iMarket Solutions Blog : Archive for March, 2011

Inbound Marketing: The Future of Marketing Part IV: Maximizing Your Blog’s ROI

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Last week we claimed that blogging is an affordable way for non-professional marketers to enjoy some of the benefits of inbound marketing. This week, we’ll offer some statistics to back up our claim.

Here are some great numbers from the recent HubSpot survey of small business owners and marketing professionals:

  • Most businesses now have a blog – 65%. Businesses without a blog are now in the minority. Chances are, your competitors have a blog – and you should too.
  • 57% of companies using blogs reported that they acquired customers directly from their blog.
  • 55% of respondents said that the leads generated from their blog cost less than the average cost-per-lead for their business.
  • Respondents were more likely to say that blogs were a low-cost source of leads than any other marketing channel, inbound or outbound. If you only do one form of inbound marketing, a blog is the one to choose.

So how do you make a blog work for you? Once again, the statistics have the answer. If you walk away from this article with only one fact stuck in your mind, make it this one:

The more you post to your blog, the more likely it is to generate leads for you.

Fewer than half of survey respondents who posted to their blog once a month or less had acquired a customer through their blog, but 72% – nearly three-quarters! – of businesses that posted once a week had acquired at least one customer through their blogs. This number increased to 76% for respondents who posted 2-3 times a week, and to 89% for respondents who posted to their blogs more than once a day.

If you’re not posting to your blog at least once a week, you’re leaving a lot of leads on the table.

Looking at these statistics, we’ve concluded that for a small business owner who is writing his or her own blog posts, posting once a week hits the “sweet spot” for maximum ROI. If you post less often than that, your lead generation drops off significantly. If you post more often, you will probably get some increase in leads, but you have to invest several additional hours a week to do it, and the ROI might not be there.

However, if your company is larger and has more resources to devote to marketing, the more blog posts, the merrier. You should experiment until you find the “sweet spot” of ROI for your particular market.

(Of course, if no one in your company wants to write the blog posts, you can always hire professionals to write them for you. This is often the easiest and most affordable way to go – and it is usually the best way to be sure that your blog posts stay on schedule.)

Next week: The Yellow Pages – Your Grandmother’s Inbound Marketing?

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Inbound Marketing: The Future of Marketing Part III: Blogs: Inbound Marketing for Everybody

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Last week, we talked about how companies that do outbound marketing are like lions wandering the jungle hunting for elephants, while companies that do inbound marketing are like lions that cleverly wait by the watering hole where all the elephants come to drink.

Of course – to continue the analogy – there are a lot of different watering holes in the online jungle. You need to figure out which ones are worth staking out. You also need to have the right tools to catch your prey when it gets there.

In some cases, the methods for choosing the watering hole and catching the prey can be pretty high-tech and can’t be used by laypeople. You’ll definitely need professional help to use all these tools and run a complete and maximally-successful inbound marketing campaign.

(Some people find inbound marketing off-putting because it requires professional help to do it well. But if you think about it, you need a whole team of professionals – graphic designers, film crews, producers, printers, etc. – to do high-quality outbound marketing. The professional help you’ll need for inbound marketing is usually much less expensive.)

However, even if you can’t afford a professional inbound marketing campaign, there is still one cheap, easy way to lurk by the watering hole: blogging.

Why are blogs so great?

First of all, you can do them yourself. Blogging is the most “low tech” of all the inbound marketing channels. It does require a computer, but it doesn’t require you to purchase expensive software (many of the lower level, but perfectly adequate, blog systems are available free of charge) and it doesn’t require specialized skills. All you need to do to get results is set up a simple blog and post to it regularly.

Blogs are affordable because search engines love to include blog posts in their free results – i.e. if you write some good blog posts, the search engines take care of it from there. Search engines want to deliver accurate and up-to-date information to their users, and a nice fresh blog post fits the bill perfectly. A solid blog post will put your name – and your expertise – in front of people who are already interested in buying what you offer.

Second, well-written blog posts offer searchers what they want: information and tools to help them make a good purchasing decision. Of course, you have to make sure not to ruin the whole effect by giving a blatant sales pitch (the elephants won’t take a drink if the lion jumps out at them before they even get to the water). If your blog offers real information in a low-key way, consumers will start to trust you, and they’ll stick around and buy.

Next week, we’ll look at what the HubSpot survey revealed about optimizing your ROI from your blog.

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Inbound Marketing: The Future of Marketing Part II: Just How Cost-Effective Is Inbound Marketing?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Last week, we talked about outbound versus inbound marketing. Outbound marketing is the traditional marketing that pushes your message out to consumers via print and broadcast advertising, direct mail, unsolicited emails, telemarketing, trade shows, etc. Inbound marketing is online advertising that pulls consumers in when they are already searching for the products and services you offer.

