Iain Beaumont details how to really make a presence in an online world .
25 years ago, I remember our first modem being delivered to the house. Having dutifully asked my mother for permission to use the home phoneline, the dial-up was complete and I entered a world dominated by AOL, MSM and Excite. Everything was clunky but it was space age, and I loved it.
Not long before we had the internet, we had bought a set of Encyclopaedia Britannia. This was now redundant, with Encarta having taken the equivalent of the 32 volumes and putting it on a single CD. As time passed, Google replaced Encarta, and we’re now at a point where you struggle to find a laptop with a CD drive built into it. At great pace, everything started to transition online and for a business, having a web presence was seen as crucial.
I built my first website almost 20 years ago using Dreamweaver and a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) to upload the design onto a server. I was paid £300 by the owner of a garage (who happened to be my then-girlfriend’s father) who was keen to get his business online. As an impoverished university student, it was a handsome sum, but more notable was the fact that it fostered a desire to learn more about how online technology can enhance and advance business. Fast forward to 2020 and it’s now a huge part of what I do, and I suspect that I’m now bordering on being a nerd.
The world wide web is now at our fingertips 24 hours day and, similar to all great advances in technology over the years, we’re now all addicted to it. So, what does this mean for you?
In short, businesses need to have a clear digital focus that promotes their offering and gives consumers the information they need to help make informed choices and purchases. The world is now dramatically different from what it was pre Covid-19 and people are utilising technology more than ever. If our audiences are moving online, then it is essential that we are offering them what they really want. In broad terms, organisations should be asking themselves the following:
• Are we being seen?
• Are we being listened to?
• Are we being commercial?
So, whether you run a venue, provide a service or manage an event, a great digital presence should be part of your overall raison d’être.
In order to excel in a digital world, it’s really important that we don’t take each point in isolation, but instead consider how all our digital actions fit together. And we can do that quite simply by looking at them in a logical order.
1. How to be seen online
First things first. If no-one can find you online, then your digital efforts are being squandered. Typically, there are two main ways that you can be seen:
• People finding you by searching for topics, services or products (organic search results)
• By paying to get in front of other businesses (paid search/advertising)
Let’s take the organic method first. Have you ever wondered why some businesses and activities appear at the top of Google? Perhaps they are your competitors (grrrr) and you want a slice of the action, too?
Where you appear in the rankings of Google comes down to how search engines view your website based on the search terms that a user has entered and the relevance, quality and authority of your website. Google performs millions of calculations every second in order to determine where a website should rank in search engines, as ultimately it wants to give the user the very best possible answer to the search query.
There are many factors that Google’s algorithms take into account when determining which web pages it should display (it would take another whole article to cover these) but typically there are three areas that you should focus on. These can be collectively referred to as search engine optimisations or ‘SEO’.
2. On-page optimisation: This covers the content and structure of your website. This is where keyword optimisation, heading tags, quality of content, page titles, structured content (schema) and formatting all play a part in determining your place in search engine results.
3. Off-page optimisation: This covers your presence outside of your website. Backlinks, local SEO, brand promotion and referrals are all key components when it comes to bolstering your authority on the web.
By working on these three areas, you stand a much greater chance of being seen in Google and other search engines. There are lots of resources on the internet that can help you with this, from free articles right through to paid software used by digital agencies to help focus on specific changes to your website, as well as understanding how your competitors are performing. After all, it’s good to have the inside track on what everyone else is doing so you can stay ahead of them.
Organic search is the dream. Consistently being able to be found online without having to pay for each click is hugely cost effective. If you’re not already featuring towards the top of search engine results then it might be worth taking the time to start an optimisation program which, over time, can deliver more cost-effective results. If you’re not sure where to start, or need help with the more technical aspects, it’s worth reaching out to an agency who can take care of it for you. At the bottom of this article you’ll find a list of key questions which you should ask any digital agency before getting them to undertake any work for you.
The opposite to organic search is paid search. Put simply, this is where you hand over hard cash to get visibility across search engines, social media platforms and other websites. Google and Facebook (who also own Instagram) dominate this market and you will no doubt be familiar with paid adverts that appear in both Google and your social media profiles. These types of placement are known as sponsored adverts and typically you pay by either the volume of clicks that users make onto your website or URL, or by the size of market that you’re trying to get exposure too.
Paid online marketing can also exist as ‘native advertising’. Native advertising is the use of paid ads that match the look, feel and function of the media format in which they appear. Native ads are often found in social media feeds, or as recommended content on a web page. Unlike display ads or banner ads (where you pay to feature on a specific website), native ads don’t really look like ads, as they are designed to blend in with the content. By using cookies (not the type you find in Tesco) you can continue to display your message to people on other sites they visit long after they have visited yours.
2. How to be heard online
We’ve covered the basics of how to be seen online but is anyone actually listening engaging with your message or pitch?
This is slightly harder than getting seen as your content will need to be tailored to the different audiences that you are trying to influence. Naturally, what appeals to one group of users will be dismissed by others. It is therefore essential to look at your brand and do some good old fashioned testing. In the world of digital, this is often referred to as A/B testing, where you run two or more adverts at the same time and determine which is the more effective.
