Chris Leone

Greatness is not achieved overnight. It can’t be purchased or self-imposed. It’s a long, arduous evolution filled with successes and failures.

Achieving greatness online is no different, and the brands that do it better than anyone did not get there easily. The following is a blueprint for achieving digital dominance for small and mid-size businesses who are starting from scratch or pushing the “restart button.”

1) Establishing your digital properties

There are two types of “properties” on the web: the type you own and the type you manage. Your website is an “owned” property. You have full control over how it looks, feels, and operates. A social network page is a managed property. You can control it, but only to a point.

The first stage to achieving digital greatness is to develop functioning and effective properties that represent your brand and achieve your core objectives. These early iterations do NOT need the fanciest bells and whistles. They simply need to represent your brand and speak effectively to potential customers.

For properties you own (like your website), make sure you have web analytics installed from the beginning. This will come in handy down the road.

2) Early traffic generation and branding

Generating traffic before establishing effective digital properties is like trying to fill a pool before you’ve dug the hole. Only drive traffic to a destination that is capable of offering a positive user experience. Otherwise you’re wasting time, resources, and money.

Following your website launch, your priority should be to attract the most relevant, targeted traffic as quickly as possible. To start, use Google and Bing paid search ads to bid on your brand name (there is nothing more targeted than people explicitly looking for you). It may seem unnecessary to pay for a visitor looking for your brand, but studies show you aren’t guaranteed the click just because you rank #1 organically. Also, if you have a brand new website and URL, a search engine may not rank you in the organic results immediately, so showing in the paid results provides extra insurance.

With your pay-per-click, brand-targeted campaigns set up, it’s time to expand your targeting to non-branded terms. For example, if your company name is Leone Warehousing and you offer 3rd party logistic services, your branded keywords are “Leone Warehousing” and your non-branded terms include “third part logistics,” “3pl,” etc.

Remember, at this stage, we only want to drive the most relevant traffic possible, so focus on the terms that best represent your business’ service offering. Keep your budget limited to between $500 and $1000 for this initial test. We are turning on the faucet, not opening the flood gates. The objective is to “stress test” your website with the highest quality (but not highest volume) traffic possible.

3) Site evaluation

With traffic now trickling into your site, you need to shift your focus to understanding behavior. When building your site, you likely had an expectation for how people would interact. Now it’s time to see how accurate those expectations were.

Review your web analytics data to see how users are interacting with your site. What do they click? What do they read? Where do they go? The reality may not be what you expect, but that’s ok. You’re still in the learning phase.

Tweak your content, plug up holes, and fix any obvious usability issues. If you can’t successfully convert the highest quality traffic, the lower quality traffic won’t stand a chance.

4) Lead capture

Most websites convert only a small fraction of visitors. So before opening the floodgates, make sure the site is capable of capturing visitors in all stages of the buying funnel. Offer both bottom funnel and top funnel offers (such as a downloadable PDF or free offer). In other words, speak to the visitors ready to buy as well as those just doing research.

Every page on your site needs to sell for every stage of the buying funnel. Capture contact information whenever possible in exchange for something the user will find helpful.

5) Traffic generation

You’ve built a functioning site, opened it up to a select group of users, analyzed users’ behavior, and implemented a lead capturing process. Now you’re ready for prime time, so let’s open those flood gates.

Supercharge your SEO, expand your PPC, raise your click budgets, produce lots and lots of content, engage on social media, and launch your display marketing. By now, you should be comfortable and confident the increase in traffic will bear fruit.

6) Lead nurturing

Visitors who did not purchase but provided contact information are opportunities for future business. A drip email marketing program will keep your brand top of mind. Add value through useful content and present low funnel offers intermittently to convert contacts into customers.

7) Loyalty and retention

Your house is in order, you are nurturing your leads, and your customers are growing. Building loyalty from within your existing customer base will boost word of mouth and strengthen business relationships into the future. Give back to your customers and grow the relationship through your now diverse digital marketing arsenal.

It’s been a long road to get to this point, but nothing worth having comes easy. Throughout this evolution, you will experience many more failures than successes. By prioritizing these steps and adapting to changes in your environment, your strategy will eventually evolve into one of greatness.

As chief marketing officer of WebStrategies, Inc., Chris helps small businesses reach and connect with more customers online. He is the chief strategist for search engine marketing campaigns and the lead analyst for web analytics and website usability testing. Find Chris on Google+LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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