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Running online marketing programs to communicate with customers can be a lot of fun, but requires careful planning and tools to track success. There are best practices marketers can use to improve the content, reach and impact of Web communications.
First and foremost, a professional Web site with a consistent design and look, and easy-to-read text will help attract and retain visitors. Although 63 percent of consumers and small-business owners turn to the Internet first for information about local companies, and 82 percent use search engines to do so, only 44 percent of small businesses have a Web site and half spend less than 10 percent of their marketing budget online, according to research from WebVisible and The Nielsen Co.
Virtually all of your prospects will view your Web site before considering your product; and it will either help move them forward in the buying process or turn them away. So instead of considering your site as an online brochure, think of it as a lead-generation funnel.
Presenting a clear explanation of what you do for customers means writing Web content that is compelling and informative. Keep text error free and focused on the customer to improve relevancy. Remember, visitors want to know "What's in it for me?"
Site navigation should be easy, and contact information or links should be clearly visible from every page. Make it as easy as possible for potential prospects to know how to reach you at any point during a Web site visit:
-- Be sure your 'contact us' page is easy to find -- on the top of every single page on your site.
-- If you have an online contact form, keep it short.
-- If you include images, be sure to Web-optimize the size so they load quickly.
-- Triple check links to ensure the site is working properly.
For any busy distributor and retailer, keeping the company Web site up to date is a challenge.
"We have a vast array of information and we needed a way to share it with co-op members, partners, employees and retail customers quickly," said Tom May, director of marketing for MFA Oil Co. "With our diverse audience, we want to make sure our Web site caters to each person. Some visit to learn about our locations and products, while others are interested in company news or our newsletter. We also can share information about our scholarship and grant programs, and monthly specials and coupons for our three retail store brands."
Make a Dynamic Portal
Giving customers and prospects a reason to return to your site means providing fresh content on a regular basis. This turns your Web site into a portal, which provides your business partners secure, on-demand access to business information, applications and services needed to conduct day-to-day business with you.
Portals with snap-in communication and messaging components help resolve customer disputes, which have grown with intra-day prices and product expansion. You can also communicate product availability during times of tight supply.
According to Cathy Duncan, executive director of marketer solutions for Telvent DTN: "Limiting the work required by your IT staff -- whether you're looking to build a new Web site or expand your existing one -- gives you the ability to provide benefits to your customers without the need to take on expensive, time-consuming and oftentimes risky software development projects. Look for vendors with Web-based portal solutions that eliminate the need for huge IT projects, high on-going maintenance costs or changing your business processes."
May agreed: "We think it's important to share valuable content with customers and prospects who are visiting the MFA Oil site. My team can now open the 'admin tool' and easily make changes to text or pictures, then click 'submit.' Our site is instantly updated. We have a lot of value-added information on new refined fuels products, such as biodiesel, Ultra Low-Sulfur Diesel and E85, and we are continuously adding information. It is important that my team is able to make the necessary changes immediately, without having to know HTML code."
Consider creating value-added editorial content, such as starting a blog or an e-newsletter, to generate leads for your business. Social media tools also provide delivery channels for this content, and give you an open channel of communication with your prospects and clients. This is a value-added marketing strategy whereby the more you give, the more you get. Devote enough time and resources to accomplish your goals, and don't participate in this type of strategy unless you are committed to providing the time and resources to do the job right.
Defining and measuring success allows you to gauge your effectiveness and make adjustments as needed. Metrics to consider include: activity and engagement (number of members, posts, comments, links, etc.), and revenue and business development (new leads, conversions from community, number of referrals, etc.)
Track the percentage of visitors who become leads by comparing the number of online contact forms, inbound calls and e-mail responses to the number of Web visitors, as well as the number of 'contact us' page views. By tracking your lead-generation efforts, you will be able to pinpoint the initiatives that work the best and focus more of your energy on those.
"We use forms to make it easier to get feedback from our customers and generate new leads," said May.
Reporting tools let MFA Oil see how many people view the site, which pages are viewed most often and how long a person stays on the site. "I'm digging into traffic information to fine-tune the site and make it even more effective for us," said May.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.