The first two steps to successfully marketing online and through your website have little to do with online marketing itself. However, it’s critical to complete them before your campaigns begin. These two steps are Setting your Website Objective and Defining Your Online Target Market

Setting Your Website Objective:

Whenever a client is looking to drive more traffic to their website or is trying to raise their conversion rates, I always take them back to the beginning and ask them what the objective of their site is. This is always more insightful (and entertaining), when I’m meeting with more than one person from the company.

… “drive more sales”, “get more leads”, “reduce product support demands”, “gain access to new markets”, are a few of the more common responses. We then take a look at their site. It will often focus on who they are, their history, their commitment to customer service; all noble things, and usually all without a strong call to action that matches their now stated objective.

Setting an overall website objective is not easy but the benefits are huge.

Not easy: Real estate on the web is cheap. Add a page, add 100 pages, there is still plenty of room to expand. So it’s easy to quickly develop multiple objectives for your site.

Additionally, many people in the company will have different views on what the site objective should be. Human resources wants the Career section to stand out. Customer Service wants the Support area to be highlighted. Sales, of course, wants to highlight Product or Solution areas, and so on.

If you’re ruling by committee you’ll have a well balanced, but underperforming site. The winning play is to have one objective that rules all others. If that objective is to drive more sales, then the Home page must be geared to that. It will need to highlight and focus on information and calls to action to take web visitors down that path.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you won’t still link to support and careers sections. You just won’t focus on them on your Home and other main section pages.

Get Specific: Now if “Drive more sales.”, is your first-cut objective, you need to get a little deeper, more specific. Will you actually be closing sales over the internet (a la eCommerce), or are you driving the new prospect to call you or email you. What level of knowledge should the prospect have before they contact you. Should they know the part number or should they just know that your company is one they need to call.

Thus, your objective may evolve to “Drive qualified prospects to contact us to get detailed information on which of our products best suits them.”

So what made them a qualified prospect. Were they qualified before they came to your site (maybe they were driven to your site from a trade show), or did they get to you through a search engine and know very little about what you do.

Your objective may ultimately evolve to “Visitors should find the information to qualify themselves as good potential prospects and contact us to get detailed information on which of our products best suits them.”

Huge Benefits: Once you’ve set your objective, everything becomes easier. Writing content (often the biggest challenge a company has), becomes clear. The path with which you lead visitors through your website becomes clear (e.g. entice, inform, qualify, call-to-action). Site architecture and layout become clear.

You now focus your efforts and resources around fulfilling that main objective. The sections that are not directly relevant to your main objective still support that main objective.

Now that you’ve clearly set your website objective, the next step is to know who your target audience is – and it may not be who you think.

Identifying Your Target Audience

Who do you want to visit your site. Are they researchers or decision makers. Are they likely to “convert” on their first visit. Do they know anything about your company already. If yes, how much do they know. Are they internet savvy. Are they over 40 and likely would appreciate larger type. Are they visual. Are they detailed. Are they a “people person” or do they prefer dealing with things or words. Are they likely to be highly educated. Do they like to have lots of options or lots of direction.

All these questions and a lot more need to be asked and answered. Initially, you’ll use this information to help in the design of your overall site. You’ll want the proper balance of image to text. You’ll want to set the text level at the appropriate level of detail. You’ll want to write to their probable education level.

Ultimately, the answers will drive the theme of your site. They’ll drive the type of online advertising you’ll use. They’ll drive the design of advertising landing pages. They’ll drive the keyword phrases you’ll target in search engine optimization. They’ll drive your call-to-action.

Now you’re ready to start your marketing. Knowing what you want to accomplish and to whom you want to accomplish it with, you’ll be able to structure the right ads, emails, keyword phrase targeting, etc. You’ll be able to focus resources on the proper additional web media (e.g. blogs, podcasts, more web pages, Flash demonstrations, etc.).

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, this will be the end of the beginning of your online marketing strategy, and you’ll be ready to begin a productive and effective online marketing campaign.

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