Online marketing expert Brian Halligan, the guy who founded HubSpot and coined the term “inbound marketing”, has a useful analogy. Businesses are like lions hunting in the jungle for elephants. The lions can either wander around the jungle randomly, hoping to find an elephant, or they can hang out by the watering hole where all the elephants come to drink.

Hanging out by the watering hole has two advantages:

  • You use a lot less energy.
  • You’re sure to bag your prey.

In business speak, this translates to a single word: cost-effective.

Let’s look at some statistics taken from HubSpot’s recent survey of business owners and marketing professionals. These three basic statistics show just how cost-effective inbound marketing can be:

  • In 2011, businesses that spent more than 50% of their lead generation budget on outbound marketing had an average cost-per-lead of $373.
  • Businesses that spent more than 50% of their lead generation budget on inbound marketing had an average cost-per-lead of $143.
  • Businesses that focused their marketing efforts on inbound marketing had a 62% lower cost-per-lead than their outbound-focused competitors.

These results are impressive, but at iMarket we’ve exceeded them. iMarket’s “Domination Package” customers have a cost-per-lead of under $75 per lead.

How are we able to do this?

Outbound marketing is actually a very clumsy marketing strategy. You put your message out to everyone, in the hope that the small subset of people who are actively considering buying a product or service that you offer might be watching, reading, or listening at the time when your message is broadcast. The only way to be sure you’ll reach that small number of prospects is to spend a lot of money making sure your message is repeated in as many places, and as often, as possible.

With inbound marketing, you don’t need to broadcast your message everywhere; instead you make sure that it’s where that small group of actively-searching consumers will see it. At iMarket, we have proven strategies for putting your message right where it needs to be, keeping your marketing budget to a minimum.

Also, there’s another reason why the cost-per-lead is so low for inbound marketing. With print and broadcast media, you pay more for every set of eyes or ears that receives your message. Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is digital. With inbound marketing, you create your message for a fixed cost that stays the same no matter how many people read or see it. The more people who see it and the more leads you get from it, the lower your cost-per-lead. (In business-school-speak, the marginal cost-per-customer-acquisition is extremely low for inbound marketing.)

HubSpot’s Halligan says that most marketers today spend 90% of their efforts on outbound marketing and 10% on inbound marketing, and he recommends that those ratios should flip. Based on our experience with inbound marketing, we second that recommendation!

Of course, most inbound marketing requires professional expertise to be really successful. But if you can’t afford professional marketing help, you can still reap many of the benefits of inbound marketing by posting regularly to your blog. That’s what we’ll talk about next week.

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How to Design Your Site to Dominate Google Instant Preview

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

It’s not clear whether Google Instant Preview will take off (see last week’s blog). However, if it does, or even if it is adopted only by a significant minority of searchers, you want your site to be ready!

With Google Instant Preview, it is no longer enough to be #1 in the search rankings: you have to prove that you deserve it. The prevailing wisdom in the marketing world is that you have only a second or two to persuade people that your website is what they want. With Google Instant Preview, this evaluation process is accelerated.  Users will be able to assess your top-ranked website without even leaving the search results page, and if it doesn’t impress them, they will be gone in the flick of a mouse.

Even if not every user adopts Instant Preview, you want your site to work well in preview form, in case Google’s claim that users are four times more likely to click on a previewed site turns out to be accurate.

Fortunately, the visual elements that will make your website successful in Google Instant Preview are commonsense good design anyway. Here are our recommendations:

  • Your website should be clearly laid out, neatly structured, and visually appealing. And, to succeed in previews, it must be uncluttered and have a minimum of distractions.
  • Avoid pop-ups – these may be picked up as the preview of your web page!
  • At least for now, avoid Flash animation. It currently appears in previews as a grey box with a puzzle piece in it. Google is trying to fix this problem, but it’s not clear how long it will take.
  • Design your pages so that the most important words are legible even in preview size. For service businesses, these would be your phone number, types of services offered, and the fact that you provide 24 hour emergency service.
  • Make sure that images don’t get distorted when they are shrunk to preview size.
  • Optimize your images so that they load quickly, or they will show up as gray boxes in preview format.
  • Your website should not have an intro page. We’ve advised our customers against them for years, but Instant Preview makes them a downright liability – intro pages are often in Flash, and they rarely deliver the usable content searchers want to see in previews.
  • Keep your pages to a reasonable length. If a page is too long, Google truncates it in preview, showing the cut by a jagged edge. This looks terrible. In particular, avoid really long footers (a staple of low-quality, old-fashioned SEO).
  • On the technical side, make sure that your website is properly programmed to attract Google search “crawlers” and guide them to the most important content, so that they can create preview snapshots that truly reflect what your website is about.

We recommend that you take a look at your website in Google Instant Preview to make sure that you’re ready to compete in this new format. If not, it’s time to rethink your site’s design.

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