I can't pin down the exact emotion that hits me when I try to quantify just how much time and energy my partners and I routinely dedicate to our company's web presence. Pride? Exhaustion? Bewilderment?
It's not a struggle, though, to give a name to the crippling frustration we'd all face if we ever ended up at the bottom of search results despite our efforts. While I'm not the foremost expert on SEO, SEM, PPC, and all of their acronym relatives, I am expert enough to know that brute effort in those areas, by itself, is not enough to protect a business. It takes intelligent and strategic effort. That's why I use several different firms to outsource our web marketing.
But the real key to maximizing returns comes in not just contracting the appropriate experts, but in managing them well. Here are my five top rules for keeping your outsourced marketing team (and yourself) accountable and efficient:
1. You can't analyze data if you don't have data. The foundation behind any good web-analysis method is Google Analytics. Since setting up this service is both easy and free, there is absolutely no excuse not to have an account, whether you spend money with Google or not. When you do this, don't forget to set up all of the lead capture forms so you can track leads/conversions in order to see exactly what is attracting your visitors. If you haven't done this, do it now. If you have, go back and make sure you've done it thoroughly.
2. Always be scanning. A common maxim in sales is "keep your eye on the prize." Not in web traffic — instead, you want to keep your eyes on everything. Comb through your data in search of benchmarks that lead to sales, sure — but don't forget to look further upstream too. In other words, don't just look for a sale's end goal, but for areas you can key into and strengthen. Is your traffic mostly from direct referrals (typing in your URL manually), or is it coming from a specific blog? Likewise, pay attention to the content of links and keywords. There are infinite ways to search for your company, so make sure you're targeting hotspots and adjusting your strategy accordingly. Finally, don't draw a line between web traffic and phone traffic. Many vendors offer call tracking, which can be useful to identify surges of inquiries in addition to those of sales.
3. Find your sweet spot. Look upstream at the quality and returns of your online marketing. Your average rankings and cost per click are two indicators that can help identify if you're in the most efficient spot on the search engine or if you've run askew. While holding the number one paid spot has its clear advantages, branding campaigns among them, many companies find that these spots are not the most efficient. PPC and SEM campaigns shouldn't be "all or nothing," so monitor your costs per conversions closely.
4. Evaluate your metrics wisely. Rather than comparing your marketing results over consecutive periods, try comparing them by season or even years prior. Taking into account events such as holidays and industry upturns/downturns can greatly affect the accuracy of your interpretations. Apply the same level of stringency to areas such as backlinks and rankings. Just as all months are not equal, nor are all backlinks or search locations. Evaluate new backlinks for quality to avoid getting pegged by Google and consider using an IP proxy to differentiate between your personalized search results and those of your target customers.
5. Apply constant pressure. Don't let yourself (or your vendors) become complacent with good results. Even after sales climb, it's important to remain active and responsive. One way to combat stagnation is to ask that your vendors schedule regular conferences with you. Similarly, just because you've asked your vendor for new ideas or opinions in April doesn't mean you can't ask again in May (and June).Sage management of web marketing efforts is rarely the easiest path to follow, but it's often the best path. Just remember that anything you measure and work toward will improve, no matter what. Online marketing through outsourced vendors is no exception.
Sam Saxton is currently the president of Salter Spiral Stair, Mylen Stairs, and Paragon Stairs. He previously has operated a residential construction company and has experience in acquiring small businesses as well as advanced marketing/sales strategies. He is a graduate of Babson College with a focus in entrepreneurship.
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