Reading: Digital Marketing: Web Sites

Digital Marketing: Inform, Entice, Engage

Digital marketing is an umbrella term for using a digital tools to promote and market products, services, organizations and brands. As consumers and businesses become more reliant on digital communications, the power and importance of digital marketing have increased. The direct marketing section of this module already discussed two digital tools: email and mobile marketing, which fit into both categories. This section will discuss other essential tools in the digital marketing tool kit: Web sites, content marketing and search-engine optimization (SEO), and social media marketing.

What Makes Digital Marketing Tools Unique

In part, digital marketing is critically important because people use digital technologies frequently, and marketing needs to happen where people are. But digital marketing tools also have other unique capabilities that set them apart from traditional (predigital) marketing communication tools. These capabilities make them uniquely suited to the goals of marketing. Digital marketing tools are:

  • Interactive: A primary focus of many digital marketing tools and efforts is to interact with target audiences, so they become actively engaged in the process, ideally at multiple points along the way. This may happen by navigating a Web site, playing a game, responding to a survey, sharing a link, submitting an email address, publishing a review, or even “liking” a post. Asking consumers to passively view an advertisement is no longer enough: now marketers look for ways to interact.
  • Mobile and portable: Today’s digital technologies are more mobile and portable than ever before. This means digital marketing tools are also mobile and portable: consumers can access them–and they can access consumers–virtually anytime and anywhere through digital devices. Digital marketing can reach people in places and ways that simply were not possible in the past. A tired mother stuck in traffic might encourage her child to play a game on her smart phone, exposing both child and mother to marketing messages in the process. A text message sent to a remote location can remind an adventurer to renew a subscription or confirm an order. Many physical limitations fall away in the digital world.
  • Highly measurable and data driven. Digital technologies produce mountains of data about who is doing what, when, how, and with whom. Likewise, digital marketing tools enable marketers to determine very precisely whom they want to reach, how to reach them, and what happens when people begin the process of becoming a customer. By tracking and analyzing these data, marketers can also identify which channels are most productive for bringing people into the site and what types of interactions are most efficient at turning them to customers.
  • Shareable: Because digital marketing tools are digital, it is easy to share them at low or no cost–a benefit for marketers and for consumers who find content they want to share virally. People routinely share videos, games, Web sites, articles, images, and brands—any number of overt or covert marketing artifacts. In fact, the degree to which something is shared has become a key metric to confirm how successful it is as a marketing vehicle. Sharing has always been a primary means of spreading ideas. Digital marketing tools now facilitate extremely rapid, efficient, global sharing.
  • Synergistic with other marketing activities: Digital marketing tools offer quick, easy, and inexpensive ways to repurpose marketing messages and content from other marketing communication methods. They help amplify and reinforce the messages targeting consumers through other media. For example, uploading a TV ad to YouTube creates a piece of digital marketing content that can be posted to Facebook, tweeted on Twitter, embedded in a Web-site page, and shared via an email from a sales representative engaged in personal selling to a target customer.

As an example of the incredibly potency of sharable digital marketing media, the following Android video was one of the most viral videos of 2015:

Web-Site Marketing

Web sites represent an all-in-one storefront, a display counter, and a megaphone for organizations to communicate in the digital world. For digital and bricks-and-mortar businesses, Web sites are a primary channel for communicating with current and prospective customers as well as other audiences. A good Web site provides evidence that an organization is real, credible, and legitimate.

Screenshot of the Capital One website. Navigational controls are at the top of the screen. An image shows a person stretching and preparing to go for a run with the caption New year, fresh start, make your financial resolutions stick in 2016. At the bottom of the screenshot, icons link to more information about various CapitalOne programs such as Quicksilver Cash Back Rewards.

Capital One Web Site

The variety of online Web-site-building services now available make setting up a basic Web site relatively simple and inexpensive. Once the Web site is established, it can continue to be fairly easy and inexpensive to maintain if the organization uses cost-effective and user-friendly tools. On the other hand, sophisticated Web sites can be massively expensive to build and maintain, and populating them with fresh, compelling content can devour time and money. But organizations can adjust the scope, scale, and resources required for their Web sites in proportion to their business objectives and the value they want their Web sites to deliver.

Web Sites As Marketing Tools

Web sites are very flexible, allowing organizations to build the kinds of features and capabilities they need to conduct business effectively. Common marketing objectives and Web-site functions include the following:

  • Providing general information about an organization such as the value proposition, products and services, and contact information
  • Expressing the brand of an organization through design, look and feel, personality, and voice
  • Demonstrating products, services, and expertise, including the customer experience, features, benefits, and value they provide
  • Proof points about the value a company offers, using evidence in the form of case studies, product reviews, testimonials, return on investment data, etc.
  • Lead generation, capturing information about Web-site visitors to use in ongoing sales and marketing activity
  • Communities and forums for target audiences to share information and ask/answer questions
  • Publishing value-adding content and tools for informational or entertainment purposes to bring people in and draw them back to the Web site
  • Communication about company news, views, culture, developments, and vision through an electronic newsroom or a company blog, for example
  • Shopping, providing tools for customers to research, find, and select products or services in the digital environment
  • Recommendations that direct customers to information, products, services, and companies that meet their interests and needs
  • Sales, the ability to conduct sales and transact business online
  • Capturing customer feedback about the organization, its products, services, content, and the Web-site experience itself

