Long gone are the days when you could slap up a basic, static Website and call it a day. To succeed in today’s highly interactive, competitive marketplace, you must have a comprehensive digital-marketing strategy that delivers a clear, consistent message through multiple Internet channels.
The team at NRH20 Family Water Parkin North Richland Hills, Texas, learned that lesson firsthand last year. Opened in 1993, the park has been online since 1996. Today a search will turn up a robust Website as well as a YouTube site, Facebook page and a Twitter feed. These online efforts really kicked into high gear last year. In spring 2011, NRH20 launched a revamped Website that included the social media feeds directly on the home page, as well as easily accessible “follow” buttons.
“We noticed that when we put out social media on our home page, the number of followers jumped dramatically,” says Stephanie Hee, marketing specialist.
NRH2O’s story illustrates the current trend toward Internet-based marketing that utilizes multiple channels — from blogs and video to user-generated content and online referral sites — to communicate a specific message to targeted users.
“It’s not just about a Website anymore. It’s your total Web presence that matters,” says Pam Vinje, CEO of The Pool Marketing Site, which specializes in digital media and Internet marketing for the pool industry.
Define the program
So where do you start?
While it is tempting to jump right into execution mode and begin making big changes, a key to your eventual success is taking time to create a thoughtful plan.
First, what are your goals? It might be rebranding, expanding into a new market or boosting season ticket sales. Without defining your expectations, you may feel disappointed by your results and lack the direction needed to make adjustments to your plan.
Whatever it is, defining the objective helps determine the audience you will target (pool moms, for example, or a particular ZIP code or income bracket). And that information will drive all future choices, from crafting a message to choosing distribution channels.
The next step is crafting a message that addresses your goals. Start by coming up with a list of related keywords a person might enter into a search engine.
Boosting your search-engine rankings is tough, so it helps to concentrate on just a few specific terms. If you want young parents in a neighboring city to know about your toddler pool, you might focus on terms such as “family waterpark in city name” or “children’s aquatics in city name.”
“You need a clear message about who you are,” says Marc Sabin, executive vice president of Marketing Worksin Cold Spring, N.Y. “Then use that message consistently across all your marketing efforts online and offline.”
Content is king
A ton of informative, relevant content can propel your site to the top of a list of Google search results; a total lack of it can land your site on page 10.
It’s also important to note that using your Website to sell, sell, sell will turn off customers and, possibly, search engines. Instead, the smart approach is to offer valuable content that just happens to include your keywords.
“There are always people looking for deals,” says Dale McFarland, general manager of KeyLime Cove Indoor Waterpark Resortin Gurnee, Ill. “What you want to create is loyal followers. … If it’s price-generated, those individuals aren’t as loyal. We always want a call to action [with everything we put out].”
Interactive and “live” content such as videos and blogs have the most traction with search engines, so you’ll want to start there.
Visuals are as important as words on a Website — 65 percent of people are visual learners — so video and slide shows are a great way to grab attention and appeal to short attention spans. Periodically add new, brief videos to your site featuring customer testimonials, featured projects and maintenance tips.
A blog also can be used as an educational tool to answer questions, give advice and make suggestions — anything that establishes trust in your brand.
“Most of your Website will stay the same and your search-engine standing will go down if you don’t add new content,” Vinje says. “A blog adds fresh, relevant content on a regular basis, plus it can help with search keywords you are weak in.”
One of Vinje’s pool-business clients has focused his blog around the keywords “backyard living.” A recent post about outdoor kitchens caught the attention of a local radio host, who asked the owner to be a guest on his show.
Fuel the fire
Realistically, just adding blog posts, videos and photos on a Website isn’t enough. Capturing an audience requires distributing your content across myriad online channels. This final step increases inbound Web traffic by exposing your messaging to new audiences and improving search-engine optimization (SEO).
“Your content is the fire, and social media is the gasoline,” says Marcus Sheridan, partner at River Pools & Spasin Warsaw, Va. “Lay a foundation of quality content first, and then slowly throw gasoline on that fire. That gasoline is different for every business, and tomorrow it could change completely.”
Your first step? Decide which social media channels make sense for your goals and then encourage interaction by adding sharing buttons for each site on all of your content. Professional quality share buttons can be obtained for free from sites such as AddThis.com and others.
Also, every time you add new content to your site, repurpose it slightly and post it on the social sites you use.
“I’d much rather have them see it three times than not see it at all,” Hee says. She often crosses platforms by posting videos on YouTube and then inviting Facebook fans to view it. Or Hee might invite Twitter followers to enter a new contest by becoming a Facebook fan, or vice versa.
Another way to get your message out there is to encourage fans and customers to share your information on their personal profiles. This is especially valuable if you mention specific customers.
A blog post here, a video there, cool photos everywhere — none of it matters if you don’t know what’s delivering results. Measuring the effectiveness of your tactics allows you to make adjustments to the plan and focus time and money on the things that really work.
Luckily, there are high-tech solutions to make the review process easier. First, add information-capture tools to every page and post on your Website. If a person requests more information, you will know that the content is doing its job.
Use Google Alerts to be notified every time there are new search results for your company name. Similarly, use Social Mention to be notified when your company is mentioned on social media sites. The free services can help you track how much buzz your efforts are generating.
Finally, the most important tool is analytics, which can be done by a variety of programs, including Google Analytics and Hubspot. Learn who is coming to your Website, how often, how long they stay, which pages they view and more. Paid services can delve even deeper to give names, e-mails and interests for follow-up. Most social media sites also offer analytics programs.
“I go nuts over analytics,” says Sheridan, who pays for a premium Hubspot program. “Because of analytics, I know an article I wrote generated leads that made me over $1 million in sales. I don’t believe in doing anything unless I can track what I get from it.”
Quantifying your results will help guide your efforts.
• Visitors not staying on your Web site very long? Maybe you need to offer more valuable content.
• Not getting any mentions on Twitter? Maybe it’s not worth your effort.
• Have a video that generates no requests for additional information? It may need to be scrapped for new content.
Before pulling the plug on anything, however, make sure you’ve given it time to work. Declaring your blog or Pinterest efforts a waste of time after a week is unfair. Building momentum online can be slow going, so be sure to judge results accordingly. Slow, measured improvements are all that should be expected.
“The biggest mistake companies make is doing something new and then quitting if they don’t see an impact on the bottom line after a few weeks or a couple of months,” says Kevin Woodhurst, former general manager at Dolphin Pools & Spasin Phoenix who is now president/CEO at Precision Aquascapes, LLC, in the greater Phoenix area. “If you Google my name, there are 20 pages of results, but it has taken years.”
Becky Mollenkamp is a Des Moines, Iowa-based writer with a focus on digital media and technology. She helps numerous clients develop their online content strategies via her firm, Becky Mollenkamp Creative.
To hire or not to hire?
Before engaging in a comprehensive online-marketing campaign, it’s important to take stock of your resources. Do you have the time and skills required to implement an online strategy yourself? If not, how much money can you invest toward outsourcing the program?
“You can bootstrap it yourself, but there will be a big commitment of time,” says Marc Sabin, executive vice president of Marketing Works in Cold Spring, N.Y. “The businesses that are surviving in this economy are the ones that continue to make an investment in marketing.”
The DIY approach cost Kevin Woodhurst, former general manager at Dolphin Pools & Spas in Phoenix, about 20 hours a week when he first began his online marketing efforts. A year later, Woodhurst, now president/CEO at Precision Aquascapes, LLC, in the greater Phoenix area spends closer to 10 hours each week creating and distributing content. However, a background in marketing has made the process less time-consuming for him than it might be for other business types.
“Starting all of this could be totally overwhelming and frustrating for the average joe in the pool industry,” Woodhurst says. If so, he says, outsource the setup phase and then pay someone to train you on how to maintain the system. — B.M.