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The start of a new year always seems like a good time to pause and give some thought to what’s coming on the horizon. What are the trends, the innovations, and new technologies that are going to reshape (or at least influence) the way we do business? Global e-commerce sales will skyrocket to $4.5 trillion […]
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The start of a new year always seems like a good time to pause and give some thought to what’s coming on the horizon. What are the trends, the innovations, and new technologies that are going to reshape (or at least influence) the way we do business?

Global e-commerce sales will skyrocket to $4.5 trillion by 2021; an increase of over 246%. If you want your company to participate in that kind of growth, it’s crucial to anticipate it and know what’s coming.

Here are a few factors that we think will be very important for e-commerce success in the months and years ahead.
1. Personalization

A recent 2018 Internet Trends Report discusses the current ‘privacy paradox’ which is the double-edged sword that people are reluctant to share their private information but clearly respond well to personalization and recommendations.

The arrival of web-based commerce with the introduction of the massive selection and convenience of eBay and Amazon shifted the driver towards utility. That lasted only about 20 years when data became the dominant driving trend.

When personal data is managed well and responsibly to offer targeted recommendations and curated product discoveries, the benefits are clear. However, if personal information is seen to be mismanaged, the reputational risk is massive (think Facebook – Cambridge Analytica scandal).

Good data usage for personalization purposes has an important impact on customer satisfaction. Of the five leaders in internet data usage, four of them rate an American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) score that is above the average of 77, with Amazon rating 85. Conversely, 33% of customers who abandon business relationships report doing so because the service lacked personalization.

The introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation in the EU in 2018 has made the collection of personal data more difficult with users more readily opting out of data collection. Nevertheless, personalization remains a critical component for the growth and success of any e-commerce endeavor.
2. Subscription Models

Birchbox subscriptions

Personalization is also an important factor in the growth of another leading e-commerce trend, that of online subscription services. In just one year, Netflix and Spotify have achieved 25% and 48% subscriber growth and have leveraged user data to retain them, In Spotify’s case, to convert them from users of their free service to their premium paid subscription.

Subscription e-commerce sales have more than doubled every year, climbing to $2.6 billion. But the rising popularity of subscription isn’t limited to the consumption of media. An increasing number of consumers are signing up to receive products on a recurring basis via a monthly ‘box subscription’. Among online shoppers, approximately half have signed up for a subscription service of some kind, and 30% of them are subscribers for a monthly box of curated goods.

E-commerce subscription services can generally be categorized into three sections:

Curated services

This category represents 55% of e-commerce subscribers and aims to provide customers with new or highly personalized selections. Blue Apron and Birchbox are two well-known examples.

Replenishment services

Of e-commerce subscribers,32% opt for these services for the convenient, recurring purchase of items. See Dollar Shave Club and Amazon Subscribe and Save.

Access service

To gain exclusive access to discounts and other perks,13% of e-commerce subscribers sign up for services such as NatureBox and Thrive Market.
3. Social Commerce

For years, there has been a great deal of hype about the integration of e-commerce on social media platforms, but the “buy” buttons were slow to pick-up. What has happened is that social media has become an important resource for discovering products that people will later purchase.

With the average digital adult spending as much as 2½ hours per day on their devices for entertainment, social, or messaging purposes, according to Flurry, it’s a segment that cannot be ignored.

In the Internet Trends report, Meeker cites the results of a consumer survey found that 78% of respondents discovered products on Facebook, while Instagram and Pinterest both were discovery sources for 59% of them, and Twitter for 34%.

What’s even more encouraging is that 55% of those who reported discovering a product on social media went on to make the purchase online.

Social media’s importance as a referral source to e-commerce sites also continues to climb. In 2015, it represented 2% of all referrals which has now tripled to 6%.
4. Multi-Channel and Omni-Channel Retail

Big Commerce platform

73% of consumers will connect with a brand at multiple touchpoints in their journey to making a purchasing decision. That means that your product has to be everywhere your customer shops or even gets information about products.

It may seem like implementing and managing a multitude of selling channels will represent a massive undertaking requiring lots of time and resources, not to mention the headache of managing inventory. Out-of-stock issues can be very costly in terms of revenue and from a customer service perspective. Being in an overstock position can be equally expensive.

Fortunately, some platform solutions can provide the kind of infrastructure needed for multi-channel and omni-channel retail. Your multi-channel software should guarantee consistency across all platforms, consolidate data from all channels, reach customers at every possible touchpoint, and help manage inventory.

