Selling Solar : The 7 Elements of Great Online Marketing

Lately I’ve been hearing more and more from customers about “SEO and SEM”, which are short for “Search Engine Optimization” and “Search Engine Marketing” respectively. This topic is often misunderstood, and can be frustrating to business owners and marketing departmets in the solar industry. Our core business is not about understanding the nuances of meta-tags, Alt-Text, page rank, rich media, etc, it’s about selling solar, and most companies would rather be out selling, (which is music to my ears by the way).

With the growth of solar contrasting the overall backdrop of a slow economy, agencies are aggressively rushing to go after solar companies. Using lots of high-minded “agency speak” they set out to convince us that they hold the magic key to more leads, higher sales, and world class brand recognition.

Unfortunately, once a contract is signed the results often look the same. Yes, your website gets a makeover, maybe you rank a little higher on search engines, maybe your company even gets a Facebook page. Still, the highly qualified leads and increased inbound sales volume remain sluggish… Magically creating a need for more in-depth services and paid advertisements, which the agency is happy to provide.

Here’s the hard reality… Your website is only as good as the content you have on it. What’s more, very few agencies have the solar industry knowledge and expertise needed to take you much further than you can get using traditional advertising and lead-generation solutions that spare you the agency speak.

Although we all want to become the go-to solar company, it’s very important to use existing business sense before venturing into online marketing. It’s up to us to understand who we can best serve, what we have to offer, and why we are the best choice for customers. This often requires a little more thought and discipline than it would seem, and it is absolutely critical to your online marketing success.

Understanding and planning around the three points outlined above makes online marketing fluid and seamless. Your web presence becomes an additional sales person, creating more time for you to work with the most qualified leads. Unfortunately, for many companies, their online marketing exposes a half-baked effort to potential customers, it actually makes them look worse than simply not being there at all.

Before moving forward with an online strategy, consider the points above and build your strategy around them. Once you’re ready to take charge of your online presence, use these 7 relatively simple steps to produce quality results.

The 7 Elements of Great Online Marketing

1. Define a Keyword Strategy
Create a list of 3-5 keywords a qualified prospect would search with.
Think as a qualified prospect looking for your services. To attract customers, you need to think of the terms that they would use to find information as a layperson. Focus on getting to the core of what the customer is looking for and avoid terms well known by industry insiders as they could draw unqualified visitors.

The keywords you choose should be based on difficulty and relevance.Some very general words such as ‘solar’ or ‘green’ are very competitive, making it harder to rank well for them. As a small or medium-sized business, you probably want to choose less competitive keywords more specifically related to your business. The greater the volume of searches on a keyword, the more competitive it is.

Now that you’ve identified your keywords, you should incorporate them into your website. We will talk more about this in the upcoming section on website optimization.

*Note that keywords do not have to be perfect at first. You can test different keywords or phrases to see which get the best results. More on this in a later section.

2. Optimize Your Website
Once you’ve found your keywords, you can develop your website to rank highly in searches for them. This is what Search engine optimization (SEO) is all about. Being ranked highly on the right keywords will ensure that your company is found by the right audience.

While it has become common for businesses to build their sites specifically for high ranking on Google and other search engines, (creating a burgeoning SEO industry in the process) search engines like Google are constantly finding new ways to weed out sites that are designed solely for search engines and do not offer quality content to users.  This makes sense when you think about it, the sites with the most useful and relevant information for the user should be the highest ranking. Still, understanding how search engines find relevant sites is an important component of great web development.

A quick side note on SEO: On-page vs Off-page ranking

On-page SEO has to do with how your website is read by search engines. What can be inferred from your page titles, meta descriptions, headlines, and copy, along with how often the site is updated. More and more search engines are measuring the quality of the hosting as well, as they believe that sites with more robust hosting, higher speeds, etc are run by more legitimate organizations. In general, any shortcomings with on-site SEO can be quickly revised for immediate improvement. About 25% of your ranking comes from on-page SEO.

Off-page SEO: measures your ‘authority’ on the web, which includes the number of links to your websites from other websites, and how highly ranked those sites are. This takes more time to develop as it is no longer simply a matter of getting a lot of inbound links to your site. About 75% of your ranking is determined by off-page SEO.

What affects On-Site SEO rankings?

MOZ Rank – MOZ Rank offers a general measure of your site’s authority overall. The process is a bit technical, but the best way to positively affect your MOZ rank is to keep fresh content going onto your site regularly. More on this later.

