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Hard Truths about Promoting Your Business Online (#2)

December 14, 2014

In part 1 of the Hard Truths series I talked about misinformation within the SEO industry and the urgent need for NZ business owners to take the mobile website experience more seriously. I also called on business owners to change the way they think about SEO if they want to generate more targeted traffic to their site.

In the second part of this series, I'm going to focus on a couple of the things that frustrate me most (they related to wasting money!). I’m not an easily frustrated guy – I just hate seeing business owners committing their marketing budget to activities that are ineffective and difficult to measure, or simply not executed correctly. As you read part 2, keep in mind that while not all points I raise are applicable to all businesses, they do reflect scenarios that I come across on a weekly basis.

Hard truth #4

You have no idea whether your offline advertising efforts are working, yet continue to spend money on them.

Too many business owners are relying solely upon traditional forms of marketing, such as print ads, radio and billboard advertising while ignoring online opportunities. While I fully endorse integrated marketing campaigns and appreciate the importance of the 'touchy feely' brand benefits that traditional advertising media deliver so well, I really struggle with the fact that it is extremely difficult to accurately measure whether traditional forms of mass media promotion are performing.

I also struggle with the number of NZ businesses who persist with traditional disruption advertising like radio, yet baulk at the comparatively small investment required to dip a toe in the water with online promotion, especially when in 99% of cases they have little insight into whether their traditional ad spend is making the phone ring or attracting new customers.

Anecdotal feedback suggests that cost is one of the biggest reasons why NZ businesses are hesitant to get more involved with online promotion. This baffles me somewhat, as my research and experience has indicated that online marketing is actually more affordable (and infinitely more measurable) than most traditional forms of marketing.

According to my research (presented in the table below), you could set up and run an AdWords campaign for six months for the price of three months of advertising in a local community paper (12 placements). If billboard advertising is your thing, then you might consider running a six month long local SEO campaign, which costs less than just one month of billboard advertising. It's these types of figures that make it difficult for me to understand the cost barrier. Or could it be a case of some business owners playing it safe by sticking to what they know, particularly as online advertising is a new concept for many?

Based on the data I’ve compiled, you can see why I argue that online advertising is significantly more affordable than traditional channels. To top it off, it also offers the huge benefits of being highly targeted, measurable and transparent. 

Regardless of the platform, successful advertising is based on getting your message in front of potential customers at the right time. When prospective customers need a product, they’re unlikely to pick up their weekly community newspaper. And chances are that they aren’t going to drive by your billboard or hear your radio advertisement at the precise moment they need your product. Instead they’re turning to the internet, seeking information and solutions to their problems precisely at the time they need it – a time when they’re highly engaged, ready to learn, and eager to enquire or buy. If cost is the issue, can you really afford not to be there at that time?

What can you do about it?
My challenge to business owners – be brave for a quarter and ditch the print ads, pause the radio campaign, take down the billboard and test the waters with online advertising! I know that’s very easy to for me to say from the outside, but at least at the end of the quarter you’ll know whether or not it worked for your business, which is more than can be said for the other mass media channels you're pinning your success on.

Hard truth #5

Digital Marketing won’t save your business

While Digital Marketing can have a profound impact on the performance of a business, it's unrealistic to think that it can be a saviour for businesses that are struggling. Digital marketing won’t save businesses that:

  • Deliver poor products or service (e.g. a hotel with a poor reputation or less than ideal location)
  • Have a pricing structure that’s out of sync with the competition or what the market is willing to pay (e.g. if you’re a hotel and I can book a room cheaper via Booking.com than I can directly via your website, rest assured I’ll be taking the cheaper option)
  • Have a lack of dedicated, well trained employees
  • Are built on an unsustainable business model
  • Are feeling the ill effects of attempting to grow too big, too fast
  • Deliver unsatisfactory levels of customer service

Regardless of how good any digital marketing company might be, if your business suffers from any of the above you're going to find it difficult to achieve and/or maintain a strong online presence over the long-term. Getting scores of new visitors to your site is not the answer to solving your business problems. If anything, it will only magnify existing problems.