Some of the leading solutions include Sellbrite, SellerCloud, and BigCommerce.
5. Good Content

Custom content remains a valuable driver for e-commerce engagement. It’s often the best way for a potential customer to learn about your product.

It has become such an important marketing strategy that 78% of Chief Marketing Officers consider custom content to be the future of marketing. A good content strategy should attract more people to follow your brand on social media and increase conversions significantly.

E-commerce marketers will increasingly look to interactive content as part of their strategy. Consider adding videos of your products since 60% of consumers prefer watching a product video over reading a description. Furthermore, they are up to 85% more likely to purchase after watching the video.
6. Voice Search

Voice search predictions in the U.S

Cortana, Siri, and Alexa are now mainstays in the daily lives of countless potential customers. Shopping searches are now increasingly done hands-free from the car, on the phone, or in the home with shopping by voice in the U.S. predicted to grow to $40 billion in 2022.

The average voice search is done quite differently than standard typed queries. Where one might type “best sushi restaurants Albuquerque,” the voice search will be formed as a question in natural speech: “What’s the best place for sushi in Albuquerque?”

It’s also important to understand the relationship between the form of the question posed and the customer’s intent to purchase. What, who, and how questions generally seek information and would, therefore, be used more in the research phase of a purchase. When and where questions may suggest a readiness to buy. These are general guidelines to think about and not hard and fast rules. For instance, a question asking, “What is the best price for an iPhone X?” is an indication that the customer is closer to purchasing than a question like “What is the difference between an iPhone X and a Galaxy S9?”

In order to capitalize on this trend, companies will need to adapt. Content should be written conversationally to answer the possible questions customers may be asking and take into account the intent behind a question. The future of web content is less and less about keywords and more and more about context and semantics.

When thinking about the future of e-commerce, there is much to be excited about, plenty of opportunities and maybe one or two challenges to overcome.

But with the right kind of planning, the proper infrastructure, and sound strategies, your company will be ready to experience substantial growth.

Learn the tools and technologies needed to meet the challenges of tomorrow with a Postgraduate Diploma in Digital Marketing. Download a brochure today!

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If you’re reading this, I assume you’ve heard of the Internet. Most people have. At the time of writing this, InternetLiveStats shows that over 3.6 billion people are using the Internet. Internet Users That’s a lot of people! And the user base is steadily growing. That’s why eMarketer estimates that digital ad spending will grow […]
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If you’re reading this, I assume you’ve heard of the Internet.

Most people have.

At the time of writing this, InternetLiveStats shows that over 3.6 billion people are using the Internet.

Internet Users

That’s a lot of people!

And the user base is steadily growing.

That’s why eMarketer estimates that digital ad spending will grow from $83 billion in 2017 to $129.23 billion by 2021.

In fact, 2017 is the year digital ad spending finally overtakes TV spending.


Mobile is a big part of that.

So are social media and video.

Over half that budget is being spent on Facebook and Google.

net chart 450×430

What a waste of money!

Don’t get me wrong. Targeted Google and Facebook Ads have their place, but there are plenty of free ways to market online.

If you’re a small business owner trying to compete in the big leagues, this blog is for you.

I’m going to share a list of all the free tools and strategies that can help you compete with major conglomerates through content marketing.

I’ll also explain how to minimize costs and stretch budgets for things you can (or have to) pay for.

It doesn’t take a huge corporate budget to compete online.

Let’s get started.
1. Tighten up your SEO

The first thing you need to do is analyze your current SEO situation.

I have an SEO Analyzer tool on my website because I understand how important this is.

Neil Patel SEO Analyzer Tool

All you have to do is enter your URL to get a deep, page-level SEO analysis.

You can also check how your site compares to the competition.

Enter 3 additional websites for a competitive analysis.

Neil Patel SEO Analyzer Tool Competition

Of course, mine is just one of many SEO tools.

I don’t see SEMRush as a competitor but as a supplementary tool for checking a site’s SEO.

These tools are free, so why not get multiple opinions?

Here’s what SEMRush has to say about

Neil Patel SEMRUsh

This shows us how many keywords I rank for, along with how many backlinks I’ve earned.

You’ll notice I don’t spend any money on paid Google ads.

The $500k+ cost of my traffic was earned organically for free.

The main components you’re looking for on my SEO analyzer are which keywords you rank for, along with their frequency of usage.

Neil Patel Keywords

It’s also important to know if the keywords are used in the title tag, description tag, and header tags.

Google gives more weight to these factors.

