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Guest Article By: Hans Reimer, President & CEO, Market Vantage

I remember when I first heard about the Internet in the early ‘90s. Being a natural skeptic, it didn’t sound like anything important to me. My first look, which consisted of a primitive browser displaying an ugly, text-heavy page over a slow and unreliable dial-up modem connection merely reinforced my cynicism.

Several “killer-aps” like the Yahoo Directory and Netscape changed my opinion. Search engines hadn’t been invented yet but Yahoo employed an army of people that curated and classified online content. The Netscape browser made everything a lot more presentable. Being able to sift through vast amounts of information, to find something you were looking for, did sound important, even to a skeptic like me.

Although I had a background in software engineering, that early career evolved into selling technology solutions. I was given a base salary and paid commissions on sales. I did OK, but some of my peers made more money than the CEO. Out of necessity, I became an effective cold caller. After all, the more calls you made, the more leads you generated, and ultimately, the more sales you closed. Cha-ching!

Cold calling, though, seemed terribly inefficient to me. I was pretty good at assessing complex customer needs, explaining how our solution would impact their business, overcoming objections and closing sales. But, most of my time and emotional energy were spent in calling people, getting rejected, picking myself up and making the next call. What would happen, I imagined, if the customers started using the Internet to find the solutions they were looking for instead of sales reps, like me, chasing after customers? I could spend my time doing higher value work and closing more sales.

Think of your organization and your website as the hub of a big wheel. The spokes of the wheel are the paths that your prospects can take to find you. Those spokes are things like search engines, referrals, social media posts, traditional media, advertisements of many types, published articles or PR. In short, anything that brings prospects, a/k/a “traffic,” to your website is part of your online marketing engine. Website traffic is the first essential component of your online marketing strategy. Without traffic, your business is as good as dead.

However, traffic alone won’t make you rich. The second component, conversions, are required for success. Think of your website as a store, and your traffic as the customers that walk in and look around. Doubling your traffic may be exciting, but if everyone that comes in leaves without buying anything, then only difference will be that you have to sweep the floor more often. We call the act of increasing the ratio of buyers to shoppers “conversion rate optimization.”

That’s where the third component, “web analytics,” can help. Part of the beauty of online marketing is that so much of it is measurable. If you’re willing to put in the time and the effort, you can see where your visitors are coming from, which pages they visit, and where they exit from. You can segment your traffic and observe different behaviors depending on the source. For example, you can tell if Google ad clicks convert into sales at a higher rate than Facebook ad clicks. Combine that with your click cost data and you’re suddenly equipped to make some great marketing decisions.

If you’re an online retailer, analytics can tell you which step in the checkout process is most prone to cart abandonment. It may sound a little creepy, but you can essentially follow your customers around your “store,” recording what they are looking at and how they are behaving. Plus, you know something about where they are geographically located and how they got to your site!

At my last corporate job, I had the opportunity to learn online marketing first-hand through experimentation. When I started Market Vantage as an online marketing consultancy in 2002, I recall that many of the people I talked to didn’t understand exactly what I did or how I would make money. Bear in mind that Google’s IPO wasn’t until August, 2004.

Today, I have a small team and can see that virtually every business is engaged in some form of online marketing. Larger organizations have teams of people that are highly skilled in this area. At the other end of the spectrum, business owners try to do the job themselves. Mid-sized organizations sometimes hire a consulting firm like ours to collaborate with their in-house marketing people, where we provide extensive expertise, implementation support and some elbow grease.

Regardless of where your organization fits in the spectrum of online marketing, you can and should always be learning and improving. The technology keeps getting better, but the competition is getting smarter too. Just remember, the Internet is not just a source of customers, it’s also a great resource for learning how to steer your business out ahead of your competition.