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Integrated Marketing and Communications
Web Hosting and Domain NamesA business has three broad choices to make with respect to its web presence.
Selecting a domain name can be as simple as using the tradename of the business, or selecting a new name that will not be exposed to another business' tradename in the future. Even if the tradename of the business is available, does it make sense to use it, or to shorten it, if it is long (such as Abercrombie and Fitch selecting Abercrombie.com)? Unlike tradenames that should be easy to recall verbally and visually, domain names need to be easy to recall from a typing standpoint also!
- Domain name selection
- Domain name acquisition
- Web Hosting
Domain name acquisition can be done from the domain name's accredited registrars and their resellers, assuming a .com, .org, .biz, .net, .info or .name TLD. When selecting a registrar or reseller, you can compare on price and length of ownership of the domain name. (Domain names are relatively easy to renew.) Sometimes you may opt for your web hosting service to acquire your domain name (many offer this as a service), make sure you, and not the web hosting service, are the administrator of the domain name, or this will create lock-in to their service. Web hosting services support virtual domains, such that your domain name will function on their network, and can actually be moved to another network if needed or taken inhouse (no lock-in).
If using a country code domain outside the US, you would need to visit the specific country's equivalent to the internic (usually the URL is http://www.nic.xx (replace xx with the two letter country code such as .uk). These TLDs may have restriction re: ownership, such that you may need to be a citizen of the specific country.
Web hosting can either be done internally (an option for larger companies that can afford to have broadband access to the web and the resources to maintain their own servers) or outsourced. The Web Host Ratings is an excellent resource to learn about the issues of web hosting (the Education section), and it compares different solutions. ISPCheck.com is another useful resource to compare web hosting solutions.
**Discussion Topic: Discuss your experiences, selecting and acquiring names and determining a web hosting solution.
Once a company has committed resources to developing a presence on the web, it is important to develop an integrated marketing and communications strategy such that consumers are aware of the web presence, and the web is fully utilized. Since the web is an unobtrusive medium, it is up to the marketer to make sure the consumers are aware of the website, and use it.
In order to develop a strategy that maximizes the exposure of the website to the company's target audiences, the focus needs to be on identifying all potential communications' interfaces between the consumer (and potential consumer) and the company, and make sure these interfaces highlight the website, and its potential role in satisfying the communications' needs.
The remaining text identifies the potential role(s) of a website for a company, the interfaces a company has with its customers, and how they can be used to highlight the website.
Role of the websiteThere are a number of potential roles a website can have for a company, as it is combined with other media to interact with customers. The economics of the web (zero marginal cost per customer interacting with the site and truly scalable) make it a very attractive component of a company's marketing and communications program. In broad terms, the website can be used to:
It is important to examine your web presence, and understand what type of business goals it is expected to satisfy, and make sure it effectively serves these goals.
- Offer information about the company and product(s) of the company, in detail. This information can be used to support consumers at all stages of their purchasing process.
- Build customer lists for creating a permission based marketing program.
- Allow for transactions between the customer and the company (purchasing transactions, registering for company events etc.)
- Offer customer service by allowing for feedback to the company, offering detailed product information, FAQs, general product instructions, discussion boards and so forth.
- Develop community among target audiences, to reinforce their relationship with the company and each other.
Discussion Topic: What goals does your company (or previous employers company) website satisfy with respect to the above? Could/should this be expanded?
Increase the Visibility of the your Web Presence on the WebTo increase the visibility on the web, the following options are available:
Search Engine Registration
- Search Engine registration
- Web advertising
- Affiliate programs
- Permission Marketing campaign
Since customers typically use search engines in order to find new information on the web, it is important to make sure your site appears on the major search engines when keywords, that are associated with the terms familiar with your customers, are keyed into the search engines.
This is basically a two step process, the first step is to make sure your website, and especially the front page, includes the right keywords within the text. A prime way for search engines to prioritize their search results is based on the relevancy of the keyword term (or phrase) the user uses for the search. The relevancy is a function of the number of times the term (or phrase) appears within the page vs. the number of words within the page.