Once you have a general idea of how you’re ranking against everyone else, you can start to improve.
2. Perform more keyword research

I can’t stress enough how important keyword research is.

Even though I’ve been in the game for a long time, I still perform fresh keyword research several times a week.

That’s how you stay on top of search results!

If you don’t already know, Google Adwords has a great Keyword Planner Tool.

Google Keyword Planner

It’s the first place you should go to research relevant keywords that you can rank for.

An easy way to use Keyword Planner is to check for searches related to keywords that show up in your Google Analytics Acquisition reports.

Google Analytics

For every search term that already points to your website, you’ll get a handful more.

That opens up a lot of opportunities for you to rank against your competitors!

What it takes to hit all those keyword opportunities is pages with content.

You’ll need to start a blog.
3. Start a blog

According to WordPress, every month, more than 409 million people read over 23.7 billion blog posts on its platform.


That’s a lot of content, so you’re going to need a quality blog to draw attention to your site.

Hiring a content mill to fill pages with overstuffed keywords that provide no value to readers won’t do any good.

Blogs are the 5th most trusted online resource according to recent research.

blogs 5th most trustworthy source information 1024×913

Creating a blog should be an option within your CMS, but if it’s not, a separate blog hosted on WordPress or Blogspot can prove just as useful.

Just be sure your contact information is readily available.

If you’re wondering how long it takes to write a quality blog post, nearly half of bloggers say they spend 1-3 hours on each post.

percent average blog post 1024×1004

A blog is the foundation of a few other tactics I’ll discuss later in this list, so get started today.
4. Join or create a Facebook group

Facebook Groups are underrated by marketers.

These user-administrated public forums within Facebook allow like-minded people to discuss and share ideas.

Facebook Groups

Keep in mind that most group moderators will remove overly spammy posts and people.

The trick to marketing in Facebook Groups is sharing valuable content (which is why a blog is helpful for your website).

Many groups have memberships that range from 1,000 to 100,000, but some get even bigger.

Search for groups using Facebook’s search bar, or scroll through its suggestions a few times a month to expand your audience.

Facebook Group

When you reach advanced status, you can create your own Facebook Group, which is much more effective for audience growth than a business page or profile.

Facebook Groups are a goldmine for small businesses that are looking for an edge over the competition without spending money.
5. Participate in forums

Of course, Facebook isn’t the only online forum where you can participate in discussions.

Getting involved in other forums is a great way to spread the word about your brand (and sprinkle backlinks around the web).

Besides social media platforms, group discussions are held on websites like Reddit and Tumblr.


Building your reputation on community forums like these help people see you as an innovative thought leader in your industry.

It’s a great marketing strategy for building trust.

Quora is another platform I recently got attached to.

Neil Patel Quora 1

On Quora, you can answer questions as an expert and gain a level of credibility by showcasing your inside knowledge.

Quora rewards visual content, so format your posts for your specific audience.
6. Comment on relevant content

Once you have some blog posts published, an effective (and free) way to get backlinks on reputable sites is to put them there yourself.

Comment on relevant articles with valuable advice, and provide a link to your blog for more information.

But it can’t be spammy!

Here’s a great blog comment that works for conversions.

image007 1

Bloggers love generating comments, and the author of the blog post you comment on is likely to read it.

It opens more conversation and networking opportunities.

The more you comment, the more brand awareness you generate. People will start to recognize your name and business.
7. Build an email list

Email lists are often overlooked by startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses.

A solid email list is worth its weight in gold!

The majority of marketers find that email marketing serves as a top channel for lead generation.


For every $1 spent on an email marketing campaign, companies achieve an average $44 in ROI.

It’s consistently found to be more effective than Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social channels.

Emails are more likely to be read than social media posts, and the clickthrough rates are amazing!

An email automation platform like MailChimp or Constant Contact is worth the expense if you can afford it.

Constant Contact

These platforms provide simple templates and automated emails based on triggered events.

It’s not necessary to start off with an email automation platform, but you’ll at least need a list.

Also, be sure there’s an email subscription option on each of your web properties.

The larger your qualified email contact list, the more successful your business will become.
8. Start an eBay store

If you sell any type of good, you need to be on eBay.

Think that it’s just an auction site for used goods?

You’ve been asleep for the last decade.

In the past few years, eBay has grown up quite a bit.

Check out Best Buy’s eBay storefront. It looks just like the company’s website.

Best Buy on Ebay

Everybody is on eBay, and it’s easy to see why.