A great way to start is by looking at the marketing platforms and advertising mediums that you currently use to ascertain what works well for your business. By understanding how people have engaged with your previous content, you are one step closer to determining what type of promotions you want to focus on.
If you’re not already using video as part of your advertising strategy, I would strongly advocate that you jump in headfirst. Video continues to be a fast-growing medium and platforms are increasingly making use of it as part of their offer. If you are looking to target Gen Z and younger millennials, then TikTok can be hugely powerful, and it is exclusively made up of short video. The key to success here is to have content which can compete with home videos of cats that can rack up millions of views…
As part of your digital messaging, people need a reason to want to engage with your content. Discounts, referral programmes and introductory offers are all well-established ways of engaging with potential customers, and the best part about it is that you can pretty much automate the process and collect a wealth of meaty data that will help quantify the success of your efforts.
And that leads me on to the final aspect of digital…
3. How to be commercial online
As with any form of online activity, to really understand how it is performing, you should be tracking some key metrics. The beauty of digital is that pretty much everything you do can be measured, and with that data you can refine your approach to make it even more cost effective.
If you’re running adverts online, you should already be targeting the key audiences that you’re after. All major advertising platforms allow you to refine your parameters to hit specific groups. For example, if you’re a mobile caterer specialising in wood-fired pizza in the South East, you can easily choose to show your adverts to only those people in a certain age demographic and who live within a 50 mile radius of your base. You can take that further by adding additional parameters but, naturally, the more you add the smaller your potential audience. It’s therefore all about getting the balance right. You want to exclude those who you know are certainly not interested in your product, venue or service, but don’t want to miss opportunities to reach out to new audiences that may have a need for your services at a later point in the future.
What do you want them to do?
So far, so good. But what you’d really like to know is how people are engaging with your adverts. The recent leaps in technology allow you to track this right down to specific online activities that you want your viewers to take. We call these ‘call to action’.
Let’s say you are a wedding venue and you’re prospecting for new business in 2021 and 2022. You can run an advert and people may click through to your website, but what actions are they then taking to know how effective your marketing campaign was?
You can set your marketing parameters to understand user journeys and whether your marketing efforts have resulted in them taking a ‘call to action’. This might be anything from downloading a brochure, right through to booking an online appointment to hear more about your offer. The aim of mapping this journey is to quantify the commercial effectiveness of your marketing and whether you can then attribute a cost against the acquisition of a customer – your return on investment.
For social media, it might be a case of utilising the Facebook Pixel to track that journey and be able to remarket to them at a later date. For an email newsletter campaign, it could be by tracking the journey of a visitor who clicks a specific link and then goes on to book a ticket for an event or a weekend away glamping.
Tools such as Facebook Ad Manager and Google Analytics can really help understand user journeys and, ultimately, the effectiveness of a campaign. If, like me, you’ve sat in meetings where a marketing manager tells you how many likes you’ve had on a post or new followers you’ve added but then wondered ‘how does that actually translate into a commercial opportunity?’, you’re not alone. The key to a good digital marketing campaign is a valuable ‘call to action’ and then being able to track the effectiveness of it. It is one thing being told how many people opened the last newsletter, but it is so much more powerful to then be able to see how many people interacted with your website and where they went.
There are some simple steps that you can take to help improve the commerciality of your campaigns. These can include bespoke email links, campaign URLs and dedicated telephone numbers (cheap and easy to add) that only exist on very specific marketing material.
The power of automation
Finally, from a commercial aspect, never underestimate the power of automation and the long-term savings that it can bring to your business. Of course, everyone wants to improve their profit margin but sometimes the cost of doing business erodes any gains. By looking at some of your systems and processes, you may find that you are able to streamline your operations and reduce the volume of time that your team spend on any given task. This frees them up to work on other, more client-focused activities.
It could be as simple as automating some of your accounting processes or using software to make efficiencies in the way you manage customer accounts or ticket sales.
The same approach should be taken with outdated software and platforms, too. If you’re still working on antiquated systems, you’re likely to be missing out on easier and more cost-effective ways of running your business. The great thing is that with so much competition between software and system providers, it shouldn’t cost the earth.
I appreciate that there is a lot to consider from a digital perspective and I mentioned earlier that you may want to look at bringing in a digital agency to support your efforts. If you are looking at specialist support to supercharge your digital strategy, these are my top recommendations of questions that you should be asking before partnering with them:
• What steps will they take to help you meet your specific goals?
• What is their track record like and do they really understand your industry?
• How will their efforts help your business and how will they measure that?
• When can you expect to see results?
• How do clients rate their work?
• How will they work with you?
As with all these things, there is a huge amount of information on the web and plenty of specialists who will help guide you through the process.
So, here’s to expanding your presence online. Time to be heard, time to be listened to and time to see results!
About the Author
Iain Beaumont is a consultant with Venues and Ventures, which specialises in supporting venues and leisure businesses to help them grow and meet their commercial aspirations. He is also a director with The Loudest Bark, a digital agency that partners with clients to deliver an optimised digital strategy that helps promote organisations online. Working across a multitude of digital marketing platforms and e-commerce channels, The Loudest Bark’s aim is to get businesses heard above everyone else. www.loudestbark.com