To get the results of online marketing done right, it’s important that you are using a great balance of art (human skill) and science (technology). I’ve asked Kris Barton, Chief Product Officer, ReachLocal to share some best practices and thought on this careful blend of art and technology.
Too often, online marketing solutions for SMBs don’t strike the right balance. Some are too technology driven, leaving some small businesses feeling overwhelmed or confused. Others are service-centric and light on technology, but in an era where big data and automation are central to successful online marketing, this approach falls short too.
So what’s the right balance in an online marketing solution? How much should be art – decisions guided by human judgment — and how much science – actions dependent on technology?
The Triumvirate of Online Marketing
Online marketing solutions generally address three key activities: discovery, lead generation and lead conversion. Let’s take a look at how art and science play a role in each, and how to strike a good balance.
All businesses need vehicles that help customers find them. Online marketing can drive discovery through organic and paid search, display advertising and social media.
Paid search is an excellent example of how art and science meld in online marketing. Owning the right search words on the right search platforms is critical because it can lead customers to your business listings rather than your competitors. While a machine can bid on those keywords in a more timely and efficient manner than any human ever could, current technology alone simply cannot judge which keywords are delivering quality leads and which words are misfires. Is your company’s “mole removal” a dermatological or pest removal service? Are there so many lawyers in your metropolitan area that you can’t gain any traction with the term “attorney”? Those judgment calls require an experienced professional – one that’s managed hundreds of online marketing campaigns – and the help of great technology.
Organic search requires a blend of technology and the human touch as well. Your business information: name, phone number, etc. should be listed in as many directories and services as possible. You can use technology to populate those listings with your information. However, to increase your chances of being found organically, you need to go beyond simple listings – you need to publish articles, blogs, etc. that describe your offerings, your relevance, and your differentiators. An experienced online marketing professional can create the content needed to boost your visibility and knows how to optimize it to help customers find you more quickly.
Display Advertising is an area where robust technology essentially runs the show. We all know how important it is for your ads to run in front of a receptive audience. The technology inherent in online marketing solutions can display your ads to potential or existing customers that have already visited your site or performed searches related to your offerings. There’s little human involvement with this aspect of online marketing.
Social media is increasingly prominent in marketing, so businesses need to be on top of the online reviews, comments, etc. referencing them and their offerings. No human can possibly troll all the sites (Facebook, Yelp, YouTube, Twitter, etc.) that might contain that content. However, software can perform that function exceedingly well. Conversely, engaging prospects and customers by blogging on an industry topic, tweeting out a special promotional offer, responding to reviews and the like all require an experienced marketer’s human touch!
After they discover your business online through a listing, ad, review, etc., potential customers will often link back to your web site for more details. Your site must contain useful, easily located, up-to-date information. While it can be laid out and populated using technology, the content itself will drive the best results if it’s created by a marketing professional with SEO expertise. And, since prospects and customers will visit your site using a variety of devices – SmartPhones, tablets, PCs – technology is required to ensure your site is automatically optimized for each.
There are several steps involved in lead conversion, and technology can support and speed up the process. For example, if you’re unable to answer calls, emails or web site inquiries, technology can provide a range of auto responses, with the frequency and type of response dictated by you. You can program the software to provide a second follow-up message after a set amount of time, and to even send you a reminder if you haven’t responded to the lead in a timely fashion. The human element in this case determines the amount and type of responsiveness needed to nurture leads, and the technology does the responding.
Recognizing a Balanced Solution
When evaluating organizations to help with your online marketing, make sure the technology provides the tools you need now, and those you’ll need as your business grows. The solution should include reports that demonstrate ROI – where your resources were invested, what worked and what didn’t. After all, one of the greatest benefits of marketing online is the data available for measurement. For best results, look for an end-to-end-solution. You’ll achieve economies of scale and synergies if you use all of the tools in the marketing toolkit.
Look for human experience in a number of areas, including your geography and industry. An experienced online marketing professional should provide customer success stories that demonstrate the types of results you desire. Best practices in marketing technology are constantly evolving, so also look for someone that stays relevant and current.
Online marketing doesn’t have to be overly technical, nor does it have to be “tech-lite”. Look for a balance of art and science, and you’ll find the solution that is “just right”.