The gross volume of merchandise sold on the site was $21.5 billion for the second quarter of 2017.

Not only will you benefit from visibility with eBay’s 171 million active monthly users, but you’ll also gain access to a suite of tools from the eBay Partner Network.

Ebay Users

The company’s own marketing and sales tools are pretty useful.

You can even have the local post office deliver free boxes to your door and pick up shipments.

The power of eBay doesn’t stop on the site.

Rebuyers is one of many marketing automation platforms that can reach your customers.

Rebuyers for Ebay

If you’re not using eBay, you’re leaving money on the table.

There’s only one e-tailer bigger than eBay that you should target.
9. Use Amazon fulfillment

Amazon is another e-commerce platform you may not realize the marketing benefits of joining.

You’ll have your products and brand featured on a website that’s worth two full Walmarts!

Amazon versus walmart market value 01

In fact, by some estimates, Amazon’s Prime Day 2017 had a bigger impact on the retail industry than Black Friday.

Being featured in a sale like this would be great for any business. In fact, being featured by Amazon at all is great.

One of the best ways to increase sales is to include Prime Shipping, which is only available for FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) sellers.

This also increases your visibility on Amazon searches.

With over 8 million Echo and Echo Dots on the market, Amazon product searches could bypass Google entirely.
10. Post Craigslist ads

Nearly 600 million people visit Craigslist every month!

That’s a large audience you don’t want to ignore.

Whether you need new customers or employees, Craigslist is a great (free) place to search.

There are over 50 million queries performed on the site every day.


Alexa ranks it as the 14th most popular website in the United States.


Why not use this to your advantage?

Posting a basic Craigslist ad with the right images can help drive sales. It can be renewed after 30 days for an additional 90 days.

At that point, you can repost it.

Because of its separate geographic sites, Craigslist is especially useful for localized marketing efforts.

Craigslist Map

Because you can anonymize yourself, it’s also a great platform to try new marketing templates and techniques.

Sales made on Craigslist don’t carry the same fees associated with eBay and Amazon sales, so there’s less overhead too.
11. Utilize Facebook Live

You’re already on Facebook with a profile, page, and group.

Why not add Facebook Live to the mix?

Facebook reports that 20% of its videos are live.

Live-streaming on Facebook is the latest trend that marketers can take advantage of.

Plenty of brands are winning at this, but LuLaRoe stands on top for its unique approach to Facebook Live marketing.

Lularoe Facebook Party

The company’s sales reps use Facebook Live videos to host online parties similar to Tupperware or PartyLite parties.

A recent partnership with Disney has sent this company’s value skyrocketing to over $1 billion.

It doesn’t take a fancy professional studio. Many Facebook Live videos are shot on smartphones.
12. Guest post on industry blogs

Not only should you create your own blog, but once you get good at it, you should post on other influential blogs.

This is a great way to build backlinks and gain a lot of weight with search algorithms.

I spend a lot of time guest posting for this exact reason.

Aside from specialized online marketing blogs and publications, you can find my work in mainstream media outlets like Huffington Post.

HuffPost Neil Patel

I also regularly contribute to Forbes.

I’ve had a regular column on that platform for some time now.

Neil Patel Forbes

Because I run my own business, I was invited to write for Entrepreneur.

That was truly an honor.

Entrepreneur Neil Patel

I’ve also been published in Inc.

These are just a few of my guest posting credits.

Inc Neil patel

It wasn’t easy, but it was worth the effort to get my blog on the map.

You can replicate my success by getting published on prestigious platforms.
13. Sign up at HARO as a source

Even if you’re not a great writer, you can still be featured in major media outlets.

Instead of writing the article yourself, you can provide a quote by signing up as a source at


These targeted email lists will keep you updated on the stories that are being written by different outlets.

You can appear on platforms ranging from blogs and podcasts to television and radio shows using HARO.

It’s called earned media, and it’s one of the best ways to pick up loyal customers.

Ski2BParadise.2BPaid Owned Earned Media

Be sure to respond with the actual answer — not just an offer to provide one.

Journalists hate having their time wasted and are unlikely to respond to click bait teasers.

If you stay persistent, HARO can pay off big.
14. Appeal to a foreign market

Just because you’re a small business doesn’t mean you have to limit your marketing efforts to local markets.

In fact, picking up customers in foreign markets could be the secret sauce that makes your business work.

To do it, you’ll need to start picking up foreign traffic.

analytics 520×479

To do this, you’ll need to localize your content for foreign markets.