On the other hand, if you've got a strong product or service, a team of committed, skilled and enthusiastic staff, and a good website on which to grow your online presence, then digital marketing and the traffic it generates will certainly help make your business even more successful.

What can you do about it?
Here are some tips to ensure you’re set up for success when it comes to digital marketing:

  • Steer clear of thinking that SEO, 'better rankings' and more traffic to your website will be your business’ knight in shining armour
  • Make sure your business is viable and performing well before you attempt to attract more customers
  • Make sure you've got the right product or service, skills and team to delight your existing customers while having a plan in place that allows you to cater to new customers without impacting on the quality of your product or the service levels you can deliver to existing ones
  • Use supplemental marketing strategies to enable your business to remain afloat even without search engines. While a constant influx of traffic from Google can do amazing things for a business, the algorithm updates of the past three years have proven it’s foolhardy to place your business' success or failure solely in the hands of search engines.

Hard truth #6

Your self-managed AdWords campaign is wasting money and costing you business

I’m a big proponent of AdWords campaigns, but only when they’re well planned, thoughtfully executed and carefully maintained. AdWords is Google’s cash cow and brings in over 90% of the search giant’s annual revenue. Their goal is to make it easy for new advertisers to get on board and starting bidding on keywords, and therein lies the problem – AdWords is very easy to set up (on the face of it), yet it’s hard to set up well and it’s a complex platform to master.

Because it so easy to get started, hundreds of business’ jump into AdWords every day and set up campaigns that are untargeted and unlikely to do anything other than burn through a whole lot of money in a very short space of time.

Here are some of the common ways that business owners waste money through AdWords:

  • They set all keywords to ‘broad’ match. This is the most common mistake I see – you’re essentially relying on Google to decide which keyword searches should trigger your ads to show instead of making smart decisions based on your unique business.
  • They set up their campaigns to target ‘the world’. One of the beauties of AdWords advertising is that it can be hyper-targeted. You need to take advantage of localisation to ensure that your ads are being displayed to the right audience
  • They use automatic bidding – another example of giving Google far too much control over your spend
  • They don’t split out keywords into tightly themed Ad Groups consisting of closely related keyword phrases
  • They target all keywords in one Ad Group and one Campaign
  • They don’t use all of the campaign extensions available to them
  • They don’t use conversion tracking. How will you know if your campaign is generating enquiries?
  • They don’t link Google AdWords to Google Analytics. Without Analytics, how will you know which keywords are driving the highest levels of engagement?

What can you do about it?
If you’re running AdWords campaigns and you’re serious about making them work, then you’ve got two clear options:

  1. Invest in using the services of an experienced AdWords specialist with Google Partner status
  2. Invest in educating yourself on AdWords, then take those learnings and monitor, test, refine, and improve your campaign on a very regular basis (at least weekly, but ideally more often). These posts will help you get started.

I’ve worked on plenty of successful AdWords campaigns and know that a well run campaign can make a huge difference for a vast variety of businesses, delivering a high level of visibility in the search engine results and strong ROI. l'm certainly not saying it's going to be the best platform for every business in every situation, but if you’ve had a less than fruitful experience with AdWords and are on the cusp of writing it off as a waste of money, be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Talk to a specialist first.

Until next time…
I hope you found the second part of my Hard Truths series helpful. Stay tuned for the third and final instalment of the Hard Truths series where I'll give my thoughts on why business owners need to get more involved in their digital marketing campaigns, why you should stop obsessing over 'Google rankings', and how the website you got designed two years ago is probably already out of date. Don’t say I didn’t warn you – sometimes the truth hurts!

In the meantime if you missed part 1 of the series, check it out now.

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Filed under Digital Marketing

Written by

Mark is the Manager of Digital Marketing at Apex and has worked in the digital marketing industry since 2004. Prior to joining Apex he worked in a variety of traditional marketing roles in both the corporate and SME environment in NZ and abroad, but these days much prefers the tangible measurability and transparency of digital marketing.

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