By Colin Jordan
Your new website looks great. It’s informative, has loads of information about your school, and highlights some excellent pictures of your training fleet. But just weeks after launch, you start to wonder—is your website really benefiting your business? How can you know for sure?
Most small businesses have a website. It’s practically a given in the age of Google. The problem is that many businesses treat their website like an online brochure. It’s essentially a passive marketing tool that hangs out online and hopes to get noticed.
If your website is going to work for your business, it must be more than a glorified brochure. It should be the central hub of an online marketing system that has five fundamental purposes. Your website should accomplish these goals:
1. attract “qualified” searchers and regularly generate strong sales leads;
2. draw interested parties from social media, forums, blogs, and other websites;
3. capture contact information and social media follows so you can build relationships that will lead to future sales;
4. raise your profile and successfully shape public and industry perceptions of your business; and
5. provide specific and actionable intelligence that will help you understand your target market and refine your marketing plan.
Let’s unpack those purposes one at a time, starting with people who find your website through search engines like Yahoo or Google. To be found, your business should appear on the first page of search engine results, preferably in the top third of the page. You probably knew that, because you’re always getting emails from SEO companies claiming they can get you top rankings with major search engines, right?
Search engine rankings are important, but remember the goal. You want qualified searchers to find your website. Qualified searchers are those people who are in the market to purchase the service you’re offering. It does you little good if you’re ranking high with searchers who have no real intention of ever earning a pilot certificate or pursuing a career in aviation.
To appear in the top search results for these people, search engines need to see your website as highly relevant to the searcher’s terms, a credible source for this kind of information, and as an authority in your field. You can set yourself up for success by making sure your website can be navigated easily, has well-written content that is tightly focused on your potential customer’s needs, and has a healthy number of links coming in from other well-respected websites and social media platforms that are related to your potential customer’s search.
But attracting qualified searchers is just half the battle. Your website also must generate sales leads. Once a visitor arrives on your site, you only have about 10 seconds to convince that person to stay and have a look around. You can accomplish that by being professional and organized in your appearance, and by placing easily identifiable portals on your homepage that are designed to quickly funnel the visitor to the page that meets their need. Once there, you have to make a compelling case for the visitor to contact you, and make it easy to do so.
The second purpose of your website is to draw people in from other sites and social media platforms. Begin by using your own social media channels to regularly post events and content that your customers will find useful, interesting, and worthy of sharing with others. You may also want to consider having your own blog, newsletter, or other content that links back to your website. This takes some time, but it will help you with your third purpose, which is to build a following of people who are beginning to look to you for information, news, and guidance.
As you’re working on your own social media, reach out to other related web forums, social media pages, blogs, and websites as well. Schedule time each week to post comments on them, communicate with the account holders, share good information from them on your own social media, and build relationships.
A large social media following translates to new customers in several ways. It allows you to cultivate customers over time as they get to know you; it’s a great source of contact information for email marketing campaigns; and it’s an effective way to raise your online profile as your customers share your content with like-minded friends.
Purpose number four is to manage public and industry perceptions of your business. Think of your website and social media as your company’s digital ambassadors. If your website has an outdated look or poor writing, or if your social media channels are filled with irrelevant posts, neither the public nor your industry partners or peers will take you seriously. Make time to be consistent with these things, and outsource what you can’t take on yourself.
If you want to compete, you need to look as if you’ve got your head in the game. If you want to excel, you need to become a leading voice in your region. You do that by creating original, valuable, and insightful industry-related content in your blog, social media, and web pages.
The fifth and final purpose is to collect data that enables you to incrementally improve your digital marketing system. Just add Google Analytics to your website, use the already provided analytical tools in your social media channels, and take time each week to observe what people click on and like on your sites, how they find you, and what they share.
That is your website-based digital marketing system in a nutshell. Your social media channels cultivate relationships and feed potential customers to your website; your website is optimized to attract qualified searchers and generate good sales leads; your system builds your public and industry reputation; and you watch over the whole thing using your analytics tools, taking notes so you can keep tweaking and improving your marketing machine.
Colin Jordan is with Jordan & Cross Digital Marketing and Communication, Venice, Florida. Visit the website.