If you wanted to reach people in Russia, for example, you would target VKontakte instead of Facebook.

In China, you’d target RenRen.

RenRen Chinese Facebook

Writing in another language helps, as well.

Google’s native translation app does a decent job with the wording, but you’ll need a native speaker to do it right.

The Internet broke down geographic barriers. Take advantage of this fact.
15. Register on freelancing platforms

Freelance platforms like Fiverr are underrated resources for marketing your business services.

Crowdsourcing is a popular method of task completion, and Fiverr is a great place for it.


If your digital marketing company excels at SEO analysis, for example, you can focus on selling that specific task.

While major corporations need complicated SLAs, Fiverr is a fast and efficient marketplace.

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform is another great platform for a different type of cheap digital marketing.

Amazon MTurk

Amazon promotes this service as artificial intelligence.

Instead of automating marketing tasks, you can have them completed by a global workforce of thousands.
16. Host your video content on YouTube

Video marketing is a major trend for 2017.

Nearly 75% of all Internet traffic is video these days.

mini infographics set 2 01

If video rules, YouTube is the king of video.

It’s the second largest search engine online, lagging only behind Google.

youtube stats 1

By hosting your video content on YouTube, you’ll expose your content to a new audience.

You can also monetize your YouTube videos to open a new revenue stream.

I recently started focusing more efforts on YouTube myself.

Video on your landing page increases conversions by 80%.

Hosting video on your own servers can cripple site speed.

With site speed being a crucial element of search rankings, you can’t afford to self-host.

And remember that YouTube is only one of many social platforms.
17. Stay active on social media

The majority of social media users use their platform of choice at least daily.

Social Media Statistics WhatsApp 1 2

These social media sites have hundreds of millions of users, too.

You can’t afford to miss out on these opportunities.

social media stats infographic 2017 1

You can’t just randomly spam people, though.

To be successful on social media, you need to provide value to the conversation.

Staying active on social media builds your following and your followers’ trust in you.

That way, when you do post links, your followers will be more likely to click.
18. Automate everything

Marketing automation is the way of the future. For every task that you assign to humans, there might be a machine that can do it faster, more accurately, and cheaper.

More than 11x more companies are using marketing automation these days than back in 2011.

marketing automation numbers

There are plenty of marketing automation tools available for you to use, and I already mentioned a few.

MailChimp, Rebuyers, and ConstantContact are great marketing automation platforms.

They’re not the only ones.

HootSuite is a great social media post automation suite.

Appscreenshot Tailwind screen 01

Using HootSuite, you can schedule and automate social media posts across multiple platforms.

It’s an invaluable tool for any social media marketing campaign.

Keep an eye out for any repetitive and mundane tasks that can be automated.
19. Respond to online reviews

Online reviews are a major part of business these days.

Search for an Italian restaurant on Google Maps, and you’ll see reviews front and center.

Google local ranking

Yelp is consistently used before making purchase decisions, too.

People consistently check online reviews to learn about other people’s experiences with a business, brand, or product.

yelp statistics

It’s a matter of trust. We trust consumer reviews online more than any source other than our own friends.

df4fe450 4e82 431f 8c7f d1976d25df85 nielsen

By responding to online reviews, you not only show the customer that you provide great service, but everyone else who researches your company will see it, too.

It’s a win-win situation for everyone!

Just be sure not to respond nastily to negative reviews, or you’ll end up hurting your business more than helping.

Check out my blog for more information on how to get more online reviews.
20. Send free samples to influencers

Free samples are a great way to entice more sales.

It’s used to great effect at Costco, where members are greeted with free food samples every weekend.

It’s an even better bet online, where consumers are 71% more likely to make a purchase based on referrals from social media influencers.

what is influencer marketing 4 638 1.jpgcb1482161339 1

Klout is a great service to help you get your products into the hands of influencers.


Users log in and connect their social accounts and blogs to create a Klout score from 1-100 that shows how influential they are on particular subjects.

All you need to do as a brand is determine what Klout score you want and in which categories. Then you can send your product samples in to be distributed.

Users who receive them are encouraged to share the love on social media, helping create a buzz for your brand.

You don’t have to use Klout to find social influencers, though.

You can simply search for hashtags and see which posts get the most engagement. Contact the owners of those accounts to create marketing relationships.
21. Create a referral program

Since its launch in 2007, Dropbox has quickly become a market leader in cloud storage.

The platform now has over 500 million users, 200,000 of whom actually pay to use the service.