Page Titles – Page titles tell the search engines what the pages they’re indexing are about. You can see these titles at the top of your browser when looking at a webpage.

Meta Descriptions – Although not directly an influence on ranking, meta data is what a person see’s as the description of your site in search engine listings. They give the user the chance to evaluate whether the result is what they’re looking for before actually clicking on the link to your page.

Headings – In the HTML code of your website, you’ll see that some text will have tags like <h1>, <h2>, or <h3> around it. Text in these tags is more often read as keywords than regular body text, and are weighted more heavily by the search engines. Therefore, it’s a good practice to put keywords in these headings when appropriate.

Images – Images are both positive and negative on your site. One the one hand, having too many images can slow down the load time of your page, negatively impacting your user experience as well as your search engine ranking. On the positive side, images that contain relevant ALT text in their descriptions add an additional weight on conventional search engine rankings, as well as making them available on image searches. Using high-quality, fast loading images with keywords in the ALT text can be a big enhancement to your site.

URL’s – The two most important things to know about URL structure without having to be a web-developer are first, to be sure that all of your pages have the appropriate 301 Redirects, and to avoid deeply nested URL’s.

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) – CSS puts your site layout data in a different file than your HTML code, which is where the content is stored. Having a CSS prevents the HTML code from being diluted, and therefore creates a higher ranking in the search engines when read. Using a CSS is extremely important in the current SEO landscape.

Your Domain – Very simply, when search engines look at a website, they check to see how long the domain name is valid. Sites with longer registrations are considered more serious and therefore have better authority.

3. Convert Visitors to Leads
Now that you’ve targeted your audience with keywords, optimized your site, and have been doing great things with off-site SEO you’re getting more traffic to your site than ever. Now we need to start turning these visitors into leads, and then into customers.
Conversion is the name of the game here. But how do we get them to convert?
First, make all your visitors, but particularly your new visitors an offer. Offer them something of high-value.
Next, create a call to action. Guide customers to a form in which they can register to receive the offer. Create a special landing page for this, so that results can be accurately measured and analyzed easily.
Lastly, use the results to make adjustments to the offer and the process of presenting it until you have the conversion rates you’re looking for. Repeat as necessary.

*The offers you make will be the critical tool for converting your visitors. Make sure the offer is captivating and easily understood. Make it easy for customers to see value in so that you are starting the interaction with them on a basis of quality and authority. Some good examples of offers include e-books, white papers, or invitations to local educational events, but use your own ideas to create something that is valuable and really reflects what you want your customers to see. Design any offer to be the basis of an initial conversation with the customer.

4. Blogging and Content Creation
Publishing content on the web is easier than ever before. Still, it’s important to have the prior elements of your website completed before you begin your foray into the online publishing and content creation world. Once you have your site optimized, a high level of authority, and a process for turning visitors into customers it’s time to start ramping up your content.

Blogging, ebooks, and webinars are great ways to attract the right visitors to your site, and often the most powerful way to help them see the value that solar can bring to their lives, and your business can bring to them as a client. When thinking about what content to produce, it’s important to keep the customer’s perspective in your mind at all times, avoiding the temptation to use these channels as opportunities to directly market products or services, or “pitch” your company before establishing your validity and authority in the space. Focus on offering industry information, and market data as opposed to product or service information and you will make your viewers feel confident in you.

Getting Started:
The most important thing about blogging is to be sure your content is a part of your existing company website. In our industry, we see hundreds of company websites that are little more than an online brochure offering an outline of the products and services the company provides, and names of the industry associations, certifications and other credentials held by the company. While all of these things are valuable to customers at the right time, pushing them to the front of the page without offering any further information or insight from your company or executives leaves visitors without a basis for the initial trust needed to engage with you.  By adding fresh content you not only engage your visitors on multiple platforms, promote your industry leadership and expertise, and create validity and trust, you also improve your ranking in search engines and your DMOZ scores, leading to even more visitors.

Choosing Your Topics:
Start with a specific purpose in mind. What do you feel is most important for anyone to know about solar in general? What piece of information do you have that if understood by your target market, would shift their perception of solar from being just an option to an opportunity, and how can you make these points in an educational and engaging way?

