proclaimed eMarketing experts are making is, to categorize eMarketing as a “techy business”. In fact, technology is only an enabler of eMarketing, but not the essence of it. Therefore it is utmost important for one to know the basics of Marketing, before learning the “e” version of the same devil. Trying to learn eMarketing without knowing the fundamentals of marketing is like trying to learn how to run, without even knowing how to stand on your own feet. So, let’s straight away get into business by learning the basics of marketing.

 

What is Marketing?

A common myth among most Sri Lankans is the idea that marketing is synonymous with selling. The emerging trend of “tele-marketing firms” who try to hard sell their products to us with extensive infomercials on TV, and door to door sales people who identify them selves as “marketing executives” are some of the reasons for our people to believe in this myth. Interestingly enough, management guru Peter Drucker says, “The aim of marketing is to make selling unnecessary”. This statement by Peter Drucker is a clear indication that Marketing is a much wider subject area than merely selling a product. If you do your marketing right, the product will sell by itself. Objective of marketing is to making it is unnecessary for the company to put extra efforts to sell their product.

 

Defining Marketing

Different professional bodies and institutions in the field of marketing have defined the concept in many different ways. I believe it should not be the objective of this series of articles to go into such detailed technical definitions of the subject. Instead, I will tell you my most favorite definition of marketing which I gathered from Philip Kotler. He defines marketing in one sentence to say, “Marketing is managing profitable customer relationships”. I believe this is the most concise and most meaningful definition of marketing. This definition captures the two extremes that the marketers have to balance in performing their job for the brand or the product they are representing. The two extremes are;

1) Earning profit for the company

2) Building customer relationships.

If your marketing activities achieve short-term profitability but lose valuable customers in the long-term as a result of making them dissatisfied with poor product quality or poor service; then you haven’t achieved success in your marketing efforts. On the other hand, if your marketing activities create ultra satisfied customers who are willing to buy from you for many more years, but not making a sizable profit for your company; then again you are in a losing proposition. The job of the marketer therefore is, to strike a balance between these two extremes.

 

While it is understandable that profit can be achieved by measurable financial decision, the question arise how do someone create lasting customer relationships in the process. The answer lies in the process of crating customer value. Therefore, marketing is essentially a process of creating customer values and demanding a profit from the customer for delivering such value. For example, think of the amount you are willing to pay more for a home visit doctor as compared to paying a visit to a doctor by yourself. The gap is usually very much greater than the cost of transportation to be incurred by either party (you or the doctor). You are willing to pay more for a home visit doctor, because you find it convenient. Convenience is a “customer value” created by the home visit doctor. You can now think of many more similar examples such as, meter taxis, home delivered Pizza, low fat food, etc. In each of these cases, the marketer is addressing a problem faced by the customer, which is not covered by a competitor’s offer. The customer is willing to pay a price higher than the cost of producing it, because customer sees “value” in possessing the product as a solution for the problem they face. Therefore to put it in a simple form, we can say that marketing is essentially is a customer value creation process.

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In the process of value creation and delivery in the market place, a company is first taking a strategic approach to marketing and then operationalizes their strategies through tactical level marketing tools. This distinction between strategic marketing and tactical marketing will become very important when we move on to define eMarketing in the future. Almost all the stuff that we are going to learn as eMarketing will fall mostly into the categorization of tactical marketing. In other words, eMarketing merely is a medium of executing the marketing strategies developed by a company at a much broader level.

 

What is Strategy and What are Tactics?

My last two sentences in the above paragraph may become controversial among people who preach the words “emarketing Strategies”. If emarketing is only a tactical tool of executing a broader level marketing strategy, how can we see this many blog posts, ebooks, and sometimes, printed books been written on the topic “eMarketing Strategy”. The answer is very simple. The word “strategy” is the most commonly misused (abused; sometime even raped) word among many practicing managers and marketers. Most people do not see much of a difference between a strategy and a tactic. Therefore, they wrongly use the word “strategy” to identify all the actions they take in their marketing efforts. So what is strategy then? It’s a much argued word in modern management literature and I haven’t seen a consensus definition for this term so far. Therefore, I will stick to the definition of Henry Mintzberg, which is accepted as a well-established definition of business strategy. According to him strategy is

  1. A plan, a “how,” a means of getting from here to there.
  2. A pattern in actions over time; for example, a company that regularly markets very expensive products is using a “high end” strategy.
  3. Strategy is position; that is, it reflects decisions to offer particular products or services in particular markets.
  4. Strategy is perspective, that is, vision and direction.

In contrast, Micheal E Porter talks about “competitive strategy” where he defines strategy as “deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value.” In short, Porter argues that strategy is about competitive position, about differentiating yourself in the eyes of the customer, about adding value through a mix of activities different from those used by competitors.

A much more generally accepted and commonly taught definition is “Strategy is, knowing where you want to go and figuring out how to go there”. If we take this definition for business strategy, we can say “act of going there” is your tactical plan. For example, you might figure out that taking a motorcycle ride is the best method of going to the place you are planning to go. Now the tactical part is to figuring out “what type, size of a motor cycle?”, “how to start the motor cycle?” etc.

In marketing field, we talk about the 4 P’s (or 7 P’s) of marketing as the tactical level plans. That is, once you figure out your strategic route towards achieving your business vision, you then use your Products, Price, Place (distribution), and Promotion (additionally People, Processes, and Physical Evidence in services) to deliver the value identified in your strategy making process. You use these 4P’s as a vehicle to transport your created value to the mind of the customers.

In this sense, my argument is; use of eMarketing exists in one or more of these P’s in marketing; not in the strategy making process. For example, using SEO is a way of distributing your content (products) to those who are searching a solution for a problem, which will be potentially addressed by your product. Imagine you have the best remedy for stomachache in the world, but if your product is not available when a customer looks at a supermarket shelve to buy a remedy for stomachache; that means you have not done your “distribution” (Placement) well. It applies if you are not present in Google organic results when a customer searches for “remedy for stomachache”.

Therefore, we can conclude that eMarketing plays more of a tactical marketing role, rather than being a strategic marketing activity. eMarketing can hardly be a competitive strength in the future, as cost of adopting eMarketing is fast becoming cheaper to afford for any company, and the knowledge base of eMarketing is widely spreading thanks to many free online sources to learn eMarketing. This further hinders the strategic value of eMarketing for organizations.

Having a lower strategic value does not mean that companies can survive without eMarketing. In fact eMarketing is fast becoming a utility like water and electricity. Therefore, eMarketing is no longer a strategic option. It is necessary component in your marketing mix for the future.

 

Summary

Marketing is commonly misunderstood as a synonym for effective selling. Nevertheless, marketing is essentially different from the concept of selling. We define marketing as “Managing profitable customer relationships”. It is a process of creating customer value. Marketing differs in strategic marketing and tactical marketing. Strategic marketing involves identification of profitable market gaps and designing superior value propositions to fulfill such gaps. Tactical marketing involves executing such strategies into actions and getting results. We have concluded that eMarketing plays a more of a tactical marketing role in organizations, and the strategic role of eMarketing is insignificant.

 

In the Next Issue

The focus on this article was mainly on understanding the basics of marketing. In the next article I will move into in detail about eMarketing and the key components of a a perfect eMarketing mix.