Dropbox referral program

It achieved this milestone through its popular referral program, which offers 500MB – 1GB of free space to anyone who refers a member.

This gamification aspect led to more customers sharing and using the service.

You can replicate this success with a customer referral program of your own.
22. Roll out an affiliate program

On the other side of a referral program is an affiliate program.

With an affiliate program, you incentivize bloggers, YouTubers, and other content creators to post links to your site.

In exchange for posting referral links, affiliates get a percentage of sales as a commission.

Recent research on Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2016 found that affiliate merchants had a 45.7% increase in new customers.

Amazon has a popular affiliate program.

Amazon Affiliates

What’s great about these affiliate links is that they create in-feed links within the content.

A recent Forrester survey found that half of American adults actively avoid web ads.


By using an affiliate program, you can still reach these discerning eyes.

It may seem difficult to give away 5-10% of profits, but smaller margins on larger volume make more money in the long run.

Try starting your own affiliate program to encourage micro influencers and influencers to sell your products for you.
23. Keep your business current on maps

Some people will only use a mapping program to find businesses.

This is especially true when traveling.

Wouldn’t it be a shame if they couldn’t find your business?

What if they can’t contact you? What if they show up outside of business hours?

These are the kinds of bush league mistakes that happen when you don’t keep your business information updated on mapping platforms.

At Google My Business, you can claim your business and do exactly that!

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10 reasons you need a digital marketing strategy in 2020 Author’s avatar By Dave Chaffey 04 May, 2020 Essential Essential topic Digital strategy development Best practice advice Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on LinkedIn Share this on Reddit Explore our Digital Marketing Strategy and Planning Toolkit Toolkit image The importance […]
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10 reasons you need a digital marketing strategy in 2020
Author’s avatar By Dave Chaffey 04 May, 2020
Essential Essential topic
Digital strategy development
Best practice advice
Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on LinkedIn Share this on Reddit
Explore our Digital Marketing Strategy and Planning Toolkit Toolkit image
The importance of creating and using a digital marketing plan to support digital transformation and company growth

Where do you start if you want to develop a digital marketing strategy? It’s still a common challenge since many businesses know how vital digital and mobile channels are today for acquiring and retaining customers. Yet they don’t have an integrated plan to grow and engage their audiences effectively. If your business doesn’t have a plan you will suffer from the ten problems I highlight later in this article and you will lose out to competitors who are more digitally savvy.
The challenges of creating a digital marketing strategy?

In my experience, a common challenge is where to start drawing up your digital marketing plan. I think there is a fear that a massive report is required, but we believe that lean planning works best. Your plan doesn’t need to be a huge report, a strategy can best be summarized in two or three sides of A4 in a table linking digital marketing strategies to SMART objectives within our RACE planning framework. We recommend creating a lean digital plan based on our 90-day planning templates to implement your digital plan rapidly to gain traction. You can learn more about our free download.
Free digital marketing plan template

Download our Free resource – Digital marketing plan template

This template explains how to structure a digital marketing plan using the RACE planning system. Set your objectives for the next 90 days against marketing activities and define targets for KPIs.

Access the Free digital marketing plan template

Another challenge is the sheer scope and scale of digital marketing. There are so many great digital marketing techniques ranging from search, social and email marketing to improve the digital experience of your website. Our article, What is digital marketing? shows how by using our RACE planning framework you can define a more manageable number of digital marketing activities that cover the full customer journey. Within each digital marketing technique, there are lots of detailed tactics that are important to success, so they need to be evaluated and prioritized, for example from dynamic content for email automation, website personalization to programmatic, retargeting, and skyscraper content for organic search.
A recommended approach for developing a digital strategy

Whether you have a strategy or not, at the heart of the Smart Insights ‘Opportunity, Strategy, Action’ approach to improving digital marketing, is benchmarking to compare where you are now to assess the potential against where you need to be in the future.

To help you get started we have created a free digital marketing benchmarks download with a series of benchmarks covering overall digital strategy and the key tactics like Search, Social Media, Email marketing, and site/experience design.
Free digital marketing benchmarking templates

Download free resource – Digital Marketing Benchmark templates

Quickly score your approach to digital marketing with these 7 visual templates. These powerful one-page templates let you quickly review how well you are currently using the key digital marketing techniques on a 5 point scale for different criteria and so identify the gaps in your current capabilities.

Access the Free digital marketing benchmarking templates

Click on the image below to see a larger version of one of our free marketing benchmarking templates, which you can download for free to help you create your digital marketing plan.