Start with the questions customers ask you most often right now. . . Write them down and then re-think the specific answer you would give to them in-person or over the phone. A great way to quickly create a great blog is to dictate this answer exactly as you would if asked in person into a recording device, then simply transcribe your recording onto your computer. There you go! You’ve just completed your first blog post.

*Once you’ve completed your blog post, webinar, ebook, or any other kind of content, always be sure to include the call to action we discussed earlier in this paper at the end. This gives the consumer a chance to connect with you at a point where they have the maximum exposure to you as an expert.

5. Get Yourself “Out There”
The topic of social media is perhaps the biggest land mine I’ve encountered since dedicating myself to working with the solar integrator and installer community. That being said, I would be doing you all a disservice by ignoring, or tiptoeing around the topic, and I want you all to become the best in your industry. Social networking is real, it’s the most popular reason people use the internet, and it has become one of the most trusted and powerful applications for businesses to use in their marketing.

Having tripped over the land mine so many times, allow me to dive on it face first this time…

“Google (in it’s current form) is dead, it is being supplanted by people’s preference for information based on the opinions of their friends and trusted colleagues on their social networks”.

Social media helps identify the most proficient, passionate, and professional businesses to their most qualified buyers by offering pre-validated and approved content across networks that go several degrees deep into various affinity groups, while allowing clients and advocates to vouch for those businesses in a specific context. Social networks are formed within others, then expand to additional users who share the affinity of the group, creating exponential opportunities that are impossible in a single-user linear search environment. Social Media allows you to immediately identify these new members, and offers direct contact between you and your employees and new well-qualified prospects in a non-invasive, socially acceptable platform that does not exist anywhere else.

Now, the last thing any business executive or owner wants to hear is that they need to be spending time on social media sites in addition to their already overpacked schedule of responsibilities. I get it. In response to this, I’ll simply reiterate that there are ways to manage and shine in the world of social media that do not require significant time commitments, and are actually a pleasurable experience for most owners and executives. I get into some of these methods in another paper “An Executive’s Guide to Overcoming The Social Media Conundrum”. For now, the most important things to know is that although there are new social networks popping up every day, the three sites that matter in the U.S. are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIN. These sites all offer unique value to businesses that produce additional sales, and all share one key ingredient – they can be managed passively and offer powerful connections with almost no time commitments.

6. Nurture and Develop Your Leads
Nobody buys solar on the spur of the moment. We know this already. So maintaining consistent contact and a positive relationship with your prospects pays. This should be done throughout their entire process of information gathering, evaluation, and decision-making, so that you remain top of mind once they reach the “moment of inspiration” when they decide to take action to move forward. Once this process is complete, prospects will self-select, engaging you with an invitation to start a sales process. As you’ve stayed with them throughout their info gathering and evaluation, you are in a position of knowing that almost all of their objections have been addressed and they’re simply looking for confirmation of their conclusions from you. All before ever making a proposal.

Much of the foundation for lead nurturing has been accomplished with your existing marketing efforts already. Now you just need to maintain relevance to your prospects amid all of the other responsibilities and interests they have. One of the best ways to do this is to use the opt-in information you gathered from them on their website visit to keep them informed of interesting and other informative topics as they develop in your industry and at your company. Email is a very good tool for doing this, and there are ways to make your email communications welcome every time.

The Golden Rule of Email Marketing: Stay relevant.

It’s necessary to track which of your high-value offerings your visitor was interested enough in to offer their contact information. Make sure that the emails you send are on a topic that correlates in some way with what the initial interest was, or else you run the risk of their opting out of future notifications.

Also…
Make sure every email you send has something in it for the reader. Maybe it’s another great whitepaper, or an invitation to a webinar. Maybe it’s a chance to meet with someone in the area who just put solar on their home or business
Include a call to action. Make sure the reader knows exactly who they can contact with questions or for more information on your topic or about buying a system.
Have a personality. Avoid canned looking emails that make readers feel like they’re being spammed. Write the copy off the cuff and make it interesting for the user to read. Entertain them as you educate them.
Measure your results. This is very important as over time you’ll find that certain email layouts, topics, and even delivery times get better results than others. You also want to watch out for any opt-outs. You want to nurture these prospects, not annoy them.

7. Analyze and Refine
Like so many things on the web today, it’s gotten easier than ever to track the movement of all your traffic and to analyze you site to reveal patterns that can get you much better results in the form of sales. Make sure all of your websites, and each page within them has the appropriate tracking code, and make sure you have a robust analytics tool that can help you understand your audience better. Most of these tools are either free online or have a nominal cost for particularly robust service.

