In today’s fast paced digitally powered world, more and more small business owners are having a difficult time seeing any type of noticeable return on their digital marketing investments.
This leads to frustration from feeling like your efforts are wasted.
And eventually you just give up and go back to running your business, leaving the web for another day. A day that never comes.
The reason small business owners aren’t’ seeing a return on their website and digital marketing investments and can’t improve ROI going forward is twofold.
- They aren’t looking in the right place, therefore they never see the return and thus the internet doesn’t get the credit
- It’s just too complicated for anyone other than a internet marketing professional to do
I know, those two points seemingly contradict each other. One says the return is happening and the other says it’s too hard to get a return unless you are a full time digital marketer.
So which is it.
Both! But before those will really make sense, you need to understand how local consumers are using the internet, specifically leading up to and in finding a business to hire or buy from.
How are local consumers using the internet to find businesses?
By first taking a little time to truly understand how consumers, and your customers specifically, are using the internet you will clearly see how your online presence is either positively or negatively affecting your bottom line and giving you acceptable returns or not.
Local consumers that eventually end up buying from or hiring from a business like yours almost always use the internet in two very distinct ways surrounding the eventual transaction and entire relationship.
- Informational & Educational Searches
- Transactional Searches
1. Informational & Educational Searches
Consumers use the internet before they’re ready to buy in order to research problems, challenges, solutions, ideas, tips, tricks, and more surrounding a current or future need of theirs
This means they are first researching about themselves and not about you.
They want to know what their problem is and what their potential solutions are. And they want complete autonomy surrounding the purchasing decision.
Anything that gets in the way of that has a high probability of turning that potential customer away, quite simply because it wasn’t easy enough.
Once they’re sure what they need and why they will look for someone to provide that product or service. The majority of online searches fall into this category, about 80% to be clear.
2. Transactional Searches
This is when consumers use the internet to look for a local business or company to buy from or hire that can meet a current need of theirs. They know they need a company at this point and are actually searching for one to hire.
At this point, they are researching about companies like you, with you hopefully being on their list.
It is also at this point, that something as simple as inaccurate or differentiating information about a business online will turn someone away. So will bad or in-frequent reviews and even just a slow website.
Remember, when looking to provide value before a sale it is given in the form of no-pressure information and education most often. Your helping a person gain clarity surrounding their situation and why you’re their best option or not. This value empowers them to move forward on their journey which hopefully is with your business.
This searching continues until they find a business that hasn’t gotten in their way of performing their research or forced them to join an email list or anything other than just provide that initial value consumers need right before they make a purchase. They’re using the internet because they don’t just want to call and ask these things. They’d rather do the research on their time and in their own way before speaking to someone. The ones that do want to call and have these conversations in person or over the phone, will usually skip over step one and just search for companies to start calling companies.
It’s important to also note that some consumers go through step one and then step two, some skip to step one, and really great marketers are able to use step one in combination with step two, leading from one right to the other on the same company website, which is called content marketing. Content marketing is big right now because the majority of searches(80%) are for content or information and not for transaction. People want to be empowered, not sold.
The internet is like a bridge
To further elaborate the way the internet is used by local consumers I want you to picture a bridge.
On one side you have people with wants, needs, problems, and ideas and on the other side you have solutions, tips, tricks, and local businesses.
The internet is the bridge between the two sides.
Except the gate leading to the bridge is locked; there is no way through. And you can’t get through the gate to what you want or need without speaking to the gatekeeper, who will then guide them across this bridge of the internet to the location most suited to get what they are looking for.
The search engines are the gatekeepers and guides across the bridge of the internet.
Nowadays there are also other platforms, like YouTube, that can be used to search for certain content as well. But even those are primarily accessed by going through the gatekeepers.
The important thing to understand from this analogy is that the gatekeepers (search engines) can only deliver someone across the bridge, putting them right in front of your business, if your business exists online and can be found and understood by the search engines.
As consumers, the internet just works. For business owners, sleeves must be rolled up and work must be put in just like with every other aspect of your business.
I know, it sounds unfair. But remember that your potential clients are using the internet to research problems and solutions and find local companies just like yours.
And now that you know the role the search engines play; that of gatekeeper and guide you can understand that the search engines first and primarily exist to serve their users, the ones who are using their platform to search for things and not the ones who are using their platform to be found.
While at the same time they care deeply about helping those that want to be found(website owners) use their platform to do just that, be found and bought from or hired more than you currently are. But it has to be done by meeting wants and needs where wants and needs are needing to be met. In this case, consumers are looking online for information that will either help lead them to your business or it won’t.
Basically, as a business and website owner you have to educate and empower the search engines to show your website for the right searches, starting with your business name.
