The Beginner’s Guide to Digital Marketing
You’re ready to grow your business, and you know that the key to running a successful business today is to have a digital marketing strategy. Everyone will tell you that online marketing is essential to your business growth, but it can be hard to know how to apply it to your own business.
When you first wade into digital marketing, it can feel overwhelming. Just one quick Google search will bring up nearly four billion results telling you that you need a website, SEO, Facebook ads, Google Ads... and whatever the heck a sales funnel is.
I’ll be upfront with you right now: there is a lot that can go into your digital marketing strategy. I’ve spent the last 10+ years of my life studying and implementing the techniques that businesses use to market themselves online. After working with hundreds of businesses to create strategies to scale from newly launched to bringing in 7+ figures in revenue, I can confidently say that there is a straightforward sequence that you can follow that will best set you up for success.
Each step of this sequence helps you to build an essential piece of a bigger digital marketing system for your business, so you shouldn’t skip any of the steps along the way. You’ll also find that I’ve generally organized these steps starting with the least expensive to the most expensive. In the early stages of your business money is tight, but as your business grows and generates more revenue, you can continue to invest in your online marketing until you have built out a complete digital marketing system that runs on autopilot.
There’s a long journey ahead, but if you follow this guide step by step then you too can become a rockstar online.
Step 1: Create a website that converts visitors to leads.
Generating leads for your business starts with your website. Your website is your cash register, and in the age of Google searches, it’s your most valuable marketing asset. Establishing a professional website that invites visitors to get in contact with you to learn more about your offering should be your top priority when first building out your digital marketing system.
Note that not all websites are created equal, so being strategic about your website out the gate is crucial. Websites are sophisticated marketing tools, and there are a lot of landmines that you can accidentally step on when commissioning or building your own website that could lose you business.
For best results, you want to partner with a professional website designer to create a strategy focused design. A good website designer will know how to create great designs, can help you craft compelling copy, and will structure the website so that visitors are encouraged to hand over their contact info so that you can follow up with them.
With that said, hiring an experienced website designer is expensive. So here’s what I recommend for businesses based on their current annual revenue.
If your business currently makes less than $20,000 a year…
Use a DIY website builder and hosting services such as Squarespace, Shopify, or Leadpages. All three services offer beginner-friendly tools for building your own website, professional website templates, and basic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tools.
If you’re a service-based business, then Leadpages is likely your best option. Leadpages has excellent conversion-focused template designs and one of the easiest to learn website editors, so it is our top choice for businesses who are just starting out. Squarespace, however, has more robust blogging tools, so if you intend to create a lot of written content it may be the better choice for you.
If you are selling products online, Shopify is the best ecommerce software on the market and is very beginner-friendly. Their template selection is excellent, and Shopify integrates tightly with social media services and email marketing systems so that you can promote your products.
As soon as your business makes more than $20,000 a year…
Partner up with an experienced website designer, like Belt Creative, to get a professional website and Content Management System (CMS) designed for your business.
Expect to invest several thousand dollars in the design and content, and set aside a moderate monthly budget for hosting, maintenance, security, and updates. While this can be a big upfront cost for your business if it’s in an early stage, it will provide a strong foundation for your digital marketing strategy that will enable you to get better results in all areas moving forward.
Step 2: Set up an email marketing automation system or CRM so that you can track and follow up with website visitors.
Here’s an important fact: 96% of people who visit your website won’t be ready to buy right away. People who visit your website for the first time are usually in the early stages of gathering information about your business, so you need to get their contact information while they are on your website and have a way to follow up with your prospects.
Email automation is by far the best converting and most cost-effective way to accomplish this. Study after study demonstrates that email marketing has the highest Return on Investment (ROI) of any digital marketing channel.
You’ve got lots of options when it comes to email marketing and CRMs, but the best email marketing tool I’ve used for both service providers and ecommerce businesses is MailerLite. You can start for free and still have access to their powerful automation features.
When you’re first getting started, keep your email marketing simple so that it’s not overwhelming. Set up an automated sequence to go out to people who give you their email on your website that introduces your business, how you can help them, and invite them to discuss with you further or make a purchase.
