Well, here we all are again, at the brink of another year. I like to think of it as a brink, rather than a precipice.
And I like to think that jumping into a fresh, untouched January offers a chance to wash away the dust of the old year, peel back the layers of habit, assumption and routine, and look at new ways of revitalising the world of online marketing.
Here are my top tips for giving your online business marketing the fresh start it needs at this time of the year.
1. Sling Out The Old Keywords, And In With The New
Keywords can become badges of honour, they can become focal points, and they can become blinkers.
Whilst they certainly do still have a significant role to play in online marketing and SEO, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of sticking with the same tired old lists of keywords and keyword phrases.
In some cases I know businesses which haven’t re-evaluated their keywords lists in several years. How long is it since you threw out a few keywords or phrases on your list, or added in a few more new ones?
The new year is an excellent opportunity to sort through the phrases and words being used, determining whether in the time since you first chose them the playing field has changed.
This is almost certainly likely, with some search phrases falling out of use and others being introduced. The keywords being used by competitors is also likely to have an impact on your inbound traffic, and on the effectiveness of your marketing material.
2. Dust & Vacuum Your Inbound Marketing
By which I mean, make sure you have completely eliminated any dodgy content or links out there which could be causing your site harm. In particular make sure that any paid for links are removed, or at least use Google’s new ‘Disavow’ tool which lets you tell Google to specifically ignore links, pages or sites which are less than ideal as part of your online marketing campaign.
If you have paid links you can’t remove, poor quality content you can’t edit or delete, or a third party site has copied your content or linked to you, and is not prepared to take them down then use Google’s Disallow tool (http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main) to remove that URL from their assessment of your business’s online profile and from the search listings.
3. Evaluate Your Uniqueness, And Define Your Business
Once upon a time you may well have been the first online business offering a certain type of product or service, or perhaps the first in the UK, or the cheapest, or the fastest, or the greenest.
The chances are that there was something which let you make your business stand out from the crowd. But time moves on, and sometimes that unique selling point is no longer as unique as it once was.
Either that, or the unique selling point may still be unique, but is no longer a selling point because it no longer carries the weight it may have done a few years ago.
In either case it is important to re-evaluate your business’s position and status, and determine whether its USP still carries as much weight as it used to, and still holds up as being unique.
It may well be that you need to change that selling point, or shift the emphasis slightly. Having a USP is certainly a strategic advantage in online marketing, but as with so much else, it still needs checking from time to time.
If you were the first business to do something, that’s a USP, but it’s limited. Once there are dozens, scores or even hundreds of other businesses offering the same thing, simply being the first isn’t important. In fact being the first might almost be counterproductive, since it may give the impression that you’re also the oldest, and therefore perhaps not offering the same benefits as the new, fresher companies.
4. Determine Your Audience Reach And Access Compatibility
Once upon a time having a nice shiny website was good. But what proportion of your website visitors access you website using a desktop computer with a large screen? How many are trying to view your website using a tablet, or a Smartphone?
I have known some business owners say (without a hint or irony) that they’re not worried about optimising for mobile browsing on tablets and phones because only a very small proportion of their hits come from such devices.
Which is of course exactly the problem. The number of people using a mobile device to access the site may well be very low precisely because the site isn’t sufficiently optimised for the mobile market.
I have seen even popular websites fall fat on their face when it comes to mobile access. This includes site which rely heavily (even exclusively) on Adobe Flash, which of course isn’t always viewable on tablets and Smartphones.
I have also seen websites integrate floating panels stuffed full of social media icons which, on a normal desktop monitor simply hover on the side of the screen, but on a Smartphone obliterate almost the entire screen, and are impossible to hide, block or move.
The new year might well be a good time to verify just how easy it is for people to access and browse your website on the wide range of mobile platforms, since 2013 will certainly see an increase in the use of such devices for web access.
5. Identify The Holes In Your Marketing Strategy, And Sew Them Up
Perhaps you have a marketing strategy which has been in place for several months, or even a year or two. Perhaps you outsource your online marketing to another company and haven’t really thought too much about whether they’re offering you the best deal, or a complete approach.
It is therefore a good idea if you step back from your SEO strategy and identify those areas which you have so far been ignoring. You may well have had reasons why you previously ignored them – perhaps you just didn’t see much value in them, didn’t think they’d be around for long, didn’t think they could deliver sufficient volumes of traffic, didn’t really understand them, didn’t know anyone offering a service which included that facility or just hadn’t previously heard of it.
But re-evaluating those assumptions and beliefs is always a good idea.
For example, a number of businesses completely ignored Pinterest through 2012, yet now we know that Pinterest is delivering more referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube combined, is in the top 30 websites in the US, and is statistically the third most popular social media platform behind Facebook and Twitter. Anyone still ignoring it is clearly not genuine about making their online marketing work.
From Pinterest to Twitter, video marketing to blogging, it’s time to identify which areas you’re not including in your marketing strategy, and understand why, and whether it’s time to change.
6. Integrate, Aggregate, Consolidate, Communicate
Over the years you may very well have added to your SEO marketing strategy in a largely organic way, adding extra things on as opportunities arise. So you started with website content, blogging and article marketing, added on Facebook, then added on Twitter, squeezed in LinkedIn and then started pinning on Pinterest.
The problem is of course that this organic development of a marketing strategy inevitably results in a bloated approach which is difficult to manage, and almost impossible to view in a way which makes things unified and meaningful.
Separating your social media channels means putting up walls and barriers between clients, customers and business associates, and 2013 should at least be the year in which such barriers are dropped.
Why not look at using one of the several platforms now available (such as Nimble – http://www.nimble.com) which brings together all of your social networks and conversations into one single place so that you can more effectively identify trends, and communicate to your clients more efficiently.
Just because someone asks you a question on Twitter there’s no reason why the result of that exchange can’t also be shared with those following you on Facebook, through your blog or through other relevant channels.
7. Create A Schedule And A Plan, And Be Prepared To Bin Them Both
It is all too easy to just do SEO for the sake of SEO, or to pursue online marketing opportunities just because everybody else is, and it sees like a sensible thing to do.
At this time of the year I recommend coming up with some pretty specific targets. But when creating targets, make sure that they are not all ones which can be left until the end of the year, nor ones which can’t easily be evaluated.
I recommend having a target for the end of each month, with specific, measurable goals you can work towards. For example, increasing inbound traffic from search engines by 2% by the end of January, and a further 3% by the end of February.
But it’s also important to make sure you know how you’re going to achieve those goals. Having a goal is great, but if you have no idea how you’ll achieve it, it’s easily forgotten and ignored.
Finally, be prepared to bin your plans, or at least replace them with ones which make better sense in the light of the developments, changes and fresh opportunities which will certainly present themselves throughout 2013.
A very happy New Year to all. May 2013 offer you the success you deserve.