Creating a successful digital marketing strategy in 2016

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Digital marketing strategy has had to adapt over the last few years with major changes to the way we search, and the market taking a more defined turn from company centric to customer centric activities.


So how do you plan a digital marketing strategy that will actually bring you success? And what tools are on hand to make it a little bit easier for you?

We look at some options, and a basic trail of thought for you to work through, which should end in your having a robust strategy that helps you achieve your goals.



Establish your goals and objectives

digital marketing strategy step 1 - establish your goals

First and foremost, you need to establish why you are putting this strategy together. What is it you want to achieve and why.

This can be quite difficult to pin down sometimes. Especially if you are not the one who makes the final decisions, or you are an agency working on behalf of a company. Which is why SMART goals are quite a good idea.

Using the SMART idea (which you can see below), allows you to clearly establish what you are working towards. This allows all the steps that follow to lead to the right outcome, rather than drifting off to an undefined and unmeasurable goal.

This is how SMART goals are broken down:

  • Specific – Clearly define your outcome. Such as – I want 3000 visitors to view this blog.
  • Measurable – Being able to track that goal through a measurable metric, rather than saying having to vaguely guess outcomes, such as “it appears brand recognition has improved”.
  • Attainable – Everyone may want a million hits to their site a month, but this isn’t always plausible. Consider your data now, and aim for smaller goals, that perhaps gradually increase as they are obtained, rather than going for the big gong first.
  • Realistic – Do you have the man power available to achieve this goal, do you have the capabilities to achieve this, or do you need to reassess this goal?
  • Time-bound – When is this going to be done by? Make sure to set a date or a define time period, rather than use “at some point”.

Hubspot provide a useful template for free where you can set up your marketing goals. Have your goals clearly set, and perhaps written down too. These can be briefed to the team who will be responsible for the elements. This will keep everyone on the same track and working towards the same thing.



Identify your customers

digital marketing strategy step 2 - identify your customers

Identifying your customers seem an obvious choice right? Of course it does. However, that doesn’t mean that companies spend time doing customer research.

Take the time to identify your ideal customers, and it will be worth it. You will save time and money in the long run by spending time influencing your decisions now.

It helps, if you have it, to begin with data you have already gained. So through a CRM system, through your analytics, or even social analytics. This gives you definite answers to the people who are already engaging with your company. If you are a new company, you will have to work off current market research, and adjust your personas as you gain data.

Then you need to build your personas. The ideal outline of your customers, so you know the characteristics to look for. Consider age, gender, status, location and any specific needs. If you have details of when in the cycle they buy, or what they buy, this is even better.

For example you may have “ideal long term customer” who is around 31 years old, usually female, based in the north of the UK, who tends to convert and reach the “checkout” page after visiting approx. 3 other pages on your website. This is based off the data you already have, and gives you a formula to replicate good results you have seen from this persona previously.

You may have one persona, or you may have 5 personas. Either way, having an “ideal customer” make up makes it a lot easier when making decisions down the road.

If you’re really struggling, why not use a prompting tool like Make My Persona (by Hubspot) to structure your thoughts?



Identify your competitors

digital marketing strategy step 3 - identify your competitors

As with identifying your customers, identifying competitors is an essential, but much overlooked step. You may think you know who your competitors are. But until you research, and actually identify them, you really don’t know who your actual competition is.

It is normally suggested to split competitors into direct competition, indirect competition and substitutes. This is a good place to start, but you should also take into consideration location and ranking too.

A good suggestion would be perhaps to research your direct competition on search engines. Catalogue the first three or four results that appear in the rankings. Then catalogue the first three or four that appear that are in close proximity to you. These may be the same results, or overlap slightly. But you have a good idea of who you are competing against both locally and on results.

You would then have a priority list of:

  • Direct competitors who are nearby
  • Direct competitors who rank highly

You then repeat this process researching indirect companies. Those who offer alternative products, but have the ability to branch out and become a direct competitor. And then once more for substitutes. Products or services people may use instead of what you’re offering.

