When it comes to online marketing, there's no shortage of advice on what you need to do to succeed. A quick inquiry from Google displays over 15 million results. Take your pick.
It’s easy to find contradicting advice too. For every "10 Steps to Online Fame & Fortune" blog post there’s a "8 Things You're Doing That Will Kill Your Online Hopes & Dreams".
I’m not here to discount all the advice you find on the Internet. There are a lot of great marketers like Mars, Tyler and Laura that provide useful resources to help you out stand outline and grow your business. That after all, is the goal of Uncommon.ly.
But read a half dozen “here-is-the-path-to-your-guaranteed-success (or failure)” articles and you'll start to feel like you're doing everything wrong. You begin comparing numbers on social media. You lament about the long hours you’re putting in to your blog. You wonder if it’s all worth it.
I've been there.
Here's a different strategy to online marketing:
Do more of what works.
I’m going to share with you how to get there.
Identifying Your Online Audience
This is always the first step. (Hang with me if you’ve done this before.)
Who is it exactly that you are targeting with your message? Be as specific as possible. Think about the people you’re already helping (even if they’re not paying customers yet).
Where and when do they spend their time online? If you have basic demographics (country, age group and gender), you can use theForrester Social Technographic Tool to determine how your audience participates online. Are you a part of these communities already?
What kind of help are they looking for? In addition to offline conversations you have with people, you can use social media as a listening tool to find out what problems people need solved. Even if you don’t have a big following, you can do things like:
- Use Twitter Search and type in phrases like “I would pay someone to help me _____” or “Need help with _____”. Sure, you’ll have to wade through a lot of irrelevant results but there could be some gems in there for you.
- Like Facebook pages of leaders in your niche to see what people are talking about. What needs are going unaddressed?
Once you’ve defined your online audience, ask yourself this question:
“Is there anything I’m doing online now that doesn’t match who my audience is, where they are online, or what they need help with?” If so, file it under the “Stop Doing What Doesn’t Work” column.
Liberating, isn’t it? Now let’s look at how we find out what does work.
How to Do More of What Works
So we’ve established that there’s no shortage of advice on the web when it comes to online marketing. Much of it boils down to specific tactics, which can be helpful, but you won’t know what works until you test them with a live audience.
Here’s how to do that. We’ll use Facebook as our example for demonstrating how this process works.
1. Determine your goal.
What do you want to achieve? Make it specific.
I want more people to like, comment, and share what I post on Facebook.
2. Conduct small experiments.
Using what you know about your audience, test different tactics for achieving your goal.
Conduct your experiment over the course of 1 month to give you enough time to see any emerging patterns.
- Experiment with the types of content you post. Mix up your posts between photos, links and text updates. Test humorous vs. serious, graphics vs. photos, etc.
- Experiment with the length of your posts. Test shorter vs. longer text with your posts.
- Experiment with when you post your content. Post at various times throughout theday. Facebook Insights will tell you when your fans are online, serving as a good starting point.
- Experiment with how often you post your content. Try posting once a day then two-three times a day.
3. See what works and what doesn't.
Measure and analyze the results but don’t overcomplicate things. For your small experiments, you don’t need massive spreadsheets with multiple columns and formulas to track Likes, Comments and Shares or corresponding net fan gains and losses.
Facebook Insights makes it easy to see what posts perform best by type and time.
What types of content received the most Likes, Shares and Comments?
When was it posted?
How long was the post?
Did the frequency of your posts affect Likes, Shares and Comments?
There are also free analytics tools available to measure your performance on your website, social networks and email marketing campaigns.
4. Do more of what works.
This is the next logical step, of course -- do more of what works for your specific audience. (It might suprise you.)
It doesn’t end here, though. The process is cyclical, where you are constantly experimenting and then tweaking your strategy based on what continues to work.
You can apply this to anything you do online to promote your business -- social media, email marketing, your blog.
Do you want to drive more traffic to your website with Pinterest? Experiment with image height, pin description length, hashtags and type over image.
Use the free analytics tool inside your Pinterest business account to see what pins performed best.
Do you want more people to open, read and click through from your emails? Experiment with subject copy, plain text vs. emails with graphics, full blog posts vs. excerpts.
You can do A/B Split Testing in MailChimp (free for up to 2,000 subscribers) to see what emails perform best.
Do you want more people to read your blog posts? Experiment with headlines, type of posts, length of posts, and the day you post.
Use Google Analytics to measure and analyze your inbound traffic sources and time spent on your site. Track social shares and mentions.
What happens when what works doesn’t work anymore?
This will probably happen to you at some point online. Why?
The Internet evolves very quickly. This is especially true when it comes to the social web. Think about any social network today. It’s probably used completely differently then when it started.
Facebook started as a college “hot or not” site, in which students would compare two pictures side by side and determine who was “hot” and who was “not”. Now its fastest growing demographic is 45-54 yrs old.
Pinterest started as a way for users to bookmark their favorite images online. It’s now an visual curation site with its popular users pinning an average of 2,757 pins and driving 25 percent of retail referral traffic (the highest on the web).
(Of course both of those examples offer huge opportunities to brands with the right demographic.)
If you find that what you’ve been doing online isn’t working anymore, do this:
- Revisit who your online audience is.
- Clarify your goals.
- Conduct small experiments.
- See what works and what doesn’t.
- Do more of what works.
This is part art, part science and repeating this 5 step strategy.
Best practices online are simply the ones that work for you and your audience.