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Our world today is digital. Facebook boasts approximately 850 million users, YouTube generates more than 4 billion video views daily, and there are more than 150 million blogs online. According to comScore, there are more than 18 billion monthly searches conducted by U.S. internet users.
If you are a business owner, how could you possibly expect to succeed in the coming years without mastering the art and science of digital marketing? And the first step in the digital marketing funnel is getting in front of your target audience (otherwise known as capturing the "top of the funnel"), so that they know you exist, they know you can help them achieve a goal, and they know you are better than other options.
To help your business capitalize on the opportunities available through digital marketing, here are five steps for you to get in front of more prospects online:
1. Know Your Audience
You may think you know who your customers are, but have you ever actually analyzed the data? Have you researched their lifestyles, their online destinations and online behaviors? Have you developed personas for your different audience segments?
Knowing as much about not only your customers, but more importantly, knowing everything about your ideal customers is critical if you hope to be effective in getting in front of them online.
There are a number of good resources to uncover more details about your audience online. Quantcast is a good place to start. If your company can afford it, comScore provides tremendous amounts of online insights.
Also, contact the websites that you know your audience frequents. Download their media kits, talk with their ad salespeople and editorial staff.
Understand the exact breakdown of their website audience, and their corresponding behaviors on the site.
And don’t forget to ask your customers and prospects directly about their online destinations and usage. This can often be the most insightful research you can do.
2. Understand How They Search
Have you researched how your target prospects are searching for businesses like yours? Google offers a free and easy Keyword Search Tool. Check the “Local Monthly Searches” for the number of Google searches on your targeted keywords in the United States (although there are options for checking international search numbers as well). Or you can try a more robust keyword solution, such as WordStream or SEOmoz Pro. Google also provides you with deeper insights and trends through its Google Insights for Search tool.
Then write a blog and add optimized posts on a regular schedule. Google will love you. Companies are always surprised by just how much a blog can catapult their organic search rankings and drive qualified traffic to their sites.
And what’s the key to writing blog posts that will be rewarded in the search engines? Sure, you need to cover the basics like keywords as well as optimized title tags and URLs. But even more importantly, you need to create content that kicks butt! That’s right, content that blows people away. There’s a lot of garbage content online already. Don’t waste your time with that just to try to gain some Google rankings. Instead, write exceptional content that makes your target audience scream, “That’s awesome!” That’s when they’ll share a link to it on their blog, or their Facebook Page, or their Twitter feed. Over time, that’s how the media can find you and use you as an expert, as well.
3. Target Your Advertising
Advertising is one of the fastest and most direct ways to get in front of many new prospective customers. And you have plenty of options online.
You can try paid search marketing on Google and Bing/Yahoo. This can include text messages on the search engines, as well as text messages, display ads, and rich media ads in third party websites through their respective display networks.
Another option is "Keyword Retargeting" by technology platforms such as Simpli.fi. This empowers you to show your display advertising to folks who are searching on your prized keywords, regardless of whether they ever clicked on your ads or not, and regardless of where they search online (on any of the search engines, in publication websites, etc.).
Another option is to contact websites of interest for a direct deal, in which you can get guaranteed placements, impressions and location on the page.
Facebook now commands a large chunk of the display advertising market in terms of advertising spend, and it can be a good option for targeting based on someone’s demographics and expressed interests. In addition to standard Facebook Ads, Facebook’s Sponsored Stories is a way for you to leverage the goodwill about your brand that is being provided in Facebook anyway, and putting it front in center in front of a broader network of people.
4. Place Your Content
Creating content can be yet another effective way for you to get in front the right people online. Write articles, write a search-optimized blog, produce videos, conduct surveys and publish the results, and add content worth sharing on your social media platforms.
Find websites that cater to your specific audience, and ask the editorial staff directly about their interest in specific articles that you could write for their site. Offer to write an ongoing series for them. Propose a new section for their site, and then offer to curate the content for it.
Become a guest blogger. To that end, register with My Blog Guest to connect with blog owners looking for guest writers.
If you write a blog post yourself, spread it around. Don’t just stop with Facebook and Twitter. Join relevant Groups in LinkedIn and share the knowledge. Share links to your content through sharing sites like Businessweek's BusinessExchange, BizSugar and Digg.
And if you are looking for ideas for your content, create a special report about the future of your industry or future products that your audience can look forward to. Create a how-to guide. Conduct interviews with various types of experts, complementary to your business.
With all of these forms of content marketing, you’ll be getting in front of many people who otherwise would not come into contact with your brand, building your credibility and building links back to your site.
5. Power Your PR
A content strategy is good, but a content strategy combined with effective PR will give your marketing a turbo rocket boost to the moon. The reason is this. There’s already a lot of content online. Information overload is all around us. So just because you create it does not mean that you’ll get any benefit from it.
However, if you combine your content with PR, you can extend your reach and effectiveness tremendously. With content strategies, what often gets overlooked is (1) the value in creating content that needs to be shared urgently, and then (2) leveraging the press to get the word out. For example, conduct a media campaign about a contest that has an entry submissions deadline. Or a special report about current trends. Or an insider’s peek at a new technology, etc.
And if you create a special report on a regularly scheduled basis, you can develop a long-term relationship with a targeted group of media contacts. Think about Barbara Corcoran. When she created “The Corcoran Report” about New York Real Estate prices, within a few hours after sending it out to the press CNN brought her in to discuss it. The Corcoran Group has regularly published the report ever since, and the press always covers it. What market insights can you provide on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis?
In the spirit of getting covered by the press, you should also consider joining ProfNet, which is a service that many journalists use to find expert sources to quote in their articles. Pretty much any publication that exists today will publish the articles online, as well. Your objective is to get in front of new prospects, and having others write about you, positioning you as an expert, is a great way to achieve that.
Dominate the Top of the Funnel
In summary, the world around you is digital. Your prospects are going digital. It’s time for you to get in front of them online and broaden the top of your marketing funnel. Define your specific target audiences, and then target them through a digital ecosystem filled with relevance and value.