You should now have a comprehensive list of competitors you can research more thoroughly. Consider their own strategy, what they do with their content and search. How do they interact with customers? What appears to be their hook? You should have a good idea before you even begin of how the market is sitting, and what customers expect when they have contact with you online.

This is something you should also monitor throughout your campaign. You can use tools such as: Google Alerts, SEMrush or SpyFu to monitor mentions and see what keywords they are trying to rank for.



SEO and SEM (keywords)

digital marketing strategy step 4 - seo and keywords

SEO doesn’t work as it once did, and this is sometimes hard to grasp. SEO has changed a lot over the last few years, and as users we have benefitted. However, some companies have been left behind by not updating their practices.

As a general rule of thumb for SEO on a page you need to consider:

  • A keyword or phrase. This will have been researched so you know how much traffic to expect. Long tail phrases are more likely to bring conversion, but less traffic to your site.
  • This keyword needs to feature in the URL, so that when users visit your site they know straight away what the page is about (and so when spiders scrawl your site, they know too.)
  • That keyword needs to feature in the SEO title too. Again, for the purpose of letting users and spiders that this page is in fact about what you say it is about.
  • This keyword needs to be mentioned a couple of times (and we mean a couple of times, not every other line) within the text. Preferably near the top of the page, and in the first paragraph. This again, quickly established the user (and the spider) are in the right place.
  • If relevant, your keyword should feature in your image alt tags.
  • If possible your keyword should feature in your meta description. This doesn’t affect rankings, but it does help ease users knowing that the content they are about to read is actually what they want to read about.

So as you can see, a lot rides on your keyword, so keyword research is essential.

Keyword Research

Google’s keyword planner is still the most used tool to identify new keywords. However, Moz have recently released Keyword Explorer which is a serious competitor. Both will allow you to estimate search volume for that keyword, as well as offer other suggestions.

From your research, you should be able to define the best term to use as your focus. As well as other suggestions to use within your content generally, so you are repeating the same phrase over and over again.

It should also allow you to assess if you are happy to just try and rank for this keyword organically. Or if you really want people to find you for that particular term, and if it’s worth running a PPC campaign too.

PPC marketing is its own strategy in itself, but if this is something you are interested in, you can find our beginners guide to AdWords blog here.



Content marketing

digital marketing strategy step 5 - writing content

Once you have your keywords, and know what you would ideally like to rank for, you can begin to look at your content.

I am sure at some point you have heard the phrase “content is king”, and that’s because it is. However, being the top of the pile doesn’t make it easy. Writing good content that satisfies your users is a hard game at the best of times.

Throw in keeping Google happy, and not getting on the wrong side of Google Panda and you will find you have a lot of content to write, and probably not enough time to write it.

Content marketing covers more than just your web pages. This includes (but doesn’t end at):

  • Blogs
  • Case Studies
  • Ebooks
  • Newsletters
  • Guides
  • Videos
  • Surveys
  • Slideshows
  • Q and A’s
  • User generated content

Your content marketing is what will shape your online presence. It needs to be wrote with users in mind. More specifically, your customer personas you created earlier. How many steps do they need to get to a sale? Do you have all those in place in whichever forms are needed, such as blogs, videos or a how to guide.

From all the research you have already completed, you should easily be able to write a plan.  This would be what content you will focus on that will meet your goals. But will also satisfy your customers, and keep you in line with your competitors whilst still being found on search engines.

Content and SEO

Though you need to make sure your content is SEO optimised, most SEO ranking factors go off how good the page is for a user. So always, write for your customer persona, not a googlebot.

If you are worrying if your content is up to scratch and you use a WordPress site, there are plenty of SEO plugins that can check off how you are doing. We use Yoast SEO plugin, which is an easy way to check in a glance if your content is as optimised as you thought. They have also recently added a readability tab, which looks closely at your content. This is a great feature as ranking factors are seeming to chance towards how easy it is for a reader to read and understand your content.