Set metrics for traffic, conversions, leads, and any other specific items are important for you to measure based on your business model. If the metrics are not being met, make the refinements and test again. Changes in things like the position of content, conversion forms, and site content make a huge difference for users, and there is no consistent best-practice beyond what has become the standard for websites in any industry. Also, how often you send messages via email to prospects can get different responses, so again it’s important to have a system that monitors their response for you.

Without a doubt, opportunities to change, revise, and just generally improve on your existing site will crop up regularly. This is the greatest thing about online marketing. When you identify these opportunities, make the changes you need to improve your conversion rates, lead flow, contact and sales opportunities. Never be afraid to try new things, even if they seem a little too out of the box for your taste. Everyone is a little different out there, and will respond to your communication in different ways. By consistently trying out new ideas, formats, and styles, you’ll learn more about your audience than you ever thought you could, and in time will transform your website and web identity into a sales engine that delivers a very high percentage of targeted, qualified people. Buyers who have done their research and decided to engage with you in order to buy a system.


3 steps to profiting from Networking

1. Choose the right networking group or event. The best results come from attending the appropriate networking events for your particular industry. This should include trade shows, conferences, and associations dedicated to your type of business. For example, if your target market is a Fortune 500 company, it does not make sense to join a group whose primary membership consists of individual business owners. You can also participate in groups where your potential clients meet. A friend of mine helps people negotiate leases with their landlords. He joined the local franchise association because most franchisors lease their properties.

2. Focus on quality contacts versus quantity.Most people have experienced the person who, while talking to you, keeps his eyes roving around the room, seeking his next victim. This individual is more interested in passing out and collecting business cards than establishing a relationship. My approach is to make between two and five new contacts at each networking meeting I attend. Focus on the quality of the connection and people will become much more trusting of you.

3. Make a positive first impression. You have EXACTLY one opportunity to make a great first impression. Factors that influence this initial impact are your handshake, facial expressions, eye contact, interest in the other person and your overall attentiveness. Develop a great handshake, approach people with a natural, genuine smile and make good eye contact. Notice the colour of the other person’s eyes as you introduce yourself. Listen carefully to their name. If you don’t hear them or understand exactly what they say, ask them to repeat it. Many people do not speak clearly or loudly enough and others are very nervous at networking events. Make a powerful impression by asking them what they do before talking about yourself or your business. As Stephen Covey states, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Comment on their business, ask them to elaborate, or have them explain something in more detail. As they continue, make sure you listen intently to what they tell you. Once you have demonstrated interest in someone else, they will – in most cases – become more interested in you.


Must Read Tips to Start a Small Business Blog

A friend of mine who is an experienced corporate marketer started a new business. The store just opened and being the good pal that I am, I was able to provide some advice regarding marketing on the web – specifically regarding blog marketing.

This is a new small business, so considerations for what to do about a web site included: cost, functionality, flexibility, ease of maintenance and marketability. The web site needed to serve as both an online representation of the business, but without transactional functionality, as well as a host for landing pages used with email and PPC campaigns.

My recommendation for a low cost, easy to use and search engine friendly content mangagement system? Blog software.

What often happens when friends ask for advice regarding web marketing is that I’ll make some recommendations in a casual setting or email links to a few resources like this one on blog marketing tips, then a few weeks or months later, the conversation will turn to, “So, how is your blog or web site doing?”, and I find out that the site/blog was either not started at all, it was created in a way that blows away any chance of SEO or marketability outside of advertising or it was built using resources with no cost of entry but without the capabilities to scale if successful.

Something along those lines happend with my friend’s blog.

What was the issue? The blog was started using Blogger.com, which by itself is not a problem, but the blog address selected was: nameofstore.blogspot.com. This is understandable because it’s the default URL selection when you create a blog with Blogger.com.

However, picking a third party domain for the blog address violates one of the most important rules in sustainable blogging: Always host the blog address with a domain name you control. That means yourdomainname.com/blog or blog.yourdomainname.com or yourdomainnameblog.com.

Otherwise, you give up control. How so? What if the blog host goes down? Free services rarely provide support. Also, what if the service does not support the functionality you need? You can’t change their entire platform to suit your individual needs.

