Search Marketing Standard has just published the following:

Prioritize Effectively With The Online Optimization Model

There comes a point in every digital marketerís life when she has to decide to kill an important project. Itís a difficult decision Ė but one thatís necessary for effective time and resource management. When youíre trying to strike a balance between perfecting your search efforts, your general web site usability, and conversion rate optimization, something will inevitably become a backburner project, never to be revisited except with a disappointed sigh over dinner.

The key to successfully identifying key priorities in digital marketing is to decide on a model. Itís tough to choose between an effective SEO program and good user experience that leads to effective branding and sales, especially when both areas need help. So itís always good to step back and ask,

  1. What are my visitor acquisition models?
  2. What are my conversion points?
  3. How will I get visitors and customers to come back?
1.* Acquisition

Some visitor acquisition efforts are glaring and obvious. Any clickstream tool on the market will, at minimum, tell you how many visitors are coming to your web site per month. If you look at the directional data and the number of people who see your site is shrinking, youíd be right to redouble efforts on content marketing, blogs, link building, and other visibility efforts to stem the tide.

However, just because your totals are going up doesnít mean your visitor acquisition efforts are in the clear. Part of what you need to evaluate is whether your acquisition models are leading the correct people to the correct places. You can blindly gain more visitors per month and still lose out on total opportunities. You need to make sure youíre not one of those marketers.

Without getting too deep into a discussion about segmentation, you should ensure that

  • the people looking for your brand are going to your home page or a high level page, where you can talk about the companyís unique selling propositions.
  • the people at the early stage of the buying cycle (you can typically tell by the general referring search term, but sometimes you can tell by referring domain) are going to a category or industry page, where they can compare options.
  • the people at a later stage (youíll notice more specific search terms) of the buying cycle get to deep-linked content, where they can drill down and see if the specs match their intended use case.
  • the SEM traffic youíre paying for lead visitors to stand-alone landing pages, where you can customize your message for maximum impact
  • social media traffic is being lead to areas where people can engage with your brand, rather than be exposed to a hero shot of your product
  • if you serve different locations, you have a plan that tackles geography and language that matches the visitor to the correct language-culture combination
Note whatís common about those acquisition tactics – you are leading visitors to the area where their intentions are likely to be fulfilled. Thatís what acquisition is. Itís not a land grab Ė itís a very humble attempt to be useful.

Whatís in charge is not your branding agenda. Itís not even your sales. Itís your ability to customize an experience that meets a visitor need. Thatís what gets you found. Everything else is a detail.

2.* Conversion

If visitor acquisition is about recognizing visitor intent and leading them to a visible property, conversion is about dissecting that intent and turning it into a delightful experience. Unfortunately, much of the talk about conversions focuses on one type: ecommerce sales. Note that thatís just one type of conversion -the micro-conversion.

Because ecommerce concerns are so clear-cut, easy to track, and rewarding, many marketers tend to overlook the macro-conversions. Thatís a shame. Typical web properties donít just have a ďBuy NowĒ button; thatís not how the web works.

  • Education can be a conversion goal. Itís measured in time on site for featured education and branding content.
  • Lead generation is a conversion goal. Itís measured in both absolute volume of valid leads, and the ratio of form visits to form fills.
  • Support is a goal. Itís measured in absolute consumption, like visits, time on page, and downloads, but if youíre tracking qualitative data, thereís also direct visitor responses about how well your support content meets their needs.
Thatís the tip of the iceberg.

The general idea is that the visitor wants or needs something, and you need to be there at the right time with the right message. Sometimes thatís a sale, but when itís not, it can still be absolutely vital to your brand.

Here, you should ensure that the visitor intention and your web pageís task aids have as big an overlap as possible. If they are looking to download a White Paper, do not make them jump through hoops, even if you miss the email collecting the lead. If you are going for leads with free trials, make the form as short as possible, even if youíre losing out on segmentation data.

Make the value of your offer bigger than what the visitor is providing you. Donít fall into the greedy marketer trap – if you are going to be effective over time, conversion is a marathon, not a sprint.

3.* Retention

Retention is a natural extension of a delightful experience. The sale nets companies revenue, but many marketers stop analyzing – and executing – there. Thatís a mistake for most businesses. The performance indicator should be lifetime value, and one of the goals should be around creating experiences around the brand that gets customers to stick around.

Here, again, macro-conversions can help. When customers feel that after the purchase, the company still cares, they can go from casual customer to brand champion. This means great service, support, and potential upsell offers that drive value.

Additionally, your marketing activities should balance customer goodwill and upsell revenue. Past SEO, past the content marketing strategies for blogs and videos, past the Zero Moment of Truth for your online presence, you still have crucial activities.

  • Rewards and loyalty programs. Itís tempting to go for pure revenue when you know a person is already willing to spend on your products, but rewards programs should be about just that – rewards. Figure out the math internally, and find a way to provide deep discounts and build those relationships. Itís more expensive to get new customers than to keep existing ones.
  • Blogfeeds and newsfeeds. Yourthought leadership efforts donít end when visitors land on your page, or when they purchase something. They continue and build on cycles to ensure you keep establishing yourself in the space.
  • Email campaigns and newsletters. After the lead has been generated, you need effective messaging that carefully looks at intent. What did the visitor want the first time around? Assuming you didnít bog the visitor down with tons of segmentation questions, you now get to use context (how did you get the lead? What did the visitor want from the site? What did he or she say on the form?), and analysis. When youíre sending newsletters, make sure itís for a topic that has a big overlap with the context of the lead. When sending email campaigns, use effective copy, layout, images, and CTAs. You now have the power to more carefully tailor your message – take the time to do that.
Putting the Model into Practice

Now that you have the model, you can more efficiently gauge where your efforts are soft.

Are you driving tons of traffic but to the wrong areas and levels of your site? Maybe itís time to review your keywords and information architecture.

Are you taking people to what you feel are relevant pages on your site, but failing to convert visitors to customers? It may be time to review your conversion funnels and CRO elements.

Do all existing customers just make one sale, and never return? Perhaps itís time to review your retention activities.

The great thing about working through the model is you can make decisions about prioritization around performance indicators of all three areas. This kind of decision-making relies more on data than gut, tends to go into drilldowns rather than general tactics, and minimizes your exposure to sub-optimal planning.

Quick caveat:* there are other models that exist out there. The acquisition-conversion-retention model works really well, but if your company uses another model that tracks what happens from the start of the process to the end, you just need to make sure the activities here all map to the model. Whatís important is that all activities are specific enough that they can be assessed to see which areas need the most help, and all of them tie into each other on the model youíre using.

Are you using the acquisition-conversion-retention model for your marketing activities? Iíd love to know how you prioritize in the comments.

Read More From Prioritize Effectively With The Online Optimization Model...