There are many ways to include additional keywords, such as creating meta tags in the header part of the document, and using those to increase the number of potential keywords.
There are a number of ways to identify the correct keywords to use. It is useful to ask your customers the type of keywords they would use in order to do a search on your industry and products. You can also analyze and test keywords using a search engine like Overture.com and Google Adwords. By purchasing a keyword, and seeing its performance, you can then determine whether to include that keyword into your webpage in order to increase performance at other search engines. To test keywords without actually creating an advertising campaign, try Overture's Term Suggestion Tool or Google Adwords: Keyword Suggestions.
You can also look at your log data file on your site, or a service such as Sitemeter, to discover where your customers are coming from (which links) and explore the links coming from search engines to see what keywords were used.
Once you have designed your site to include the right keywords, you need to go to the major search engines, and register your webpage (each search engine will have a link to a registration page, and an explanation of the process you need to go through). Frankly, Google has become such an important search engine, focusing here first is important. Checking the referrer stats on your site should confirm this. It is important to design the page with the right keywords before registering with the search engines, and if additional keywords are added after registration, then you need to re-register the page(s). Do not simply wait for search engines to identify your page on the web and catalog it. It is also important to make sure the title tag of the document contains the right descriptive text, as this is the text that appears in the search engine results page. If it is not descriptive, it will reduce the likelihood of someone clicking on the link to the website. This is similar to the need of an e-mail to have a descriptive subject header.
It is simple to make copies of your homepage, and register each copy at each search engine. This is useful if you have multiple target audiences who would use different keyword terms in order to conduct their search. Thus each copy of the homepage is "loaded" with different keywords in the meta tags. This strategy is clearly open to abuse (creating multiple entry point pages, that are identical and have the same keywords, that overloads the potential search results with your pages). Search engines are aware of this, and remove offenders from their databases.
It is also important to make sure the meta tags are included on all pages on your website. Any page may serve as an entry to the company's web presence, and should be marketed as such. Similarly, do not simply remove old pages, as these pages may serve as links into your site from other pages or search engines. If old pages need to be removed, make sure there is a simple way for the user navigating to that page to find the remainder of the website.
Beyond keyword relevancy, a second method for search engines to prioritize their search results is based on the number of webpages that link to your page. Thus it is important to develop a plan for having multiple pages linking in. You can check which pages link to your site by referring to your "referrer stats" available in your log data, or from free sites such as Sitemeter. This would reflect "active" links (those that people are actually using to reach your site). You can also confirm pages that link to your page using the following term in the search engine dialog box:
To encourage other pages to link to your page you may want to search for similar pages and offer a one for one swap, so you will link to their page if they link to your page (create a resource page on your site that serves as an industry resource for YOUR customers). You may also decide to join or develop an affiliate program, as highlighted below. Since affiliates link to your page, this is an opportunistic way of encouraging many links.
**Discussion Topic: Discuss your experiences with using search engines to market your web presence.
Web Advertising Campaign
A web advertising campaign can be used to extend the company's reach across the internet. Finding sites that are visited by the company's target audience and placing banner advertisements with those sites. Advertising banners can serve as entry points to the website, via a target page that relates directly to the call to action of the advertisement. The banner can also serve to brand the company's site in the minds of the consumer, such that they will go to the site later.
An interesting source of advertising space are the search engine advertising programs run by Google Adwords and Overture. These programs actually have reach beyond their own sites (eg, Overture provides ads. for Yahoo), allow advertisers to create advertisements based on specific keyword search terms, establish a click through rate they are willing to pay (understanding what their competition is paying using the same keywords) and manage their campaign in real time. This approach really allows for a democratic advertising environment.
A company can develop an affiliate program or subscribe to a third party affiliate program to encourage its target audiences (and those who make professional marketing affiliate sites) to create links to the company's site, promoting potential customers to click through to the site.