There are other reasons for keeping the blog address as part of your own domain name including the ability to change blog software services without having to change your blog address.

Of course there’s also a benefit for search engine optimization if you host the blog as a sub directory of your main company domain name such as yourdomainname.com/blog. Blogs are very linkable entities and other blogs tend to be enthusiastic about linking, so any links to your blog can be percieved as a vote of credibility to your main web site since the blog and the web site share the same domain name.

Now back to our tale of the small business blog. My friend had only made one post on the blogspot.com URL so nothing would be lost by moving to a dedicated domain name. My own experience with Online Marketing Blog was different. After blogging for nearly 2 years at a blogspot.com address, I decided to move to a dedicated domain name and WordPress. It took some talented optimization and 6 months of aggressive promotion to recoup the linking footprint (100,000+ inbound links) that was lost. Of course, now our traffic is multiple times more than what it was.

What my friend decided to do was register a domain name and setup a hosting account. Since there was no main company web site to attach the blog to, this makes the most sense. Essentially, the blog became the company web site. With more and more businesses, this is becoming a very practical, cost effective and functionally efficient way to manage web site content: Using blog software as a content management system.

As my friend asked what to do next, writing everything down in a notebook, it became clear that there’s a litany of things you COULD do with setting up a blog. Even if we filtered it down to what one SHOULD do, the list was amazingly long. As someone new to the whole idea of blogging and this not being a formal consulting arrangement, I decided to create what I think, is a short list of what a small businesses CAN do when starting a blog.

1. Decide the purpose of the blog.

Do this before going out and registering a domain name or anything else. Is the blog going to serve as a journal for starting the business? Is it a search marketing tool? Is it to be used to demonstrate thought leadership and create credibility? Will it be a communication tool for customers? Will it also serve as the main company web site? Is the purpose some or all of the above?

I could elaborate on setting up each of these types of blogs if I ever decided to write that book, but for now, we’ll stick with a blog that serves as a company web site, hosts landing pages, serves as a small business resource and marketing tool.

2. Pick a URL.

If the purpose of the blog is to support company brand and audience, then the URL should be part of the company web site. Ideally, the blog hosting situation allows for a sub directory such as companysite.com/blog.  Otherwise, a sub-domain such as blog.companysite.com will work and you can can host the blog elsewhere, separate from the company web servers. IT will like that.

If the purpose of the blog is independent of the primary company brand, or messaging, then a dedicated domain name such as topicgoeshereblog.com might work better.

It’s tempting to use a keyword only domain name, but those keywords will not be a silver bullet for search engine rankings. A catchy, meaningul brand name for the blog will go much farther as content can always be optimized for search engine rankings.

3. Pick blog software.

In most cases, WordPress is the way to go. An inexpensive Linux platform hosting account that supports PHP and mySQL can be secured for $10-$20 per month. However, should the blog get really popular, expect to upgrade to support increased demand. It’s entirely worth it.

The blog software will need to be installed on the server that will host it and the database will also need to be set up. This is fairly straightforward, but in all honesty, it’s best to have someone that knows what they’re doing help. As an example, I do very little of the technical work on our blog and prefer to have a specialist (Thomas McMahon) take care of maintenance, adding plugins, design and functionality updates. We have outside programmers do any heavy lifting in the application development department.

WordPress software is open source, ie free, so if you are code/technically savvy and you have the time to figure it out, it’s certainly doable. There is no one “right way” to setup a blog. There are literally hundreds of shades of gray.

It can cost a hundreds to thousand of dollars for a blog consultant to install, setup and customize the design of your blog. You’re not paying for the software, you’re paying for expertise that will save you MONTHS of time and allow you to get to market more quickly and efficiently.

4. Customize the blog.

After installation of the core blog software, there are a number of customization tasks.

First, the blog design should be modified to match your branding. If you don’t hire a consultant to do this, there are many free templates that can then be customized, but many of them require a link to the author at the bottom. Personally, I’m not a fan of those, but they are a low/no cost place to start. Design customization involves modifying the CSS, JavaScript, graphics and possibly a few database elements.