But what if you’re one of the companies that don’t have a digital strategy yet? Well, I think the two simple alternatives for creating a plan may suggest a way forward:

Start with a separate digital marketing plan defining transformation needed and making the case for investment and changes to your digital marketing
Then, following approval, create an integrated digital plan which is part of the overall marketing plan – digital is fully aligned and becomes part of business as usual.

So, what are the takeaways to act on here? It seems to me that:

Using digital marketing without a strategic approach is still commonplace. I’m sure many of the companies in this category are using digital media effectively and they could certainly be getting great results from their search, email, or social media marketing. But I’m equally sure that many are missing opportunities for better targeting or optimization, or are suffering from the other challenges I’ve listed below. Perhaps the problems below are greatest for larger organizations who most urgently need governance.
The majority of companies in our research do take a strategic approach to digital. From talking to companies, I find the creation of digital plans often occurs in two stages. First, a separate digital marketing plan is created. This is useful to get agreement and buy-in by showing the opportunities and problems and map out a path through setting goals and specific strategies for digital including how you integrated digital marketing into other business activities. Second, digital becomes integrated into marketing strategy, it’s a core activity, “business-as-usual”, but doesn’t warrant separate planning, except for the tactics.

If you don’t have a strategy, or maybe you want to review which business issues are important to include within a strategic review, we’ve set out the 10 most common problems, that in our experience arise if you don’t have a strategy.

Enhance your team’s marketing skills

Review and apply our free templates to create employee development plans
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Do you have a digital marketing strategy?

Since 2012 we have run an informal poll to see how widely used digital marketing strategies are. The results have shown some big improvements over the years. A few years ago we found around two-thirds to three-quarters did not have a digital marketing plan. Now that number has shrunk to 45% in the latest survey, although that is still quite high, and means almost half are still doing digital with no strategy in place.

When we researched our Managing Digital Marketing report we were interested to see how this percentage looked for a defined sample.
Managing digital marketing in 2020 research report

Managing Digital Marketing report

Premium members can read our survey findings and recommendations based on how over 900 businesses use digital marketing today.

Access the Managing digital marketing in 2020 research report

This is what we found in our survey about the level of digital marketing adoption:

Does your organization have a clearly-defined digital marketing strategy?

So, our latest research suggests an improved approach to planning in this sample of marketers, with fewer than half without a digital strategy. Congratulations if you’re one of these companies! If not, read on.
10 reasons why you may need a digital channel strategy?
1. You’re directionless

I find that companies without a digital strategy (and many that do) don’t have a clear strategic goal for what they want to achieve online in terms of gaining new customers or building deeper relationships with existing ones. And if you don’t have goals with SMART digital marketing objectives you likely don’t put enough resources to reach the goals and you don’t evaluate through analytics whether you’re achieving those goals.
2. You won’t know your online audience or market share

Customer demand for online services may be underestimated if you haven”t researched this. Perhaps, more importantly, you won’t understand your online marketplace: the dynamics will be different from traditional channels with different types of customer profile and behavior, competitors, propositions, and options for marketing communications. There are great tools available from the main digital platforms where we can find out the level of customer demand, we recommend doing a search gap analysis using Google’s Keyword planner to see how you are tapping into the intent of searchers to attract them to your site, or see how many people interested in products or services or sector you could reach through Facebook IQ.
3. Existing and start-up competitors will gain market share

If you’re not devoting enough resources to digital marketing or you’re using an ad-hoc approach with no clearly defined strategies, then your competitors will eat your digital lunch!
4. You don’t have a powerful online value proposition

A clearly defined online customer value proposition tailored to your different target customer personas will help you differentiate your online service encouraging existing and new customers to engage initially and stay loyal. Developing a competitive content marketing strategy is key to this for many organizations since the content is what engages your audiences through different channels like search, social, email marketing, and on your blog.
5. You don’t know your online customers well enough

It’s often said that digital is the “most measurable medium ever”. But Google Analytics and similar will only tell you volumes of visits, not the sentiment of visitors, what they think. You need to use other forms of website user feedback tools to identify your weak points and then address them.
6. You’re not integrated (“disintegrated”)

It’s all too common for digital marketing activities to be completed in silos whether that’s a specialist digital marketer, sitting in IT, or a separate digital agency. It’s easier that way to package digital marketing into a convenient chunk. But of course, it’s less effective. Everyone agrees that digital media work best when integrated with traditional media and response channels. We always recommend developing an integrated digital marketing strategy and once Digital Transformation is complete digital marketing activities will be part of your marketing plan and part of business as usual.
7. Digital doesn’t have enough people/budget given its importance