Social media marketing

digital marketing strategy step 6 - social media

Quality content is great. Unless no one can find it. Hopefully your SEO optimisation efforts will be doing good work in getting your found in search results, but you should not rely on this alone.

Sharing your content, and getting in front of people who may potentially share that content greatly improves your reach. More reach, should mean more traffic, which should mean your goals are achieved faster.

When you put together new content, it is worth sharing that across numerous social media networks. Your target audience are already awaiting for news from you. And if you are writing for your customer’s personas, then this information will be perfect for them. They will then come back to you time and time again for useful resources.

Managing social media is a huge job in itself, but when it comes to posting out new content, you can use scheduling or automation tools to make it a little easier.

As regular readers will know, we always have to remind you that scheduling and automation are not substitutes for going on to your account in real time and interacting with people. The clue is in the name, and you have to be social for social media to work for your business.

However, a healthy mix of some scheduling allows you to not spam your followers. It allows you to pace your content. So your fans can receive a steady stream of content rather than be dumped a lot at once.

Scheduling and Automation Tools

Consider Hootsuite, Buffer or Tweetdeck for free scheduling tools, as all are quite robust, and will allow you plan in advance when your updates go out.

There are also some tools like IFTTT which allow you to schedule your posts for certain dates, and automate so when you post new content, it automatically updates your social networks to alert follows of your new content.

When posting your new content, always remember to explain why your fans should read it or share it. If you repost your content, try it with different statuses, or headlines, to see different reactions. You can also split test images, to see which one intrigues users more, to inform your future posting decisions.



Email marketing

digital marketing step 7 - email marketing

Another way to share content, and generally engage your audience is to run email marketing campaigns. There are a lot of rules around email marketing, so make sure you are aware of these before planning your campaign. You can find a great selection of posts on email marketing rules here, and you can find the government outlines here.

You will need the customer data you collected previously, and data you have collected since. From this you will need to decipher who you have permission to contact for marketing purposes. From this set of data you can look at segmentation.

Segmenting data means heightening your opportunity to convert. The more personally tailored the email is, the better. We don’t mean just adding their name to the top, but catering the message and offer to their tastes.

So if someone has registered an interest in a particular product or service, catering the email and offer to that service is a must. It can be tempting to send everything to everyone, but you will be in a much better position taking the time to send selected emails.

Segmentation continues after you have sent the email.  As you then segment into opens and non opens. Consider sending further offers to those who haven’t opened for example.

Email marketing is a great way of moving prospects down the funnel, but you need to read your online interactions. Don’t become a spam, as this will cause a lot of damage on all of the hard work you have done.



Measure results

digital marketing strategy step 8 - measuring results

You’ve worked extremely hard on all the previous elements, surely that’s you finished now? Not quite I’m afraid. If you really want to find out if your hard work has paid off, you have to effectively measure your results.

It is best prior to starting an official campaign to agree metrics you would like to measure, that show clearly the progress made towards the goals you initially set out. If you just want to list all of the metrics possible, you will be there for some time, and probably without a clear outcome.

Agree a report style, or at the very least the metrics you will be reviewing throughout and at the end of the campaign.

Free tools for measuring your results are: Google analytics, Google Webmaster Tools and Moz (free version). These are a great starting point when looking to work off your results, and feed that data back in to your future campaigns. However, if you are taking your marketing strategy seriously, you may want to consider a paid marketing system to effectively manage your return.


Then what?

And then it all starts again. Review your goals, did you achieve them? Do they need to be changed now? What extra data have you gained during this campaign? Once you have realigned or assigned new goals, ensure your customer personas are still correct, and your competition is still in as before. Then work your way through all the steps again.

This is not a short process, or an easy one. However, it is one that can bring you benefits over and over again if completely properly. Let us know about what you find the as the easiest or hardest elements of a strategy in the comments.


If you are looking to construct a digital marketing strategy, and believe you would benefit from having a marketing agency working with you to create it, or working on your behalf to implement it, why not contact one of our team on 01543 495752.


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