The second set of customization tasks involves plug-ins to improve the adminstration, front end functionality and the SEO friendliness of the blog. Thanks to Twitter and Thomas for this recommended minimum list of plug-ins:

  • Redirection
  • HeadSpace2
  • Google XML sitemaps
  • Gravity forms
  • All In One SEO
  • PostPost
  • ACE WP Plug
  • ComLuv
  • Disqus
  • Members only
  • Cookies for comments
  • Section widget
  • Page order
  • Related posts
  • FeedSmith FeedBurner Plugin
  • Sociable
  • Askimet or WP-SpamFree
  • Post Teaser

5. Create a content plan.

In concert with the purpose of the blog, it’s important to generate a basic editorial guideline for creating content. The easiest way to manage this is by creating categories for the kinds of content you plan on posting.

Before you create those categories, it’s a good idea to do some keyword research as the categories will become excellent repositories of related content. Why not make it even easier for search engines to understand and rank them?

Common keyword research tools include: WordTracker and Google. Paid keyword tools include WordStream.com and KeywordDiscovery.com

Once you identify which keyword phrases best represent the content you’ll be publishing, use them to name your content categories. Each time you make a blog post, that entry will be associated with one or more categories, creating a very search engine friendly repository of content.

Create an editorial calendar or schedule of posts to keep you on topic for your audience and true to the purpose of the blog. Leverage interactions with blog readers as well as your analytics to know if your content and keyword picks are productive or not.

6. Pick your blogging team.

In the case of most small businesses, the blogging team is a team of one. That’s fine, just be sure to document what’s working and what’s not so when the time comes, you can get your blogging team mate up to speed quickly.

Since blogger’s block (like writer’s block) can really dampen a good thing for a small business blog, go ahead and keep a good number of posts in draft mode. Add to them as you get new ideas and inspiration. Or facts and examples. That way, you’ll have a steady stream of blog posts ready to publish in advance. In fact, you can schedule blog posts in advance using WordPress.

7. Make it easy to share.

Blogging in a vaccum is inevitable blogging death. It’s essential that you solicit comments in your posts, respond to comments quickly, create and enforce a commenting policy. Being responsive is an essential part of attracting subscribers.

Don’t covet the comments either. Visit other blogs in your industry and write useful comments. Those bloggers may notice you and it can become something more, like an invite for a guest post, collaboration or simply a new online friend.

Make it easy for readers of your blog to save and share your content with sharing buttons or widgets. It pays to create accounts on the more popular services and develop social networks there. Your contacts on Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon and similar services will watch for your next post and vote for the good stuff, which can drive your content to be exposed on more popular areas of those web sites. More exposure can mean more traffic. The social bookmarks tool is handy for adding such functionality to any web page and Thomas offered several new blog promotion tips last week.

8.Get your social on.

RSS feeds come with blogs and it’s worth taking the time to make sure the RSS feed is readily available and obvious for people to subscribe. Submit your blog and RSS feed to our HUGE list of blog and RSS directories.

Set up social profiles on sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as appropriate and automate the sharing of links from your blog posts to those services. In other words, you could use a service like TwitterFeed to publish your latest blog post to Twitter and Facebook automatically.

Be sure to publish your blog URL everywhere you publish your web site address.

9. Make static.

If you’re using the blog as a CMS for a small business web site, then make your static web pages such as those for About our Company, Product/Service pages, Contact Forms, etc. The blog can be customized to have a home page like any other web site as well. That way, visitors arriving on your site can see what they expect from a company selling products/services. At the same time, blogging creates a rich and frequent source of useful content that’s syndicated via RSS, promoted automatically to relevant social channels and leaves the door open for interaction via comments.

10. Measure. Test – Test. Measure.

It’s important that you set goals for the blog, a plan to execute tactics and most of all, measure progress. Most web site measurement is focused on web analytics and metrics specific to different types of marketing such as with email, SEO or PPC. Standard web analytics software such as Google Analytics will address the vast majority of your needs.

I would also recommend social media monitoring and analytics. Monitoring can be as simple as the RSS feed from search.twitter.com combined with the RSS feed from the results of a search on Google’s blog search. You could also use services like socialmention.com, trackur.com or more robust social media monitoring tools such as Techrigy SM2, ScoutLabs or Radian6.

Social monitoring tools will help you understand what your customers are saying about you on the social web as well as uncover new interaction opportiunities with influentials. Real time search means real time marketing and social monitoring can facilitate that. One example would be if a competitor Tweets a deal on a product. Your Twitter search on that competitor or product would create an alert. You could then decide to offer a deal at a lower price or some other counter offer.