Set it up once, and watch the leads turn into customers on autopilot.
Step 3: List your business locations and website in online directories.
For starters, make sure your business has an active Google My Business account with your current website, location, and contact information. More than 150 million people rely on Google Maps to find businesses, and if your information is out of date, you are leaving money on the table.
Beyond Google My Business, your business should be listed in as many directories as possible so that customers will find you wherever they’re searching. That means Google Maps, Apple Maps, Yelp, Yellow Pages, and dozens more.
Now, setting up and maintaining that many listings can be time-consuming and tedious, so here I’d highly recommend using Belt Creative’s listing management services for 70+ of the most popular online directories. It’s a much more cost-effective option than spending hours (or paying an employee to spend hours) keeping your online listings current.
Making your business easily discoverable in directories is an affordable way to continuously generate leads, and it does wonders for your search engine visibility.
Step 4: Regularly post social media content.
In this day and age, it’s crucial for your business to regularly share engaging social media content with your audience. More than 2.9 billion people use social media, and those people typically spend more than 2 hours per day on social media platforms.
Odds are, your ideal customer is browsing on social media right now (unless your ideal customer is a hermit), waiting for you to get your content in front of them so they can learn about what you’ve got to offer. The challenge for most businesses is that they aren’t posting enough content on social media to stay relevant to their audience.
The precise sweet spot for how often you should post does vary from industry to industry, but you should generally aim to share between 15 and 25 social media posts per month.
For most businesses, the best performing content tends to include:
- Links to your website, specifically sales and landing pages
- Links to blog posts and free resources to generate leads
- Relevant articles from other websites applicable to your industry
- Events and holiday-themed graphics
- Quotes and inspirational messages
What unites all of these social media content categories? They can all be scheduled in advance. The businesses that are performing best on social leverage social media scheduling tools because they help you save time, monitor your social media analytics and performance, create clickable and shareable graphics, and much more.
The power to regularly generate leads for businesses while only requiring a small investment of time for our clients is why we created Belt Social, a social media scheduling app and social media management service.
If you prefer to keep your social media management fully in-house, Crowdfire is an excellent software that has powerful scheduling and engagement features. Set aside several hours at the start of each month to decide on what sorts of content you’ll share, schedule your posts, and watch the likes roll in.
Step 5: Optimize your website for search engines (SEO) through keyword research and content marketing.
Your next step is to take advantage of the most dependable and powerful type of digital marketing: Search Engine Optimization. When implemented properly, SEO can be the biggest source of website traffic and provide an extremely high ROI for years.
Plus, it lends your business massive credibility. People trust Google, and if your website is the top result when people perform a search, that trust is then passed on to you.
Now, SEO is a complicated topic and there’s a lot we could dig into here. There are more than 200 factors that Google takes into account when ranking your site. But the 4 that will provide you with the most traction include:
- Keyword targeting
- Technical (on-site) SEO
- Content marketing
- Links back to your website
Because SEO requires a high degree of technical knowledge to implement correctly (and because poorly implemented SEO can actually hurt your rankings), you need to work with an SEO agency like Belt Creative to perform ongoing optimization and regularly create new content.
Generally speaking, the right time to invest in this piece of your digital marketing is when your business is bringing in more than $100,000 per year. Due to the time-intensive nature of ongoing SEO optimization, you want to make sure that it’s a part of your marketing budget. Depending on the size of your website and the niche your business serves, you will need to budget $500 - 3000 per month for a professional SEO agency.
Though it’s an ongoing cost, properly implemented SEO is a fantastic investment in your business that will reliably bring in new leads through search.
Step 6: Supercharge your traffic through Pay Per Click (PPC) digital advertising with Google and Facebook.
Before we dive into this step, I want to make something very clear: I recommend approaching paid digital advertising as one of the last pieces of your online marketing system. Business owners often make the mistake of jumping into paid advertising before building out and testing their website, email marketing, directory listings, social media posting, and SEO.
Remember that ads deliver the best results when they are not the source of business growth but are instead an accelerant of business growth. What’s the difference? The former approach uses ads as a way to drive traffic to a digital marketing system that may or may not be effective, and the latter simply speeds up the process of a tested system.