Permission Marketing Program
A company can develop a permission marketing program. Thus once a customer has been to the website, and either performed a transaction, or otherwise given the company "permission" to contact the customer (using an opt-in mechanism) it is important to follow up. A company can use these e-mail addresses effectively to reach out to the customers, on a timely basis (every two weeks perhaps) educating the customer about the company and its product(s) and services. The e-mails can increase the brand of the company, over time, and link the customer directly with the website with embedded links. This is not considered spam, assuming there is a simple means to unsubscribe.
Integrated E-mail CommunicationIncreasing the overall visibility of your site across the web is the first step. The second is determining how well integrated your site is with E-mail communications. We can look at:
Since the web is a self-serve medium, that is available to the customer 24/7 (hours/days per week) the website should offer resources to the customer that can answer many possible questions via FAQ documents and other general materials. The links you provide for your e-mail address should have text nested around them that encourages the potential e-mailer to use the site to potentially answer the question(s) at hand. This can go as far as having the e-mail link link directly to FAQ documents (rather than the e-mail dialog box) that explains the role of the FAQs in terms of serving the customer's needs. The FAQ documents can then have the direct e-mail link that allows the customer to e-mail directly if the questions are not answered. (Of course, the FAQ documents need to be kept up to date based on new queries that evolve over time!) Note: Small companies many prefer not to do this, and encourage all e-mail queries, as this is their prime mode for growing their customer base.
- Can you encourage your customer to use the site to satisfy the potential e-mail query?
- Do you have the resources to answer the e-mail query?
Managing e-mail queries is resource intensive. The first step is to develop an autoresponder which allows you to communicate with the customer as soon as the customer has made the query. This can serve four purposes:
It is also important to consider setting the autoresponder to answer unique e-mail address related queries only once within a given timeframe (a week perhaps). You do not want to have an over eager machine responding with the same message to multiple queries from the same customer who is trying to have a conversation!
- Assure the customer the query was received
- Establish an e-mail response timeframe (that is beaten!)
- Highlight other options for the customer on the website to potentially answer the query
- Add additional marketing information
The second aspect to managing e-mail queries is the actual response required. The autoresponder should set the expectation in terms of when the response is likely to be received, and the e-mail response should "beat" that expectation.
All e-mail from the company, and especially e-mail that is in response to web queries, should include a signature file that not only includes the web address of the company, but additional resources (such as specific web addresses of FAQs) that the customer may find useful in the future.
**Discussion Topic: Describe your experience, as a consumer, that you have had with a company re: an e-mail exchange (good and bad experiences welcome).
Integrate the Web with Off-Line CommunicationsAll advertising, conducted offline, should include the website address to attract customers to the web. This includes print as well as TV and Radio. With TV and Radio, the address itself may not be memorable, or easily recalled, but the fact the site is mentioned will allow the customer to search the web for the address at one of the search engines. Assuming the site is registered at the search engine, the customer will find it.
If the company uses brochures as part of its marketing communications, each aspect of the brochure can be integrated with a certain aspect of the web. One design idea is to have a special "start" page on the website that includes all the URLs mentioned in the brochure. This page serves as a direct interface between the brochure and the web presence. Clearly the web can add significantly to a brochure in terms of detailed content, so it is important to use the brochure to push people to the web. A similar principle can be applied to CD marketing, in terms of pushing consumers from the CD to the web.
All business cards (and letter head or all forms of business materials) should include the web address and an e-mail address. Cards are typically exchanged during the interface with the customer and a salesperson, and should serve as the channel for additional communications. It is possible that channel conflict can occur between the salesperson and the web, so this needs to be addressed for the salesperson to actively push the customer to the web.
As the telephone also serves as an interface between the customer and the business, it is important to make sure the voicemail system serves to encourage traffic to the website. This is also true for the live people answering the phone. (Do they know the resources available on the web?) After taking an inventory in terms of understanding why customers (potential customers) call the company, one needs to determine which areas are better served by the web, and using the voicemail system to encourage those consumers to use the website.
**Discussion Topic: Assess your company's (or previous employer's) efforts to integrate its web presence. How successful has it been, and what needs to be done?
A couple of relevant websites for web marketing: