Here's a question worth pondering as we enter the new decade: what will online marketing look like in the 2020s, and how is it likely to impact on your business?
Ten years ago, few of our most commonplace technologies – iPad, Instagram, Snapchat, Messenger, WeChat, GoFundMe, Candy Crush, Apple Maps, Apple Watch, Tinder, Siri, Stripe and Slack – existed. It wasn't until 2010, after all, that Uber enlisted its first cab driver.
So, what we can expect from the 2020s? The answer, in all probability, is more disruption and change. Indeed, it is estimated that there will be twice as many new apps and technologies as the past decade. VR (Virtual Reality), AR (Augmented Reality), AI (Artificial Intelligence) and Google Voice Search are a few examples of the increasing technology we now have at our fingertips, and we can expect these to grow and become more significant.
There are many websites and apps we can use, enabling us to reach more people than ever before – Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat alone extend to nearly half the world's population – yet it's easy to feel at sea, buffeted by tides of change and choices.
Let me toss you a raft: these are the two (income-generating!) assets that I'd recommend business owners to focus on above all else – for the simple reason that they allow you to exert control over them.
The first of these is your website, which is especially important as the hub for your marketing. You have control over the content on your website, the design, the navigation and the speed it loads; you can optimise your website for the search engines (SEO); you can build your website with great content, using SEO practices; and you can continue to test and refine. Over time and distance, people will find your products and services on the search engines.
Many business owners ask what sort of website should they build, and the answer really depends upon the business. There are many platforms such as Wordpress, which are held on a server; you can customise it and move the site wherever you want. The other way to do it is by using a SAAS (Software as a Service) website builder, where you pay a monthly or annual fee; when you don't want to use the service, you simply cancel.
The first way usually involves paying a web design agency to build the site for you as a start-up cost and then ongoing monthly hosting and maintenance fees. The SAAS way usually means you can pay a small fee and get started straight away yourself, or hire an agency to build it for you.
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A tip for new players: you don't own or have control over your position in the SERP's (Search Engine Results Pages). You could invest thousands in getting to the top of Google's page 1 – and then a simple algorithm change at Google can put you out on page 10.
The second income-generating asset I recommend is your email list. Email is still considered one of the most profitable marketing tools and, by creating an engaged list of subscribers and sending them timely offers on your website, you will generate a healthy revenue stream.
"Email?" I hear you ask. "How 2000s. My page has over 2000 followers – I don't need a mailing list!" False.
Social networks have their value and it's important to grow these satellites to build your brand awareness and engagement. The "catch", however, is that they can change at any time. Sure you can use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to send traffic to your website, but, ultimately, you have no control over these external assets. If Facebook deems you've done something wrong, your page can be shut down with little or no recourse.
If you built a big fan base on Facebook back in 2010, you could post something and reach almost all your fans. Now, the stats show that, on average, only approximately 4-6 per cent of your fans will see your posts. The same thing is now happening on Instagram.
As such, the best way to use these social platforms is by doing targeted paid advertising. But be aware that if you don't know what you're doing, it can prove costly. Relatively speaking, the advertising on social media is cheap: on average, it can cost around 25 cents to reach 1000 people on Facebook. Do some research or consult an expert before clicking that "Boost" button: if you approach your digital marketing from a sales-funnel point of view and use data to make decisions, you will be ahead of most other businesses.
Whichever online marketing platform you choose to put your time, energy and money into, make sure you continue to build your income-generating assets to grow your business. As your income-generating assets grow, so your business becomes more valuable. Properly managed, your website, combined with your email list, will pay for itself.
Stephen Grant-Jones is digital manager at Northland Inc, the regional economic development agency.