Insufficient resources will be devoted to both planning and executing e-marketing and there is likely to be a lack of specific specialist e-marketing skills which will make it difficult to respond to competitive threats effectively.
8. You’re wasting money and time through duplication

Even if you do have sufficient resource it may be wasted. This is particularly the case in larger companies where you see different parts of the marketing organization purchasing different tools or using different agencies for performing similar online marketing tasks.
9. You’re not agile enough to catch up or stay ahead

If you look at the top online brands like Amazon, Dell, Google, Tesco, Zappos, they’re all dynamic – trialing new approaches to gain or keep their online audiences.
10. You’re not optimizing

Every company with a website will have analytics, but many senior managers don’t ensure that their teams make or have the time to review and act on them. Once a strategy enables you to get the basics right, then you can progress to the continuous improvement of the key aspects like search marketing, site user experience, email, and social media marketing. So that’s our top 10 problems that can be avoided with a well thought-through strategy.

So, the good news is that there are powerful reasons for creating a digital strategy and transforming your marketing which you can use to persuade your colleagues and clients. There is also now a lot of experience from how other businesses have successfully integrated digital marketing into their activities as explained in the example digital plans, templates and best practices in our digital marketing strategy toolkit.

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A strong online marketing strategy will help you boost your business. These 10 digital strategies have been proven to help companies improve their performance. If you employ them, you could be on your way to creating a concrete internet marketing strategy that helps you brings in more customers and retain new ones. 1. Invest in […]
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A strong online marketing strategy will help you boost your business. These 10 digital strategies have been proven to help companies improve their performance. If you employ them, you could be on your way to creating a concrete internet marketing strategy that helps you brings in more customers and retain new ones.
1. Invest in Web Design​​

We don’t often think about web design as a marketing tactic, but it influences the amount of time and attention a user will spend on your page. Your website is the center of all your digital marketing efforts, so if your page is not clean, easy to read, and interesting, it won’t matter how much time you put into strategy development – you’re still going to lose customers. If you don’t have the design skills to do it yourself, then it’s worth hiring someone to create a website that is modern, attention-grabbing, and mobile friendly.
2. Use Search Engine Marketing and Optimization

Search engine marketing and optimization are part of what helps make your business appear higher on a list of search engine results. With a strong SEO strategy, your company website will become associated with the keywords used to find your services. This increases your chances of being the company an individual chooses to work with after searching online.
3. Affiliate and Associate Programs

With an affiliate program, people who believe in your company can share your information and grow your market on a commission-based platform. An affiliate or associate program doesn’t make sense for every business. However, if you do use these, you can quickly see your marketing efforts improve without needing to do much yourself.
4. Hire a Coach or Consultant

If you’re not an expert in digital and internet marketing, ask someone who is. There are hundreds of internet marketing coaches and consultants available to you, many of whom can give you a consultation about what you should change to see success. For small business owners who need to focus on other business systems, a coach or consultant can be extremely helpful.
5. Use Email Marketing

It isn’t enough to just send out emails. You will want to consider various email lists that cater to the specific needs of each individual and can present a personalized approach to your campaigns. Take a hard and clear look at the purchasing habits of your customers and use that information to develop your strategy.
6. Build an Opt-In Email List

An opt-in email list allows customers to come to you and sign up to receive email correspondence. This allows you to connect with potential customers and current clients.
7. Get Into Articles or News Stories

Work with a public relations professional to get your business into articles and news stories on topics related to what you do. It will not only help establish you as a trusted expert, but it will introduce your business to an even broader base of people. You can also sign up for free services that connect you with writers looking for sources, such as Help a Reporter Out.
8. Write Online Press Releases

When you use online press releases, you’re getting your information out there in a formal setting. This allows newspapers, blogs, or other media sources to see your information and write posts about your company without you needing to put in the effort to connect and claim a story.
9. Hold Contests and Giveaways

People love contests and giveaways. Anytime you can encourage promotion from your customers in exchange for a free product or service, you will usually see a surge in purchases or connections.
10. Maintain a Blog

Your blog should be used for a number of reasons, including allowing you to consistently post new keywords and optimize your search engine strategy. More than that, your blog becomes somewhere you can offer advice, share bits of information, and really connect with your customers. A lasting relationship begins with trust, and your blog is a great way to build that.

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