Take away: Customer Service in a Digital World
So as a business owner, the internet should first be looked at as a form of customer service. You should seek to meet your customers’ needs before the sale, just like if they walked in with a bunch of questions. But these days, that conversation usually starts online. So if you aren’t online and meeting the search engine’s requirements or delivering the right value to the users you’re likely to be skipped over.
1. Look in the right place
Okay, so now that you know a little bit more about how the internet is being used by real people needing what your business offers, how does all of that information help you uncover and improve your digital marketing ROI?
Remember back to the beginning of this post and the first reason you may not be seeing any ROI; you’re looking in the wrong place for it.
Hopefully you are starting to see that it’s not an actual place you need to be looking or an actual place that you aren’t looking at, but the angle at which you view the intersection of your business and the internet.
Are you coming to the internet expecting leads for nothing or very little output on your behalf?
Or are you trying to ensure that your potential customers have a good experience with your business before, during and after the sale.
By approaching the internet from a customer service mindset it actually becomes really simple to create and sustain success with your efforts for very little continued output.
The three components to creating and sustaining digital marketing success through the lens of customer service.
- Accuracy and clarity of business information listed online
- A mobile, fast, secure, conversion optimized, and search engine optimized website
- Positive online reviews
And because of technology, small business owners are able to get all three of those in place extremely fast and for extremely affordable costs.
Those three things will create the foundation for your entire online presence and will either help your future marketing and advertising efforts or hurt them.
Make no mistake, it doesn’t matter how great your business is at what you do, if you can’t be found or it’s hard to find and interact and learn basic information about your business online, then you will be skipped over.
But if you provide that information, not only will you start to show up for real transactional searches related to what you offer but you will be pretty much guaranteeing that any referral that looks you up online will have no doubts in that referral and reach out to you or come in and buy from you.
How does this relate to ROI?
It starts by determining where you are currently or benchmarking your business against those three components so you can evaluate the ROI there.
You can do this:
- By researching and analyzing how your business is listed online
- By looking at your website and assessing against the other website components listed above (mobile, fast, secure, conversion optimized, search engine optimized)
- By researching and analyzing your online reputation by looking at online reviews and online social interactions
Once you know where you stand in regards to those three components you can see whether or not your online presence is actually helping or hurting you in regards to people searching for you directly or searching for something you offer.
It’s pretty simple to do:
- Do you have accurate, clear, and detailed information listed all over the web and on the right sites for your industry?
- Does your website offer the same with expanded and educational information related to your customers’ problems, wants, and needs? Is your website fully functional on mobile devices? Does it load fast on slow mobile connections? Is it secure? Do people know what the purpose of the site is? Can they reach out to you easily? Can your site be found by referral based searches or problem and solution based searches?
- Do you have positive or negative online reviews? Are your reviews coming in constantly or sporadically? Are people interacting with your company online via various social media platforms?
So if you don’t have the positive aspects to all of those then you’re likely hurting yourself online and should first seek to improve the online customer service and experience your business offers.
Once you have that foundation in place and continue to maintain and improve and build upon that solid foundation you can rest assured that what it took to get those in place and working for your business will deliver value to anyone that comes across it long into the future(ROI). And the best part is, those aspects can be done for very little upfront and ongoing time and money investment in comparison to the value you’ll receive in new and happy customers as nobody wants bad customer service!
And this is the perfect time to head into our reason number two that small business owners aren’t’ seeing a return on their website and digital marketing investments and how they can start to.
2. It’s just too complicated
Beyond getting your business and website found for referral based searches and some Google Maps rankings for some product or service based searches, it’s actually extremely complicated to create a sales funnel that actually delivers enough value to lead a person through it and directly to your business alone. There is just so much understood knowledge that has to be applied to your specific business and customers.
You then have to apply that knowledge into consistent action which takes great amounts of time and money before you see any real type of consistent leads coming in or sales increasing steadily in relation to your business and market.
This all takes real time and real money and a real commitment.
So that leaves us with the question: Is the internet still a viable platform for small and local business owners to market their businesses on affordably and without outrageous startup costs? (<— Click that link to be taken to an article on this site that looks at that question in more detail.)
I think that depends on how you look at the internet, what it exists for?
If you look at the internet selfishly you will likely be pulled in every direction all in the quest for leads.
But if you approach the internet with a customer service mindset, seeking to serve and then attract, or attract by serving then you will not only create the perfect foundation to always convert referrals to your business but you will create the perfect foundation to launch any real lead generation and digital marketing campaign out of.
At that point you will know you are still receiving the ROI from your foundational online efforts and can now expand and build upon those creating an even greater ROI on your initial investments and those to come!
So you tell me, are you happy with your current ROI and are you ready to improve and increase it consistently going forward?