By Kelly Cook – first published in Business Matters, a publication of the Greater Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, Volume 2 Issue 8, January – February 2004
Like phone, mail and email, the World Wide Web is simply another channel for those looking for information about your company or category. However, if your organization is still debating the value of an Internet strategy, I’d ask if that same organization would consider marketing itself via an unlisted phone number. Today, an organization without a visible, professional website is essentially doing just that.
Your first step in establishing an Internet strategy is to align it with your marketing strategy. If you don’t have one of those, you need to do three things:
- Establish your target market in terms of total size (dollars and units) and then segment it appropriately for your business. Perhaps by geography (Ottawa region or Canada?), sector (do you sell to the private, public or non-profit?), demographics (Women? Male teens?)?
- Establish your position relative to your competition. Are you more or less expensive than them? Do you offer higher quality? Faster turnaround times? A narrower or wider product line?
- Establish your annual marketing budget.
The third step is often the one that appears to be the most difficult. However, it’s actually quite simple – most companies simply take a percentage (e.g. 5%) of their annual gross revenues. That dollar value translates into their annual marketing budget. Next, identify what marketing vehicles you are currently using, and how much you are paying for each – for example, business cards vs. postal mailings vs. advertising? Finally, ask what percent you would be willing to test on the Internet as an alternate vehicle.
The following table illustrates how three different companies might arrive at their annual marketing budget, and thus, how each would arrive at an Internet marketing budget:
Assuming a five-page website (Homepage, Customers / Clients, Products / Services, About Us and Contact Us), $1,000.00 would allow you to ‘lease’ basic webpage templates with your logo and copy. For $2,000.00, you could ‘purchase’ web pages built to your specifications. For $3,000.00, your site can be professionally designed and built, updated, promoted and measured for performance. The latter step is critical if you intend to measure Return on Investment (ROI) for the project.
Web site launch costs should typically break down as follows:
- 50% Technology: domain registry, hosting, ‘building’ (HTML) and testing / quality assurance
- 20% Design: the “look and feel” of the website (page layout, colours, fonts, images and graphics)
- 20% Planning: competitive analysis, budget, site map and copy
- 10% Marketing: promotion of website and analysis of web site performance reports
Knowing these costs, you must decide if Internet marketing is right for your organization. A few statistics about the state of the Internet nation today to help you decide:
- &2% of Canadian adults have Internet access. Of those, 91% go online to search for product information (versus any other activity) .
- 8.8 million Canadians per month are ‘active’ Internet users and per capita, 52% of Canadians are online (#2 in the world – ahead of the US) .
- Worldwide, more than 600 million searches per day are executed on the Internet . Of that search market, Google dominates with 55% global usage share .
In 2003, Statistics Canada researched showed that only 24% of Canadian small businesses had a website, compared to 74% of large companies. This is bad news for small businesses – their lack of investment in this area means that they are ignoring an important and potentially low-cost marketing opportunity. Do not make this mistake!
There are four separate but consecutive steps to launching a website: planning, design, production and marketing. It is critical to follow this order; otherwise timelines and costs will spiral out of control. Planning begins with competitive analysis; identifying your organization’s position online relative to your competitors’. Next, develop a ‘site map’ (a visual snapshot of the site hierarchy and proposed number of web pages) and a budget to identify all likely expenses in advance of actual expenditure. Finally, write the full site copy including the web page body copy for human visitors and Meta tags for the search engines. Typically, a five page website will need approximately 2000 words of copy.
The challenge in writing website copy is that it must be written for two different yet simultaneous audiences. The first audience is humans reading your web pages, and the second is search engine and directory robots who ‘index’ your web pages in order to include them in the search results. For the latter audience, each unique HTML page in your website must have HTML body copy (vs. graphical copy), a TITLE tag, a Description META tag and a Keyword META tag.
Each audience has different requirements, yet both types of copy must complement the other. In order to maximize your site’s search engine ranking it is critical to provide consistent, relevant and precise copy. A critical step is to understand how your human audience perceives your product, service or organization (versus how you would like to be perceived). You must identify the terms or phrases your target audience inputs into search engines when looking for product or service information. For example, you might like to think you sell “pre-owned vehicles”, but few users search using that term. They search for “used cars”. Adjust your copy accordingly.
The second step is design – and I cannot state strongly enough how critical it is to pay a professional to complete this step for you. The Internet is a visual medium, and you should play to its strengths by presenting yourself in a visually compelling and professional manner. A designer should present you with optional ‘looks’ for your site and once you settle on the ‘best of’ elements of those options, the designer will create a ‘final’ digital file of the pages. Next, the ‘builder’ or HTML producer will take the designer’s files and build’ each page formatted to the design specifications and ‘pour’ in your copy. Finally, the producer should test the site with you and make final ‘fixes’ before launch.
You’re back in the spotlight for the fourth and final stage – marketing. To achieve your intended ROI, it is your responsibility to drive traffic to the website. To state the obvious, for your website to be effective, your target audience must be aware of its existence. Print your website address everywhere (business cards, brochures, invoices, stationary, packaging, uniforms, trucks, etc.), thus building the awareness of those who already know about your business. Next, build awareness for those interested in your product or service category by including your website in search engine results with the goal of constantly improving your ranking.
Following these steps will allow you to make informed decisions about your Internet strategy, without feeling pressured into spending more than you are comfortable with.
Kelly Cook of OnlineAuthority is an Internet consultant formerly of Time Warner in New York and member of the Greater Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.
“Canadian Netizens”, NFO CFgroup, January 2003.
“CyberTrends”, ComQUEST Research, Winter 2003.
“Population Explosion!”, CyberAtlas, September 2003
“Multi-Country Report”, comScore Media Metrix Canada, March 2003.
“Searches Per Day”, Danny Sullivan, Editor, SearchEngineWatch.com, February 2003
“Search Engine Ratings”, OneStat.com, May 2003