Another reason I encourage implementing paid advertising last is that you will get a better return on your ad spend, dollar for dollar, if you have already put together a digital marketing system that reliably generates leads. Before spending money on ads, ensure that you’ve created a high-converting website, set up an email marketing/CRM system, have listed your business in directories, are regularly engaging on social media, and have optimized your on-site technical SEO to create a good website experience for visitors.
Phew, okay, with that out of the way, now we can talk about paid digital ads. Businesses that have built out the rest of their digital marketing system and are bringing in at least $200,000 per year are the best candidates for accelerating their growth with a monthly digital ad spend through Google and/or Facebook.
Expect to set aside a budget of at least $1,000 for quality ad management on top of a monthly ad spend of at least $1 - 3,000 for noticable results. Research PPC agencies and ask for case studies for proof that they’ve delivered results for other clients.
You can try your hand at cheaper freelancers or doing it yourself, but frankly, both options are pouring money down the drain and you’re better off saving your money. Freelancers tend to lack the necessary experience or need to cut corners to deliver a lower price, and learning digital ad systems yourself is extremely time consuming. Thus, hiring a digital ads agency is the best way to go.
Once you’ve set up your digital ads, you gain access to greatly increased and predictable traffic. After a few months of testing your ads and what messages resonate, you will have a consistent stream of leads for your business and can work to increase the effectiveness of your ad spend and maximize your ROI.
Step 7: Build sales funnels for high-ticket products and services.
At their most basic, sales funnels are a streamlined version of the digital marketing systems that you’ve been building out up to this point.
The most common type of sales funnels are a series of digital ads that visitors click through to a landing page that asks for their email address in exchange for a free resource (known as a lead magnet). Once the visitor supplies their email address, your automated email system can follow up with them to provide information about your product or service, and ultimately encourage them to make a purchase.
There are lots of variations on the core funnel formula— such as getting people to view a webinar (live or pre-recorded), or offering a smaller free or paid product or service (known as a tripwire or conversion tool) to encourage buy-in.
Sales funnels have caught on because, with proper design and optimization, you can create a system that reliably turns $1 in digital ad spend into $3 in sales (or $5 - $5,000 depending on what you’re selling). It’s also just a catchy term — sales funnel. It sounds like something that makes a lot of money.
With that said, sales funnels are often the most expensive digital marketing method. They require a lot of work to set up and funnels perform best when they are regularly optimized by an expert digital marketing team with experience building out and managing funnels.
Due to the high cost involved in creating and maintaining sales funnels, I usually recommend them to businesses that offer a high-ticket product or service (over $500, preferably over $1,000) and who are already generating at least $250,000 in annual revenue so that they can absorb the initial cost of building and testing the funnel.
Step 8: Optimize your digital marketing systems with data analytics.
The most important aspect of digital marketing isn’t how much you spend, it’s having clarity on what’s working and what needs improvement. That’s why it’s crucial to keep an eye on your analytics to ensure that you’re getting a good ROI on your digital advertising systems.
One of the best tools for this also happens to be free: Google Analytics. GA integrates with your website, email marketing, SEO, paid ads, and every other aspect of your digital marketing suite. By leveraging the powerful reporting tools in the software, you’ll be able to monitor your digital marketing spending and see the results that are being delivered.
Because clarity is such an important aspect of digital marketing, our agency takes it one step further by creating easy to read and understand analytics dashboards for our clients to monitor the results of their Belt Social performance, Belt Websites traffic and conversion data, and Belt Creative+ SEO and PPC campaigns.
Regardless of which analytics tools you decide to use in your business, just be sure that you are regularly checking in on your digital advertising spend and that you understand how that’s translating into sales for your business.
And there you have it! By the time that you’ve followed each of the steps in this guide, you’ll have an automated system to bring in new leads and sales on demand. With your marketing fully managed, you’ll have the freedom to grow your business by offering better products and services to your customers and expanding your business to be able to serve more people.
Good luck on your digital marketing journey, and feel free to get in touch with us for a free online audit and digital marketing consultation.