Doing business online requires a business to do 3 things from a technical perspective:

  1. Provide a stable, secure, and usable experience (Hosting, Software, Best Practices)
  2. Attract new leads / customers (Paid Advertising, SEO – branding not discussed here)
  3. Engage with those leads / customers (Martech, Marketing Automation)

Martech & Marketing Automation

Starting from the bottom of the list, Martech and Marketing Automation describes the technology and tools used by a business to automate parts of their digital marketing strategy. These tools help the business manage customer data and in turn engage with those leads / customers.

The tools aren’t going to solve issues or make you money by themselves, but they will assist your strategy once you take the time to understand your customer groups. Your typical business has multiple customer groups and marketing automation allows you to treat these customer groups differently, instead of generic marketing to everyone at once. A more targeted approach.

In addition to targeting customer groups, marketing automation allows you to target individual leads and customers, based on actions they take or events they experience with your business online. This is where marketing automation can really shine – for example, a lead views a particular page on your website and then receives an automated email 2 hours later.

The following marketing concepts and tool categories create a strong foundation for most businesses (when integrated with each other and configured properly):

  1. Customer Data Platform
  2. Customer Data Enrichment
  3. Customer Journey
  4. Automated Marketing Emails
  5. Cart Abandonment
  6. Text Messaging
  7. Call Tracking
  8. Forms & Purchase Conversion Tracking
  9. Live Chat, Targeted Chat Messages
  10. Action / Event Analytics
  11. Visual Analytics
  12. Online Scheduling
  13. Social Integration

The trick with marketing automation is choosing the right tools that integrate with each other that provide bi-directional data flow (ideally). You don’t want to collect data into one tool or platform, then for it to just be stuck there. The power is in no single tool, but in how they work together and share data. Most businesses already pay for various tools – but they are not configured or talking with each other so they provide no real benefit to the business or value to the lead / customer via marketing automation.

For example, you might send a lead a text message through one tool and then they might go onto make a purchase. Most businesses won’t record that text event for that person, then they won’t be able to review which texts converted leads to customers. Or, they might be able to see that a text blast converted some leads into customers, but that data isn’t being recorded back into a central customer data platform – a central location for all customer data which can be used in other tools (now and in the future).

Lastly, it’s important to select tools that are widely used and have been around for a number years. Ideally ones that are profitable and have strong teams around them. The marketing technology industry is flooded with tools – thousands of them. Many of these tools are VC funded and will not be around in a few years – they exist solely to be acquired and absorbed into other tools.

Advertising & SEO (branding not discussed here)

Moving beyond marketing automation – before you can manage customer data and engage with them, you have to get them in the the front door. Paid Advertising allows you to do this quickly with some guarantees – for a fee. On the other end of it, SEO allows you to do this slowly without any guarantees – for free. Though, it’s not really fair to say free – you still have to spend time doing SEO.

With paid advertising your spending money to get in front of potential customers who are looking for your product/service – you just have to capture the moment / rise to the occasion correctly. Advertising doesn’t need to result in a sale, sometimes it’s just an email address to start. This email address allows you to get the potential customer into your sales & marketing process – you can focus on making the sale after the fact, just get them in the door first.

With SEO, you’re generating content for your potential customers. If the content is useful to the humans searching within your niche, then you can potentially rank for a particular set of terms – though there is no guarantee and your ranking can quickly disappear as quickly as it came.

As for the content itself, you’re not generating content for Google – you’re generating it for humans. Google’s algorithm is designed to display the best content for their users, based on a search term. The algorithm gets better and better as time goes on – focusing more and more on what a human expects to see when they search. So again, you’re generating content for humans, not Google’s algorithm. If you put too much focus on SEO you might find yourself generating crap content, Google’s algorithm might say to itself “look at this article, why would a human read this, and it’s 3 years old – why would we show this to our users?”

The fact remains that there are many businesses and websites who don’t really pay attention to SEO – but they are doing great at it because they consistently generate new content around their target topics. They’re creating useful articles for people – things that people will sit down and read for a few minutes.

With SEO you want to focus on what your potential customers might be searching for, or what they might find interesting to learn about your product or industry – let them in on a secret that you only know from being in the industry for a number years. Give them something that they can’t learn elsewhere.

Many businesses get sucked into the mysteries of SEO – while forgetting to generate new content that people will enjoy engaging with. They wonder what they are doing wrong, what things they need to fix, etc. Sure, there are definitely things you should be doing with SEO – but that’s only a consideration AFTER you’ve committed to generating new content on a consistent basis (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.)

In an ideal situation, a business should be investing in their underlying marketing stack, paid advertising, and SEO at the same time. However, if you’re just getting started, doing everything at once sometimes isn’t feasible – there is not enough energy or funding for it initially. In this case, you should start Advertising immediately – there’s no disadvantage in getting in front of new customers quickly, and you should be able to capture some of the customer data right out of the gate…even if you haven’t setup a full marketing stack yet.

Hosting, Software & Best Practices

At this time, my recommendation is WordPress for all business website with WooCommerce added if eCommerce. WordPress requires no explanation as it powers the web at this point. WooCommerce has come a long way since it’s initial release and offers flexibility and cost savings compared to other platforms. With WordPress and WooCommerce, it’s a website that you own – you’re not locked into a specific hosting provider or a proprietary eCommerce solution. You can take your site and move it around and scale it as needed.

With that flexibility comes risk to the average business owner – it’s very easy for the DIY type to create something that is not optimal or is not secure. In the case of WordPress, it’s important to have 5+ years of WordPress experience under your belt when designing an eCommerce solution for a business. Otherwise, you really don’t know what you don’t know and are unable to see the long-term impact of your decisions as it relates to theme, plugin, and 3rd party system selection.

Similar to choosing reputable and established marketing tools, it’s important to select theme, plugins, and 3rd party systems that are widely used or have been around for a number of years. In every category of functionality there is typically a solution that leads the pack. This doesn’t always mean a paid solution – it could be a free one. There are some free solutions that have been around longer and are more supported than some paid ones. A paid option is typically a good bet as it indicates there is a team behind dedicated to supporting it into the future – but not always.

By selecting the right tools, you set yourself up for the future. One of the worst things you can do is grow a business online using the wrong tools – as those tools could disappear one day then you’re stuck without future support. The problem amplifies with the size and complexity of your web stack – and in the case of eCommerce the size of your customer base and product catalog. The more you have, the larger the problem. Then you’re scrambling to find a new solution you can move to.