By Tim Witcherley, Managing Director of integrated communications agency Cognition.

During the last decade it’s fair to say that the way businesses communicate has been completely transformed. Thanks to advancements in digital technology, a whole host of new online platforms allow organisations to interact with their stakeholders more cost effectively than ever before.

However, even with the latest tools at their fingertips, many businesses are still to harness their true online potential — something that could be costing them both time and money.

The quantity of information available on the internet today is unimaginably vast — this immense digital universe literally hosts trillions of pages. Simply sending your message out into the abyss and hoping it’ll be heard is therefore not only a waste of time; it’s also a waste of money.

Online marketing strategies have to be strategically focused in order for them to work. The goal is finding people who are interested in what you’ve got to say and, perhaps more importantly, getting them to listen. Achieving this ‘Holy Grail’ of online marketing not only allows businesses to be more productive, but also more competitive.

Luckily there are some tried and tested methods to ensure you are getting the most out of your online presence.

Is your website working hard enough for you?

Whilst having a website is important, too many businesses make the mistake of opting for the quick and easy option: to pay for a cheap and cheerful template that incorporates your logo, contact details and basic information about your product or service offering. However, this is not as economical as it seems — essentially you’re paying for something but not extracting the maximum value.

Unfortunately businesses are often so preoccupied with the design stages that they forget the website not only has to be user friendly, but also include a ‘call to action’. For example, by building in a simple form to download a product sheet or request further information you can capture data to build your customer database. Knowing what product sheet the visitor downloaded, you can then follow up the lead with a brochure or leaflet that’s relevant to them. This consistency makes you more likely to close the deal, meaning you are achieving a real return on investment rather than spending resources for the sake of it.

A well-built website should also be trackable. In fact, one of the great perks of online marketing is that it allows for immediate and accurate analysis of performance, which means you can make more informed business decisions in the future. Only recently, for example, a new website we developed and launched for a client tracked £2.7 million in enquiries — in a single week!

Do cold leads happen upon your website when searching?

With over 41 million people using the internet on a daily basis it is essential that the wide world knows that your website actually exists; don’t just assume it’s going to get noticed amongst the billions of others out there.

Every business with a website will have heard the magic words ‘search engine optimisation’ at some point in their company’s ongoing strategic development. Most commonly referred to as SEO, search engine optimisation basically refers to a process of finding ways to increase your site's appearance in web search results — generally resulting in more traffic.

Achieving high rankings in natural listings takes time and ongoing investment to identify how potential customers are searching for suppliers like you. Companies often make the common mistake of hiring agencies to optimise their website around keywords which they assume are correct and accurate.
This sort of substantial, upfront investment is a recipe for lost time and money — one of the virtues of SEO is that it can — and should — be refined and developed over time as you generate leads from your website and learn what the most effective search terms are.

‘Pay Per Click’ advertising is also another tool that some businesses can benefit from. This offers businesses a simplified way of tracking keywords to not only drive traffic to their site, but also to convert visitors to returning customers. Unlike SEO, which can take time to boost your natural listings, PPC provides instant visibility on search engines and can include limitless keywords. It is also completely trackable and easy to adjust, so you can ensure you are only paying for what works.

Are you making the most of social media?

If used in a tactical way social media can play a huge role in engaging with your audience on a more ‘down to earth’ level thanks to its proven influence over key audiences.

A recent study of 1.7 million Facebook pages revealed that businesses are spending less time interacting and engaging their ‘fans’, with 91 per cent of conversation on company pages left unattended. This is a worrying statistic when you think that social media is one of the most powerful online tools available today.

However, a common pitfall of businesses starting up social media pages with no guidance is that they have not assessed whether it’s the right one for them. For example, LinkedIn is great for B2B and Facebook can be strong for B2C. Ongoing commitment is required to build long-lasting relationships with your target audience.

But remember — connecting with your audience as and when you feel like is not a productive way of doing business, and it can do more harm than good. Outsourcing the work to an agency will ensure that content is regularly refreshed and updated to keep audiences in the loop with ongoing activity and company news.

Clearly, getting people to engage with you online can be a tough challenge, but maintaining this engagement is where the war is won. A website must reflect and adhere to digital advancements that are forever changing in the industry; in fact, it’s essential if you want to have a positive impact on your target audience and your company’s bottom line.