Another example is if a customer complains about your company. Before others jump on the bandwagon, your social monitoring tools would alert you and you can then qualify and address the situation quickly.

As web analytics and social media monitoring tools become increasingly intertwined, you’ll be able to identify many other key metrics for the effect of your social participation on bottom line business goals.


B-2-B to social media

B-to-b organizations are well along in their measurement of social media. This was just one of many findings in a just-completed survey by BtoB and the Web Analytics Association.

The “B-to-B Web Analy-tics Survey” found that nearly half (48.3%) of respondents are already measuring social media. This finding seems to map with another clear interest among the survey respondents—reputation management. Nearly a quarter (24.3%) said they planned to increase their budgets this year to monitor public sentiment.

“It’s 1993 all over again,” said Jim Sterne, chairman of the Web Analytics Association and author of “Social Media Metrics: How to Measure and Optimize Your Marketing Investment” (John Wiley & Sons, 2010). “Everybody knows that social media is important, but it’s so new that only a few are measuring its business impact with any sophistication.”

Sterne added: “Knowing who the influencers are is far more important and powerful for b-to-b firms than for consumer-facing companies.”

Alex Langshur, president of PublicInsite Web Analytics and current president of the WAA, said the survey brought forward three themes: “The desire to have a more integrated view across all channels, a jump in investments to measure and understand the impact from mobile and social media, and that the skills shortage remains acute.”

According to the survey, social media measurement was higher than mobile measurement (17%) or video measurement (14%). The highest score for a tracked marketing channel was Web sites (88%), followed by e-mail (76%).

The online survey, conducted from Jan. 21 to Feb 12, collected 679 responses. Of these, more than two-thirds (69%) said their company’s marketing was primarily b-to-b; the balance of respondents said their business was a combination of b-to-b and b-to-c. M


Relentless Internet Marketing

The internet is a fantastic place to promote your skills and accomplishments. You can pay a large sum of money by coming up with banner ad or pay per click plans to “get the word out” or you can go the budget way and market yourself smartly without spending nary a dime. I’ll leave the money plans for another article, instead let’s take a look at smart ways for you to promote you or your product online for little or no money!

Who said you have to have a marketing budget to promote yourself? Well, many companies do, but they are in the business to sell you something [namely, their marketing plan]. If you have the money to spend on marketing then go for it. If not, then you must examine cost effective ways to get your name out there. Here are some of my personal favorites:

Write Articles – Yes, just as I am writing this article in hope that you are reading it, you can do the same and submit your missives to leading article directories. A well written article of medium length [500-750 words] can go a long way in attracting interest by others. If you are new to the game, write the article and give it to a friend  for their review and critique. Once you make your changes, find article directories you can join and start submitting. Make sure your resource box – the information at the end of the article – effectively pitches your product or you personally. Enjoy the resultant [and free!] links back to your site. Submit on a regular basis and you will reap the added traffic to your site resulting in more business for you.

Join Forums — I run several message board communities and with my two largest ones — the Corporate Flight Attendant Community and the Aviation Employment Board — I permit members to add a link within their signature to their personal or business website. Many of my threads are indexed by Google and picked up by people all over the world. Thus, the right person at the right time can click on a thread and see valuable links to other sites of interest. Not every forum manager permits this practice, however. I guess I am just a nick guy! [wink]

Post on Craig’s List — Craig Newmark started his “list” more than a decade ago to serve the San Francisco community.  Years later his site is still going strong with well over one hundred cities across the globe featured. People from Atlanta to Auckland and from Zurich to Zimbabwe now have access to a site that allows them to pitch their products, display their resumes, or sell their very souls. The site is still free unless you are posting a job opportunity or real estate information under a few, select cities.

Your Website — You do have a website, right? Oddly in this day and age I am meeting people who do not. I hear all kinds of excuses: it is too expensive, too time consuming, too difficult, etc. Heck, if you are going to “play” the internet you must be properly equipped to participate. Quit making excuses…find a way to get online and do it today! At the very least your DSL account probably provides a page or two where you can design your personal page and upload it to the internet. Oh, you are still using dial up? Yikes!

As with any marketing campaign you must stay on top of it at all times. What I mean is this: however you choose to proceed, you must continually monitor and adjust your plan to maximize its effectiveness. No going on auto-pilot here: you must take charge of what you are doing to reap the rewards. If you do, you can gain a lot of exposure – and work – without expending a huge amount of money.