For years, “traditional” marketing companies have talked about target building customer profiles first, then identifying the best media channels to use in order to reach those target audiences (Industry press, magazines, mailshot etc). Online marketing follows exactly the same principles but it very much differs in its planning and execution for the following reasons:
- The data you can gather about your target markets online behaviour is extensive (if you know the mechanisms to extract this information)
- There are multiple online mechanisms you can use to reach your audience – search engine optimisation, paid online marketing techniques, social media marketing, video marketing, social media marketing etc.
- You can record, measure and analyse almost everything – allowing you to quickly see what works and what doesn’t and optimise campaigns to deliver best ROI
- The immediate nature of paid online advertising allows you to specify and test practically any market with multiple sales messages in the space of a day and find out what works.
The other essential “piece of the pie” is understanding and evaluating what your competitors are doing online. This should involve looking for any best practice that you could be emulating as well as understanding your competitor’s search engine profile, ranking strength, online authority, social media approach etc.
If you are bringing in an agency to help you with your online marketing efforts then this step is absolutely vital. If however you are planning on doing your online market & competitor resaerch inhouse then there are various tools, techniques and method you should be getting familiar with.
Tools/Tactics to research your market and assess your competition online
It might seem like stating the obvious but simply by searching Google and using the various search tools Google offers, you can begin to understand things such as the most popular searches relating to your industry and how different types of content (which is ranking on Google) relates to your industry – Blogs, discussions, news, video, social, real time etc
- Related search – After doing a Google search the Google sidebar apears giving you all sorts of advanced search functionality. By selecting ‘Related Searches’ you can quickly see how Google relates your chosen keword to other keyord & keyphrases. This data is based on how people are searching Google so it’s data worth knowing about.
- Wonderwheel – Clicking on this option in the side bar presents you with a fun tool allowing you to explore how Google relates keyword to other keywords. Another useful way to find the terms you want to use for your search engine optimisation campaigns.
- Google Sidebar Top Section – Here you can break your results down into different content channels such as video discussion, blogs etc. This is a great way to explore an industry space online and find all the most popular web properties. Just thinking like your target customer you should be able to identify a target list of web properties relevant to your industry. The aim is to compile a list of these and develop a plan to interact with each of these places on an ongoing basis – (see the search engine optimization section.)
2) Keyword research
The Google Adwords keyword tool is a fantastic free resource that anyone can use to get market data on how users are actually searching the web based on specific keywords, locations etc. It highlights search volumes, trends, advertiser activity and lots more information related to any keyword you want to check. It is Google data so doesn’t take into account the likes of Yahoo or Bing data but Google data alone is more than strong enough to base some key decision on.
The reason for using this tool is to help you research the ways people may be searching for your product or service and base your decisions on what you want to rank for online based on tangible evidence. (Dont just guess at how your target customers are searching the web). Relevance is obviously also a criteria in keyword choice as you want to rank for targeted phrases that are relevant to your offering and are likely to convert a visitor to a sale/enquiry/sign up etc.
3) Social Media Sites
Specific tools and strategies for social media analysis and research will be explored in future guides. However lots of information on competitors and best practice ideas can be gathered simply by searching for your competitors in social media sites.In Facebook for example you can simply check out your competition, see how many followers they have, look for best practice – (clever ways they are interacting with followers on their fan page – discussions, competitions, offers etc.)
4) Competitor Research/Comparison
There are various online tools/tactics which will give insights into how well your site is performing and how strong your web presence is (its online authority). The beauty of these tools is that many of them can also be used to check out your competition and determine their online strength and assess what you need to do in order to compete with them.
These are a few of my personal favourites. Most of these services have an advanced subscription model where you have to pay to get access to more data, however the free versions of these services are good enough to return some very useful data.
- Google Page Rank – By downloading and installing the Google Toolbar your browser will now display a score (from 1 to 10) of any site that you visit. This score is a Google page rank and is a rough measure of a sites online authority.
- Yahoo Site Explorer – Allows you to check the number of back links to your site and check your competitors back links
- Alexa is a leading player in the gathering and analysis of web data. Alexa has its own measure of site authority called the Alexa Score. You can run any site through the Alexa site and as well as getting back the Alexa score for the site it will also give you keyword reports on what the site is ranking for, demographics on the audience of the site, geographical spread of site visitors etc.
- SEMRUSH – is another very useful site which again allows you to enter any website address and gives you back lots of useful information on the site, keywords it ranks for, competitor information, value of site, traffic estimation etc.
- Google alerts – Another great way to keep up to date on any industry topic, monitor what is being said about your business online (or even keep up to speed with competitors) is to sign up to Google Alerts. It will send you an email alert when anything new happens online in relation to your selected subject.
Once you understand how your target customer group search the web (keyword research) and where your target customer base spends time online you can then start to look at strategies aimed at getting your message in front of that audience. (See the search engine optimization video)