Before starting to build a Web site, the marketing manager should meet with other company leaders to lay out a common vision for what the Web site should accomplish and the business functions it should provide. For example, if a business does not plan to handle sales online, there is no need to build a “shopping cart” function or an e-commerce engine. If cultivating lively dialogue with an active customer community is an important business objective, this capability should be incorporated into the Web-site strategy and design decisions from the outset. The Web-site strategy must be effective at achieving the organization’s goals to inform, engage, entertain, explore, support, etc.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Web-Site Marketing

Web sites have so many advantages that there is almost no excuse for a business not to have one. Effective Web-site marketing declares to the world that an organization exists, what value it offers, and how to do business. Web sites can be an engine for generating customer data and new business leads. An electronic storefront is often dramatically less expensive than a physical storefront, and it can serve customers virtually anywhere in the world with internet access. Web sites are very flexible and easy to alter. Organizations can try out new strategies, content and tactics at relatively low cost to see what works and where the changes pay off.

At the same time, Web sites carry costs and risks. They do require some investment of time and money to set up and maintain. For many organizations, especially small organizations without a dedicated Web-site team, keeping Web-site content fresh and up-to-date is a continual challenge. Organizations should make wise, well-researched decisions about information infrastructure and Web-site hosting, to ensure their sites remain operational with good performance and uptime. Companies that capture and maintain customer data through their Web sites must be vigilant about information security to prevent hackers from stealing sensitive customer data. Some company Web sites suffer from other types of information security challenges, such as electronic vandalism, trolling (offensive or provocative online posts), and denial-of-service attacks mounted by hackers to take Web sites out of commission.

Search-Engine Optimization and Content Marketing

Search-engine optimization (SEO) is the process of using Internet search engines, such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo, to gain notice, visibility, and traffic from people conducting searches using these tools. SEO works in lockstep with content marketing, which takes a strategic approach to developing and distributing valuable content targeted to the interests of a defined audience, with the goal of driving sales or another profitable customer action. In other words, content marketers create worthwhile Internet content aimed at their target audiences. Then organizations use SEO tactics to get this content noticed and to generate new traffic and sales leads.

Together, SEO and content marketing can help boost awareness and brand perceptions about the value a company provides. Content marketing can help an organization gain visibility as an expert or leader in its competitive set. Together these marketing communications tools help organizations get noticed and stay top of mind among individuals seeking the types of products or services they offer.

How SEO Works

The basic premise behind search-engine optimization is this: People conduct Internet searches. The search terms they use bring up a given set of results. When someone is searching for the types of things your organization offers, as a marketer you want your results to be at the top. You can boost your search rankings by identifying and applying SEO and content marketing strategies to the search terms people use when they are looking for products or services like yours. It may even be worth paying to get their attention, because people searching for the things you offer are likely to be better-qualified prospective customers.

Because the supply of Internet content on any given topic is continually expanding, and because search-engine companies regularly fine-tune their search algorithms to deliver ever more helpful results, SEO is not a one-time task. It’s an ongoing process that companies should incorporate into their entire approach to digital marketing.

How Content Marketing Works

There is a popular saying among digital marketers: “Content is king.” Good content attracts eyeballs, while poor content does not. Content marketing is based on the premise that marketers can use Web content as a strategic asset to attract attention and drive traffic of target audiences. As a marketer, part of your job is to help the organization publish substantive Web content–articles, videos, e-books, podcasts, images, infographics, case studies, games, calculators, etc.–that will be interesting for your target segments. When you do this, you should incorporate your optimal search terms into the content, so that it’s more likely to show up in organic search results. You should also look for ways to link to that content from other Web pages, so that search-engine “bots” (or computer programs) responsible for cataloguing Web sites will think your content is popular and well regarded by the Internet-user community. As your content appears in search results, it will rank higher as more and more people click through to your content and link to it from other locations on the Internet.

A poster that says The Local List, San Francisco, airbnb. It shows an illustration of a beach with the Golden Gate Bridge, sailboats, a restaurant table, attractive architecture, and a person pulling a child's stroller with a bike.

Downloadable PDFs from Airbnb, listing things to do and see in cities around the world.

Screenshot of Farmers Insurance website. It has featured articles covering topics such as life insurance for family members with special needs and 4 important tips for winterizing your boat.

Articles and tips on Farmers Insurance Web site.

Screenshot of Tailwind by Hipmunk website. Shows article called How Travelers Can See the New Star Wars Movie Two Days Early.

Blog post on Hipmunk’s Web site. Visually simple, clean graphics.

Advantages and Disadvantages of SEO and Content Marketing

Internet search is a fact of life in the modern world. It is a critical tool for customer decision making in B2B and B2C markets. Practicing the basic tenets of SEO helps an organization get into the search-engine fray. When marketers do it skillfully, they can easily track the results, see what works, and adjust course to improve outcomes. When organizations generate high-quality content, it can be relatively inexpensive to achieve great SEO results, particularly as search engines themselves increasingly reward the “real deal”: good information and true substance targeted to a specific audience.

While SEO and content marketing are powerful tools, they are also rather like puppies that need ongoing feeding and care. Both require regular monitoring to check whether they are effective and need refreshing. The Internet is a crowded and competitive place, where organizations from around the globe can compete with one another for attention and customer loyalty. It takes persistence and hard work to get on top of the Internet content world and stay there.